Flashes of red move across a stage, the neighs of horses form the soundtrack to the fluid grace of a girl as she performs. The red comes from either a piece of clothing, or an accessory, on the body of the performers.

“From the Horse’s Mouth”, a production that was hosted by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, is a story-telling dance performance, first performed in 1998 in New York, and continuing in various locations for the past 16 years. Since its conception, over 1000 dancers have performed in various incarnations of the production.

The show centres on the unique story and style of the dancers. No two performances are ever alike. It’s a structured improvisation that the show’s creators, Tina Croll and Jamie Cunningham, leave open to the performers. As Jamie Cunningham points out, dance has entered an “age of sharing”. The days of the great dictators of dance are ending. The ccollaborative spirit of dance is on the rise.

130110_MenDancers_HorsesMouth_YMCA_WhitneyBrowne-6699They’re not worried about it being alienating to the ordinary theatre goer either. Croll explains their confidence: “Audiences for modern dance, they think ‘I’m not going to understand this.’ Once you go to this piece, you get to know them. Here is this human being, who’s had interesting experiences, then you see them dance and suddenly it opens this door. You just watch them move and don’t worry about not understanding.”

The “Buddies” production was to honour of World Pride and was made up of LGBTQ members of the community, many of them not professional dancers. Each person sits on a chair in the centre of the stage, as three dancers moved around them, adding visual emphasis to the story.

Many of the stories focused on personal epiphanies. It wasn’t so much the traditional coming out story, in the sense that it focused on the reactions of other people, so much as coming out to oneself. The story of self-revelation felt deeply personal, like a form of therapy the audience was helping with.

Some of the stories were sad, such as one man’s experience with a lover whom he never saw again. Most were funny, such as a story where a man hears sexual innuendo from a teacher because he was unconsciously polishing a screwdriver suggestively. The literary nerd in me loved another man’s story of discovering he was homosexual after he looked the word up in Webster’s dictionary. Another woman got laughs when she confessed she almost adopted the moniker “Pine Sol” due to the influence of a lesbian rock band she was with.

There was a good representation from the older generation. One couple in particular was so sweet they were almost unbelievable. They came out together on the stage, one man using a walker, the other helping him to the chair. One told his story of being involved in the Toronto dance community over the decades, and the importance of dance in demonstrating human worth. The other told the story of their relationship, and after telling us they had been married in 2006, he concluded by saying they had been together for 49 years!

Family was another theme that came up when BENFIT.058.IMG_0181.December 13, 2012a woman described having the condom talk with her young daughter. The serious discussion of how to have safe sex was juxtaposed by the comedic demonstration she did of how to convert a condom into a dental dam.

Another performer talked about transitioning, and the unexpected support she found in her small Newfoundland community, hilariously enough named Dildo. (Yes, it exists. I looked it up).

There were also startling moments of romance, notably when two male vocalists sang love songs to each other. It was a moment of Old Hollywood glam. The debonair grace of the Rat Pack transposed into this love story between two men. As a fan of the romance of Old Hollywood, I was struck by how their performance evoked exactly the same feelings of wistful enchantment in me as watching “West Side Story.”

The “Buddies” production is an experimental form of the work, since it has been put on using mostly non-dancers. Cunningham and Croll, when I talked to them before the performance, seemed pleased with the result and they are already talking about branching out even further. “You could do a version of this piece to celebrate, say, abused women,” says Cunningham. “There are so many areas it could go into in a humanitarian way.”

Indeed it could.


Written by: Lara Thompson


To read more about “The Horse’s Mouth” visit: http://horsesmouth.org




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