Monday, February 26, 2024

Review: Collapsing the Night is Far from Perfect, but Still Perfectly Wonderful

Who: Aeris Körper
What: Collapsing the Night
Where: Gage Park Tropical Greenhouse (1000 Main Street East)
When: November 22 & 23 at 7:00pm
Tickets: $35, visit for more details

Aeris Körper Dance Company may first and foremost be dedicated to dance, but innovative programming and unique collaborations are a critical part of the bedrock that is their talent. This was on full display at Collapsing the Night, an immersive dance experience that combines live music (by Grace No Grace), light projection (by OPTICKS), movement, dance and collage with the audience experience to create a unique experience at a unique setting; the Gage Park Tropical Greenhouse.

The logistics of such an undertaking are massive, and Aeris Körper executes the idea well. Despite the Greenhouse’s small footprint, the company manages to create four distinct performance spaces that are all relatively contained. It is difficult to see or hear other performances happening only meters away, creating an intimate space between each small group of audience members and the dancer(s). The soundscape of the overall performance is extremely well executed and feels consistent, even when moving into and between the four performance spaces. Guides lead each group to and from these distinct spaces utilizing only coloured flowers- no words are ever spoken, leaving interpretation of every moment up to each audience member. Performances are all well-timed so the event moves smoothly, and guides utilize bird calls to signal that they are ready to move on. These bird calls are not only logistically very clever, but as each is unique, it also contributes to the performance experience in a positive way, whereas a signal to change each group could have very easily been a distraction from the performance.

However, there were a number of confusing moments. Upon entry to the Greenhouse, audience members are encouraged to work on a collage. While my assumption was that this was meant to “warm up” the audience’s participatory nature, the connection between the two is never made clear. The ending of the performance was also confusing and seemed chaotic with the definitive ending also seeming unclear. It was an unfortunate way to finish a show that had otherwise seemed so well thought out.   

The concept of utilizing the Gage Park Greenhouse as a performance venue is one that worked so well with the layout that Aeris Körper chose for the performance; however, only one of the dances actually interacted with the Greenhouse in a meaningful way that suggested the performance could not occur anywhere else. In a site specific work, with a site as unique as the Greenhouse, it would have been incredible to see the company utilize more of the opportunities that the space afforded. The choreography also felt repetitive as the works continued. While this did serve to provide some cohesion to the overall story of the work, it became difficult to not directly compare the stylistic choices of the dancers in executing similar choreography.

However, executing in a space with limitations and a reliance on audience participation is a challenge, and Aeris Körper’s Co-Artistic Director Lisa Emmons should be applauded for her efforts in creating a piece of work to perform in the Greenhouse. The limitations were visually clear from the start, as dancers all wore boots, preventing the clean foot lines often seen in traditional dance works. For some dancers, this seemed to provide a performance barrier. There were also a high number of “observer” attendees on opening night; this did not dissuade the dancers from carefully interacting with audience members, even though the reaction they received was clearly mixed. In every interaction I witnessed, it was interesting to watch dancers gauge the potential reactions of audience members prior to an interaction; conscious decisions were made on the spot by the performers, and in every case, the way they chose to interact seemed to be the right one. This exposed the vulnerabilities of both audience and performers, but the artists involved in Collapsing the Night made it look fearless and easy.

A particular highlight was the haunting solo performance by Mayumi Lashbrook, Aeris Körper’s Co-Artistic Director. Lashbrook’s extensive training and extreme control became apparent in every movement, and it was difficult to not feel emotionally invested in her movements. It was disappointing to leave her performance space when her dance was complete.

Despite its drawbacks, Aeris Körper’s Collapsing the Night is a wonderfully inventive production that is worth attending and deserves to be an annual event (either at the Greenhouse or elsewhere). While many of its flaws can easily be attributed to the fact that this is the first attempt at this production (and the first of its kind utilizing the Greenhouse as a venue), the creative connections that emerge as audience members share this experience with fellow spectators, participants and artists is a powerful one. Collapsing the Night is a wonderful live experience with one show left- don’t miss this incredible collaborative experience.

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