Multimedia dance-art show Displacement has enough force to successfully pull the heavy weight of its subject matter, dislocation. Held at the Fleck Dance Theatre as part of Harbourfront Centre’s Next Steps Dance Series, it closed last Saturday after a four-day performance that combined film, musical, visual art, and contemporary dance. Curated by three acclaimed Canadian artists, all immigrants themselves, the show explores the human condition of being uprooted, placed, and displaced.The show was headed by Vitek Wincza, artistic director of the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts Dance Company, who firmly believes that “stories of displacement are all around us.” With this all-encompassing openness native to Canada, the show explores the immigrant experience and benefits from the rich experience that the three creators bring. When it opened two years ago, Gary Smith of the Hamilton Spectator commented that the performance “assaults the comfortable notion of what dance, art, and music ought to be.” True to these words, Displacement is one part dance performance, one part theatrical expression, and the rest emotional release.Displacement features choreography by Robert Glumbek accompanied by scores written by U of T music prof Christos Hatzis and played by the Penderecki Quartet. The show is set against a backdrop of film and art installations by Vessna Perunovich.Glumbek, a graduate of the Bytom State Ballet School in Poland, echoes the words of Wincza when he states, “all of us have been displaced at some point.” It is through this acute sense of empathy that his emotionally charged choreography is born.While the use of the suitcase as a prop symbolizing the itinerant nomadic fate of the dancers seemed a bit trite, Glumbek’s choreography easily overcomes the pitfalls of the play’s clichéd movements. He does this by weaving in the stifling feeling of not belonging with the urgency of a boiling kettle. The fantastic red elastic bands serve as props of entrapment that the actors must fight hard to break away from. The tug-of-war that erupts between those who want to remain settled and those who are desperate to escape resembles the up-bow down-bow motion of the violinists performing in the music pit below.The burden of history hangs heavily in the air. When the dancers yell out each other’s names, this piercing sound feeds the steady stream of suspense that is built throughout the performance. The theatre’s small scale affords the intimacy of seeing a trickle of sweat on a performer’s cheek and hearing the dancers gasp for air.The moves are reminiscent of the whirling dervishes of Turkey and also the Afro-
Brazilian-influenced capoeira forms. As bodies tangle, embrace, and are torn apart, music composed by Hatzis only adds to the suspense.Hatzis himself was born in Greece and many of the influences in his music mirror the Canadian immigrant experience. The first string quartet, titled The Awakening, provides strong references to Inuit throat singers and to the locomotive engines echoed in Perunovich’s visual artwork. This influence can be traced back to Hatzis’ personal childhood memories of riding the rail in Volos, his in Greece, with his father who worked as a railway engineer, seeing people on and off the train as it snaked in and out of cities as the main mode of travel.The second string arrangement, The Gathering, involves chiming Islamic timbre. Although the oriental influence tries to slow down the music — much of which was composed during the war in Kosovo and the bombings in Belgrade — the violent force of the rhythm ignores this intervention and continues to charge forth.Accompanying the composition and the choreography is Perunovich’s visual art installation, which evolves around the ideas of immigration, separation, and transition. Upon leaving the former Yugoslavia in 1988, Perunovich watched as her home country was broken up into seven different states, culminating in the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which in turn, has left much of her work coloured by her personal narrative of displacement.The dancers fall gracefully onto the floor, wilting like flowers, after a powerful performance. Certainly, Displacement succeeds as a truly thought-provoking show.