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Review: Story, Story, Die. (Harbourfront Centre & Winter Guests)

With social media, it can be hard to tell who you are. Is that your authentic self? Why are you posting that? For you? For others? Is it all an act? Is it all fake? Who are you really? These thoughts can be constant and circular. “It keeps repeating...”

Story, Story, Die. is a dance work that aims to show the deep and dark corners of your mind. It showcases the thoughts, feelings and insecurities that we all have. The work looks at how we present ourselves (or lie) to the world and on social media. It questions how far we go to be liked, loved, and more desirable, and examines our truest selves in a time when that is a hard thing to do — in a way that only contemporary dance can.

Story, Story, Die. presented by the Harbourfront Centre and choreographed by Alan Lucien Øyen and his Norwegian company Winter Guests, is an event that is part of a year-long initiative and cultural exchange between the Nordic Region and Canada (From their Nordic Spotlight / Nordic Bridges series) to showcase multidisciplinary contemporary art, culture, and ideas.

Seven gorgeous and technically brilliant performers show these mental torments through cinematic staging, lighting, voice and contemporary movement. Their movement is weightless but grounded, with many themes of self-manipulation, anxious gestures and breath. Yet, you can never get too comfortable simply watching their movement because of its stark stops and breaks in its intriguing form of meta-dance-theatre.

Through the movement, they tell fragmented stories or monologues, some are live, while others are sound clips which are lip-synced by the dancers (such as to Mr. Roger's I Like You As You Are). The sound is incredibly clear, even through the full-bodied movement. Longer sequences are followed by abrupt stops and questioning: "Did you like it? Did you like me? Did you love me?". Darker scenes are contrasted seconds later with a smile and an act of childlike wonder and curiosity.

In many contemporary dance rehearsal processes, the cast or choreographer name sections that they create with different funny and relevant names to its content (to be able to recall a specific part of a piece and jump into it in rehearsal that day). I say this because, with this piece, I would love to know what these sections are called. The ones I have created in my notes are quite funny, interesting and different from a typical dance performance, giving insight into the creativity and uniqueness of this performance. Some examples: the mixed-messages scene, the butterfly gunshot, the crow's speech, the ASMR/skeleton, the mickey-moused drums and the erratic intimacy sequence. I could go on, but instead, I will dive into a few of the captivating ones.

In the "mixed messages" scene: a man in a fluffy white suit walks forward to another dancer that we get to know, named Jacob. Club beats ensue, and colourful lights flash and wash over them as Jacob is inundated with shouts of mixed messages: "I like you. I hate you." "Breathe. Close Your Mouth" "Nobody likes you. Why are you sorry?"

In another scene (That I've called "The Helium Lifeline"), dancers join fists to create a rope, which is fed to a dancer like an oxygen line. He then leaves to float like a balloon and gracefully moves around the space before going back for more air.

Lastly, in the "Coffee Scene / ASMR Skeleton," a dancer's monologue follows his story of wanting to run from his life, speaking to a support-like group drinking coffee. This sequence ends with him being painted to look like a skeleton in black and white paint.

Through all of this, the lighting design by Torkel Skjerven incredibly animates the piece's jarring feel and helps to make the dancers feel boxed or circled in. Quick lighting changes happen with a snap (or with the sound clip of a light switch flicking), such as at the start of the piece, where you are thrust in with no warning or time to settle in.

Overall, the piece explores how being human can be a blessing and a curse, how you are never alone in your thoughts and how we are all doing our best. It showcases how you can be beaten up by your mind from the inside out and still be conscious of what the world thinks of you - if they follow you, if they like you… It is anxiety. It is depression. It is social media. It is real-life. But is it?

Story, Story, Die. jam packs a lot into its 90-minute performance and although it is dark - it is sophisticated, it is relatable, and it resonates. Alan Lucien Øyen and company — please come back again soon!

Story, Story, Die., presented by Harbourfront Centre, is playing until June 29, 2022. It plays at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, Toronto ON, M5J 1A7). Tickets start at $20. They are available online here.

For more information:
Twitter: @HarbourfrontTO, Facebook and Instagram: @HarbourfrontCentre
www.winterguests.com @winterguests

Written by Deanne Kearney
DeanneKearney.com @deannekearney

Photo by Mats Bäcker.