The nice thing about the Undercurrents theatre festival having moved downtown to Arts Court theatre (previously housed at the Irving Greenberg Centre) is that it is now much easier to accommodate performances so small and so intimate that even the black box theatre is too large. A prime example is Air, a thirty minute physical piece out of Guelph, directed by Richard Beaune and performed by Trevor Copp. The smaller stage space in the lobby, though not as soundproof as one might like, allows the audience to get a closer, more focused look at Copp’s movement style.
The show is described in the program as being a series of “physical high impact sequences” that explore the different realms of the “physical, spiritual, and psychological” where movement ventures into places where “words cannot follow.” In this case we have three scenes entitled “The Stag Hunter”, “Ascension”, and “The Astounding Gigantism of Mr. Small”. Created by both Beaune and Copp, the two individuals have equally impressive backgrounds in the performing arts. The former having directed at both Stratford and Shaw festivals and taught at both York University and George Brown College, while the latter a champion ballroom dancer, mime, and contact improviser, who studied at the Marcel Marceau School in Paris.
Credentials aside, for a piece entitled Air it feels incredibly grounded and heavy and does not seem as polished as its resume makes it out to be. For starters, at the beginning of the piece the performer tells his audience to get close so we can see his feet because he believes that if you can’t see his feet, you can’t hear him talking: which is a lovely sentiment except that, even if his feet are doing all of the talking, this show has way too much mime walking for Copp to say anything really profound. You can see from the marks left from his Tom shoes on the black stage that he hardly leaves centre and the sometimes symbolic, most times (quite) literal choreography tells a disjointed story.
The soundtrack doesn’t seem to fit the piece either: the movements are too small and closed for the grandiose overtures of classical symphonies like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. Perhaps the most confusing of all, however, is how the performer introduces the titles of each scene directly to the audience, questioning the piece’s effectiveness as “high impact” physical theatre. If we needed to move closer to the stage to see what the performer’s feet are saying, then why the need to preface his choreography with words? It directly undercuts the power of physical language.
As founder of the successful Tottering Biped Theatre, I am not questioning Copp’s credibility, skills, or reputation as an artist. It’s because of all these things that it just seems surprising that Air feels so rough around the edges.
Undercurrents runs Feb. 12th-21st
Ticket info and festival schedule can be found here.