Christopher House, artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre, likes to turn his company over to other choreographers at least once a year. He believes, and rightly so, that dancers are stimulated by the challenge of a different movement aesthetic.
This year, the new voice is Ame Henderson, a Toronto-based choreographer who has a reputation as an innovator, both at home and abroad. In the past, Henderson's far-reaching ideas have provided the audience with fascinating performances. This dance experiment, however, had mixed results.
Henderson/Castle: Voyager, as this new piece is called, has an intriguing inspiration. Apparently, NASA launched two unmanned Voyager spacecraft armed with sounds and images of Earth. Their job is to collect data on their journey. They are on no predetermined course. They theoretically could travel through space indefinitely, archiving as they go.
Based on Voyager, the TDT dancers have been given the task of performing continuous, non-repeating movement. They can neither stop nor go back. Henderson, in her program notes, hopes that this dance of "ongoingness" will lead to surprise.
The nine dancers, which includes House, are perpetual-motion machines. When a disembodied voice called "Time!" after an hour, they were exhausted. Several collapsed in chairs. After watching how hard they had to work at not repeating themselves, the audience rewarded them with enthusiastic applause.
The Castle of the title is Toronto singer/songwriter Jennifer Castle. As she explains in her program notes, like the TDT company, she was also tasked with moving forward by writing an hour-long song based on the principles of never stopping once she had begun, and never repeating herself.
Castle has a folksinger voice, soft and ethereal. Her delivery is very New Age – the vocal line different from the piano. Her voice roams up and down and all around, switching from major to minor keys at will. While not quite discordant, her music is not exactly melodic either.
Her lyrics function as a stream of consciousness. She sings about horse-racing ribbons, igital desktops, people who go away for the winter, sustainable existence and so on.
For variety, she throws in occasional harmonica interludes, or channels her voice through a distorting microphone. She also jingles bells, or plucks at a box harp. Castle too received warm applause for her efforts.
While acknowledging the tour de force performances on the part of both the dancers and the musician, nonetheless, the program borders on sameness. Nine dancers roaming through the space to Castle's singsong voice and seemingly random piano chords has, over time, limited interest.
In the large picture, little seems to happen. The dancers are on their individual pathways and little communication takes place among them. On the other hand, by focusing on one dancer at a time, the intricate details of his or her forward movement take on clarity.
Each dancer has an overall signature. For example, House's movements are neat and precise. Naishi Wang is stately elegance. Both Mairi Greig and Alana Elmer are balletic. Kaitlin Standeven is constricted. Yuichiro Inoue and Pulga Muchochoma are total body workout. Marie Claire Forté is gesture-driven, while Jarrett Siddall with his big swoopy movement is the most adventurous.
On final reflection, the dancers do seem to be very engaged in what they are doing. Yet, one still couldn't help but hope for a surprise.