Dancing while it burns

The Fourth R: reduce, reuse, recycle, Revolutionize

Review | by Sean McQuaid

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Island Fringe Festival ‘22, Havenwood Dance Studio, Charlottetown – July 29, 2022

Way back in the golden pre-COVID summer of 2019, Toronto, Ontario company Dance Fachin scored a hit at the Island Fringe Festival (IFF) with Worldly Women, “a new genre of dance theatre” starring choreographer/creator Emma Bartolomucci and her fellow dancers, among them Beatrice Kwan & Julia Molnar. That show was voted the audience favourite of IFF 2019. 

This summer, Bartolomucci, Kwan & Molnar return to IFF with The Fourth R: reduce, reuse, recycle, Revolutionize, billed as “an interdisciplinary presentation that fuses climate science, dance and video projections together” in a story about global warming and other environmental issues featuring characters who represent industrial producers and consumers and the vulnerable people who suffer because of them. Dance Fachin hopes the show will help “inspire young people to become advocates for the planet.” 

Directed by Bartolomucci with visual design by Airian McLeish, the show is a series of live dance numbers set to recorded music, with short video segments between the dances featuring images, footage and facts regarding environmental/climate concerns. Bartolomucci has been working on the show on and off since 2019, but COVID-19 and other factors delayed it until its 2022 debut in Toronto, followed by interprovincial touring dates in venues ranging from schools to theatre festivals.

In a recent Purple Glow Collective interview, Bartolomucci explains that the show “highlights the ways in which capitalism affects our environment… It’s taking and taking and taking and never giving time for things to grow back properly or naturally.” She says humanity needs to “share resources responsibly without the priority of money.”

Perhaps in part because of its activist aims (especially its youth education mission), The Fourth R is more literal and less subtle than Worldly Women: the dancers talk more (though most of their performance remains wordless), they use props more (such as various quickly discarded consumer goods), and the video segments deliver lots of raw information. This feels a bit overtly didactic or heavy-handed in spots, most notably a scene where the dancers take turns shouting climate-related slogans (though a rah-rah moment like that probably plays differently in a school than it does in a theatre).

Moments like that might be unsubtle, but they’re appropriate to the existential urgency of the topic and the openly educational intentions of the piece. Besides, those moments are starkly outnumbered by scenes of real emotional power from all three dancers over the course of the show, a mesmerizing mix of solos, duos and trios that collectively sell the horror of the topic.

One of the most memorable solos features Molnar as a giddily reckless capitalist figure essentially dancing while the world burns, a portrait of malevolent glee akin to Brigitte Helm’s similarly sinister dance from the 1927 silent film Metropolis. Still, the emotive MVP of the trio may be Kwan, who largely without words does some of the most vividly comprehensible and moving acting of the summer, intensely engaged and engaging in every one of her dance numbers. Passion like that from all three dancers does more to sell the show’s deeply vital message than all the statistics in the world ever could. 

Sean McQuaid