Fine Physical Therapy

It isn’t every night you can see modern dance at Calgary’s Auburn Saloon, so Fluid’s Physical Therapy Cabaret was special in its own right. First off, the Auburn as a venue itself presents an interesting challenge to performers with its non traditional theatre space. It is a more intimate space where tables and booths surround the stage, not to mention the big illuminated metal tree right smack in the middle of the ambience, which includes visual art on the walls, the sound of clinking glasses, servers and bartenders… Then the show starts. And with the eclectic mix of dance and performance artists, it is hard to describe Physical Therapy. To say it is a show of shows with something for everyone is merely cliché. Perhaps then, it would be better to pair each show with the appropriate drink in this setting. For Danny Nielson’s cool and hoofin’ ‘Spanish Joint’ – a perky coffee drink like Monte Cristo. For Mark Hopkins’ humorous, awkward and intimately honest ‘Muskoka’ – Big Rock Traditional. For Helen Husak’s lyrical and elegant fluttering work ‘Bloom’ – Bordeaux. Jamie Tognazzini’s hilariously quirky and inspiring Barring an Act of Gawd – well, it’s got to be a fun drink that’s shaken and not stirred. And Istvan Kantor’s multimedia presentation paired with a live performance called Song of the Anti-Hero….well, that would arguably be paired with a drink you could set on fire. And then some.

The true beauty of Physical Therapy was in the works that found both humour and heartbreak. Neah Kalcounis’ ‘Ifegenia’s Dance’ is such a work. Part monologue, part dance piece, Kalcounis humorously describes how to wear the perfect post-modern tutu, basically by tucking into her pants. Her stool transforms into a walker onstage for her aging body, arthritic after thousands of steps as a dancer and choreographer. But the heart of the piece, and the heartbreak within it, is that it is a dedication to her late grandmother as well as a portrait of the solo dance artist – and the name that connects them. Witnessing this work, there is no doubt that Kalcounis is in the moment and honest about it every single nanosecond she is onstage. Mark Hopkin’s ‘Muskoka’ starts both as a rather funny homage to his family vacations and as an awkward blind date (he encouraged audience participation with his offer of Big Rock). It quickly turns into a profound portrait of people he loved who are no longer there: it ends with pictures taken in Muskoka in the present time, only, instead of portraying his grandparents, now the slideshow shows there is only an empty chair. “We all have our own Muskoka” someone in the audience commented, reflecting how everyone has family places that echo the past.

There were dark works as well: Miku Tsuchiya’s ‘Mu’ included an exploration of movement without sight. This included the dancer blindfolding herself. Her lines were exquisite, and the music was eerie. The effect was both sinister and gorgeous.

But where there is dark, Jamie Tognazzini has found light – ‘Barring an Act of Gawd’ started from the audience, and drew us into the world of a beguilingly misguided character, who faces down volcanic lava all for the love of her deity. Barring an Act of Gawd includes the greatest costume change in the history of cabaret theatre as well. And, in spite of being a comedic piece, it included a few profound sayings about love...even when one is standing in the midst of lava.