Did the dancers contribute to the process?
I usually have a very good idea, a good preconceived notion, of what I want to do when I choreograph. I walk into the room, and I’ve got the score in hand. And for this particular one, I also had all my steps planned out. And then it was the most wonderful thing to realize that working like that made no sense. It was a piece I had made for me. It was my movement. But then I got to the studio and there were the dancers, Alex [Antonijevic] and Elena [Lobsanova]. They are the vessel for the piece. I told them what I wanted them to do and then they did it differently. And it was beautiful for being an accident. I couldn’t possibly let my ego, or what I had originally intended, be more important than going down the avenue where those beautiful accidents were happening. So I took those beautiful accidents, and crafted the piece again, to make sense of my original vision. So it was a constant negotiation between what I thought I had here [points to his head] and what I saw there.
Did you enjoy the creative process?
Really, that was the best part of it all, to be involved in the process as it was happening. It didn’t happen at home, in front of my computer. It didn’t happen while I was listening to a Walkman. And it didn’t happen when I was in the studio dancing it myself. It happened when I was talking with the dancers. And you make deals, you know? You make deals with them. You say, let’s do it like that in this part, and you negotiate, and they say, yeah, okay. But then here, you say, I’d really love it if you did this, or, I need to see your line here.
Was that easy?
Of course, these are experienced dancers. And me also being an experienced dancer, I can say that mechanics and technique are things you can fix. And you can spend hours fixing. But the essence of the piece, and also the general idea of the construction of the piece, is where the magic happens. I just absolutely loved the process of creating the piece.
How does No. 24 push the limits of your own developing talents as a choreographer?
Well, I am concentrating with each piece I do to create a new vocabulary. That’s what thrills me when I watch new dance, to see different ways of moving: different shapes, different ways of connecting Point A to Point B. No one will reinvent the wheel in ballet. Dance has been done and redone so many times. But it is about how you get from one place to another, how you put things together, how you can make it make sense on the music. And I can’t say this enough. Music is what makes us relevant. It’s all great to go into sound design and to have dance with, you know, no music, just people breathing. I respect choreographers who go that route. But. I am a firm believer that music is at the essence of dance.
Did you study music?
Yes. I played seven years of piano and I took composition courses at the Royal Conservatory of Music. That was really to help me compose ballet music which I had started to do for [dancer-turned-choreographer] Dominique Dumais for her in Germany, for the Stuttgart Ballet. I’ve since done ballet scores for American Ballet Theatre and the Alberta Ballet as well. I’ve also studied classical guitar for six years. And I was part of a rock band called The Neurotics.
What did you play?
I played electric guitar, and I was a singer. I tried to, any way. But that was my whole plan. I was going to be a rock star.
So when were you going to fit that in? What hour of the day was free?
I played endlessly in grades 11 and 12. And we played some clubs, Battle of the Bands sort of thing. We played the El Mocambo [in Toronto] and some clubs on Yonge Street. That’s originally why I cam to Toronto, to learn English. I wanted to be a rock star. I liked dance. But I never considered it to be a full-time job until I discovered full-length ballets, their physicality and their stories.