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Call it the attack of the modern-dance geriatrics.

Toronto Heritage Dance is presenting a concert of new and old choreography by Patricia Beatty (age 75), David Earle (72), Peter Randazzo (69), Danny Grossman (69), Lawrence Gradus (75) and Terrill Maguire (64).

The company was co-founded by Beatty and Nenagh Leigh (68) to present modern dance. Beatty is a founder of Toronto Dance Theatre along with Earle and Randazzo. Leigh presented her modern dance series Spring Rites for over a decade. Grossman had his own company for over 30 years. Gradus was artistic director of both Montreal's Entre-Six and Ottawa's Theatre Ballet of Canada. Maguire directed the Inde Festival of New Dance and Music.

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These pioneers have seen postmodern dance throw technique to the winds, complicate choreography with text and multimedia, and generally convert dance into a contemporary "anything goes" art form. An Evening of Chamber Dance is not, however, an exercise in nostalgia.

As Beatty carefully explains in her program notes, the raison d'être behind the concert is to ascertain whether modern dance still has relevance. It is an art form anchored in technique. It is dance expressed through economy of movement. The risk-taking comes from the dancer's body being exposed in space. At its heart, modern dance is always about the human condition. The dancer is the dance.

Beatty answers her own question with her exquisite new solo The High Heart, performed by the equally exquisite Danielle Baskerville to stately music by Arvo Part. Costumed in a gorgeous red dress by Kim Fioca, Baskerville negotiates through vintage Beatty movement of carefully crafted control.

Always looking off to the side as if lured by something, the Junoesque Baskerville dominates the space. Her head, arms and legs are always perfectly placed. She moves with lyrical precision through arches, bends and swoops as if her body were made of finely wrought steel. This is a woman of dignified maturity in all her glory. When she exits the stage, trailing a long red sash in her wake, the world is hers to command.

Maguire's elegant and subtle Pond Life ll, accompanied by pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, is set to a score by the late composer Ann Southam. The music is a reflective series of gentle piano notes and chords.

Maguire's choreography of isolated movements reflects the tranquillity. In her long stretches, deep pliés, undulating fingers and vibrating legs, she captures the graceful aquatic life in a pond, a metaphor for the peace we all seek.

The other two new works take huge chances because they swim against the current of contemporary dance's sophisticated aesthetic. One is emotional, and one walks the fine line between serious and whimsy.

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Grossman's Cut reunites two of his company dancers, Eddie Kastrau and Meredith Thompson. The choreographer has always worn his emotions on his sleeve, and this dark piece pulsates with angst. The couple, garbed in black, and performing to the melancholy music of Ross Edwards and the edgy soundscape of Darren Copeland, are in deep grief.

The push and pull movement is fierce and dramatic, portraying the agony of the soul. They cling and they separate. He stands alone with clenched fists. She huddles in another corner. The shocking conclusion gives the title its meaning. With a knife, he slashes a wrist, and is cradled by the woman, whom we realize, is a metaphor for death.

Gradus's Castaway, a solo for Kastrau, and set to Debussy's impressionistic sea music, portrays a man washed ashore after a shipwreck. The opening image has him lying against a piece of driftwood. Danger lurks in the form of a motorized shark fin that circles the man. A large white balloon is rolled in and, perhaps, signifies life.

The first instinct is to laugh, particularly at the balloon. Kastrau performs with it like a gymnastics routine. The shark fin is ridiculously overlarge. The movement for Kastrau, however, is suitably energetic and spasmodic, evoking a man clinging to life and struggling to survive. Nonetheless, is Gradus having us on, or is he serious?

The remounts are all famous and gorgeous. Randazzo's Pavane (1977), performed to Ravel's lyrical score by Georgia Simms and Anh Nguyen, is sumptuous living sculpture evoking Greek statuary. Earle's Baroque Suite Duet (1972), which captures the stately formality of Corelli's music, is elegantly performed by Julia Garlisi and Nguyen.

And finally, Earle's magnificent Miserere (1981), a Canadian modern-dance classic, embodies the agony and the ecstasy of Christ's earthly mission explicit in Allegri's reverential music for the mass. Earle's passionate movement recreates the Stations of the Cross and other religious images through the dancers' eloquently, entangled bodies. Baskerville, Nguyen, Simms, Michael Sean Marye and Suzette Sherman perform with majesty. And kudos to Sherman, who at 59, is still going strong.

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In short, well-crafted dance that is beautifully performed will always have relevance because it glorifies the art.

An Evening of Chamber Dance

  • Toronto Heritage Dance
  • Choreography by Patricia Beatty, David Earle, Peter Randazzo, Danny Grossman, Lawrence Gradus and Terrill Maguire
  • At Winchester Street Theatre
  • in Toronto on Thursday


Toronto Heritage Dance continues until Sept. 18.

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