Bated Breath.

A Sweett Moves Production – Scotiabank Dance Centre- January 17/18, 2015

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A couple of weeks ago, well-known dancer, teacher, choreographer and producer, Miss Ashley Sweett, presented the first show for her new company, Sweet Moves.  The show was called “Bated Breath.”

So much to say, I wasn’t sure where to begin… which is largely why this has taken so long to post.

“Let’s suppose every night, you could dream anything you wanted to dream…”

Well, that’s what this performance of ‘Bated Breath’ felt like – like a glimpse into the dreams of Ashley Sweett.

The ensemble was comprised of both seasoned performers and young, up-and-coming dancers – many of whom embraced the spotlight and shone like bright little stars that night.

Each performer brought to the stage a playful precision that demonstrated strong technique, balanced with a lightness of spirit that I sense are inherent traits of Miss Ashley.  The audience was excited and fun, and every time she was on the stage, you knew it was her show.

Set in three acts, with a collection of group numbers, duets and solos, the show moves through aspects of a full breath – an inhale, bated breath, and an exhale, with what seems like variations of her personal essence.

The first part was playful, punctuated by small movements… and in their simple innocence and different shades of blue, they looked like little raindrops on the stage.  It was visually captivating, but with many of the dancers often in view it wasn’t always clear where to look, because even the briefest of movement could have stood on its own.  There seemed, however, to be a constant theme of bringing chaos into focus that would pull it all together.

Notably, the partner work between Jade Chong and Kirsten McInnes was flawless.   It was fluid and lovely and perfectly perfect.  Their lines were beautiful and they made it all look so easy – it’s rare and wonderful when ‘tricks’ don’t look like tricks.

The second act felt more contained – like music box dancers that wanted to break free.  Each movement was deliberate and held a tension that made you feel like you wanted it to explode.

The last act felt the most personal – like a discovery and celebration of self.  Especially in going from “How To Make Chai Tea” to one of the pieces near the end, where there was a poignant, almost climactic element in the psychological-sounding, textual voiceover.

The staging was simple – but spoke clearly.  She used primary colours in the costuming, each taking their turn in one of the acts and embodying a particular personality – blue, red, yellow – eventually coming together at the end in an ecstatic release.  As well, the colours mirrored the art that was hung from the ceiling – almost as a totem – created by Ashley’s best friend, the lovely Brittany Buirs.

The lighting was at once understated, symbolic, and strong – a single diagonal bar of light, like a moonbeam, that remained throughout the show, and spoke to the delicate balance between the freedom that life (and dance) can offer, versus the containment brought on by boundaries and, perhaps, fear?

“Life implies death.” “Self implies other.”

I have a tattoo on my left arm that I got when I retired from dance due to an injury that says, “I am bound by what frees me.”  To me, it embodies the fine line between ecstasy and restraint – pure, unadulterated passion, and the harsh reality of what our bodies can endure.  For me, that’s what that beam of light was – it both contained the dancers, and allowed them to have something to break free from.  An essential contradiction.  In any case, it was a definite choice and a strong element throughout.

There was a lot of support in the theatre as Ashley made her foray into this intensely personal expression and the audience embraced each carefully choreographed move.  Little girls, with opening night flowers, waited patiently to catch a glimpse of Ashley after the show and every person involved made it feel like this was not just a dance show but a family affair for Sweett Moves.  From being greeted at the door by the ever-talented Vanessa Young, (Ashley’s co-director at the Lovers Cabaret,) to Brittany’s art… from the powerful voices of her close (and talented) friends, Marlie Collins, and Meghan Hewitt MacDonald (who starred as Freddie Mercury in ‘Lovers of Queen’)… to every performer who left their heart on that stage.

As far as the dancing, every moment felt pure. There was a truth on the stage that Saturday night that was certainly refreshing.  Ashley’s aesthetic is like that of a beautiful dreamer who still remains very much earthbound and her unique style was evident throughout.

I know we’ll see more from Miss Ashey Sweett and her company soon, and in the meantime, we will wait… you guessed it… with bated breath.

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