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Overall Dance with Calculated Risks

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Calculated Risks is my choice for fave event of 1999. This was another Dancing Across Ontario (DXO) project, similar to 1997’s 6 Electrifying Dance Hits (6EDH). In both cases we toured these programs to two other cities: Hamilton and Ottawa. The Calculated Risks program was the brainchild of Toronto choreographer Kate Alton, who created it for her company Overall Dance, whose goal was to commission new work and bring the best Toronto dance artists together with national and international artists. The international artist on this program was New York choreographer Doug Varone, whose Eclipse was performed at (often) break neck speed by Kate, Gillian Smith and Michael Sean Marye. That grouping itself was worth the toil and (usually) pleasant aggravation of touring the program to three cities in five days. The mini-tour began with the performance seen here, at the Market Hall in Peterborough on October 3, 1999.

Michael Sean seemed to appear on every Toronto dance program in those years (he was in 6EDH too – it’s in 1997 in the Time Machine) and Kate, appearing in three of the four pieces, shows us why she is one of the greatest contemporary dancers to come out of Toronto. Mix in some compelling work by other veteran choreographers (Peggy Baker’s Spätstil, Mitch Kirsch’s Le Ventilateur á Turbine and Alton’s Tartan Briefs) with up and coming dancers (Laura West and Heidi Strauss) and the result was a diverse and satisfying program with moments of pathos, grace and even humour: seen here, Mitch’s irreverent choreography has Kate stopping mid-dance to pick up a speck of something off the floor, what we can not tell, as close to the audience as possible, examine it and continue dancing.

Kirsch ’s solo for Kate, and Varone’s trio, were commissioned specially by Overall Dance for the Calculated Risks program, which had premiered in Toronto a month before the Peterborough date and the DXO tour. Varone’s work seems to have stolen the show. Audiences appreciated the dancers’ commitment and the choreographer’s crafty construction but were unsure how to interpret the work. Always a dangerous task, but one that two Toronto critics tackled head on and in so doing came up with comparisons to famous works of visual art. But not the same work: Susan Walker of the Toronto Star related it to Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, while Deirdre Kelly at the Globe & Mail recalled the ancient Greek sculpture of Laocoön and his sons being strangled by serpents. Wow. But that’s one of the great things about good dance – there is no right way or wrong way to view the work.

The success of Calculated Risks can be credited to Kate’s curatorial skill and to her producing partner in Overall Dance, theatre artist Ross Manson. Ross brought to the program a knack for organizing and an eye for design that brought the program into focus. It was his idea to hang those brown paper banners around the stage and have them colourfully lit – a welcome change from black drapes. Ross accompanied the program as a kind of tour manager, helping us mount the production in two vastly different theatres: Ottawa’s Nouvelle Scéne (this was the first ever dance program in the multi-purpose space, newly built for Ottawa’s French language theatre community) and Hamilton’s Tivoli Theatre, a former vaudeville house then owned by a fellow with more dreams than money who only reluctantly turned on the heat.

In all three cities the program was enhanced by the inclusion of local artists. In Hamilton this was the Hamilton Dance Company, which performed David Wilson’s In Your Face and Joanna Blackwell’s Mash; in Ottawa Meagan O’Shea was our partner in crime, performing her solo work …this is the The Way. And in Peterborough we presented Penelope Thomas’s Interstices and Janet Johnston’s the hands of the beautiful swimmers. Why those two works did not make it onto the videotape that documented the program is a mystery; if they were in the Public Energy archives, you would see them here.

– Bill Kimball

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