Cheers/Off to the Races: Katie McMillan on Agwa/Correria

There was really nothing I wanted to do less than go out and see a show last night. It’s the end of term so I have major research paper hanging over my head, the weather was miserable, and, to top it off, I had some dental work done yesterday afternoon and the freezing hadn’t entirely worn off. I was tired and cold and I couldn’t feel half of my face. Trust me, if there was any way I could have avoided going to see a show last night, I would have. But there wasn’t.

The thesis of this post is: I am so glad Agwa/Correria was the show I saw last night. As much as I have enjoyed the other World Stage performances, I don’t know that any of the others would have kept me awake, let alone engaged, in the condition I was in (and who could blame them). Watching Agwa/Correria was like taking a fistful of caffeine pills with Red Bull and then running ten kilometres. Compagnie Käfig is energy. I left the theatre feeling revitalized not only because of the liveliness of the performance but the significance of the subject matter as well.

My artistic philosophy is that if a work doesn’t leave me asking questions at the end, it probably wasn’t very good. The dancers in Agwa/Correria seemed to be asking their audience, why do we take life/art so seriously? This question was raised through a balanced combination of the medium and the message. Both performances addressed relevant political issues; time, in Correria, and water, in Agwa, were both highlighted as limited resources and questioned in terms of their sustainability. Approaching these issues with lightness and comedy through this form of dance was all the more effective because it was completely unexpected. I will clear the air right now and say that this was not So You Think You Can Dance-style hip hop with ‘brilliant’ gimmicks like having performers chained together while dancing to Love Lockdown. Props and costumes were used as extensions of the dancers to create specific images at specific moments. Oh, and I almost forgot – the dancing was phenomenal.

For me, Correria inspired the feeling of being stuck in traffic. Anyone who has driven a car in Toronto knows the feeling of road rage that surfaces simply because we somehow forget that EVERYONE ELSE IS ALSO STUCK IN TRAFFIC. Life is a race and a competition, certainly, but Correria reminds us that we participate in that competition from many different angles. Our position – how and where we participate in society – changes. Sometimes we are worlds ahead of our competition and sometimes we can barely drag our feet off the ground. The next moment we may find ourselves judging others as a spectator. We work together and we work against each other. Our bodies detach from our expectations and we may find our feet multiplying and running too fast, or else our movements appear to be in slow motion even though our brains are in overdrive. Sometimes we end up having dental work done a few hours before reviewing a show and Correria reminds us of how comical these experiences are. The performances we give of ourselves to prove our worth in the competition of life are hilarious. They are over the top. They are almost inhuman. We participate to survive and yet by participating we raise the stakes of the race for everyone else. Life is just funny that way.

I actually forgot to think analytically during the performance of Agwa because I was so enraptured by it. The entire work was comprised of eleven dancers and about two hundred plastic cups, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off any of them. Agwa is creative, colourful, and full of energy. The dancers had some of the strongest, most controlled bodies I have ever seen; their balance and isolation was magical. Along with a diverse mix of music, the dancers maintained the rhythm with their bodies, pounding their fists or stomping their feet on the stage to keep time. While the entire ensemble was made up of phenomenal dancers, standing out was Wanderlino Martins Neves, whose sustained headspin made for one of the most enjoyable moments of the performance, defying gravity as hundreds of plastic cups rained down around him.

The most incredible thing about Agwa/Correria is that these works have been performed countless times since their inception in 2008, but the dancers still look like they’re enjoying every moment of it, perhaps for the first time. There is no imagined fourth wall in this performance. The dancers talk to us. They tease us, let us in on secrets and tell us jokes. They bring us in by welcoming us, rather than pretending we’re not there. This is a company that is truly appreciative of their audience, and the audience reciprocated that appreciation with a few well-deserved standing ovations. The vitality of this relationship between dancers and the audience is what makes the entire experience of Agwa/Correria so enjoyable.

As the lights dimmed, I realized that at some point during the performance my freezing must have worn off. My face literally hurt from an hour of smiling in the dark.

Katie McMillan is a PhD candidate in Theatre Studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, where her research focuses on studying gender performance in Canadian actor training institutions. As an active theatre practitioner, her directing credits include How I Learned to Drive and The Pillowman (McGill University). In her spare time, Katie writes for a comedy web-series and performs original comic songs for her cats – and anyone else who might be listening.

Katie is this season’s Theatre Criticism & Engagement Intern for World Stage 2012. This program is a part of Harbourfront Centre and York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts long-term partnership–working together to nurture a vibrant and thriving arts ecology in Toronto.