No adjectives for Sly Verb

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In Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut Tom Cruise observes a scene in what turns out to be a grandiose bawdy house. Ten or so robed and masked women enter a great hall, lead by a masked priest/shaman. At a signal, the women suddenly drop their robes, standing naked but for their masks. At that moment, what could have been a beautifully sensual and teasingly erotic scene stops dead.

Toronto Dance Theatre's Sly Verb, on the other hand, does not fall. Instead it maintains its momentum; its nakedness is in its passionate use of motion and intimate touch.

Indeed, what marks this performance is its very intimacy - the nudity that plays an important role in the piece is not there to shock or tantalise (though I must admit, the performers are very pretty). Rather, it punctuates both the importance of touch in the lives of people and the very ridiculousness in the notion of nudity as erotic in of itself.

The latter point is stressed early in the piece when a male enters stage right and then, in seeming fits of ecstasy, starts to flap his (ahem) appendages from one hip to the other. In the midst of this, a female dance enters - to hand over a pair of briefs, as if to say, "Yeah, we have all now seen what you have. We don't care, really." The laughter heard from the audience was not nervous but genuine.

There is a lot of play in Sly Verb, perhaps to illustrate how, unlike adults, children have few boundaries and issues with physical space: they can enjoy touch and the ability to move without inhabitation. There is also a great display of physicality - the breadth of elasticity in movement that the human body is capable of exerting is completely expressed here and not in that trite yes-we-do-modern-dance-and-we-must-use-the-same-stupid-moves-over-and-over-again kind of way. In the dance we see our animal antecedents.

Plus the Toronto Dance Theatre is NOT composed of emaciated waifs - their strength is demonstrated again and again, in an extent that is often not seen in other dance forms. I must admit that the dancer in me was constantly saying "oww" as knees slammed the floor and as bodies were smacked.

Initially, I did not get the point of the set: a series of wire mesh forms. But later I came to understand them as stylized human nerve endings and cells. And I was grateful when the set was used as props again and again since I loathe when props are used once and then cast aside. The score was Blade Runnermeets the Dreamtime from Australia at times, creating a pulse for the performance - although the use of bass guitar added a porn film element that did not match the tone of the piece to my mind.

After the show I met up with Luke Garwood, one of the dancers whom I knew from my days running the National Ballet School library . The shy teen I knew is now a young man who has gone far from where I expected. Instead of being stuck in the back of the corps of ballet companies like the National Ballet of Canada, he (as with the rest of Toronto Dance Theatre) has been given the opportunity to truly push the envelope. And luckily for the audience, TDT in Sly Verb shined both in individual performances and as an ensemble.

Sly Verb continues at the Premiere Dance Theatre at 207 Queen's Quay West) until April 8th, 2006. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $17 - $38 .


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