James Ryan Gobuty
DanceWorks at the Harbourfront Centre presents the world premiere of Signal Theatre’s A Soldiers Tale. The show investigates the toll that war takes on the soldiers that fight them through a fusion of dance, theatre, song, and video projections. Both acts focus on a soldier who has fought in war, however, the two wars portrayed are very different (World War II and the Iraq War). By placing these two wars side by side, the production shows that the more military life changes, the more it stays the same.
Director Michael Greyeyes had quite the task ahead of him in trying to fuse so many elements, and for the most part, he was quite successful. The sombre first act follows a soldier’s return home from World War II, haunted by the things he did overseas. As his neighbours lives start to return to normal, his family starts to break apart. The soldier is kept mostly downstage, with his neighbours dancing and rejoicing behind him, making palpable the distance that’s grown between him and his old life. The highlight of the first act is surely the bottle dance. By using screens on wheels to hide the upstage action Michael Greyeyes and set designer Shawn Kerwin create a little slice of stage magic when the array of empty bottles is revealed. The ensuing dance demonstrates beautifully the precariousness of the relationship between a soldier and alcohol.
The second act follows the ghost of a female soldier/interpreter who was shot and killed in Iraq. It opens with the Iraq War “collateral damage” video being projected onto the balcony, making clear that the play is now in the world of modern technologies of stage and war. The soldier’s choreography is repeated throughout the act, as the other actors proceed to cross the stage in a loop effect. Combined, these aspects draw the audience into the phenomenon of the trauma that so many soldiers face. The play explodes when the “collateral damage” video is projected across the whole stage, after which the action of the play starts to spill out over the stage. With real documentary footage splashed across the stage and the actors being out amongst the audience, the play begins to unravel the culpability that bystanders and those at home have in the horror that takes place.
A brief note of praise has to be made about Elizabeth Asselstine’s lighting design. Unusually, the majority of the play is lit by side lights in the wings of the stage. This intense side lighting, combined with the use of screens on wheels, creates an incredible versatility in lighting effects, oscillating from realistic to surrealistic seamlessly. It is this brilliant use of lighting that creates the ambiance for the entire show.
A Soldier’s Tale is a testament to the ability of dance to speak to real world issues. By depicting the similarities between what many consider a just war and what many consider an unjust war, this production shakes up its audience’s assumptions and has the potential to wake them from complacency.
A Soldier’s Tale is playing at the Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay West, Toronto, until February 22. Tickets can be purchased online at www.harbourfrontcentre.com.
photo credit: David Hou