A yin & yang of fluidity, strength, beauty & connection – Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert

allen and karen kaeja photo by aria evans
Allen & Karen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance – photo by Aria Evans

“25 years feels like a masterpiece. One that has flaws, failures, good fortune and gratitude, colour splattered in unrecognizable textures that weave together an incredible human experience!” – Karen Kaeja

“25 years is encompassing growth, struggle, intimacy and it’s terrifying. It’s tenderness, and support – with passion and imagination!” – Allen Kaeja

Kaeja d’Dance premiered its double bill 25th Anniversary Concert last night, running until Saturday, March 28 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

Kaeja d’Dance co-founders/choreographers/husband and wife team Karen and Allen Kaeja each choreographed a piece (and dance in each other’s pieces) for this double bill premiere celebration performance, tackling the “notions of fate, coincidence and choice.” The dance company includes Michael Caldwell, Zhenya Cerneacov, Ana Groppler, Allen Kaeja, Karen Kaeja, Merideth Plumb and Mateo Galindo Torres.

.0 (by Allen Kaeja, with Caldwell, Cerneacov, Groppler, Karen Kaeja, Torres & Plumb) – Immediacy, instinct and the vulnerability of our senses
An athletic, robust, yet beautifully vulnerable and at times comic piece – and accompanied by a haunting soundtrack (composed by Edgardo Moreno, featuring violinist Jessica Hana Deutsch), and featuring sharp atmospheric lighting and fog effects (by Oz Weaver) – .0 plays on the tension of opposites. Holding back/explosive action. Isolation/engagement. Effervescent/exhausted. Playfully confrontational, aggressively gentle, the piece plays on cause and effect, incorporating movement from contact improv, martial arts (judo) and balletic, gender-neutral lifts to powerfully dynamic effect.

TAXI! (by Karen Kaeja, with Caldwell, Cerneacov, Groppler, Allen Kaeja & Plumb) – Things I forgot to tell you: That I love you. That I love you. That I love you. (from Anaïs Nin, A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953)
Playing on the theme of coupling – and navigating romance in the midst of a challenging world – TAXI! Is whimsical and poignant, cheeky and sexy, and full of languid, sensuous and playful movement and interaction – not to mention sharp comic timing – as the choreography brings the dancers together and pulls them apart. This piece weaves original composition (Sarah Shugarman and Phil Strong, performed by Strong), pop music and text, allowing the dancers to engage with the theme physically, verbally and vocally – with overlapping relationship storytelling and singing along like nobody’s watching to Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’ (In and Out of Love)” – as well as voice-over recordings of a young boy (Willem Kerr) offering general life advice and reciting marriage vows (from the mouths of babes…). As I left the theatre, with “Fallin’ (In and Out of Love)” running through my head, I know I’d never hear that song the same way again. With shouts to lighting designer Oz Weaver.

Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert is a yin and yang of fluidity, strength, beauty and connection. Get yourself out to see this marvelous, innovative dance company.

Kaeja d’Dance’s 25th Anniversary Concert continues this week till March 28 at Harbourfront Centre Theatre – check out the details and buy tickets online here.

Look out for Kaeja d’Dance’s Porch View Dances this summer (Aug 19-23). You can also keep up with Kaeja d’Dance on Twitter – and check out the trailer for the 25th Anniversary Concert:

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Weaving projects across time & space – Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Artist Steve Rockwell’s exhibition Folio opened at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst) on Thursday night. I wasn’t able to make it to the opening, so I dropped by last night to chat with Fran and Steve about the work.

Weaving projects across time and space, Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit combines some 25+ years of work and exploration. Here are just a few examples:

Text. From Meditations on Space, a narrative performance piece – later produced in a book detailing Rockwell’s exploration of and interactions in gallery storage spaces, recording his impressions in both text and photographs as he visited galleries in Toronto, LA, New York and locations in Europe. In the book, each gallery blurb is a short text piece, about the length of a tweet – only, in this case, the experience was physical instead of virtual – each one a funny, surprising and detailed description of his interaction with gallery owners and the space. And the photographs include some whimsical shots of his self-portrait in the storage spaces.

Background. A collage of pages from dART INTERNATIONAL magazine, of which Rockwell is the founding editor and publisher, publishing two to three times a year.

Colour. Rockwell’s Color Match board game, where players receive a predetermined number of coloured cardboard tiles and place them on a square board divided into a grid to create a multi-coloured, mosaic-like pattern. The judge of the game can be randomly selected from the crowd in the space where the game is being played. Unlike conventional board games, players do not accumulate things – they contribute – and there are no winners or losers. Turn over the colour tiles and each has a name and I.D. number – names like “Antidote,” “Stop!” and “Game Over.” Color Match was played on buses during Nuit Blanche 2006 in Toronto and you can see an example of pieces created using Colour Match in Art Gallery of Ontario advertising – framed works hung on the wall of the room in the photograph. Keep an eye out for upcoming Color Match tournaments at Fran Hill Gallery in Toronto and elsewhere. You never know when a match might pop up.

Concept. Rockwell’s Gallery Space 1988 project started with gallery folks locating their gallery on a grid, also indicating on their grid sheet which “wall” of the space the door should go on (north, south, east or west side of the square). The visual/spatial data gathered via these grid sheets (collected in a bound volume as part of that exhibit) culminated in the creation of a 3-D floor plan model. The resulting maze-like piece identifies each gallery, the “doors” of each leading into another gallery. Information to connection.

