Danceworks opened last night at Harbourfront with its 30th edition, presenting four women choreographers and performance artists as part of its collaboration with the Women’s Cultural Building festival. That the evening was dominated by women makes it no different from most Danceworks performances, nor was the fact that, as its worst, it veered from the sophomoric to the heavy-handed. However, the overlong evening did offer some of the more talented dancers and performers the series has had in along time, and they appeared in pieces that were funnier, or sometimes just intended to be funnier, than Danceworks usually provides.
The level of talent provided was apparent in the very first piece, with three of the best and most distinctive dancers int he city, Claudia Moore, Susan McKenzie and Denise Fujiwara, in a new work by Paula Ravitz called Sight Unseen. Although billed as improvisational, much of the work looked tightly structured, as the three dancers moved in the intriguing costumes designed by Hanayo, following the sound cues of percussionist Eric Cadesky. True to the title, the dancers often appeared as if blind, their sense of touch heightened by the use of their hands and their relationship to the floor. Sight Unseen stumbles at crucial points – including a tired gimmick in which one pair of hands seems to belong to another body – but it builds to a fresh and inventive finish.
Compared to Sight Unseen, The National was an epic in its production aspects, involving six performers, an extensive script, slides and complex score. Perhaps because of the attempted complexity, Miriam Adams’ effort ended up being a jumble of weak satire and badly timed sketches. Arnie Achtman Melodie Benger, Margaret Dragu and Ward Maxwell struggled valiantly with a kind of parody that has been better done – and done to death – on late night television. the petite Miss Adams and body-builder Michael Lanoue provided takeoffs on advertisements, although most of the humor depended solely on the contrast of their size.
Nine Lives had a wonderful set by Michael Copeman and props by Aaron Moses that, as baseball bats and Reddi-Whip cans dangled in the air, were as surreal as anything in the piece. Johanna Householder killed Tanya Mars what may well have been nine times, using everything from guns to knifes (sic) to poison to smothering her in the Reddi-Whip. But Miss Mars, who wrote the piece with Odette Oliver and is a very funny performer, kept bounding back, alternately world-weary or childlike in her relationship to Miss Householder.
Danceworks 30 ended with Janice Hladki’s They Walk by Night, which boasted two diverse talents in Lorraine Segato, better known as the singer and songwriter in Mama Quilla II and “V”, and Susan McKenzie. Hladki’s piece showed the other side of female victims of old films, as the two performers, dressed in white and long, flowing blond wigs interrupted their impersonation of the Gish sisters to divest themselves of a few vicious kicks. In the most effective segment, Miss McKenzie wore ragged bandages on her arms, alternating in her dance from ravaged victim one moment to raging monster the next. The piece ended up with the two women singing and dancing up a storm, in a moment which was more purely enjoyable than anything else in the evening.