Stage Door Review

Divine Interventions

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

✭✭

by co-created by David Danzon, Anika Johnson & Matt O'Connor, directed by David Danzon

• Corpus Dance Projects, Gallery Stratford, Stratford

September 18, 2021;

• Amos Waites Park, 2441 Lake Shore Blvd, Toronto

September 24-25, 2021;

• Lee Lifeson Park, 223 Gladys Allison Place, Toronto

October 1-2,2021;

• Bell Manor Park, 1 Bayside Lane, Toronto

October 8-9,2021 (October 10 rain date)

“Any day now, any day now”

Divine Interventions by Corpus Dance Projects offers the just the balm we need in these uncertain times. The work is a such a perfect blending of music, dance and theatre that it is impossible to place it in any one genre. Its purpose, amazingly accomplished in only 30 minutes, is to give the audience a magical vision that, like the best theatre, takes us out of ourselves and causes us to view the world in a new light.

The performance begins when we see five women in strange but beautiful garb drive past us on a quint tandem bicycle. The five –  Barbara Fulton, TrudyLee Gayle, Sierra Holder, Tracy Michailidis and Kelsey Verzotti – ride a full circuit around the park (in my case it was Lee Lifeson Park in North York) before stopping before us and dismounting. This arrival on such an unusual vehicle already initiates us into the world of whimsy and wonder that characterizes the whole piece.

The audience sits on children’s stools of various heights in an irregular oval demarcated by a red rope on the grass. The women had been singing as they rode in, but as they approach us they change to a complex sequences of staccato breathing, their sounds of “ha” eventually taking on rhythm and tone.

If one has read the description of the work on the Corpus website, one would know that we are seeing “Five goddesses [who] descend from the heavens ... having received word that the world is in dire need of their help”. Knowing this, we would think the five goddesses were reacting to their first intake of earthly air.

While the description of the work helps provides viewers with a narrative for the piece, the piece is much more an experience than a narrative and one would be hard pressed to identify the five women as goddesses from the work itself. Dressed identically in Carolin Lindner’s fantastic costumes and moving in precise coordination following Bonnie Kim’s extraordinarily imaginative choreography, the women strike us as alien creatures who are intensely curious about the world they are visiting.

Lindner has given each of the women golden sneakers and a pale jumpsuit with harem pants and golden cross-garters extending from the sneakers over the pants to below the knee. This give the impression of buskin, the boot laced over the leg worn by actors in ancient Greece. Above is a ruff of black feathers. All wear golden bicycle helmets that they remove before approaching us.

Someone unfamiliar with Corpus’s scenario would thus see five women whose dress combines both ancient and modern, human and avian. Kim’s choreography and often Johnson’s nonsense syllables play up the avian aspect of these strange visitors. They move with quick jerks of the head and use a high-stepping walk to move from place to place in silence always keeping their shoulders back and elbows thrust past their backs. Kim even has them move one way only to swerve rapidly the other just as a murmuration of starlings do in the air.

Early on the five gather on a small knoll near where the audience sits. Each magically produces a leaf in her hand and then forming a tight circle each adorns the head of the woman in front of her. If the quint bicycle, the identical outfits, the music’s close harmonies and the group’s synchronized movements did not emphasize the unity of these beings, this one action confirms it. 

We see them honour each other before they proceed to investigate the space where we are and are so intent on their mission they treat us as is we weren’t there. Moving in synch at every step in choreography that Kim must have adapted especially for the Lee Lifeson Park (and every other venue where the show is staged), the women explore the lovely little amphitheatre in the park. They exult in sultry oohs and ahhs as they languish in the curves of the large fanciful scalloped shell behind the back of the circular stage of amphitheatre as if delighted to have found a thing of beauty in a world new to them.

Their curiosity even brings them to encircle a recycling bin as if to suggest that in a new world beauty can potentially be discovered anywhere.  And, indeed it is. Just as we cringe to think what they might find in the bin, we see that they pull out five unusual but gorgeous headbands decorated with flowers and feathers, supporting again the women’s link to nature and art. They crown themselves an then in harsh syllables seem to chide who ever it was who thought these lovely crowns should be discarded.

At the very end the five make a circle around the audience’s space. Like all the singing it is gorgeously a cappella and unamplified, but for the first time they sing in an intelligible language, English as it happens. Tracy Michailidis leads the gospel-influenced song. Without its repetitions the songs states: “Any day now / if we wait a little more / we will find out / what this is for”.

This is a wonderfully ambiguous way to end the show. Does the “we” include us or not? How much is a “little more” to goddesses to presumably are immortal? And what exactly is “this”? My mind immediately leapt to Covid, but “this” could easily mean this earth or even this beautiful ritual which we have witnessed.

If “this” is the ritual it is immediately clear what it is for. For 30 minutes Corpus has taken us out of ourselves to see the world as  something new, just as the goddesses see it. In seeing the world anew we feel cleansed – cleansed by Lindner’s vision of creatures of fantasy, cleansed by Kim’s choreography that combines the strange and familiarity with precision and cleansed by Johnson’s music and rapturous five-part harmonies and jazzy rhythms. Indeed, Johnson’s score is so attractive with its own take on the minimalist choruses of Glass and Reich that I would have purchased a copy if it had been available.

I arrived at the show in a very dark mood. Everything had gone wrong so far that day and I was afraid I wouldn’t even get to the show on time. By the end of the mere 30 minutes all that anger and anxiety was gone. My mind was filled with nothing but the whimsical yet profound vision I had experienced, a vision that seemed to hold out hope that there is more to the world than what we see and that patience will eventually bring understanding. I can’t express my gratitude enough to Corpus for crafting such a work that is so thoroughly delightful and uplifting – truly a “divine intervention” and precisely what we need right now to soothe our weary souls.

Christopher Hoile

Photo: The five goddesses arrive at the park, © 2020 Jae Yang; Kelsey Verzotti, Tracy Michailidis, Sierra Holder, Barbara Fulton, TrudyLee Gayle  and spectator, © 2021 Corpus Dance Projects.

For tickets visit www.corpus.ca.