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Kaeja dance focuses on anatomy - perhaps too closely

Allen Kaeja and Karen Kaeja in action.

Edwin Luk

20/20 Vision

Kaeja d'Dance 20th Anniversary

Harbourfront NextSteps Series

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Choreography by Allen and Karen Kaeja

At Enwave Theatre

In Toronto on Tuesday


The traditional gift for a 20th anniversary is china. But Kaeja d'Dance, co-founded by husband and wife Allen and Karen Kaeja in 1991, is certainly not a fragile company. The Kaejas' choreography has always stood firmly and boldly in space.

The spouses are celebrating theirdance anniversary with a program called 20/20 Vision. It means seeing with perfect clarity - both Kaejas have contributed two pieces each to the program, demonstrating the choreographic purity of where they both currently stand as dance artists.

Karen has always been more intimate, dealing with human relationships. Allen, on the other hand, prefers a larger, more universal canvas. Despite their thematic differences, they share a choreographic signature. They are two of the leading exponents of contact improv, a dance form where weight-bearing is unisexual, and their works contain this very obvious element of movement.

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Allen's world premiere Armour/Amour is the most impressive piece on the program. A duet for Karen and Mairéad Filgate, it uses live media by Elysha Poirier and live cinematography by Allen in a fascinating fusion with movement. In this piece, technology helps reveal gut-wrenching truth about the human body.

Karen seems to be the main subject. She is given several solos where the choreography is comprised of staccato bursts of movement. The totality of Karen in space is fraught with angst. Filgate is the animator, or Karen's outside eye. In their almost frenzied duets, she leads the energy charge.

The heart of the work is one of multiple images that collectively make statements about the complexity of life. Against the back screen, the live body, the shadows it creates, the live video of the movement, and taped images of previous movement all collide.

Solos and duets become quartets and sextets as multi-images play out together. Allen is shooting the pictures, but Poirier is the key manipulator as she distorts, freezes, and repeats videos of movement moments.

Filgate also carries a videocam, and at one point, she slowly travels over Karen's prone, naked body in minute close-ups.

At that very invasive proximity, everything about the human anatomy is raw and ugly - the insides of the nostril, mouth, ear and belly button, for example, are not attractive when viewed closely. In fact, the process makes for very disturbing images.

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But that's what Armour/Amour is all about. The outer shell is stripped away to reveal a loving but ruthless examination of a mature woman. The physicality in this work is synonymous with the emotional.

The other pieces on the program all need editing. In each case, despite the obvious merits of the choreography, they go on for too long.

Karen's world premiere The Visitor, is a wonderful showpiece for Stéphanie Tremblay Abubo. The dance depicts a woman who can't find ease in sleep because she is sexually frustrated. Karen has supplied her trademark bursts of energy and dramatic pauses, as Abubo slithers, slinks, and at times, hurls her way over and around couches, an ottoman and a bar.

Quenched (2010) is Karen's charming duet for real-life couple Courtnae Bowman and Zhenya Cerneacov, set around a beach umbrella, and performed to the sound of the sea and gulls. It's a push-me/pull-me relationship, filled with warmth and gentle teasing, but underscored with challenge.

In February, 2011, Allen premiered Jericho for Norway's Ut i Scenekunsten, a dance company based in Oslo. The five Norwegian dancers have come over the pond to perform the piece, which is contact improv gone wild.

The Kaejas called their particular brand of contact improv Kaeja Elevations, and the main attribute is the quality of weightlessness. Every dancer seems to be lighter than air. Hidden within the vigorous movement is a message of equality as the three women throw the men around as much as they are thrown.

Kudos to composer Edgardo Moreno and lighting designer Kimberly Purtell for their excellent contribution to all four choreographies.

Kaeja d'Dance's 20/20 Vision continues until Saturday.

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