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From Broadcast Week Magazine, by Victor Dwyer
Television and dance have a long and profitable history together. Television sets had barely found a berth in living rooms when American Bandstand redefined teenage Saturday mornings. Today, that tradition is carried on by MuchMusic's Electric Circus. And of course there's the past two decades of MTV videos, in which everyone from Rod Stewart to Macy Gray has gyrated their latest hits into our consciousness in four-minute, never-ending clips.
But TV and real dance - the kind that people spend years at the barre perfecting - that's another matter entirely. Who, after all, would be audacious or foolhardy enough to devote prime-time airwaves to the stuff that classical and contemporary companies do before generally tony - and almost always tiny - live audiences?
We now have an answer: the CBC and Bravo!, who have come together to finance and air The Rings of Saturn, an ambitious selection of new works by renowned choreographer Robert Desrosiers. Starring a raft of dance luminaries, including Rex Harrington, Greta Hodgkinson and Julia Aplin, it also features some pretty deft two-stepping by one performer known more for her TVQ than her way around a dance floor: Sonja Smits.
The show is the brainchild of Moze Mossanen, director of the 1998 short film The Golden City and writer-producer of 1999's feature-length My Gentleman Friends, both of which earned him Genie nominations. Funded by both CBC and Bravo!FACT (the Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent, a division of Bravo! devoted to developing short, arts-oriented films), The Rings of Saturn will air as part of the CBC's Thursday fine-arts series, Opening Night, and in a modified, half-hour format on Bravo! the following evening.
Mossanen co-produced Rings with Helen du Toit, whose feature film Treed Murray is currently in contention for a best-picture Genie. The show's title comes from a poem Mossanen wrote a couple of years back in which he portrayed Saturn as the quintessential object of desire, around which its rings eternally orbit, yearning to intersect with the planet but never quite doing so. Each of the production's five vignettes, shot in various Toronto locations, open with an everyday event involving sexual longing - longing that spins out of control and onto a variety of dance stages as fantasy takes over from reality. "I was inspired by those moments where you're sitting in a restaurant, for example, and you see a stranger, and in the course of a matter of seconds you've created in your mind this whole fantasy relationship with them," says Mossanen. "It's over in a few seconds, and yet it's a form of unrequited love that all of us know."
To introduce each story, Mossanen wrote an accompanying script. It's read by a young girl (Kendra Baker) on the verge of womanhood (though, it might be added, not as nearly on the verge of womanhood as Britney Spears is currently claiming to be). At the tender age of 11, she's an awkward, gangly proto-teen, providing the defiantly erotic dance numbers with the perspective of an outsider looking in. Beyond the simple fact that she is a cloying presence, it's unclear whether viewers will feel comfortable with her role. Some may revel in the juxtapositon of prepubescent ruminations with the taboo fantasies of adults; others may feel a bit squeamish about conflating the two.
Either way, the five stories provide a lot to think about and plenty for the eye and ear to celebrate. Things kickoff with an opening segment in which a sexually frustrated single woman (Caroline Richardson) pays a visit to her best friend (Hodgkinson). Also there is her friend's husband, and it's clear the single woman covets him. Mind you, it would be hard not to, since he's played by the ever-dashing Harrington, who in an interview described the unfolding drama as being about "that position in our lives where it looks better on the other side The piece looks at what she thinks is a perfect relationship, and perhaps it isn't.'' As they sit down to dinner, the three dance, metaphorically, around the single woman's longings. But soon, flush with wine and banter, they begin spinning around the couple's modernist loft, the husband alternately dancing with each of his suitors before finally ending up in the arms of only one.
From there, the show itself spins out into a series of fuel-injected dance fantasies. In one, a bored doctor (Philip Drube) listens intently to the heartbeat of a handsome young patient (Phillip Nero) when suddenly, says the narrator, "for a tiny moment, he's inside that beat and he's listening and feeling and moving." Soon, the two men are engaged in a testosterone-soaked pas de deux, tearing down the corridors of a hospital (Toronto's abandoned Princess Margaret), with the doctor at times propelling his patient up the walls, across the ceiling and back down to Earth.
Smits emerges as a pretty fine dancer in an episode in which she plays the doctor's bored, shop-aholic wife, wandering the stores of upscale Hazelton Lanes. When a beefy salesclerk (Troy Liddell) slips a pair of shoes onto her long-neglected feet, she pulls a major Cinderella, losing herself in a reverie of dance. While this segment is subdued by Smits's comparative lack of formal training, it has several moments to recommend it, particularly one in which she becomes a human swing around the neck of her illusory lover. "Because she escapes into this fantasy, I had to give over completely, I had to be swept away," Smits says. "I was in positions I'd never known in all my life."
Rounding out the show are two adrenaline-packed but also dreamy numbers. In one, Sean Ling and veteran dancer Aplin play a couple who until now have communicated only over the Internet. When they meet in the flesh one summer evening under the trees of Queen's Park, both the sparks and the branches are sent flying. In the evening's final entry, a man (Marq Frerichs) who covets a fellow swimmer (Kristy Kennedy) and her translucent suit seduces her into returning the compliment. Refracted light dapples the lovers as they dance across the surface of a pool (supported by a hidden underwater stage) and finally plunge into its watery depths. There they become entangled in a raw clash of energy, pushing on and off each other's bodies, nearly drowning in their ecstasy before emerging once again into the air, and the everyday.
"What would life be without love?" muses our narrator afterward. "We'd just be like these rings going around and around and not really going anywhere, just, you know, orbiting." With considerable intelligence, The Rings of Saturn examines a world where fantasies propel us into the arms of strangers - where dreams surface and, with defiance, carry us along for the ride.
From the Globe & Mail, Canada's National Newspaper:
A series of five-linked dance vignettes about love and longing, it was created by Moze Mossanen, who did the delightful My Gentleman Friends a few years ago, and it's choreographed by Robert Desrosiers. The linking device is a girl on the cusp of adolescence thinking aloud about love - what a bother it seems to her young and guileless eyes.
The first sequence sets the mood. A single Woman (Caroline Richardson) visits her married friends and we know that she's passionately in love with the husband (Rex Harrington). As the dance ensues, the man's wife (Greta Hodgkinson) asserts her own, proprietary love her husband. It's gorgeously made, as are all the others. The Rings of Saturn has gotten attention for an appearance by actor Sonja Smits, but hers is the least interesting part. Smits does a fair job as a dancer, but the final sequence is a stunner. At a swimming pool, a man (Marq Frerichs) swims and watches a woman (Kristy Kennedy). This is a daily ritual, but here his fantasy comes to life and an extraordinary, soaring courtship takes place.
They make a remarkable pair, both in the water and out, and there's a lovely, aching beauty to it all.
Gemini Award Nomination: Julia Aplin, Best Performance in a Performing Arts Program
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