2 min

Child’s play

Not just fun & games

Credit: Bruce Zinger

Youthful exuberance defines Matjash Mrozewski’s Break Open Play. The new piece is intended for young audiences and is the first youth commission for dance from the National Arts Centre. The Toronto premiere was last Wednesday at the Premiere Dance Theatre.

Refreshingly set on an all white stage and framed by three floor- to-ceiling hangings of simple white paper, the design is beautifully metaphoric of lives with chapters yet to be written. When the dancers enter they are costumed in bright pure colours and we are greeted by delightfully enthusiastic dancing by a fine cast. Shawn Newman and Sebastian Mena are masculine and energetic, Anisa Tejpar and Kate Franklin are sinewy and sensual, and Keiko Ninomiya is elegant and lyrical. The choreography here is buoyant and Mrozewski makes lovely use of theme, variation and counterpoint. There is a definite sense of joy and when there is duet work, the women handle the men as easily as they are handled in turn, suggesting an almost childlike innocence.

But play is not just fun and games. It is how, as young people, we learn about our world and our place in it, where we discover boundaries and what those boundaries mean. Play is where we gain an understanding of ourselves through interacting with others. This process was nicely depicted through a series of imaginative vignettes.

One scene, achieved with a stark simplicity, had Franklin bathed in the white light of an overhead projector. Standing alone, she is coloured over with bright markers by her friends hunched over the projector. As she breaks slowly into a solo and then a duet, it hints at an experience that forever tints one’s outlook on life. Another scene has a dancer lit from behind, throwing a grotesque shadow on the paper hanging. Ninomiya dances in front of this bizarre image evoking the fears that stalk the imagination of youth – bigger than life yet somehow indefinable.

The games that children play were also cleverly referenced. A simple red cord turns into a giant game of cat’s cradle that the dancers handle with their bodies rather than their fingers.

A constant manipulation of the space is another trademark of Break Open Play. Whether it is cutting into the paper hangings to create a window, a picture frame or a door, there is always the suggestion of an ever-changing landscape. Tables are used to create barriers that can be climbed over, hills that can be slid down, corners to be peered around; the dancing is imbued with a sense of wonder and discovery.

The work ends enigmatically with a solo, performed with a contorted elegance by Tejpar. Finishing beside a door, she must decide whether to go through or not – and does.

Strong theatrical devices aside, Break Open Play doesn’t have the choreographic weight of some of Mrozewski’s other pieces. However, it is a thought-provoking and imaginative offering from a talented choreographer.

* Break Open Play closed Dec 4; the original score is by Owen Belton, costumes by Samara McAdam and lighting design by Roelof Peter Snippe.