Dancing Americas At Du Maurier Theatre Centre in Toronto

By Paula Citron

The Globe & Mail, Saturday, March 29, 2003

Dancing Americas is clearly Peter Chin's most audacious, and arguably, greatest choreography to date.

Before we get to Chin, however, there is Sandra Laronde, a multitalented native Canadian from Temagami. Laronde is the visionary behind Dancing Americas and one of its performers. The genesis of the work was Laronde's visit to the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoac√°n, Mexico. This delicate but hardy creature planted the seeds of two themes for a dance piece -- the fact that many North American native cultures regard monarchs as the souls of dead ancestors, and the butterfly's incredible migration from Canada to Mexico each year, producing generations en route that give birth to the monarchs that will eventually complete the journey. The logic of a Canada/Mexico co-production was inevitable.

The very talented Mexican composer Antonio Zepeda has produced a taped/live acoustic score that is magnificent in the scope of its imagination, primarily in the use of pre-Columbian flutes and drums. His picturesque music is mysterious in its beauty and driving in its beat, propelling the restless monarchs on their way while evoking the ancient mysteries of the past. How the six dancers are still on their feet after performing Chin's non-stop choreography anchored in the never-ending drumming is astonishing.

As for the choreography, Chin has gone far past staccato, gestural language and body poses, to find a lyrical flow that is a brand new direction for this dancesmith. In Dancing Americas he has matured beyond movement design to creating a dance continuum. The performers are always in motion, more often than not in synchronization, and the power of their unified presence touches something primeval in the soul of the watcher.

More to the point, it is the subtle variations of this dance flow that display a choreographer at the peak of his powers. For example, in the exciting finale that depicts the journey of the monarchs, the dancers' bodies, while nominally running in circles, are always shifting in language -- a bent knee here, a shoulder swivel there -- which creates a kaleidoscope of changing images, from rigour to fatigue, as the butterflies die, and produce another generation to carry on. The work is anything but simplistic. In fact, this whirl of movement speaks of many metaphors -- of freedom without borders, of ritual and faith, of the oneness with the earth, of tribal bonds, of the power of tradition -- and most compellingly, of loss. The fusion of Zepeda's music with Chin's choreography, both rooted in native rhythms, drives home a picture of nobility that was sadly eclipsed by the White Man's coming.

Chin is blessed in his dancers. From Canada, he has powerhouse interpreters Yvonne Ng, Mark Johnson and Laronde; from Mexico, the beautifully expressive Marina Acevedo and Andrea Zavala, and the charismatic Carlos Rivera who particularly rivets the eye. Cheryl Lalonde's understated, earth-toned costumes are a clever illusion to both the monarchs and native peoples, and the performance is enhanced by Steve Lucas' subtle mood lighting.

It is fitting that talented Ojibwa Grass Dancer Matthew Pheasant in full regalia begins the evening because his powerful ritual of blessing is a perfect prelude to what follows.

Dancing Americas continues at Toronto's du Maurier Theatre through tonight; 416-204-1082.

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