In review: Synesthesia IV pt.1

In review: Synesthesia IV pt.1

Greg Finney

Saturday, May 7th, tucked away in the middle of a bunch of abandoned industrial spaces just off Bloor Street in the West End of Toronto, I found myself amongst an incredibly diverse audience for FAWN Chamber Creative (formerly FAWN Opera): hipsters and opera groupies mingling with some of the artsiest people on the Toronto Scene.

The space at 221 Stirling Rd. was a blank, empty square with a few pieces of modern sculpture present by artist Kathryn Frances Warner. The pieces were strewn about the performance area, and I was curious to see how they would be employed by the performers themselves. Would they remain just to function as a set or would they be used as hand-props? Or would they even register in the overall staging of the piece?

I grabbed my two cold cans of pear cider and headed to the loft area to snag some overhead seating. This was probably one of the best decisions I made all night. The space was normally used as an aerials studio with the silks tied up to the rafters. The bright white walls and stark lighting casting a decidedly Hell’s-Kitchen-art-show kind of vibe.

Photo via Fawn Chamber Creative.

The evening was a presentation of six pieces by various up-and-coming composers all vying for the same coveted commission of a new ballet-lyrique. Performed by tenor Jonathan MacArthur and dancer Jennifer Nichols, who also choreographed and co-directed, with Adam Scime as Musical Director and co-direction by FAWN Artistic Director Amanda Smith. The objective was to explore the music of these composers and have the audience interactivity of a voting process. The programs all had ballots for the audience to vote on which three composers would move on to compose pieces and work with individual dancers to present Synesthesia IV: pt.2.

The six composers involved were David Storen (Vancouver, BC), Joseph Glaser (Montreal, QC), Kit Soden (Montreal, QC), Lucas Oickle (Vancouver, BC), Roydon Tse (Toronto, ON), and Thomas Ciszak (Montreal, QC). Unfortunately, the order of pieces wasn’t listed in the program which made it difficult at the end of the night as the artists on the ballot were not listed in performing order, it sent the audience on kind of a hunt-and-peck investigation to find out whose pieces were which. The program was posted on the walls about the space, but it was difficult for the audience, without any introductions, to follow the order of the pieces and their composers, which is a bit of a shame.

Photo via Fawn Chamber Creative.

The musicians for the night were top notch: Nathan Petitpas (percussion), Amahl Arulanandam (cello), Patrick Power (guitar), various machines (electronics). While the scores were very contemporary, they were still accessible and tuneful.

The singing was clean and beautiful, even if in my opinion there was far too little of it. MacArthur’s light lyric tone and fantastic English diction marry so well with contemporary pieces, I was felt wanting a lot more from him - not because his performance lacked anything, but the complete opposite; he was so good I wanted more, but there were only 2 pieces of the six that featured a singing vocal line (one featured vocals as more of a sound effect added to the overall soundscape of a piece - effective, but not “singing”).

Photo via Fawn Chamber Creative.

Nichols’ dancing was stellar #AsPerUsual. Her grace and strength and intuition are perfect for moving to pieces like these. Her contemporary/lyric style was made for this kind of material. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with MacArthur and would really have liked to see more interaction between the two of them. They moved so well together and looked so good together, you just found yourself craving more. It was also really nice to see Jennifer in pointe shoes. In what was probably my favourite number dance-wise, we see the power and grace Jennifer possesses when she’s using her classical technique in a more overt manner. There was a moment, which is something I’m not actually sure I’ve ever seen in person, where in relevée, on full pointe, she stood completely still. No fluttering no balance or pas de bourrée just straight up strength, poise and balance. Simply delicious.

I’m excited for Synesthesia IV: Pt. 2, just to see which composers of the six get selected for the next stage of the process.

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