photo of cast members: joseph bembridge and jenn doan
photographer: tristan brand
The Duck Wife is an exciting dance rock opera presented by Inertia Productions, an artist collective formed in Montreal in 2007 by an accomplished group of cheorographers who met at Concordia University, at the Bathurst Street Theatre in the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival.
The story is based on an Inuit myth first recorded by anthropologist Diamond Jenness in the Western Arctic during the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913. It is centered on a hero who falls in love with a strange woman who, much to the chagrin of his mother, refuses to contribute to the duties of the household. It becomes clear that the wife is actually a duck who can take a human form, and after she flees the hero’s home, he follows her through the treacherous arctic with the help of spirit fox, across a mountain and encountering a wide array of mischievous creatures along the way.
The magic of The Duck Wife is in the way that this story is told; mostly through magnificently creative and vigorous choreography (by Jenn Doane) and accompanied with original songs by a New York City based band called Grub Animal. There is sparse dialogue which helps to clarify the myth, but predominantly the story springs to life out of the dancers. The hunting sequences, as well as the use of silhouette and shadows are particularly effective, and there is an extraordinarily funny duck mating dance, which is also a highlight of the production. The most vivid of the dance numbers is a long sequence in which the hero is fighting off a hoard of vicious animals, and even the band members become spirits of the beasts and Jenn Doane, as the hero, attacks and silences them, thrusting the band immediately into the action.
The dancers are all exquisitely talented and wildly captivating to watch. As actors they are a bit more melodramatic than they need to be, but the heightened sense of realism does not detract from the essence of the myth. Melina Stinson plays the Duck Wife, with incredible physicality, melding the attributes of a duck with those of a woman with detail and panache. Her voice is also perfectly suggestive of a duck’s quack. Joseph Bembridge has a comic and compelling turn as a Fox Spirit who initially has difficulty connecting and communicating with the hero. Doan shows strength and boyishness as the hero, capturing nicely his naivety and the blind faith he has that he is invincible.
The musicians give the dance opera a sound track that is vibrant and fierce and the rock music reflects the emotions of the dancers and the arc of the story. As songs, especially in a piece that is hailed as a “dance rock opera,” I was reminded of a line from a song in Bob Martin’s The Drowsy Chaperone where Man in Chair says, “Now, when you are listening to this, um, try to ignore the lyrics. I know it will be difficult but block them out, there not the best.” In The Duck Wife it is not that the lyrics are bad, but more that they are difficult to pick out of the blaring music, and they are not at all needed for the advancement of the plot.
The Duck Wife is a very interesting production created by a collective of inspired and proficient dancers. There is much on this stage to seduce even the most sceptical of audiences. What are you waiting for? Get quacking!
The Duck Wife plays at the Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst Street) Fri, July 9 7:30 PM and Sat, July 10 12:30 PM. all tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the fringe hotline at 416.966.1062 or go online at http://www.fringetoronto.com/.