NAC – Rhodnie Desir’s Symphony of Hearts Photo source: NAC

Thursday 30 May 2024

Rhodnie Désir’s Symphony of Hearts closes the NAC’s dance season

by Olivia Barrett

The sound of heartbeat grew louder and steadier as the Southam Hall theatre at the National Arts Centre fell silent. With the NAC’s dance season coming to a close, Rhondie Désir’s Symphony of hearts on May 30 filled the theatre with an audience captivated by each heartbeat throughout the performance.

In a note from the choreographer, Désir, who is also the artistic director for this performance, spoke about the inspiration for this piece: her interest in the heart. She said, “like nature, it fascinated me with its abundant, generous and sacred mystery.”

To emphasize the strength of the heart, Désir mimicked the heartbeat through the music, the dance moves and the accompanying visuals on a screen towards the back of the stage. Désir used an array of visuals, some depicting a heart and others just showing the beating motion or the sound of a heart monitor.

As the heartbeat sounds boomed through the theatre, it seemed to control each movement of the dancers. The synchronization of the music and movements enhanced the heartbeat, making the audience feel every beat, even being more in tune with their own heartbeat.  This harmony between the music, choreography and visuals charmed the audience, with eyes fixed on the stage throughout the 75-minute performance.

This vastness of the heartbeat acted as another element on stage which made it feel like the dancers were not the only ones there. Even during solos and duets, the stage never felt empty.

In addition to the constant presence of the heartbeat, the choreography for each number flowed together seamlessly. The dancers moved as one while being perfectly in and out of sync with the heartbeat. With the dancers moving so swiftly together, the audience barely noticed when dancers moved off the stage. 

Along with the intentional mimicking of the heartbeat through various elements, the colour scheme of the costumes and lighting added to being in touch with the heartbeat. With the dancers’ costumes being black with hints of a dark red and the lighting often alternating between red, blue and purple, these colours seemed to illustrate the different emotions going through the heart.

As the performance moved into its final numbers, the pace of the dances began to quicken as dancers moved in various directions across the stage at different speeds. The orchestra reflected this accelerated speed, building and building as dancers darted across the stage or ran in place. The increasing speed and volume mirrored the heartbeat once more as the heart beating on the screen behind them rapidly increased until the very end. As the dancers raced to finish, ending in a bold stop, the audience rose to their feet to give a well-deserved standing ovation to close the NAC’s dance season.

The performance’s interconnectedness made it more than just a dance. As the NAC’s executive producer, Caroline Ohrt said in her note, this was a “sensory experience,” inviting the audience to feel every moment, every note, every beat.

In her note about the Symphony of hearts, Désir added, “from fragility to strength: I hope our hearts will unite around a big heart drum. For the healing of our societies. For the celebration of life.”