The Folio exhibit is a series of 13 ¾” X 17” unframed, protectively coated pieces on paper, hung in such a way that each is set slightly away from the wall, moving banner-like with the air currents in the room. The four-colour grid used in each brings to mind the family standards of heraldry – like in Game of Thrones – and most include hand-written text, in black or white, from Meditations on Space. Others have no text, but the original magazine page text and images can be seen through the paint.

Rockwell is like a visual data analyst – collecting, deconstructing and creating works using the concepts of space, interaction, connection and colour. It’s a lot like life that way, really. And as we were chatting, he also told me about another interesting project – in this case, an edible one. Collaborating with restauranteur Saeed Mohamed, Rockwell created the dArt Burger, a BQM hamburger sandwich. The burger was deconstructed into The Pixilated dArt Burger for an installation piece – and I can only imagine what a delicious temptation that was for exhibit visitors. You can order the dArt Burger at BQM locations in Toronto on Ossington Ave. and Queen St. West.

Rockwell’s Folio exhibit is up at Fran Hill Gallery until May 19. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

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Artist Steve Rockwell at Fran Hill Gallery for his Folio exhibit.
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Three pieces from the Folio exhibit – Steve Rockwell.
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A grouping of four pieces in Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit.
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Another selection of works from Folio – Steve Rockwell.
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My favourite of the Folio pieces – both for the colour and the hilarious text.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek gets up close & personal in Anxiety exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s exhibition Anxiety opened at Fran Hill Gallery last night to a packed space full of friends, family, fellow artists and likely – given the gallery’s neighbourhood vibe – folks who live in the area. Anxiety is Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition – she’s studying at York University after doing her undergrad at OCAD – an extremely personal exploration of moments of anxiousness, recorded through photographs, video and text.

Visitors to the gallery can see the one of the three self-portrait photographs as they approach the entrance. When I arrived, I met Vitasek, who gave me a tour of the exhibit, along with background info on the project. I couldn’t help but think about the irony of opening such a personal, revealing exhibit, which then had to be defended in front of her professors – an anxiety-inducing act in itself – a point that, while unspoken, I don’t think was lost on either of us. After we finished chatting, I took the opportunity to wander and visit each piece myself, going back to revisit, winding through the crowd as the space filled up.

The larger of the two intimate exhibit spaces displays three photos, all taken during moments when Vitasek was feeling anxious. She wears no make-up and her long dark brown hair is tied back, her gaze fixed straight ahead, giving you the impression that she’s looking right at you. What is especially remarkable about these three pieces is the scale. Each is a 40” x 40” inkjet print close-up – larger than life, emotion writ large. In each case, the emotion itself has a still intensity to it that makes these photographs both challenging to view yet impossible to look away from.

On the wall between the two spaces are three framed questionnaire pages, taken from two anxiety questionnaires. Each has been filled out, boxes ticked and statements regarding behaviour rated on a scale, along with written descriptions of anxious moments addressed by cognitive therapy responses, along with the outcome. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but mentally fill out the questionnaires myself. How often do I avoid, and how anxious do I feel about, being alone? Being in a crowded space? Travelling?

In the smallest exhibit space are two monitors, facing each other from opposite sides of the room. Each plays a video on a two-minute loop with no sound – both close-ups of Vitasek’s face. One shows the artist doing a breathing exercise – in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the other, the artist has her hands full of milkweed, her face in the background as she gradually blows the white fluffy, seed covered stuff off her hands – the last tuft becoming airborne with one puff of breath. The videos speak to each other even as each speaks to the viewer – and I found that, after a few moments of standing in front of the breathing exercise, the rhythm of my breathing fell into sync with Vitasek’s. Of the two videos, the breathing exercise is also the most challenging to witness. It has a rawness to it, an intensity that stands in sharp contrast to the more whimsical milkweed blowing video, where the artist’s face is in background focus.

Anxiety is extremely raw, personal and brave project – and also very beautiful and universal. Everyone has had moments of feeling anxious, apprehensive or uneasy, with individual responses driven by an eagerness to please, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. It’s all just a matter of degrees.

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Artist Victoria Vitasek, as seen through the gallery window.
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One of the three large self-portrait photographs.
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The anxiety questionnaires.
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The breathing exercise video.
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Blowing milkweed video.
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Vitasek speaks with some of the opening night visitors.
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Artist Victoria Vitasek and gallery owner Fran Hill.

Anxiety is up until April 20 at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Road, Toronto – St. Clair/Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Current & upcoming visual arts feasts

Wanted to shout out some current and upcoming visual art exhibits – in Toronto and Ottawa:

Photographer Pamela Williams has an exhibit up at Sunderland Hall GalleryFirst Unitarian (175 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto – west of Avenue Road, south side of St. Clair). Running now until April 21. Hours: Sun. Noon – 3 p.m., Tues. 5 – 9 p.m., Wed. 5 – 9 p.m., Thurs. 7 – 9 p.m.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition Anxiety (a self-portrait series of photography, video and text) will be going up at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Runs from April 9 – 20, with the opening on April 11 (6 – 9 p.m.). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Visual artist Blair Sharpe presents new works from his On Some Faraway Beach series at Wallack Galleries (203 Bank St., Ottawa) April 13 – 27, with the opening on April 13 (meet the artist 2 – 4 p.m.) and an artist talk and tour of the exhibit on April 20 at 3 p.m. Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.