2 min

Fragmentation of character

Technical mastery & wit holds Autobiography together

Credit: Xtra files

At the beginning of choreographer Gerry Trentham’s Autobiography: Chapters One Through Five, a male dancer walks onstage in a bikini, steps into a bathtub, kneels and turns torso to audience. Lights up. Said dancer rises elegantly as tub dance begins. Alas. Why would someone wear swim trunks in the bath?

Even more peculiar is the dancer’s movement into a space where he removes trunks, reveals family jewels, then slips into underwear and street clothes. If potentially horny, voyeuristic spectators are expected to endure quirky bathtub shenan-igans complete with red speedo, then why, pray tell, are we teased by seconds of nudity when the dancer could have just slipped his jeans over his swimsuit? If this seems a superfluous preoccupation on this reviewer’s part, it is. If not, then join me in my ambivalent cry for a time when nudity might be daring and beautiful and a part of an aesthetic horizon that dares speak its name.

I’m an indiscriminate dance slut. I like it with or without nudity. What I cannot enjoy or endure is an uncertain representation of naturalism and poetic abstraction that, perhaps unwittingly, balks at specific aspects of anatomy. Perhaps I missed a part of the story and this is an autobiographical piece about a man who mistook his private bathroom for a public pool. What saves a slight, awkward moment from becoming a faintly irritating part of a rapturous whole is the technical mastery, wit and sensibility that runs through this 75-minute piece of dance theatre.

Trentham’s work begins as he wanders onstage and pontificates on how he “came to dance through words and return[ed] to dance through words.” When Trentham’s onstage narration begins to verge on self-indulgence we are jolted back into choreographic bliss. Dancers move effortlessly in and out of pieces of postmodern movement that combine walking, rolling, posing and ecstatic spurts of joyful, fluid movement. Heidi Strauss, Rebecca Hope Terry, Katherine Duncanson, Michael Trent and Bonnie Kim are fine actors and dancers who engage in near Chekovian moments of non-linear dialogue representing an author’s playful struggle with words and actions throughout his life.

Video sequences by Jamie O’Neill act as a powerful backdrop and culminate in haunting aerial views of prairie landscapes. Visible offstage camera work that has the onstage narrator projected on screen, and a delightful piano sequence, make this a diverse tour de force.

Fifteen to 20 minutes could be lost by slicing some of the narration and sections of static movement. But this is personal auto-biography about a gay man coming of age and trying not to take it too seriously while he is led through the seriousness of it all.

A shocking lack of nudity, and the dearth of same-sex male coupling is a tad astounding here and there. But it is a fragmentation of character, word and movement that the author has sought out. He has achieved this handsomely. I just wish there had been a little less where there was a little more and a little more where there was a little less. C’est la vie en rose!

The Danceworks presentation of Autobiography at the Premiere Dance Theatre closed on Mon, Dec 8.