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Dollhouse by Bill Coleman and Gordon Monahan

See the printed matter: Show poster / Show program

Like many proposals for new dance projects that come our way, Dollhouse appealed because of the characters of the artists undertaking the collaboration. The idea was cool enough – a person lost in a world he does not understand and has no control over – but the artists involved, dancer/choreographer Bill Coleman and composer/sound artist Gordon Monahan, had proven themselves to be unconventional artists who would do something unexpected.

Bill’s intentions were spelled out in the program: “In Dollhouse I have tried to find an arena to enact a particular approach to movement and performance. This approach encourages unconscious or involuntary movement from the dancer.” The idea was that Gordon would create a living soundscape made of objects and electronic devices which would both trigger the unconscious movements of the dancer and be triggered by him.

That’s what developed over the course of their creative process, which began with a residency with Public Energy at the Market Hall in January of 2015 during which they experimented with bowling balls, step ladders, car tires, beer kegs (empty) and all manner of sound-making trip hazards that would get in the way of a dancer just trying to get around the stage.

The stuff that made it to the final production in April of 2016 included hot plates with steaming bowls of water tuned to different frequencies, body-sensors applied by Gordon (he is on stage, manipulating sounds, throughout the show) to Bill’s skin that triggered their own sounds, an epic waterfall that soaked everything at the show’s climax, a custom make jacket (by Metis artist Edward Poitras) with a dozen arrows stuck in Bill’s back, and the signature special effect: dozens of mouse traps scattered about the floor that bit at Bill’s feet and jumped up in the air in his failed attempt to find safe passage about the stage. Oh and don’t forget the lighting fixture that fell from the grid, swinging dangerously close to Bill’s head, an effect brought to the project by lighting designer / technical wiz Pierre Lavoie.

Sadly, that one did not make the touring production of Dollhouse, which has had a remarkable life on the road (including a two week residency at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017) despite what seems to be a monumental task of assembling and disassembling the numerous special effects and set pieces. Its success was partly due to some positive critical response, including Globe and Mail dance critic Martha Schabas putting it on the top-ten list for 2016 following its run at Canadian Stage in Toronto. All in all a gratifying result for a made-in-Peterborough dance.

-Bill Kimball

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