The one thing you should see this week

The one thing you should see this week

The success of the play hangs on its creators understanding and exploiting physicality (Image: Tim Matheson) 

This week’s pick: Studies in Motion

West Coast dance star Crystal Pite is giving Toronto audiences another dose of her wickedly inventive style, on the heels of the National Ballet’s remount of Emergence, her ode to a bug’s life. Studies in Motion—The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge trades insects for horses (and elephants and eagles) in a story about the 19th-century photographer famous for his painstaking examinations of animal and human locomotion, captured through the pioneering use of multiple cameras. Not your average science geek, Muybridge was also famous for shooting his subjects naked and for escaping a murder rap, both of which get a lot of play in Kevin Kerr’s script.

Electric Company Theatre—the creator of Studies in Motion and one of the most exciting companies working in Canada today—last travelled here from Vancouver in 2009 with a terrifically trippy take on Sartre’s No Exit. Canadian Stage is behind the collective’s current pilgrimage east, giving ECT the chance to unleash its full kinetic power on the mainstage at Bluma Appel.

And you don’t have to wait long. Right off the top, the cast sashays, swaggers, sprints and cartwheels—in various states of undress—across a Tron-like grid. The success of the play, much like Muybridge’s endeavours, hangs on its creators understanding and exploiting physicality. From that point of view, Studies in Motion is a resounding success. Aided by an ingenious stroboscopic lighting design, movements are paused and parsed for results that cleverly reference Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. Rather than depend on an elaborate set design, Siminovitch Prize–winning director Kim Collier has her 12 actors convey time and space. Imaginary streams are leapt over, walls conjured out of thin air, trains built and boarded. The shrugging on and off of a jacket is balletic; a death scene becomes a boneless puppet dance, at once gruesomely funny and beautiful.

In his quest to discover the formula for grace, Muybridge alternately terrorizes and charms his staff. A tyrant who demands slavish devotion, he is obsessed with logic and reason. He sees life as a series of beginnings, middles and ends, of causes and effects—a fascinatingly linear way of thinking coming from the man who is in no small part responsible for one of the most fantastical creations on record: film.

Studies in Motion is a tremendous showcase for Pite’s choreographic talents, and Collier matches her move for move. Or is Pite matching Collier? With two such talented and evenly paired collaborators, it’s tricky (and ultimately pointless) to tell who’s leading the charge. When Muybridge defends his controversial work, saying, “These are our investigations, these are our studies in motion,” he could just as well be speaking for them.

The details: To Dec. 18. $22–$99. Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St. E., 416-368-3110, canadianstage.com.