I have a theory that watching a person, any person, genuinely having fun onstage- expressing their joy and rapture is always captivating and contagious for an audience. This is certainly the case in wag, Denise Clarke’s solo piece from One Yellow Rabbit Theatre in Calgary and playing at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival/ Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival in Halifax until June 22nd.
There is something intrinsically vulnerable in conveying one’s euphoria, for it can be a fragile and fleeting thing. Yet, Clarke brings us with her to two different wide open spaces where she allows herself to bask in her own emotions and to let her body be guided by her heart and the music she hears only in her head. First we are in a frigid, snowy field and then in a balmy Ottawa park at four o’clock in the morning. We become voyeurs to her very private moments, as she attempts to pull herself from a hue of sadness after experiencing profound loss. She begins to invest in her own Cheering Up Program and the audience is taken along for the ride as well.
Clarke is a mesmerizing dancer and a dynamic performer. Initially, her face is largely hidden beneath a large hood- her voice magnified as though coming to us from a distant place, yet, despite the fact that we cannot see her eyes, we are drawn into her words and we follow her into her dance of snow, allowing her whole body to express her feelings rather than just her eyes. The piece builds on itself. What initially looks like the product of theatre is revealed to also be part of the creation process. We are taken into the construction of Clarke’s carefully choreographed pieces, many of which are inspired by her book list- a memorized series of book titles, each with a specific movement attached to it. As Clarke opens up like a wound and her grief threatens to chase away her happiness, her dance takes on a clearer and stronger form- made up from smaller pieces we have seen her establish in the snow, in the park and in her beloved book list. The effect is that we feel like we have taken this journey with our protagonist and that we know something of her past, which informs the present dance- despite the fact that we have only been in the theatre together for a very short time.
Clarke has a ready ease onstage, she connects to her audience like one speaking to a friend in confidence. She is quick with self deprecating humour and exudes a friendly frankness and nonchalance that permeates into her movement as well. This ease is a bit of an illusion, however, since upon second glance it is clear that it is taking a great amount of muscle power, control, and very meticulous talent to appear this seamless and freely euphoric.
Like dogs, as Clarke says in her play, who cannot help but express their emotions, Denise Clarke offers us a chance to relish in the purity of our own emotions through music, dance and charming imagery. Joy is infectious: wag your figurative tails.
wag plays at the Neptune Studio Theatre (1593 Argyle Street) as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival and Eastern Front Theatre’s Stages Festival at the following times:
Friday June 20: 7:30
Saturday June 21: 4pm
Sunday June 22: 2pm