5 min

Shape shifting

Requires energy, flexibility, displacement, desire

Credit: Paula Wilson

“I question why we try to move through the world in straight lines when the world is curved.” Choreographer Tova Kardonne takes her bent perspective to the streets for Toronto’s annual Fringe Festival Of Independent Dance Artists (FFIDA).

The ground-breaking festival, the first of its kind in the world, has always had a reputation for injecting new energy and a spirit of adventure into its plans. Providing a unique opportunity for a number of young artists – like Kardonne, a 22-year-old Toronto native – to showcase their work, is one way the festival manages to maintain its vitality. Now in its 12th year, FFIDA plays host to 100 artists from Canada and around the world, and an expected audience of close to 15,000 at various venues across the city till to Sun, Aug 18.

On Sun, Aug 11, Kardonne will present the world premiere of Live From The Statue, a site-specific piece performed out-of-doors at the famous Henry Moore sculpture, Two Forms, located outside the Art Gallery Of Ontario. Featuring two dancers, one male and one female, and three musicians who play clarinet, tenor sax and kinjira (an Indian drum), the piece integrates music, dance and sculpture.

The inspiration for the piece came to Kardonne while sitting on the sculpture one afternoon.

“Looking up between the curved pieces I noticed how they related to the curve of the sky,” says Kardonne. “When I moved through the sculpture I was forced to curve my body, and I realized there was no way to be in that space without allowing myself to bend with it.”

The score for the piece is one of Kardonne’s own compositions, and it also came to her while sitting at the statue that day.

“It was like fate,” she says. “I started humming a piece I had written earlier that hadn’t come to mind in a really long time, and I thought it would be really beautiful.”

Kardonne plays piano and viola, and sings klezmer in Yiddish, but it is clear that her true passion is dance. She started ballet training before the required minimum age of three, and stuck with it until she was 13.

“I loved it,” says Kardonne, “even though I did not have a ballet body.”

Arthritis problems and injuries from dancing en pointe ended her hopes of pursuing a career as a dancer, so Kardonne was forced to look at movement from a different angle.

“I can’t do it myself, so I use other peoples’ bodies,” she explains. “It’s an incredible privilege, and I really try to take care of my dancers.”

Since 1995, Kardonne has been working in musical theatre and on various pieces of her own. Her work has been seen at Toronto’s Residance, and also at a Guelph Contemporary Dance Network fundraiser. Her work can also be seen later this month in Lear, King Of Israel at Leah Posluns Theatre.

“Choreographing musical theatre was good training, but it was really someone else’s thing,” she says. “It was a great experience and I got to meet some wonderful dancers who showed me the way to get some of my work shown.”

Bob Fosse stands out among the many choreographers who have influenced and inspired Kardonne’s work.

“He once said, ‘If you can find a beautiful image, that’s often much more effective than a lot of activity.’ That really stuck with me, and that’s how I approach my work. I’m always going from image to image, and try to avoid the noise of just lots of stuff going on.”

Kardonne believes that life is simple, but that you must take necessary risks while being flexible and sensitive to the world around you.

“Live From The Statue is a huge adventure, and it’s terribly scary,” she admits. “But I feel like I’m right at the beginning of something that’s going to go on for a very long time, and I’m not afraid of encountering a few spectacular mistakes along the way.”

And if it rains on her work?

“I’ll bend with that, too,” she says. “‘Gam zeh l’tovah’ is a Hebrew saying, which means ‘This too is for the good.’ I really believe that.”

Live From The Statue runs at 12:30pm on Sun, Aug 11, 6:30pm on Aug 14 and 1pm on Aug 18 outside the AGO (317 Dundas St W).

Another artist to watch out for is festival regular Motaz Kabbani, a Montreal-based choreographer/dancer who has a track record of presenting provocative and sexually-charged works.

He returns this year with two pieces, in collaboration with designer Denis Joffre and lighting designer Jan Komarek, which are both examinations of modern art at the turn of the last century, placed in a contemporary cultural setting: the Toronto premiere of Le faux Magritte, and the world premiere of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Pharaon.

The Magritte piece is choreogaphed by Martine Haug, one of Kabbani’s dance teachers.

“It is a fast paced look at some of Magritte’s surrealistic paintings,” says Kabbani. “They always seem to make sense when you first look at them, and then you notice that something in the picture is wrong, doesn’t quite fit.”

Kabbani performs the piece to Debussy music, but in a contemporary choreographic language, with subtle displacements of the body and quirky movement.

The Prélude is a non-Eurocentric reinterpretation of the famous solo that Nijinsky first performed at the turn of the century to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faun.

The piece is comprised of two short solos, danced back-to-back in a two-dimensional Egyptian-inspired choreography. The first solo will be danced by a female dressed in a neutral, contemporary gown which helps to accentuate the sexual tension of the back and forth pelvic movements of her belly dancing. The second solo, still a work in progress, will be

performed by Kabanni.

“This piece is a subtle deconstruction of oriental dance in a contemporary setting, with a two-dimensional perspective,” says Kabbani. “It is about displacing icons of the dance world to other cultures.”

The Kabbani pieces, with works by Kathleen Dyer and Jennifer Lynn Dick, run at 8pm on Fri, Aug 9, 2pm on Aug 11 and 9:30pm on Aug 12 at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander St).

Another first-time visitor to the festival is Mollie O’Brien, a New York City-based choreographer who will present the Toronto premiere of Faster Than Dark, a piece which looks at our culture of aggression. It is the first installment of a planned trilogy, inspired by O’Brien’s reaction to the tragic events of Sep 11.

“I have never dealt with aggression in any of my previous work,” says O’Brien, “but after September 11th there was a dark energy in the city that I experienced physically, and I felt the need to explore it artistically.”

The piece features an original soundscore, created and performed on computer by Shawn Onsgard, using current music and sound samples from sources such as video games and television news.

Faster Than Dark will be performed by two female dancers. “Their sexuality is not defined,” says O’Brien. “Their purpose is to physically represent human emotions.”

The piece, which premiered in New York City in January, is certainly timely, but its content, held together by a strong emotional cord, is timeless.

“It’s not as raw as when it was first performed,” says O’Brien, “but the dancers still have an emotionally tough time performing it.”

Although the piece deals with a dark subject matter, O’Brien clarifies that, “Ultimately, it is about a universal desire to connect.”

Faster Than Dark runs with works by Allen Kaeja and Dawne Carleton at 6:30pm on Wed, Aug 14, 9:30pm on Aug 16 and 2pm on Aug 18 at Buddies.


$10; $100 passes.

Till. Sun Aug 18.

Various venues.

(416) 410-4291.