Review by Danny Gaisin
Disclaimer- this writer is a lousy dancer and like most ‘dog-in-the-manger’ males thus circumvents critiquing dance of any kind. However, I DID witness one Toronto Fringe 2012 entry strictly because of its subject matter. I was astonished at what I saw and stunned by my reaction. The following was what we then wrote: –
“NUMBERS” @ Factory Theatre
Kokus Productions & director Lukas Press have a definite contender for Best of Fringe in this large dance-oriented emotional story of the Holocaust.
Seen through the eyes of an utterly loveable Ella Bellentine who is the epitome of W.C. Fields’ caveat about working with kids or animals. Everyone else pales. But not by very much, the dancers who also vocalize the deteriorating situation from anti-Jewish laws, to hunger; to Ghetto to tattooed NUMBERS & the ‘final solution’ are collectively marvellously talented. The choreographic team has managed to capture the essence of diminishing youthful optimism, as well as the visual impact of degradation, fear & ultimate horror that embodied Germany’s philosophy under its Fuehrer. Costumes, makeup; lighting, sound and scene-setting all contribute to the overall impressions the creative team hoped to project and they have succeeded. This is an imaginative work that is professionally implemented and this is certainly a must-see effort. Bonus, artist Rhonda Nolan, interprets the on-stage progress and her impression thereof on canvas during the entire performance. The result is raffled off at the conclusion.
Change the name of the pivotal star to Madison Brydges; flesh out then add some more choreographic numbers; and polish everything to a VVS1 gem and the result is NUMBERS, 2.1 an extremely deserving creation that DID fulfill the O.A.R. prognosis of making our annual ‘TOP TEN’ listing against some seriously big contenders. Madison is every bit the equal of her predecessor with the added advantage of stronger projection and even more animation of face and movement.
The story depicts the invasion of Poland by the Nazis and the onslaught of Hitler’s ‘final solution- the crematoria as seen through the eyes of a young girl. KOKUS and Lucas Press are able to evoke the lifestyle transmutation of Warsaw’s Jewish community circa 1935-39. In this enhanced version, the impact has a heightened drama and an emotional effect that is both visual and visceral. The utilization of a live violinist (Emma Vachon-Tweney) is a not-so-subtle reminder – the SS’s exploitation of Jewish musicians to calm those lined up for the gas chambers.
There are some directorial negatives. Foremost, vocal projection, except for Brydges and some of the historical monologues is muffled almost completely lacking in projection. Obviously, the inclusion of head mikes would be problematic given the acrobatic Terpsichore that is endemic to the performance, but some additional voice tutelage would make a tremendous difference. The other criticism deals with blocking. One of the more dramatic moments is a dream sequence where little Halina dances with her absent father. Given her diminutive physique, having Brydges pirouetting at stage front made her all but invisible except for those in the first row.
The assessment above aside, seeing NUMBERS again was certainly worth suffering the crush of Tiger Cat fans, and Santa Claus Parade aficionados aboard both the GO Train and TTC subway trip. KOKUS would like to take the performance on tour. It’s a worthy, deserved & important ambition and we should support it. The web address is numbersproduction.com. Tell your friends; community leaders and especially – your rabbis.