'Tessel' Toronto's Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre - short film

Toronto's Fall for Dance North and Harbourfront Centre

Photo of Yvon Soglo by Esie Mensah Creations.

Joe Szekeres

Disclaimer: Before I begin, I must once again state that I hold no background or specific training in the study of dance and movement.

For this review of ‘Tessel’, I will comment on the production elements and storyline.
Recently, I held a fascinating conversation with artist Esie Mensah: 'Looking Ahead' Theatre Talk with Esie Mensah — OnStage Blog on her journey as a Black artist where I learned she was in the final stages of preparing her short film, ‘Tessel’ which premieres June 1. Esie articulated strongly how she has had to change her story narrative as a Black Artist to continue moving forward in her career as in the Canadian canon and mosaic.

I will honestly state that I had to watch ‘Tessel’ twice because there is so much hidden underneath the messages that we see presented. More on this in a moment.

I had forgotten to ask Esie the meaning of ‘Tessel’ during our previous conversation, so I had to ask. ‘Tessel’ is a shortened version of the word ‘tessellation’ which means an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping. In this case, ‘Tessel’ refers to the editing of the film, how the artists’ work, while filmed independently, come together in the film to represent the interconnectedness and power of the collective as Black artists.

Okay, this gave me a starting point and this definition is now clear to me in understanding the film.

Esie calls her short film ‘a crucial conversation on what it means to be an artist in his historical unprecedented time.” There are fourteen black dancemakers from across Canada involved in the making of this important short film. Additionally, ‘Tessel’ is the one-year anniversary of ‘Blackout Tuesday’ where organizations around the globe publicly committed to institutional change to help the Black community.

‘Tessel’ begins with the sound of the calming effects of water as a dancer in silhouette moves in quiet solitude. We then see a variety of dancers, male and female, move and dance whether there is music playing in the background, whether there is silence or whether the artist hears the music cerebrally and then moves the body to coincide with the music that is possibly heard inside the head of the individual.

There are at least two male artists in the film, so I thought that was an important distinction to notice.
Along with the movement and dance of the artists involved, I heard many individual voices underscoring the dancers’ movements. I’m assuming these voices were from some of the dancers who we were watching. This overlaying dialogue of important conversations and deep questions focused on messages that have probably been demanded of and from these black artists as they have progressed through their careers at various stages.

At my first viewing of ‘Tessel’ I didn’t want to write anything down except just sit back and see where the story would take me.

And I was gripped intensely from the first moment of seeing the dancer/artist moving with the sunrise/sunset in the background. The time of day wasn’t made clear so I’m guessing that since it is the beginning of the film, and the dancer is moving at sunrise.

Vibrant and lush colours are beautifully filmed and sharply captured from the landscape right down to the texture of some of the clothing the dancers wear. The song ‘Mami Watah’ resonated within me as I listened carefully to the vocals while admirably and silently applauding the individual stories the artists told me through their movements, sometimes restricted, sometimes freely, sometimes direct and deliberate while others were sinewy and gentle. Even though I hold no formal background in any kind of dance or movement training, I was captivated by the movements of the artists and watching their facial expressions at times focused with contentment and stillness with eyes that appeared to be mystical and spiritual.

Some of the questions and statements I heard underscoring the dancers also caught my attention, two in particular: “When you hire me as a dancer, you hire all of me. You don’t just hire what you see visually.” AND “The beauty of dance, as one of the first forms of art and storytelling, is that we are able to connect in most ways people can’t.” How utterly true these statements of every performing artist whether as a dancer, an actor, a singer, or any combination of these.

Final comments: Make sure you pay attention to the credits at the conclusion of the film as they also give some important information that highlights the significance of the one-year anniversary of Blackout Tuesday, and of the Black community in their quest to achieve equity, diversity, and inclusion in all elements of the arts.

Four words appear at the end of the film: spirituality, humanity, care, and the principles of love. For me, this short film bravely captures these four elements in a symbiotic relationship to each other while wonderfully highlighting the solo work of the brief moment of each artist.

Give ‘Tessel’ a look.

Film streams free on June 1. ‘Tessel’ is a co-production with Fall for Dance North and Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. For further information to access ‘Tessel’ for viewing, visit www.harbourfrontcentre.com.

Artists: LIliona Quarmyne, Lisa La Touche, Kevin Fraser, Eugene “GeNie” Baffoe, Livona Ellis, Natasha Powell, Alexandra “Spicey” Lande, Ravyn Wngz, Lua Shayenne, Raoul Pillay, Yvon “Crazy Smooth” Soglo, Gabrielle Martin, Ronald A. Taylor, Esie Mensah.
Producer: Wayne Burns

Abstract Building
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