Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Toronto Dance Theatre’s (TDT) 51st dance season (and Christopher House’s 25th year as Artistic Director) opens with a new presentation of New York City-based Jeanine Durning’s This Shape, We Are In, first presented by TDT in 2015, as well as Marie Lambin-Gagnon’s new performance installation Slow Dance. Slow Dance was born out of Lambin-Gagnon’s desire to create a performance where dancers, objects and the surroundings — including the costumes — are equal parts of the movement and choreography. “At times, they seem like an extension of each other,” says Ms Lambin-Gagnon, “and other times, their singularities are heightened.”
Her initial inspiration for the aesthetic of Slow Dance came from seeing Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between, the Costume Institute’s spring 2017 exhibition, which examined the work of fashion designer Rei Kawakubo at the MET. When she experienced the exhibition, she was fascinated by the way the clothes became one with the body.The exhibition prompted her to regard them with an entirely new sensibility. “It felt like, for a moment, I could forget everything I knew about what constitutes a body and a piece of clothing. I was looking at them with fresh eyes, rediscovering them, and forgetting about their conventional functionality.”
Thus, in Slow Dance, the audience will encounter certain costumes, objects, fabrics and paper that might be considered “beautiful” . . . along with other everyday objects that most people would not pay attention to. Yet here, “everything in the room has the same sense of value. Every element is treated in the same way no matter the status they usually have to our eyes. Every element has the potential to move; every element can move us.”
And as the performance’s title implies, the piece happens in slowness . . . and this, in a city where “everything goes very fast”. Ms Lambin-Gagnon notes that “businesses have to grow quickly, there is always a new restaurant to try, and a lot of people have multiple jobs to afford to live in this city.” Yet, though “slowing down can be very challenging in Toronto,” the choreography asks the audience to “step back from their busy lives, to take the time to see the beauty and dance in bodies and objects. To take the time to notice the poetry and absurdity coexisting in our life.”
Ms Lambin-Gagnon graduated from the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre in 2013. Since that time, she has performed with a number of choreographers, collaborated with Tiger Princess Dance Projects, and has been a guest artist for the New York City-based dance company Motley Dance, directed by Elizabeth Motley. She created Slow Dance expressly for TDT, and it will be performed by TDT company dancers Peter Kelly, Yuichiro Inoue, Devon Snell and Margarita Soria. Set and costume designs have been created in collaboration with Christine Urquhart, and lighting design by Imogen Wilson.
Original music was composed by Asa Sexton-Greenberg, with whom Ms Lambin-Gagnon has collaborated on nearly all of her shows to date. For Slow Dance, she asked him to create music with a dynamism and energy that transcends electronic dance music. She sought a deliberate contrast to the slow pace of the dancers, and she wanted the audience to hear music typically associated with dance, though not necessarily contemporary dance. And Mr. Sexton-Greenberg more than delivered: “His music is at times dark and powerful, but can also be delicate and full of metaphor. Asa’s music evokes a lot of imagery to me, and I work with a lot of mental or concrete images within my own creative process.”
Most recently, Slow Dance took on a new meaning for Ms Lambin-Gagnon, when she lost a friend who was very close. After she passed away, Ms Lambin-Gagnon had to go to her place to help sort through her belongings. “She was a person that tried really hard not to get attached to objects, and to keep the bare minimum. It was still surprising how many objects she left behind.” This mundane reality sparked a profound realization about our connection to objects: “When we leave this world, we leave memories and intangible things, but we also leave a lot of material things behind that take up physical space. From a personal journal and pictures to a lamp and a chair, those things are an extension of our lives more than we can imagine.”
Informed by such insights, her choreography brims with ingenuity and innovation, and is acquiring an avid fanbase for its ability to affect in stirring, unexpected ways. With the TDT season opening mere days away, she feels “very excited” because the piece is a little bit different each time it is performed. One reason for this variation is that the manner in which the dancers move with the objects is such that they cannot control them: “Surprises and accidents are meant to happen in the choreography, and the dancers [have] learned how to compose with them in the moment. The way an object or costume reacts to the movement of the bodies can really change the course of the piece. It creates a real sense of wonder for me. I highly suggest coming more than once to see the show!”
In the end, whether for one or multiple visits, Ms Lambin-Gagnon extends an enthusiastic invitation to all to “experience the magical land of Slow Dance”. She hopes that its impact is “as stimulating for you as it is for me”: in fact, she openly aspires to leave her audiences altered, as she was. She closes our conversation with a warm – and yes, a slow – smile . . . and the simple encouragement to “all of us to take the time to experience our surroundings and the objects in our lives with a different perspective and sensibility”.
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What: Slow Dance, choreographed by Marie Lambin-Gagnon
Performed by Peter Kelly, Yuichiro Inoue, Devon Snell and Margarita Soria
This Shape, We Are In, choreographed by Jeanine Durning
Performed by Valerie Calam, Alana Elmer, Mairi Greig, Megumi Kokuba, Pulga Muchochoma, Erin Poole, Roberto Soria
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: On stage until February 2, 2019; Performances are scheduled so that audiences can see both programmes as a double bill.
Where: Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester Street, Toronto, ON
Info and Tickets: tdt.org
© 2019 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine