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Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

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Movement and Energy

That Dance Show

Review by Katie Rankin

I’m not the best dancer. The only time I showcase my best moves is in my bedroom at two in the morning as I blast Muchdance 2002. However, after my many years of dance umbrella performances and movie-musical watching I like to pretend I’m quite the expert. In the Harbourfront Theatre’s summer production “That Dance Show” audiences are not only given a jam-packed hour of movement and energy, they also learn about the history and evolution of dance. I left feeling more respect for the art form and an overwhelming amount of respect for the show’s talented dance troupe.

Produced, directed, and co-choreographed by Heidi Ford, previously seen in Canada Rocks and Anne and Gilbert, the show began with the red curtain half-raised, exposing the legs of the scandalous Vaudeville era dancers who shimmied in black lingerie and red lipstick. Showcasing the burlesque elements of the time, the dancing also demonstrated acrobatics as a male dancer amazingly held himself high above the stage using two red ties attached to the ceiling.

The show only got stronger and more impressive from this point as its narrator, Sara Sheps, took the stage between eras to explain the changes that had taken place in the world that affected popular dance. In the Roaring 20s the female dancers emerged as flappers doing the Charleston, followed by 1930s old-time movie romance with Ford and a male dancer showing grace and beauty in a slow dance reminiscent of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Throughout the show, this change from small-scale slow dances to extremely high-energy group performances kept the audience interested and ensured no dance felt repetitive.

In chronological order, the show highlighted swing dancing, the jazz era during World War II, as well as the 1950s with Grease-like moves such as the mashed potato, the monkey, and the alligator. It seemed that as the show went on the dancers became more energetic and the dancing became both more complex and entertaining. During the 1970s disco performance a Travolta-esque dancer proved that attitude and confidence go hand and hand with talent. The 80s portion began with only the shadows of the dancers visible as they did the classic “Thriller” dance, before morphing into Janet Jackson’s military “Rhythm Nation.”

The most moving dance of the night came from Ford and a group of male dancers performing to the “Roxanne” cover from Moulin Rouge. Ford was lowered from the ceiling on a brace floating with ease until she touched the ground and found herself surrounded by dancers. Trying to escape, she flawlessly walked across their shoulders before they encircled her like a pack of wolves.

My favorite pieces of the night were when the entire troupe produced so much choreographed energy that it made the audience want to stand up and attempt the two-step. Dancers, fans, and wannabes can catch “That Dance Show” at the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside through September.

Enchanting Energy

Highland Storm: The Maiden FromThe Sea

Review by Katie Rankin

It is a difficult feat, when presenting over an hour of bagpipes, drumming, highland dancing, and step-dancing, to keep from slipping into a tedious and repetitive demonstration of talent. However, in the College of Piping’s latest summer production, “Highland Storm,” there is rarely a dull moment. The show’s mixture of high energy and remarkable musicianship and dancing can be enjoyed by both connoisseurs of highland culture as well as by those whose understanding is limited to their Scottish last name.

Based on the Celtic folktale of “The Grey Selkie,” “Highland Storm” tells the story of a beautiful mermaid princess, played by the perfectly cast Patricia Murray, and her band of mermaids who shed their grey seal skins to sing and dance on the shore. When the princess’s song enchants a village man, he takes her seal skin and coaxes her to come back to his village where they wed. However, seventeen years later on the day of their eldest daughter’s marriage, the princess rediscovers her seal skin and is drawn back to her life in the ocean.

Though the entire production is based around this story, it has no dialogue, instead using music, song, and dance to further the narrative. This can prove somewhat confusing and, therefore, it is important to read the synopsis found in the program before the show. I even found myself glancing at it during the performance to better understand why certain choices of drumming, bagpipes and dancing were being used in the scene.

In the beginning the mermaids and their princess are enchanting the village man with an ethereal dance and the Gaelic song “Oran na Maighdinn-mhara” (The Mermaid’s Song) accompanied by the wonderful harp sounds of Christine Anderson Gallant. It then smoothly transitions to the more mortal and concrete sounds of the talented drum corps as the princess arrives in the village, creating a sense of change from the enchanting ocean to the unknown land.

Comprised of an extremely talented and hard-working cast of mostly young musicians and dancers, “Highland Storm” showcased their skills, which were the highlight of the show. The drum corps, using both ends of their sticks, kept perfect time with their drum leader Jeremy White, while the bagpiper’s fingers moved so quickly it was both visually and musically stunning. The highland dancers changed nicely from the fluid movements of the mermaids to the more classical dancing of the villagers and the young step-dancers, portraying village children, provided even more energy to the large cast.

As the mermaid princess turned village wife, Patricia Murray’s voice was perfectly suited to the traditional Celtic songs sung in both Gaelic and English. With a touch of sadness from the very beginning, her voice hinted at the mixture of emotions felt by the mermaid. Probably Murray’s most memorable song was “Caledonia,” sung to her husband as she decides to return to the ocean.

With an impressive cast of musicians and dancers, and pleasing costumes for both the villagers and the mermaids, “Highland Storm” is worth checking out, if only to see yet another mermaid portrayed as a red-head.

Spinning the Room

Island Standup Showcase

Review by Katie Rankin

I take the terrible things in my life,” explained comedian Taylor Carver to the appreciative audience at the Island Stand-up Showcase, “and condense it into 10 minutes, then people laugh at it ’cause it makes them feel better.” This is really what stand-up is all about—taking those sometimes mundane, sometimes extremely unusual occurrences in one’s life and spinning it so that a room full of people find it hilarious. The comedy showcase at The Guild not only stresses Charlottetown’s absence of a comedic scene, it highlights the talent that has been hiding; in Taylor Carver’s case, hiding in the bathroom while using a comb as a microphone.

The evening began with François Weber, well known for his “Eddie May Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre,” taking the stage as the show’s emcee and providing his own dose of stand-up between the other comedians’ sets. Weber launched into an energetic lamentation about his wimpy French name that never helped him in childhood fights and then addressed his Mr. Clean-inspired hairdo. Definitely the most animated of the four comedians featured in the showcase, Weber contorted his body and face to place more emphasis on his jokes, demonstrating his acting abilities.

The first full set was done by Richard Schroeter, previously featured in “Comedy Care Unit” and “Easter Funny at the Guild,” whose slow and contemplative demeanor and deadpan style of comedy was a swift change from Weber’s energy. Beginning by imagining an army comprised of his mixed German-Jamaican heritage, he moved on to the trials of marriage and the problems with actually agreeing to live a day in your wife’s shoes (here’s a hint—PAP smears are not for husbands). Schroeter’s jokes would often begin with what seemed like a regular story—the punch-line hard to anticipate—and end with a joke, much-appreciated by the audience.

Proving with Weber and Schroeter that comedic styles can vary as long as the joke is funny, was Taylor Carver, the youngest and according to him, the most nervous of the comedians. It’s hard to tell whether Carver was genuinely nervous or if the entire set was a self-caricature. Either way, his awkward delivery of jokes, such as “Do you guys remember the 90s? Okay cool,” and subtle comments after the audience laughed (“So nervous” and “God jokes…sweet.”) produced a self-deprecating, yet endearing performance and my favourite of the night.

The final act of the evening, Patrick Ledwell, known for performances on the Island, as well as at the Halifax Comedy Festival, began by assuring the audience that in a swimsuit his wiry figure was the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. Appearing very comfortable on stage, Ledwell’s funniest observations were about something he understands well, the reality of growing up in a big family. With the smoothest transitions of the night, he moved from the violent nature of lawn darts, to the both loved and dreaded Kellogg’s cereal variety pack, where one kid always gets stuck with Raisin Bran.

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