by Lynn on March 15, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Downstairs, Toronto, Ont.

Conceived and sung by Fides Krucker

Choreographed and danced by: Peggy Baker

Laurence Lemeux

Heidi Strauss

Musicians: Rob Clutton

Tania Gill

Germaine Liu

Facilitating director, Katherine Duncanson

Lighting and set co-ordination by Rebecca Picherack

Costumes by Caroline O’Brien

Renowned interpreter of vocal music, Fides Krucker has conceived this show of 15 songs by Canadian writers that charts the often painful, often joyous journey of love from a female prospective. Twelve of the songs were written by women such as: Leslie Feist (“Let It Die”), Joni Mitchell (“Both Sides Now”), k.d. lang (Constant Craving), Sarah McLachlan (“Ice Cream”) and Kate McGarrigle (“Mother Mother”). But those songs written by men:  Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”,  Hawksley Workman’s “Striptease” and Neil Young’s “Helpless” for example offer a different female perspective as well.

The short run of In This Body is part of the Voices³ series of concerts at Canadian Stage. Fides Krucker’s point with her selections from the programme: “This programme’s songs give voice to a particularly Canadian geography of joy, pain, loss, wisdom, humour and hope.”  Krucker’s voice soars and swoops with expression, often changing register mid-song. In its way that change of register adds another layer to the rocky road to love and loss. She interprets the darker side of love with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. As Krucker enters the theatre from the audience she sings the haunting “Soon This Space Will Be Too Small” by Lhasa de Sela, which establishes the mood for most of the evening.

The band: Rob Clutton on bass, Tania Gill on piano, accordion, melodica and trumpet, and Germaine Liu, percussion, provide the music and sound effects that enhance each song. The three dancers: Peggy Baker, Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss have choreographed and dance their own interpretations of the songs that Krucker sings. Heidi Strauss is a tangle of emotion as she interprets in dance the loss of a lover. Laurence Lemieux is elegant and subtle when dancing to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” And the incomparable Peggy Baker is all angles and sinew and she interprets Joni Mitchell’s heartbreaking “Both Sides Now.” Baker is also hilarious as she ‘illustrates’ the points of a song Krucker sings by bringing various things out of a box. She manipulates two dolls that are in a clinch suggesting love; later she drops red rose petals on a doll suggesting it has ‘passed on.” The various things in the box are brought out quickly for funny effect. It’s a shame one doesn’t know the list of songs clearly beforehand and who dances to them for some context. We are given a list of the songs at the end of the show.

While the reason for the show is interesting—to present a female, Canadian perspective on love in all its variations—and the artists involved are all wonderful individually, In This Body proves to be an excess of riches that works against clarity of vision instead of serving it. The show is simply overproduced.

Katherine Duncanson is listed as the ‘facilitating director’, a term I find mystifying since the direction is at best scattered, unfocused and frustrating. Too often Krucker is centre stage singing with one of the dancers behind her interpreting the song in dance. Excuse me, but Peggy Baker, Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss are not background dancers, and that’s what it seems like too often.

At the end of the show Peggy Baker starts off centre stage dancing a plaintive interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” with Krucker a bit off to the side, allowing Baker her rightful place as the focus of the song, but then Krucker moves into Baker’s space, pulling focus. Where do we look? Whose scene is it because it can’t be both of theirs? Clarity and focus are in order.

Frequently Krucker sings and plays the piano along side Tania Gill. Then Gill gets up to play another instrument and at another part of the stage either one or all three dancers are interpreting a song. Again, where is the focus?

The accomplished band provides all sorts of sound effects, for example a tinkling sound for one of the songs made by Germaine Liu as she crunches tin foil it seems, that finally lead me to think ‘this is just too much.’

All the artists involved are stellar in their own right. Fides Krucker’s conception of doing a show about the rocky journey of love in song and dance is a good one. But there is so much going on at all times here that the songs and their message get lost in the jumble of activity. Clarify. Focus. Simplify. Please.

Presented by Good Hair Day Productions and Canadian Stage:

 Opened: March 14, 2018.

Closes: March 18, 2018.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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1 Ciara Adams March 19, 2018 at 11:34 am

Dear Lynn,
Your criticism of “not knowing where to look”, or of this piece too often having a “dual focus” only serves to highlight a lack of understanding of contemporary performance. It is extremely naive to feel in 2018 that a performance that is part of a series entitled Voices3 (or any performance for that matter) which Matthew Jocelyn himself describes as “a unique opportunity to discover the musical and performance universes of three (Krucker, Tagaq, and Magoni) formidable vocalist-performers” should not serve to highlight the singer, with the other players supporting the song/singers performance, AND it is perfectly common and normal to have more than one focus in performance, it’s called layering, a tool often used in composition. I suggest you make a point of seeking out the work of companies like Public Recordings and bluemouth inc., and attending the work at festivals like the Progress Festival, if you have not already. There is enough post colonial, traditional work in this city and country, to see someone do something different is refreshing and wonderful. Too often singers are pushed into the conner as background, with text and movement dominating the landscape. It’s time to open up your perspective and consider how work can be truly interdisciplinary- as this piece was, not multidisciplinary, but interdisciplinary. The lat piece between Fides and Peggy was a duet, how did you miss this? It was outstanding to see these two senior female artists working together in such a delicate way, there was such energy between them, and I can tell you they were connecting as performers in that moment, making it and extremely unique and moving finale to an already incredible piece.

Ciara Adams