A sweeping spectacle: Birdbone Theatre’s Broom Dance
A combination of shadow puppetry, singing, hurdy-gurdy drones, cackles, moans, and good old-fashioned solstice sorcery brings a crowded living room to near silence on a cold December night. This is Birdbone Theatre’s Broom Dance, a show that has enchanted me twice this winter. The first time was at the Department of Illumination’s Firelight Lantern Festival in November, followed by a house show in Kingston’s Skeleton Park neighbourhood just before the winter solstice. Broom Dance, now in residence at the MAK Gallery in Gananoque from February 11th to 17th, will be making its third public appearance tomorrow at 7pm. While warmer days have taken the bite out of winter, Broom Dance promises to sink its teeth into the wild dark and keep the chill in our bones a little longer. Birdbone Theatre has a captivating hold on audiences young and old. If you haven’t had a chance to catch one of their performances, I suggest you dust off your broomstick and fly to their show tomorrow, February 17th.
This puppet show by Birdbone Theatre’s Aleksandra Bragoszewska (Puppeteer, Artistic Director) and Alison Gowan (Puppeteer, Musical Director) is what the pair describe on their website, birdbonetheatre.org, as “shadow poetics for the threshold.” Far from sweeping winter’s grimness under the rug, Broom Dance embraces the mess of its cold, lonely season and endless chores—doing so with zeal.
Bragoszewska and Gowan lead spectators through an evocative series of scenes depicting some of the dreariest moments of daily existence with surreal humour. The audience follows a disembodied hand as it frantically caters to its mistress’ whims and encounters a series of magical objects along the way. Broom Dance features hand-cut (and often genuinely terrifying) shadow puppets depicting Slavic folklore’s Baba Yaga, the mortar she rides in, her chicken-legged hut, and a variety of delicately gnarled items from her home in the forest. Bragoszewska is responsible for the bulk of the puppet-making, though Gowan’s whimsical cloth rendering of Baba Yaga’s laundry line deserves a special mention.
While they each take turns voicing minor characters, Bragoszewska and Gowan speak together as Baba Yaga, creating a bone-chilling growl as they deliver her tyrannical commands in unison. Singing in multiple languages and sometimes with no words at all, the vocal chemistry between the two performers is a highlight of Broom Dance. Bragoszewska’s voice has a raw, otherworldly quality that blends spectacularly with Gowan’s warm soprano. One of my favourite elements of the show is their spontaneous vocalisation during improvised segments.
At the December performance of Broom Dance, I was pleased to see how the past month had smoothed some of the initial kinks in the production. The harmonies in the introductory duet became tighter, the puppet choreography more fluid, all the tech was working, and scenes that had seemed only tenuously connected began to feel more concrete. The performers added words to what were previously non-verbal utterances by their characters, making the storytelling clearer to those less well-versed in squeals and grunts. When they do go wordless, Bragoszewska and Gowan’s squeals and grunts are some of the most expressive I’ve heard—and I was sitting next to a toddler who, on the threshold of speech, gave a cheerful shout and waved goodbye each time a puppet exited the stage.
While winter stutters to a halt, Broom Dance is far from over. This week, Birdbone has migrated to Gananoque to build a temporary nest in a new studio at the Startup House as offsite Artists-in-Residence with MAK Gallery. This residency offers Bragoszewska and Gowan the opportunity to continue experimenting with Broom Dance and to develop the project further. The residency culminates in a Friday night double feature at the MAK Gallery alongside Chanter La Pomme, who will perform European traditional and neo-trad dance music. I’m curious to see what two more months of witchery bring to Birdbone’s hilarious and mystical theatrics. Whatever they concoct, I’m sure it will sweep us all away.
Birdbone Theatre can be found on Instagram @birdbonetheatre, on Facebook at Birdbone Theatre, and on their website, https://www.birdbonetheatre.org/. For more information on ‘Broom Dance,’ click here.