Toronto Dance Theatre remounts five works for 50th anniversary season

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Martingales, Fjeld, Thirteen, Echo Dark, Vena Cava | Toronto Dance Theatre | Dance House | Vancouver Playhouse | February 23-24, 2018

It’s not often that contemporary dance audiences are able to see works remounted. This House Mix was a retrospective of five pieces by Christopher House, Artistic Director of Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT). Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, TDT visited Vancouver as part of an 11-city Canadian tour.

House explained during a pre-show talk that the pieces on the program have been updated for this retrospective. Often in contemporary dance, choreographers are more concerned with the present moment and looking forward the next thing as opposed to dwelling on the past, so it was a unique opportunity to revisit these works and update them with a new generation of dancers. House also talked about his different ways of considering virtuosity, such as a virtuosity of community or intention.

This focus on community and intention is most evident in Martingales from 2014 as the dancers must have precise timing and work together to execute the piece about game structure and risk. They must be yper-aware of each other as they run around the stage passing balls to each other in intricate patterns. This was a beautifully coordinated piece to watch as they smoothly moved through shifting patterns and directions. There was a sporting element to it as their movements evoked a team passing a ball around a field.  

Two excerpts from the 1990 work Fjeld featured a tender and lighthearted duet of two female dancers followed by a more sombre, spiritual trio of male dancers wearing long, flowing pants. Both were slow moving and allowed us to take in the emotion and imagery of their movements.

Thirteen, created in 2017 with themes taken from House’s 1983 work, Glass Houses. The music, Ann Southam’s Glass Houses No. 13, was adapted live onstage by Thom Gill as the three dancers in red tunics performed geometric modern dance reminiscent of the 1980s.

Echo Dark from 2015 is a dark, haunting piece featuring five dancers wearing clunky black boots and long, full wrap skirts that move in full arcs and circles as they spin and jump. The costumes dance along with them, adding another layer to the topsy-turvy work full of cartwheels, somersaults, and kicks. As they moved in shadows, the gothic mood was distinct from the other works on the program.

First performed in 1998, Vena Cava is a high-energy piece full of entrances and exits, movement in canon, and complex rhythmic patterns that keep the stage full and the dancers in busy, constantly morphing formations. Wearing red skirts and black tops, the dancers moved with urgency and determination. This was a joy to watch as the eye is drawn in multiple directions, trying to take in the excitement before it disappears.  

House’s body of work is impressive in its diversity and dynamism, and the dancers of Toronto Dance Theatre have brought these works back to life, remastering them and adding their own experiences to further the art form and present something that is, as House said during the pre-show talk, “just like the old days, but better.”      

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