Singing and dancing together usually add up to fun. Musicals, Broadway and Hollywood’s golden era, are bound to put a spring in your step and a song on your lips. Recently, Damien Chazelle’s award winning La La Land with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone tapping and singing sweetly shows reverence for the coupling and says we’re willing to abandon ourselves to song and dance yet.
Canadian choreographer Ame Henderson took a different approach in her newest work, “Noisy” presented last week to a full house at Toronto Dance Theatre. Dismantling both music and movement, we were left with fragments of each, transferred through the dancers, with all the joy of a communicable disease.
Bad singing in Florence Foster Jenkins, Stephen Frears’ 2016 film, was interesting, psychological and poignant; in “Noisy,” with dancers raising their differing voices in unaccompanied song, it failed to carry such weight. In the opening moments when the dancers began to yowl like cats, the audience gave up some titters, a few laughs, but one was never sure how far the irony went. There were moments of humour, too few, and too pale; but a lone voice singing “I love my job” didn’t fail to resound.
It was a pity that the work stayed so light because the theme of working and singing is a deep one, embedded in the history of music and society, and is relevant to today. By missing this the work at times seemed naive, and a little off-putting. The dancers too, with calf muscles showing through trousers and tights, costumes credited to Claudia Fancello, were wasted, confined to minimal, staccato gestures. They often resembled a group of people playing the statue game, gingerly shifting position, or self-conscious movers at a silent disco.
A few times the work crescendoed, and with a hearty, “Big Nuthin’,” it seemed to approach protest but ultimately came to—nothing. By the time the cast were calling out, “I’m a time traveller” I was looking around for a Tardis as a potential out. It is possible that Henderson, an associate dance artist of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and known for her activist dance work, had us just where she wanted, but to me, it read more like a failed experiment.
The piece did not explore enough, and with scant variation, save Simon Rossiter’s ever-admirable lighting design, it was a long 75 minutes. In the programme, Henderson notes that song and dance “might allow time to pass differently;” truly. Time hung heavy for many in the largely sympathetic audience. On the way out, I passed two smokers, inhaling madly—I have my suspicions that they were not smokers at all, and that Henderson’s experiment had lead them to reevaluate the preciousness of time.