TDT’s Glass Fields is a leap forward inspired by a look back

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Roberto Soria, Christianne Ullmark, Tia Kushniruk, Megumi Kokuba and Devon Snell in Glass Houses, 2018 (photo by Omer K Yukseker)

Contemporary dance maverick Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) celebrates its 50th birthday this week! Founded in 1968 by Patricia Beatty, David Earle and Peter Randazzo, the dynamic company continues to flourish under Christopher House, artistic director since 1994. TDT is commemorating this milestone anniversary by presenting Glass Fields, a part of Harbourfront Theatre’s NextSteps Dance Series.

Glass Fields is a program of five new choreographies created by ​Amanda Acorn, Jasmyn Fyffe, Hanna Kiel, Tedd Robinson and Mr. House, in response to Mr. House’s 1983 masterwork Glass Houses, which is then performed in its entirety, following intermission. The structure of its choreography correlates with Ann Southam’s composition Glass Houses No. 5, inspired by American composer Philip Glass’ compositional forms, which are characterized by repetitive structures. Each of the newly commissioned works highlights some part of the inspirational work: its form, style, music, or one of its original sources of artistic inspiration, Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities series. Mr. House revisited Southam’s Glass Houses compositions for his new choreography, and chose No. 13. For the other four new choreographies, musician-composers Thom Gill, Greg Harrison, Jonathan Adjemian, Charles Quevillon and Sarah Shugarman have taken inspiration from Southam’s work and composed or adapted original music.

Glass Houses is one of 60 works Mr. House has contributed to the TDT’s repertoire. Innovative and daring, Glass Houses was part of the early 80s “new dance” movement that helped to influence the creation — and shift the perception — of modern dance. In the 35 years since its debut, Glass Houses has enjoyed acclaim and a long performance life, even being imprinted on film by award-winning Canadian writer, director and producer Moze Mossanen. According to TDT’s website, one of the company’s missions is to create and produce new works, and to revisit works “from TDT’s repertoire, that engage with fresh and resonant aspects of choreographic expression.” Glass Fields embodies this dual objective beautifully. It is a curation of new works, each created to celebrate its inspiration. At the same time, it is a return visit 35 years later, so new audiences can experience Mr House’s original masterwork, interpreted through the diverse lenses of a new generation of dancers.

Mr. House kindly connected with us for a brief conversation about TDT’s big celebration and his central role in it.

Christopher House (photo courtesy of Toronto Dance Theatre)

SesayArts: ​Why is now a good time for Toronto audiences to experience or re-experience Glass Houses? 

CH: This is TDT’s fiftieth anniversary year, a time to celebrate the past even as we move into the future! It is also the second year of our Reimagining Repertoire Project in which we consider repertoire as a site for ongoing artistic research and creation: the theme for this year is adaptation, remixing and responding to an early work. I felt that Glass Houses would be a great subject for other choreographers to consider because the form and content are very clear, and it captures a joyful physicality and musicality that is indicative of 1983 but never goes out of style. It is a classic work of mine that hasn’t been performed in the city for more than thirteen years and an exciting challenge for the dancers. Also, the music is by Ann Southam, the most important composer in TDT’s long history.

SesayArts: The “Reimagining Repertoire” initiative led to the Glass Fields project…I am curious whether the opportunity to interact with your own past work has inspired any changes to your original choreography from 1983?

CH: Because five different choreographers are responding to the work, it felt important to present Glass Houses as close to the original as possible. I have changed a couple of small things in relation to the strengths of individual dancers, but this is standard procedure in any remount.

​SesayArts: How did the other choreographers, ​Tedd Robinson, Hanna Kiel, Amanda Acorn and Jasmyn Fyffe, become involved in the project?

CH: I invited them because they represent a diversity of backgrounds and approaches, but each of them approaches their work with imagination, inventiveness and craft. I was excited to see how they draw attention to hidden aspects of Glass Houses, or change the way that we see it in some way.

SesayArts: And can you tell us a bit about their choreographies, and how they intersect with Glass Houses and interconnect with each other?

CH: They have each married their own styles to my ideas in very open and generous ways. Amanda’s work contains humour and playfulness within her deliciously repetitive approach. Jasmyn has channeled the physicality of Robert Longo’s Men in the Cities, one of the sources of the original. Hanna’s work features highly complex movement in ways that recall Glass Houses yet are very different. And Tedd’s work is lyrical, mysterious and a bit wacky. Together, these works show a wonderful range of choreographic ideas.

SesayArts: What about Glass Fields excites you most?  

CH: I’m thrilled to be presenting work by these four choreographers that is danced by such a fine ensemble of performers.

SesayArts: Do you want to speak to the musical aspect of the show? 

CH: Each of the works has a commissioned score. My new work, Thirteen, has four musicians on stage; it is another piano piece by Ann Southam that is adapted for two marimbas by Taktus and has percussion and electronic keyboards overlaid by Thom Gill and Philippe Melanson. The other works are performed to tape, but each has a commissioned score that responds to Ann Southam’s music. The composers are Jonathan Adjemian, Sarah Shugarman, Greg Harrison and Charles Quevillon

SesayArts: Glass Houses has been heralded as a masterwork, and you continue to be hugely influential as a choreographer and a visionary of contemporary dance. What personal meaning do Glass Houses and Glass Fields have for you?

CH: It is pretty amazing to be able to look back at a work that I made thirty-five years ago and reframe it in this way.

Merle Holloman, Grace Miyagawa, Helen Jones, Learie McNicolls and Luc Tremblay in Glass Houses, 1983 (photo by Andrew Oxenham)

News You Can Use

What: Glass Fields by Christopher House, Tedd Robinson, Hanna Kiel, Amanda Acorn and Jasmyn Fyffe

  • Music created or adapted by Thom Gill, Greg Harrison, Jonathan Adjemian, Charles Quevillon, Sarah Shugarman and Ann Southam
  • Performed by Valerie Calam, Alana Elmer, Yuichiro Inoue, Peter Kelly, Megumi Kokuba, Tia Kushniruk, Pulga Muchochoma, Devon Snell, Margarita Soria, Roberto Soria and Christianne Ullmark

When: On stage until March 24, 2018; the performance on Friday, March 23 will be streamed live at 8PM here

Where: Fleck Dance Theatre, HarbourFront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8

Info and Tickets: TDT.org or  HarbourfrontCentre.com or 416.973.4000

© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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