CanAsian's Transformations

Precision - this is what characterises the presentation of CanAsian Dance's Transformations, which explores the "expressions of Gender Roles in Asian Dance". Cross-dressing in Asian dance performance not an unfamiliar concept but the great lengths that the Transformations' dancers go, in costume, makeup, gesture and articulation of movement is something that I believe Toronto has yet to see on a stage...until now.

All facets of cross-gender dance are displayed: from Peking Opera (Song Chang Rong and Yao Zhong Wen) to the Cirebon Topeng tradition (Elly). We also introduced to in the disciplines of butoh (Yukio Waguri) and bharatanatyam (Sudarshan Belsare) as well as the classical Javanese Yogyakarta style (Didik Nini Thowok). Each piece bore its own mythology and as this critic arrived just in time for the first dance performance, I had no program to use as a guide.

I did not need one.

Iin truth, I was in to much awe of the precision ( I must use that word again) of the dancing to pay alot of attention to the tales being told. Not that I totally ignored them. Waguri's transition from Japanese maiden of old, to modern woman in red dress, to the Gothic Lotita, to a man... and back to a Japanese maiden ago was thought-provoking. Elly's performance was minutely halting to start but her butch rendition of a king in love was complete with a manly swagger which reminded me, of all things, of hip-hop. Admittedly however, while well executed, the Peking Opera of Rong and Wen did not do much for me.

Now the sole reason for my being at Transformations was to see Didik Nini Thowak. I first met Didik when he did a demonstration of the cross-dressing traditions of Indonesia at York University in 2004 (we spoke at length at how today's dancers in general are unwilling to undergo the level of discipline that was of "the old school" and how many dance traditions are now dying because of that). At Transformation he did Berdandan, a performance cum documetary using monolog and video to tell the tale of how Didik was introduced to the cross-dressing tradition (with the support of his grandmother) followed his performance of the Golek Lambangsari dance, did not disappoint. Didik, as usual, was breathtaking.

But is was Sudarshan Belsare, displaying the South Indian female impersonation of the stri-vesham tradition, who stole the show. I have seen many brilliant performances of classical Indian dance and Toronto is blessed to have many talented performers of it. But they pale in comparison to Belsare. Unlike all the other performances, where one had to suspend disbelief of the gender transformation, there was no doubt than the male Belsare was a woman dancing a woman's dance. Precision of movement - oh those hands - enveloped with the loving passion for the dance could not be ignored and was celebrated with cheers from the audience.

Toronto's dance scene is going to be hard pressed to meet this level of performance. Forget The Lord of Rings, or the National Ballet of Canada, or the opera - Transformations is performance that must not be missed. The theatre did not have full attendance last night and to this critic's mind to not fill the seats would be a crime.

Tranformations continues until June 10th at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Tickets are $28, $23 for seniors, students, and CADA members. For the box office call 416-973-4000.

[photo: Didik Nini Thowok]

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