Penumbra dances into the light

Penumbra is this season’s second instalment of world premieres by choreographers in the Faculty of Fine Arts’ new Master of Fine Arts in Dance Program. Graduate students Olga Barrios, Susan Lee and Tracey Norman are each contributing an original work to the playbill as part of their thesis productions. Premieres by two professors teaching in the MFA program, Holly Small and Susan Cash, round out this innovative collection of theatrical dance, running Jan. 27 to 29 at 7pm, in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre in the Accolade East Building at York’s Keele campus.

Left: Dance students Brittany Duggan (left) and Sarah Douglas of the York Dance Ensemble peform Sketching Infinity, choreographed by Tracey Norman. Photo by Omer Yukseker.

Penumbra refers to the partial shadows that reside in the margins of one’s conscious and imagined creations. Most often, the word refers to celestial bodies. In this case, these bodies infiltrate the self-discoveries, cultural odysseys and afterlives within the choreographers’ themes.

“The MFA dance program is proud to present these five gifted choreographers in this beautiful proscenium stage setting,” said Graduate Program Director Darcey Callison, who serves as artistic director for the production. “The choreographic research for Penumbra asks what the body may remember and reveal between the boundaries of our memories and the realities that shape our place in the world.”

“The Absent Ones” is the second part of a series of choreographies that Barrios has titled Sangre (Blood). The work draws on her heritage as a Colombian-born woman, and is inspired by her experience living in a culture haunted by violence and fear and her observations of the dehumanizing effects of war. In the dance, six women recount their physical stories and explore a common bond in an environment that is charged with potential danger, fear of the unknown and unexpected violence.

In Shadowplay, Lee portrays an obsessive relationship, exploring the volatility in the interaction between intimacy and identity in a passionate affair. Performed by Suzanne Liska and Lee Wilder, this duet rides the fine line between control and abandon, passion and violence, in intricately entwined partnering choreography.

Right: Choreographer Tracey Norman performing …imprinting territories. Photo by Emma Walker.

Mental maps – the maps we begin creating from childhood in order to situate ourselves within the world – are the starting point for Norman’s Born Cartographers. Throughout our lives we are constantly mapping routes and organizing our days and nights in order to orient ourselves and to prepare for whatever comes next, says Norman. Born Cartographers explores the geography of memory as manifested in the physical bodies of the seven members of the York Dance Ensemble who collaborated with Norman in the creation of the work.

Building on material she first explored in her recent Dora Award-nominated interdisciplinary collaboration Radiant (see YFile, April 8, 2009), Small’s new solo continues her speculations about the mystery of death, the meaning of “falling from grace” and the possibilities for redemption. Titled a drowning, the piece is performed by Johanna Bergfelt, set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8.

Cash’s new solo, Tree Woman, investigates the notion of innate roots and the instinctive pull of ancestral influence. Blending dancer Keiko Kitano’s Japanese heritage and the choreographer’s own Mohawk cultural inheritance and adopted Chinese traditions, this layered, subtly textured work explores the evocative internal meanings of the spirit of ritual, earth and sensing.

Admission to Penumbra is $15. Tickets are available at the Fine Arts Box Office Web site or by calling 416-736-5888.