The first words to escape my lips after Dana Michel took her final bow was, “gob smacked, we’ve been gob smacked!” The audience was on its feet giving an unequivocal standing ovation. For an entire performance the audience had not been able to take its eyes off of Michel. But what had we seen? Dana Michel took us on a riveting journey into identity and otherness.
Dana Michel not so much performs for the audience, as she demands that it bears witness. Episodes of movement and stillness are drawn out, pregnant with intention. You could feel the audience squirm and frown in concentration as Michel made her entrance as a struggling, palsied individual. This persona’s gait stuttered and turned inward. Next, she is smearing her dark coloured face with white cream and sharing a socially savvy observation, which upends the audience’s expectations. As an audience member, your feet never really touch the bottom in security. She is the kind of performer that operates on a taut high wire without a safety net.
Michel is a dance maker of disturbing skill and visceral ability. We watch enthralled as one character after another emerges from her creative cocoon as she overlays everyday movements with character-rich vocalizations and ingenious props. Michel may ritualistically scatter the stage with the detritus of daily life: toothpicks, kitchenware or elastic bands. Snatches of narrative from recognizable, dare we say “civilized” events– like a weather forecast or a cooking program– are rendered absurd. A handful of blonde wig is swung about as if in benediction or interrogation. Dana Michel delves into herself and into us with both pain and humour.
Thankfully, Michel set aside her career in accounting and marketing and went to that audition at Concordia’s dance program. She emerged with a BFA in 2006 and has gone on to become a dance virtuoso that has been setting audiences free ever since.