The Brutes, was developed with dramaturge Corinne Donly at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York City and premièred in Toronto at The Theatre Centre in 2010. Robert Abubo, Claudine Hébert, Jasmine Inns, Erika Howard, Neil Sochasky and Nathan Yaffe take the stage, moving to an original sound design by Jeremy Mimnagh. The performance is lit by Brooklyn’s Josh Rowe and interspersed with spoken word inspired by the writings of Gertrude Stein. Step into a quirky world that straddles reasonable sensibility, cockeyed optimism and immobilizing self-doubt. It’s a dark little sketch inhabited by a family of characters who giggle, gasp, jump, balance, twirl and crash; perhaps holding a mirror up to you for a moment of self-reflection. Hilliard’s motivating question - how do our personal outlooks influence the nature of our relationships?
The outlook: happy, when it's not sad
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 10 2010, 4:22 PM EDT
Toronto-based indie choreographer Kate Hilliard takes on ambitious topics. The Brutes, developed with New York-based dramaturge Corinne Donly, tackles optimism and pessimism, and how our outlook on life affects our relationships. These are not subjects for the faint of heart.
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It is difficult to express abstract thought in dance, but Hilliard and Donly give it their best shot. The result is an episodic piece for six dancers. It has a disjointed quality because, for the most part, each of the characters is in his or her own bubble.
Dancer Claudine Hébert first appears blowing bubbles, which certainly conjures up happy memories of childhood - the jar of soapy liquid, the plastic hoop to blow through, and the parade of bubbles coursing through the air, reflecting light.
Adult life is not as joyous.
The characters are already in motion as the audience enters the space. Theatre Centre has an upper gallery leading to a staircase that descends to the performance area. The audience must go through this gallery, where some of the dancers are stationed.
Robert Abubo and Erika-Leigh Stirton clutch each other in a slow dance. Jasmine Inns is following instructions, on a piece of paper, that require her to execute a series of fast physical actions. When we arrive at our seats, we are aware of the furious clack of typewriter keys above us (Abubo again) and of pages of paper being sent over a clothesline from one side of the gallery to the other. Stirton is now a shadowy figure dancing by herself. Then there is Hébert and her bubbles.
Downstairs, Neil Sochasky is performing a series of poses that position him in precariously balanced physicality. Nathan Yaffe is the optimist, saying the word "Hurray" in various tones of voice - from the wildly enthusiastic to barely above a whisper - and moving in jerky patterns.
The stage is now set for us to watch these characters performing alone and together, with each shedding light on their personal state of mind. Yaffe tries to make Sochasky lose his balance by pushing on different parts of his body. Abubo and Stirton roll into the space locked in a tight embrace. Their dramatic arc takes them into a series of physical fights - games of leader and follower.
The spoken text falls to Inns. It is a frantic description from a Gertrude Stein essay about a girl's obsession with her umbrella. In typical Stein fashion, the rapid-fire text plays with words, constantly repeating one line with subtle changes. The choreography for Inns is short, sharp and fast.
Later in the piece, Sochasky, Yaffe, Inns and Hébert form a group, but they each say a different word ("sunshine" and "nice" being positive; "can't" and "no" being negative) and negotiate individual patterns of movement. Sochasky announces that his future is filled with possibilities.
To all this movement, sound designer Jeremy Mimnagh has put together a collage of new-age electronica interspersed with songs such as Judy Garland's Look for The Silver Lining, and If I Only Had a Heart from The Wizard of Oz.
Hilliard's presentation is refreshing, particularly her character-specific choreography. Still, she has to work at developing theme in a more concrete way. If I had not read the program, I would certainly see the navel-gazing of today's self-absorbed generation, but would I have detected the pessimism/optimism theme? I'm not so sure.
Any choreographer's greatest challenge is adapting theme to movement. Hilliard is early into her career, but she's off to a good start. One looks forward to future work where she deepens and refines her choreographic language.
This dancemaker is going solo
Inspired by a children’s classic, The Brutes marks a turning point in choreographer Kate Hilliard’s career
By: Michael Crabb SPECIAL TO THE STAR, Published on Wed Sep 08 2010
Unlike the fantastically grotesque characters in The Little Brute Family, choreographer Kate Hilliard didn’t eat sand and gravel for breakfast or dine on a stew of sticks and stones during her rural childhood in Washago, Ont. Yet something about Russell Hoban’s popular 1967 children’s story, a Hilliard family favourite, lodged in her psyche, providing what she calls “a point of departure” for her latest work, referentially titled The Brutes.
