Photo courtesy of TDT/David Hou.
Award-winning choreographer and longstanding artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre Christopher House is a sly trickster who never fails to find new ways to toy with his audience when he turns dance conventions on their head. During the first section of his new dance piece entitled Pteros Tactics (finishing its run tomorrow at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre), he has his entire company—dressed in casual attire—slink out of the audience onto the stage before directly addressing attendees by telling them their names and a personal truth. “I look good with my shirt off—actually, I look good with everything off,” says one. “I have beautiful breasts,” says another. One of the best quotes comes courtesy of the small-framed Naishi Wang who gleefully proclaims, “I have no back fat.”
The show is grounded in the personalities of its dancers and that’s where it both succeeds and fails. Sometimes sections seem focused too much on movement and not enough on dance elements, while other sequences come off as too improvisational. Definite highlights include the strong presence and vocals of Pulga Muchochoma, the kinetic and unique physicality of Naishi Wang, and a spirituous solo from Linnea Wong.
We caught up with Christopher House to talk about breaking the fourth wall and how you only want something when someone else wants it first.
Torontoist: This piece seemed very collaborative. How important is it to you to work with your dancers to help craft a piece rather than go in with a rigid vision?
Christopher House: I have a specific vision in mind and use the collaborative process to bring it to fruition. I’m interested in the individual personalities of the dancers, in their sentient presence, and inviting them be seen in the fullness of their intelligence and imagination. I want them to be personally implicated in the work and to have a sense of ownership.
One normally doesn’t think that choreographers would use a dramaturge, but for this piece you worked with Belgian dramaturge Guy Cools. What is that process like as it applies to dance?
Guy’s role was to support my process as an advisor and sounding board. Dramaturgy in dance is increasingly common in this country, but has been a normal part of the process in Europe for years.
It seems like much of the show is about attraction and repulsion coupled with the need to be wanted. Can you shed more light on the show’s inspiration, Anne Carson’s essay Eros the Bittersweet?
The idea is that Eros is a verb. Eros is a limb loosener, a ballplayer, and a trickster who’s always ready to ambush. Desire, in this context, is desire for that which one lacks or is missing and would like to possess. Carson has a beautiful quote in the essay, “Eros is a verb and the reach of desire is defined in action: beautiful (in its object), foiled (in its attempt), and endless (in time).” Another that sticks out is, “Eros knows only to pursue what flees.”
Why did you choose to break the fourth wall in this piece and bring the audience and the performers together at several points in the piece?
This reflects the idea that the audience plays an active role in the manifestation of “the instant of desire.” Anne Carson talks about “triangulation,” the idea that there needs to be a third element, in addition to the lover and the beloved, in order for the instant of desire to exist.
In practical terms, if the audience realizes that the performers are aware of their presence, and are addressing them directly, then they become complicit in this process as witnesses or voyeurs rather than just passive viewers.
Matt Thomas is a filmmaker, an arts and culture writer, and currently an associate editor at Fab Magazine.