Toronto Star, Saturday July 14, 2001

`Mixed mobility' celebrated in modern dance performances

Helen Henderson COLUMNIST

Before the bus broke down, Brenda Gough never dreamed of taking up modern dance. These days, as she rehearses for her debut performance at Dusk Dances 2001, she can't help laughing at the circumstances that find her swooping and turning across an empty wading pool in Dufferin Grove Park. "It's the first time for all of us," she says of the trio in electric wheelchairs who will take part in choreographer Eryn Dace Trudell's improvisation number "Real Wheels!" starting July 24. "But we want the idea to grow."

Studio spaces are rarely barrier-free for wheelchair users

Gough was part of a group that was formed to go on regular outings beyond the city's boundaries. When the bus they had been using gave up the ghost, they started meeting at the March of Dimes in Toronto and inviting guests to come to them. In this way, they met dance teacher Calla Lachance, founder of Canadian Dance- Ability and a firm believer in "mixed mobility." The workshop Lachance gave the group became the basis for what Gough hopes will be a long-term relationship with dance.

And when Lachance told her that dancer/choreographer Trudell was interested in mounting a performance, she was quick to sign up.

If the combination of wheelchairs and dance brings to mind some sort of Hollywood musical extravaganza, with carefully choreographed patterns shot from above, think again. Trudell's vision is one of free-flowing energy. "I don't dictate the steps," she says. At rehearsals in the park, she talks about movement, about open sky, about dancing in one another's auras.

Gough, Christene Rowntree and Bob Gerrie glide in power chairs. Trudell and Lachance are on foot some of the time, but the performance may incorporate everything from the wheels of in-line skates to a low dolly from a loading dock.

When Trudell, a graduate of North York's Claude Watson Program for the Performing Arts and New York's Juilliard School, first thought about working with dancers in wheelchairs, she says she had this vision of "a whole company of them coming up over a hill like a cascade of water." Reality changed that vision of mixed mobility.

"There were things I just hadn't thought about," she says. "Certain parts of the body shouldn't bear weight." And parts of the wheelchair are not for standing on.

But if the vision has been altered, it is no less compelling. Dusk Dances, where the audience can stroll through the park from performance to performance, is the perfect setting to make improvisation accessible to all. "Too often, modern dance is isolated from the public," says Trudell.

And for people who use wheelchairs, dance studio spaces are rarely barrier-free, she says. "They're either not accessible, on the third floor of a walk-up, or they're not affordable." "Real Wheels!" she hopes, will be just the beginning of a different approach.

Lachance is used to working with people who have always expressed themselves in ways that lend new meaning to society's preconceived ideas of motion. The performance with Dusk Dances adds a new dimension to the improvisation work. As part of a literacy program at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, she worked with people who are both deaf and blind, then continued her exploration of movement and abilities through courses at George Brown College and Ryerson. But it was at an improvisation teacher-training program in Oregon that things really started falling into place. Through Alito Alessi, Emery Blackwell and their DanceAbility project, she went to Switzerland, working on integrated dance programs for children with and without disabilities.

"Movement of the upper body, the eyes, the head, the shoulders can be simple and beautiful," she says of Canadian DanceAbility and the classes she teaches.

"Dancers in mixed mobility projects connect on a level that's very real to both of them. This isn't about disability, it's about dance."

For more information about DanceAbility, call 416-515- 8666. "Real Wheels!'' will be part of Dusk Dances pay-what-you-can performances starting at 7:30 p.m. in Dufferin Grove Park, July 24 to 29. Wheel-Trans drop-off is at Havelock and Dewson Sts. For details of other Dusk Dances performances, call 416-533-5028.

National Post, June 11, 2001

A small step outside the everyday

Michael Crabb
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto

Heliotrope is a plant whose flowers turn to face the sun. It's also the title of an engrossing new solo work by Eryn Dace Trudell, a Toronto-based dancer and choreographer. Trudell adopts heliotrope as a metaphor for a personal journey of self-discovery. She significantly subtitles Heliotrope as: "A Long Walk Through a Deep Forest."

Trudell's 70-minute work, which closed a short premiere run at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre yesterday, is much more than a dance piece. In fact, the quantity of actual movement is purposefully rationed. Where it occurs, it is always significant. There's nothing decorative, virtuosic or superfluous in the choreography. The fundamental intent of Trudell and her artistic collaborators is to make their audience co-travellers and to take it to another level of awareness.

The process begins the moment you enter the theatre and encounter what in a gallery contest would certainly qualify as an art installation: pieces of steel cutlery, individually suspended above a polished pool of metal. As one later appreciates, these are symbolic of the mundane, everyday world.

Set and costume designer Cheryl Lalonde transforms the square studio space at Buddies by arranging the bleacher seating in four sections against each wall, leaving corner spaces that can be used variously for entrances and exits and to house other elements of the set. The arrangement breaks down the conventional performer/audience juxtaposition.

The stage floor is painted with autumnal leaves. It is festooned from above with suspended flowers; not, I suspect, heliotropes but more seasonal daisies. There are more flowers arranged in glasses in a corner of the stage floor, which Trudell will later water. In another corner, effectively a little annex between sections of bleachers, there are tall, skeletal, semi-abstracted trees made of coiling metal. In an opposing annex, there's a low platform with reed mats and a pillow roll.

It's a lot of visual information to take in but it serves Trudell's purpose well since Heliotrope is designed to take audiences into a different state of consciousness. Trudell accomplishes this in other ways. One is by the use of stillness. Although there are sections where Trudell explodes into fast, strong movement, some of the most potent choreography in Heliotrope is also the most minimal: tiny gestures, an alert turn of the head, a gentle uncoiling of the body. Trudell also makes much use of a long bolt of golden coloured cloth, wrapping it around her like a cape, curling inside it to become a chrysalis, tying it to a gallery rail and sliding down as if it were a waterfall.

Although it's not easy to adjust quickly from the city bustle outside to the quiet, mysterious environment Trudell and her collaborators have created, she is such an intensely focused performer that you find your own senses similarly intensified.

The occasional intruding sounds of police sirens and fire-engine horns from the street outside underline the contrast of environments. They also highlight the fact that Trudell's character in Heliotrope is embarked on a quest for spiritual understanding and purification but in full awareness of the real world in which she must still exist.

Catherine Thomson, Trudell's composer and live musical accompanist, amplifies the juxtaposition of worlds. Her score, or "sound design" as it's described in the house program, contrasts city noises with the recorded sound of bird calls and forest streams, live drumming, vocalizing and the meditative drone of an instrument I can only describe as a primitive double bass. It sounds wonderful.

Thomson is an imposing, statuesque woman and her physical presence is crucial. She is a benign observer of Trudell's episodic journey, a comforting goddess, a spirit of the forest, a maternal presence. At one point, the two engage in a playful game, rearranging the flowers on stage.

Heliotrope ends up being one of those theatrical events that defies easy categorization. I'm not even sure that it can be called theatrical in the ordinary sense since it verges on genuine ritual. It's a bit like attending some quasi-shamanistic ceremony. The result, therefore, cannot so much be judged as experienced. What can be said is that Trudell has successfully managed to move beyond the personal to offer glimpses of a larger universe.

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