Hoban’s allegory tells of a gloomy, despondent family whose life is positively transformed when the youngest brings home a sunbeam. Hilliard’s work takes a psychological step back.
“It’s really about human behaviour,” she explains. “It comes from my curiosity about how people see themselves and how they think others see them; about how we feel about being watched and the chips people develop on their shoulders.”
The Brutes has had a three-year gestation and marks a turning point in Hilliard’s career.
The germ of the piece sprouted during Springboard, a choreographic professional development intensive convened annually by Montreal’s Ballet Divertimento. Its final form took shape this year.
Hilliard and her cast of six drove to Manhattan for a residency at New York’s famous Stella Adler Studio of Acting. There she and young American dramaturge Corinne Donly fashioned a blend of dance and spoken text — Gertrude Stein, no less — that in a 50-minute piece mixing humour and pathos evokes the behavioural consequences of misperception, pessimism and breezy self-confidence.
Hilliard, a compelling dancer, has opted not to perform in The Brutes but will be appearing later this month with Dancemakers, the Toronto-based company she joined in 2006 and is now leaving.
At age 30, Hilliard is returning to the precarious existence of an independent artist, a situation she learned to negotiate nimbly in Montreal and Ottawa before settling in Toronto.
For a determinedly experimental artist, Hilliard’s dance background seems improbably conventional. At age 12 she became a resident student at the Quinte Ballet School in Belleville. Most girls thus situated dream of tutus and tiaras but Hilliard’s perspective on dance was broadened by visiting Ryerson University teacher Vicki St Denys. By the time of her graduation, Hilliard had had it with pointe shoes.
She took a year off travelling, exploring different dance forms in Europe and healing the damage to her body inflicted by trying to conform to ideal ballerina specifications.
On her return, Hilliard enrolled in a three-year contemporary dance program at Ottawa’s School of Dance and then immersed herself in Montreal’s rich contemporary dance scene, notably dancing and touring with eminent choreographer Paul-André Fortier.
As for the future, Hilliard is a realist. She knows that public funding is tight and the competition stiff. Ideally she would like to establish her own company, but whether it would be solely as a platform for her own work is still an open question. Hilliard already has experience producing other artists and ultimately, as she explains it, her goal is “to contribute to the growth of our art form and community.”
A DanceWorks CoWorks Series event
The Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen St W
Thurs. Sept 9 – Sat. Sept 11, 2010, 8pm
Sat. Sept 11, 2pm
Interview by Lucy Rupert
LR: Where does the title “The Brutes” come from?
KH: When I was a child I owned a book called The Little Brute Family by Russell and Lillian Hoban, a quirky tale about a family of grumpy pessimists. They discover a beam of sunshine, which infects their dark little hearts and the family learns to appreciate the brighter side of life.
LR: What is “The Brutes” all about?
KH: I’m interested in how people react to adversity – I believe that it challenges our self-esteem. How do we see ourselves and how does self-actualization influence our perception of the world?
LR: Your dramaturge (Corinne Donly from the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in NYC) has a prominent part in your work; how did you develop this relationship and what does it mean to your work?
KH: I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Corinne, as our differing backgrounds serve the work we make together very well. Corinne and I were introduced at The Springboard Professional Project for young choreographers and she has played a vital role in crafting the spoken work used in The Brutes and influencing the way the dancers have been directed.
LR: How did you choose your performers for this piece?
KH: I gravitated toward these performers – selected through an audition in Montreal – because of their abilities to craft unique physical behaviours.
LR: What do you dream next for yourself as a creator?
KH: I would like to continue working with the people with whom I’ve had the fortune of working over the past few years.
Reviewed by Paula Citron
Toronto-based indie choreographer Kate Hilliard takes on ambitious topics. The Brutes, developed with New York-based dramaturge Corinne Donly, tackles the idea of optimism and pessimism, and how one’s personal outlook on life impacts on our relationships.
It is difficult to express abstract thought in movement, and the result is an episodic piece for six dancers. It has a disjointed quality because, for the most part, each of the characters is in his/her own bubble.
In fact, to heighten the metaphor, dancer Claudine Hébert first appears blowing bubbles which certainly conjures up happy memories of childhood. Adult life is not as joyous.
We watch these characters performing alone and together. Each new coming sheds light on their states of mind.
In the final analysis, Hilliard’s presentation is refreshing, particularly her character-specific choreography. On the other hand, she still has to work at developing theme in a more concrete way.