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Classic Chrysler stole choreographer's heart Add to ...

Bill Coleman

Profession: Dancer, choreographer and co-artistic director of Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie

Age: 49

Hometown: Born in Berwick, N.S.; grew up in Oban, Scotland

Notable achievements: In 2002, the Canadian Council for the Arts awarded him the Jacqueline Lemieux award for his work in revitalizing the art of choreography; received the Jerome Foundation's First Light Award in New York in 1988 for Shane, Baryshnikov: The Other Story; his memorable works include Zorro, which was nominated for the Dora Mavor Moore Award; his piece, Heartland, inspired Romanian-born director Laura Taler to produce her award-winning documentary based on Coleman's life and work; it aired on Bravo

Upcoming: Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie presents AllOneWord, an evening of dance works by choreographer James Kudelka, Feb. 10-12, at Habourfront Centre in Toronto

Bill Coleman is a pioneer in the dance world.

The internationally renowned choreographer has compiled more than 50 original works for the Toronto Dance Theatre, the Canadian Children's Dance Theatre and Balletworks in New York. But Coleman is also a trailblazer on the road, opting to drive a vintage car rather than a luxury one. He drives a two-door 1967 Chrysler Newport.

Why did you buy a '67 Chrysler Newport?

I grew up in Scotland and the U.K. Chrysler just seemed like the quintessential North American car - really large, boxy. I'd seen them every now and then and fell in love with them. It was the car I had to have.

Not growing up in North America gave me a real romanticism about North America. I grew up with loving them. When I came here in 1981 I was quite obsessed with the vehicles.

I bought it in 1990. I was working on a creation. I was researching a piece that was eventually called Heartland and part of my creative process was to drive diagonally across North America from California to Toronto. I was looking at rental cars, but I realized it would be a lot more cheaper to buy something.

I didn't drive at that point. I took three driving lessons and I got my licence. I flew down to California to meet up with some friends in San Francisco and we went shopping - I was looking for a Chrysler Newport. I wanted a '65 four-door, but we found a '67. It was $1,800. It belonged to an elderly lady who was a secretary for a body shop. It was in great shape with low miles. I bought it right there and I drove it home.

Any mishaps on the drive home?

I had just learned to drive on some tiny Japanese car so my drive home from San Jose to San Francisco was pretty funny.

It was massive - a big car. I decided to take a quiet road home. I decided on the coast road rather than the highway. The coast road winded by the water - it's scenic, but it was terrifying.

There was a few mishaps on the coast road when you drive through Big Sur - there's not a lot of towns. I got into a stretch where there was nothing - I was driving late in the dark. I remember gently rubbing on a guardrail on a cliff edge.

Another time I was premiering this piece out in Peterborough and my friends decided when I arrived in Peterborough they'd do a motorcade to escort me to the show for fun.

We drove in, but just as I got in the outskirts of Peterborough the car broke down. It was the alternator - it just burnt out. The car has always had something wrong with the electrics and charging system - the only thing I've replaced on it. It was funny.

Was it your primary family car when the kids came along?

It broke down once on the highway during a family vacation, which signed the death warrant for it being the main mode of transport for the family. It put the Chrysler out of favour.

When I got kids it was a little less practical so I put it in the garage for almost a decade. I didn't start it or anything. I just put it on blocks - didn't drain the fluids.

A friend was over and he convinced me to start it up. So we decided to get it going - we changed the oil and it started. And literally after a decade of not driving, it cost $100 to certify. It even got great feedback for the brakes.

What did you drive when you took it off the road for a decade?

We inherited family cars like a Mazda Protégé. It had lots of power.

I had a Volvo, which was nice but falling apart. Then we inherited from my wife's family their cast-off Subarus, which are really nice. But I still pine for the Chrysler.

Do you miss having modern technology in your Newport?

The design and viewing is great in the Chrysler. It had these vents at the side of the seat and the air just rushes in. Even though it had this ridiculous factory-installed air conditioning unit that stuck out of the dashboard the vents were fantastic so in hot weather it's a great car.

What's your dream car?

My fantasy would be to fix up the Chrysler.

I would spend that money on redoing the Chrysler rather than getting a new car.

I can't even think about getting a new car.

Have you done any restorations on it?

It's totally stock. It's got everything in it. It runs great.

For a while I would be tuning it up myself. Sometimes the timing would get funny when I'd driven it a long time. On long trips to Saskatchewan I tune it up on the road. I'd be in parking lot at Canadian Tire tuning it up. Nothing major was replaced in it.

It's a really plain car. It's got a 383 Chrysler engine in it and a torque flight transmission so it's got muscle. That's a classic muscle car motor but it's a real civilian family car. It's way bigger than a Charger or Impala. The Newport is a family cruiser. It would be great low rider, if I ever bothered to do that, but I never will. It's not necessarily a macho vehicle.

I like that era of cars - they're fun, they're great to work on. You can almost stand up in the engine compartment and work in it.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

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