ANIMATED: Christopher House and Toronto Dance Theatre



Choreographed by Christopher House
Performers: Yuichiro Inoue, Peter Kelly, Megumi Kokuba, Justin de Luna, Lukas Malkowski, Pulga Muchochoma, James Phillips, Erin Poole, Danah Rosales, Margarita Soria, Christianne Ullmark, Noelle Young
Toronto Dance Theatre
Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront, Toronto
November 1-5, 2016



For ANIMATED, Christopher House has assembled four fifteen- to twenty-minute works from his repertoire. The pieces, dating back from 2004 to 1984, form a kind of inverted time telescope, both into House’s history as a choreographer, and into aspects of the recent history of modern dance in microcosm.

ANIMATED opens and ends with ensemble pieces. “Martingales” (2004) features a tender social sports theme, with the dancers dressed in thin grey or white jerseys, shorts, and black socks and running shoes. “Martingale” is one of those words rich with multiple meanings and associations. It is a term used in probability; a gambling system where the wagers are doubled; and a leather strap, part of a harness used for limiting a horse’s movement. House subtly mines these meanings.

The movement is casual, sketched and informal and the mood is light yet focused. The two “teams” walk about and blend and meld, and the throwing and catching of silver beanbags around and across the stage, though at times speedy and frenetic, never becomes competitive. There is powerful awareness between the dancers, as they run about the stage, at times almost colliding, and they cooperate gently without really connecting. Dance — sometimes social dancing, polka or waltz-like — arises from the milling and wandering like bubbles of art in the dancers’ boiling energy. They are accompanied on stage by composer and musician Thom Gill, whose rumbling, falling and spacey score provides a liquidly lyrical underpinning. At other times the sudden dance is contemporary and sleek, emerging and disappearing, like future memories or the embodiment of fleeting inspiration.

The second piece, “Fjeld” (Norwegian for “barren plateau”) (1990), consists of three segments, each danced to a different work by Arvo Part, each of which were in turn written after German lied, mediaeval motet and sacred chant. Two women dressed like Greek statues dance a deliberate and at times comic duet; a man and a woman perform as if in stately paintings to a simulacrum of middle ages church music; and finally, three men delicately caress, explore and acknowledge each other’s physical and emotional boundaries. The feel of this piece is classical and worshipful of dance and art itself, with a sense of humour.

The third piece, “Colder Ink” (1994), for four dancers (Kokuba, Ullmark, Inoue, de Luna), shifts mood and focus; the clunking, machine-inspired score by Tim Brady drives harder, angular movement that seems to want to escape from the stage, but cannot. Sudden solos emerge from grouped work; animal forms, including rabbits and birds, seem to take shape in the movement and then dissipate.

The last piece, “Animated Shorts” (1984), is an elegantly imagined ensemble work danced amid rough rectangles of light that shift and change in number, size and position. The costumes are flowing, pastel dresses and loose trousers, with a strong modern ethos. The score, by Michael J. Baker, and performed by ARRAYMUSIC, moves in and out of organ music with flavours of bebop and free jazz, including a few cartoonish horn passages that work sonically against the swirls and sensual shifts of the dancers. Every element of movement is sweeping and clear, and feels like the purest of pure dance, Duncan and Graham influenced, distant from any specific message, distant from worry, celebrating joy.

The dancers are wonderfully definitive, sharp, and execute difficult and challenging passages flawlessly throughout. The principal dancers who perform major solos, including Yuichiro Inoue, Megumi Kokuba, Justin de Luna, Pulga Muchochoma, James Phillips, Erin Poole and Christianne Ullmark are constantly impressive.

The intense, precise beauty of this show leads me to ask if pure dance is really, somehow, also political. Is there a politics of concentration, of hard work, of knowing history, of total caring and attention to detail? In these fraught weeks leading up to the disruptive American presidential election, there is something utterly anodyne and settling about watching this ninety-minute show, with its urging to focus, contemplate and sink into the pure, meditative appreciation of brilliant and accomplished art.