Sitting down to see Exterminating Angel by Alysa Pires Dance Projects at the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, I must admit that I was excited. I love dance, I mean love love love dance. There was a large turnout to opening night, and with the excitement of the Fringe Festival in it’s infancy, I think I detected a tingle in the air.
The piece itself is comprised of dream-like vignettes structured by brief group pieces that have a 1920s speakeasy feel to them. The write-up says that piece was inspired by a short film by Luis Buñuel, a noted surrealist filmmaker, but I don’t think that you need to have a familiarity with the film in order to enjoy the performance.
The tone of the show oscillates between serious and silly, beautiful and grotesque. This skilled group of dances covers a lot of ground in a short period of time. Casual and familiar movements are interspersed with more abstract dance, lending the entire performance a great deal of visual and emotional contrast.
It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when seeing someone move in a way that straddles the space between clouds and silk, but it is pretty nice. All in all, I found the show to be entertaining. Each dancer was given space to showcase their uniqueness and it was a pleasure to see so many different but capable performers doing what they do best.
The only problem I had was with a singular scene in the middle of the show and the only scene that had a clear narrative structure. This particular scene involves a man and a woman and depicts non-consensual sexual touch, as well as a choreographed fight scene depicting what amounts to domestic violence.
I wasn’t able to focus as much in the second half of the show and was especially put off by the final vignette being a light, almost clownish piece. I would have liked to enjoy it, but I felt like something fragile and difficult was brought up without the sensitivity it required, without seeming purpose, and without a sense of resolution.
While there seemed to be an attempt to surround the intensity of this scene with silence, to acknowledge its gravity, the weight of this reflection seemed too light. I was not convinced that there was enough insight into the importance of what they were evoking.
I left the theatre with a pain in my stomach. The dynamic of abuse and power was sickeningly realistic, which then made watching someone play with fluff feel oddly sadistic to me.
I think there needs to be more obvious awareness of this potential irony. If anything, in order to properly carry such a violent scene, this would need to be the best scene in the performance. It would have to be the best and most important scene because it is the one that has the greatest potential to have a deep effect. In actuality, it seemed rushed and oddly unfinished.
All in all, this was a beautiful performance. I must admit that I have a very high standard when it comes to people using domestic violence in works of art. I think that it can be responsibly wielded, but I don’t believe that it should be utilized to create dramatic intensity without also taking responsibility for what it might bring up for the audience.
That said, I wouldn’t damn the piece for this one moment. For me it was significant, but others might not have as visceral a reaction. I feel that it needs a warning about realistic depictions of violence, but aside from my problems with this one part, the rest of the performance had an interesting mix of dark whimsy and sincerity. In the end, I find that a lot of beautiful things are also flawed.
- Exterminating Angel plays at the Al Green Theatre. (750 Spadina Ave)
- Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance, and can be bought online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Honest Ed’s Alley, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible. Use the elevator at the Spadina entrance.
- Wednesday June 29th, 10:30 pm
- Friday July 1st, 06:30 pm
- Saturday July 2nd, 03:30 pm
- Tuesday July 5th, 07:00 pm
- Wednesday July 6th, 05:15 pm
- Friday July 8th, 09:45 pm
- Saturday July 9th, 02:15 pm
Photo of Colleen Snell, James-Thomas Papandreos, Damian Norman by Adam Sakiyama