BWW Review: AF Examines Human Nature Through Anishinaabe Mythology
Emotive, demanding dance pairs gorgeously with booming percussion in Red Sky Performance's AF, presented by Canadian Stage. Drawing inspiration from Anishinaabe mythologies, director Sandra Laronde and choreographer Thomas Fonua (in collaboration with performers) explore the foundations of George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' through a unique lens, in many ways breaking it down to its core ideas to present them in a way that's simultaneously modern and ancient.
AF is a work that relies heavily on its performers ability to not just perform the rigorous movements incorporated in the piece, but to act throughout. On the Feb. 21 performance, dancers Eddie Elliott, Miyeko Ferguson, Marrin Jessome, Connor Mitton, and Michael Rourke made up the ensemble, telling their character's stories through several group numbers and a few solos.
Despite the overall strength of the ensemble, Elliott's performance is a clear standout as his character makes up the core emotional foundation of the story. His ability to blend modern popping throughout and his success in conveying a heartbreaking story through movement alone brings AF to its emotional, climactic end brilliantly. Also noteworthy is Ferguson's character and performance, brought to life through light, airy movement and childlike innocence in her acting.
Equally important to the dance performances are music (composers Eliot Britton and Rick Sacks) and design. Moody lighting (Chris Malkowski) shifts between cool shades and fiery tones with the high walls of the theatre creating a perfect backdrop for shadow storytelling, while costumes (Kinoo Arcentales) help establish the world of the story and accentuate the movement of the dancers. Britton and Sacks' music is impossible to ignore; performed by percussionists Sacks and Joyce To, with vocals by Jenifer Brousseau, the booming pound of the drums adds a real sense of urgency and importance to what's being done on stage. Brousseau's airy vocals in softer moments create a dreamlike setting that's much appreciated between the aggressive (but still gorgeous) drumming.
It's a take on human progress and survival that seems fairly open to interpretation. While the Indigenous roots in the performance are essential to its success, AF is a tale that reflects all of the struggles we humans face individually and as a species. With the relentless stream of stories of inequality and suffering faced by Indigenous people around the world - and especially in Canada - AF also serves as a timely reminder of the importance of reconciliation in a world where division through inequality reigns.
Red Sky Performance and Canadian Stage's AF runs through March 1 at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St., Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.canadianstage.com/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=af&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::context_id=
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz