In 2007, NAC Dance announced the National Arts Centre Associate Dance Artist (ADA) program. The initiative was intended to give talented Canadian dancers and choreographers an opportunity to interact with some of the best in the world. This year the program will celebrate its 10th anniversary with performances March 23 and 24 featuring the work of three talented choreographers:
• Marie Chouinard (Compagnie Marie Chouinard: Étude no 1 danced in steel-toed shoes by Antonija Livingstone;
• Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot): A Picture of You Falling, a duet featuring Anne Plamondon and Peter Chu;
• Christopher House (Toronto Dance Theatre): Echo, featuring 10 dancers from the TDT.
In advance of his company’s show, Christopher House explained Echo to Artsfile’s Peter Robb. For information and tickets, please nac-cna.ca.
Q. Tell me about Echo. When it was first staged, what it is about?
A. Echo has a complicated history. It began life as an 85-minute work created in 2005, originally in 12 sections. In 2015, I jettisoned the first 10 sections and expanded the final two to make a 55-minute work. The version we are bringing to the NAC this week is slightly different, and runs approximately 45 minutes. The essence of Echo continues to resonate and evolve for me. The inspiration for the work comes from the pagan gothic images in the early work of Scott Treleaven and Jeremy Laing; both of these artists evoke a queer punk sensibility that plays with gender and meaning, evoking the Romantic fascination with the occult.
Q. In terms of your own career where does Echo fit. Is it an important piece in your own development as a choreographer?
A. It marks an exciting moment for me when I began to revisit my older works not simply to remount them (as in a retrospective) but to use them as a resource for ongoing research and discovery; in re-imagining Echo, I took everything that I had learned in the ensuing 10 years and fed this learning back into my original ideas. The result was a very different new work harvested from the original that allowed me to clarify and deepen my approach to its themes.
Q. Can you describe it stylistically. The press release below says it builds upon the traditions of “vintage modern dance.” What does that mean? What does dance theatre mean?
A. The work is in two sections. The first is ostentatiously beautiful, with lace tops and Jeremy Laing’s magnificent long skirts (made from surplus army tarpaulins!) The mood is serene, expectant and optimistic, and time unfolds in a fluid way. The second section adds army boots, loses the lace and flowers, and the mood becomes dark. Bursts of almost violent athleticism are contrasted with ominous stillnesses. In both sections, the manipulation of time becomes part of the choreography. The performers are making split-second decisions throughout the work.
Vintage modern dance, in my mind, refers to the earliest manifestations of this art form. I think of Martha Graham, Mary Wigman et al in the 1930s when the body was used in contrast to the lightness of classical ballet. There is an element of art deco in the choreographic design, and percussive, weighted movement.
Dance theatre these days can mean many things but is most often used in reference to the work of Pina Bausch. The ‘dance theatre’ in TDT’s name came from company’s founders’ decision to focus on serious issues in their work.
Q. You are part of the NAC’s Associates program. What do you think of this program and what does it mean that your work is being presented with works by Marie Chouinard and Crystal Pate.
A. It has been wonderful to be part of this group. I’ve enjoyed many wonderful conversations and exchanges with my colleagues and the guests that Cathy Levy (the director of NAC Dance) has invited to join us. And it is a pleasure to be sharing this program with Crystal Pite and Marie Chouinard, two artists for whom I have great respect and admiration.
Q. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your company.
A. I am from St. John’s, NL. I studied political science and philosophy in university and began to dance as a young adult. I have been working with TDT since 1979 as a dancer and choreographer, and became artistic director of the company in 1994.
Toronto Dance Theatre will have its 50th anniversary next year and we’ll celebrate with a coast-to-coast Canadian tour and our first visit to Colombia, as well as a program of new works in Toronto and at the Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa. The company has always been dedicated to the creation of new work and the cultivation of a wonderfully diverse group of dancers. I’m excited to be sharing our work with the NAC audience this week and to be fielding such a powerful group of dancers.