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Alive, in the moment and completely exposed

A scene from Up Until Now

Guntar Kravis

Up Until Now

  • Choreographed, directed and designed by Deborah Hay
  • Toronto Dance Theatre
  • At Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto on Wednesday

In Toronto Dance Theatre's performance of Deborah Hay's Up Until Now, the 12 company members are so alive, so in the moment, that you feel you know them as people. Many things may be going on simultaneously all over the stage, but the dancers' individuality never falters.

This is the magic of Hay, legendary co-founder of the seminal Judson Dance Theatre - the New York ensemble that broke every rule of modern dance technique to open the doors to postmodern experimental autonomy.

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That was 1962. In the intervening 48 years, Hay has continued to redefine the meaning of dance. When I interviewed Hay in January 2009, when she first set Up Until Now for Toronto Dance Theatre, and it became clear that her emphasis was on the "how" rather than the "doing."

Up Until Now shows the dancers in the delirious freedom of performance. Hay may have set the structure of the work - a trio will occur here, followed by people walking arm and arm there, etc. - but the dancers found their own unique movement patterns based on a series of challenges set by Hay.

There is no music. The dancers are the orchestra, singing, speaking in both gibberish and real languages, and making various noises, yells and grunts. The stage and houselights are turned up full so that the dancers are totally exposed - there is no sense of separation from the audience.

The movements reflect the dancers' personalities, from the rambunctious to the restrained. There are some delicious moments. For example, the men engage in what looks like Maori tribal challenges with over-done fierce screams and threatening poses. The women, on the other hand, calmly execute their gentle bobs and soft-voiced crooning - islands of tranquillity surrounded by testosterone gone wild.

There is something special about seeing artists so vulnerable. Much of what they do in terms of movement and sound could be deemed laughable or even embarrassing, but because they are emboldened by the process of performance, they radiate confidence and commitment.

This is reflected in their lamé/satin outfits, each one outrageously different from the other. They are there, they glitter, and no one is going to rain on their exuberant parade.

Up Until Now continues at Winchester Street Theatre until Oct. 23.

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