Sometimes it’s all in our perception. I went into Dream Away not expecting much – I know that Stephan Toss’ work isn’t always my cup of tea, but that Les Grands Ballets’ dancers always find a way to move me – whereas my date for the night had very high hopes. In the end, I loved everything she couldn’t stand, and vice versa, and yet we are young women with similar taste! Sometimes you realize mid-dream that you are in fact dreaming, and it wipes away the magic of what you had been experiencing. Sometimes you even wake up, losing that dream world completely. In Dream Away, Stephan Toss captured both these sides of the dream, and where I was fully swept away, my companion was wide awake. Which side will you see?
Born in ex-East Germany, Stephan Toss was a student of German expressionist dance. Dealing with absurd distortions and the grotesque, telling stories of the emotionally deranged or distraught, it’s an approach to art that counters the popular ballet tales. These are not the romantic tragedies of Manon and Giselle. Les Grands previously performed Thoss’ Death and the Maiden and Searching for Home, and Dream Away made its world premiere in Montreal in spring 2013. It returns this year closing the 2015-2016 season with lavishness and intensity. Something about the German style resonates with the French culture here, and Dream Away particularly speaks of confliction and creativity, which are pillars in my understanding of the Quebecois story. Perhaps Thoss’ work touched my inner patriot.
True to Thoss’ introduction as an intense and minimalist artist, Dream Away is just that. In the plain world there is a woman, a man, and a desk. In the dream world, there is every number of fantastical things. Only a scrim a marks the separation between the two. In the opening minutes of the 85-minute long performance, the woman’s madness leads to turbulent movement, sharp lines and serious faces, that had me forgetting to take a breath. I kept thinking that if my dreams were that crazy, heck, I’d go mad too. In parallel to the craziness of our own lives, always rushing from one project to the next, multitasking and leaving bits unfinished left and right in our quest to keep up with the ever quickening pace of life… I could relate to her eventual desire to give in to her dream world; to enter it and leave behind the struggle of having to make sense of things and close ties. In a dream, you don’t know how you got where you are or how long you’ve been there for. You just are. Thoss translated this so clearly with dance.
Vera Kvarcakova was our exceptional woman/dreamer, partnered by Jeremy Galdeano. They remained on stage throughout the performance, having the impressive task of lying dead still while the dream world ran wild, then springing right back into action when the focus flipped back to them. The dream dancers on the other hand got to really show off, Thoss’ choreography demanding that they go beyond the limits of normalcy. A dancer swung suspended from her feet, a candelabra in each hand, as a living chandelier. Another dancer fell into the splits and dragged himself across the stage, because why walk? With a million things going on and nothing connecting them but their wildness, you had to either give in and enjoy the tiny moments, or spend the whole time struggling against the losing battle of finding sense in it.
For all the meaning I have found in Dream Away, it really is just my own reading of the work. As Thoss says, “In dance you need to look and see and feel, to accept and embrace that idea that there is no answer and that not everything can be explained,” and yet the closure of explanation is often so irresistible. This beautiful contemporary ballet is one hundred percent a product of Thoss’ imagination. From the choreography and music, to the lights and costumes, even the decor and film montage, he created it all and is increasingly immersive in this way with his projects. It’s a wonderful way wrap to wrap Les Grands’ season.