The parallel pursuits of TDT’s Christianne Ullmark

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

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

Christianne Ullmark; photo by David Leyes

Toronto Dance Theatre’s 51st season and the company’s exploration of Reimagining Repertoire continues with the World Premiere of Artistic Director Christopher House’s Persefony Songs at Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre. Persefony Songs revisits images and sounds from House’s acclaimed 2001 choreography Persephone’s Lunch, reimagining and extending its vocabulary into the creation of the new Persefony Songs. The work features twelve dancers and six musicians performing a new musical score which offers a contemporary interpretation of Early Music, composed by Thom Gill and the indie band, Bernice. For House, working with a such “dream team” of collaborators has been a joy.

One member of that dream team is Christianne Ullmark. A TDT Company Dancer since 2014, she first captured attention and acclaim in her university days. Her professional career began while she was still an undergraduate student at Toronto’s Ryerson University, when Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie (CLC) contracted her for a short tour to Beijing and Mongolia. Ullmark ended up working with CLC until 2014. During this time, her star rose steadily. She worked closely with choreographer James Kudelka, dancing in six of his pieces and also co-creating an original role in From The House of Mirth (2012), based on the novel by Edith Wharton. Simultaneously, she completed her Masters degree at York University.

In addition to being an accomplished dancer, Ullmark is an emerging choreographer. She has presented works in Canada and abroad, including at the NextFest emerging artist festival in Edmonton, New Blue in Toronto, and The Beijing Dance Festival-Youth Dance Marathon in China. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ullmark is a marvel to watch, somehow flowing through movements that are intricate, yet devoid of showiness or excess. For all of these reasons, Ullmark has been on our radar for some time as an artist to watch. In the midst of rehearsals for Persefony Songs, she spoke with us about dancing House’s new work, her choreographic curiosity about the multiverse, and her pursuit of excellence in video games.

  1. In the media release, Christopher House is quoted as saying “…I was interested in foregrounding sensuality in this new iteration. One of the ways I’ve tried to do this is by de-gendering the roles, creating a more playful, poly-sexual landscape”.  How does this vision translate into the choreography you will be dancing? Does it pose any challenges?

In the 2001 version of this piece (entitled Persephone’s Lunch), the choreographic structure was held together in many places by clear divisions of gender.  For instance, there were some group sections of choreography that only the women performed, and then some sections that only the men performed. Also, most of the duet material usually involved the men lifting the women.  These divisions have now been dissolved. What you will see in Persefony Songs rather, is a collective effort that celebrates individuality and commonality among a group of humans.

  1. What meaning does Persefony Songs have for you?

TDT, Persefony Songs; photo by Alejandro Santiago

There is no set narrative that underpins Persefony Songs but Christopher has talked about Homer’s The Odyssey as an initial inspiration/something he had been reading at the time when he made the work in 2001. So I can’t help but bring in my own references to Greek mythology and storytelling when thinking about some choreographic choices and how I feel when performing them. I would say that the piece holds an experience rather than a particular meaning. It is clear there is an event happening, or about to happen, and there is a certain air of formality to it.  But the reason for the event remains somewhat ambiguous.

  1. What aspect of the staging and choreography should we pay particular attention to?

Persefony Songs is performance of live music and movement existing together.  So I would for sure pay particular attention to the relationship between the authentic liveliness of both the sound and the dancing.  I would also encourage the audience to pay attention to the moments of movement and moments of stillness and how the perception of how we usually define and differentiate these two ideas could maybe be subverted.   

  1. What would you like us to know about you as a dancer/choreographer and also beyond dance? Anything that might surprise?

As a dancer, I am fascinated by group dynamics and the collective energy that can charge the stage when everyone is working together towards something.  I love watching this kind of work and love performing in this way.

As an emerging choreographer, I am interested and inspired by the potential existence of parallel dimensions and also how we perceive and experience time.  I am still figuring out exactly the nature of what it is I am working on, but in my current practice, I use time as a literal and tangible dimension that can be manipulated and displaced.

Outside of dance, I am a huge science fiction nerd and so a lot of my artistic curiosities have stemmed from an interest in fantasy worlds that take place in space and defy our laws of physics. Something that might be a surprise is my recent obsession with video games. Especially anything that has a spacey theme. I never played video games as a kid, and I am even surprised at myself for how seriously I am taking them. LOL.   

TDT, Persefony Songs; photo by Alejandro Santiago

News You Can Use

What: Persefony Songs, Choreography: Christopher House; Music Director: Thom Gill; Lighting Designer: Simon Rossiter; Costume Designer: Jenn Dallas after Anna Michener; Set Designer: Steve Lucas after James Robertson
Performers: Sonia Boretski, Zachary Cardwell, Alana Elmer, Yuichiro Inoue, Peter Kelly, Megumi Kokuba, Pulga Muchochoma, Erin Poole, Devon Snell, Margarita Soria, Roberto Soria, and Christianne Ullmark
Musicians: Robin Dann, Dan Fortin, Thom Gill, Phil Melanson, Alex Samaras, and Felicity Williams

Who: Audiences of all ages; Audience advisory: show contains partial nudity

When: On stage until March 9, 2019, 8:00 PM

Where: Fleck Dance Theatre at Harbourfront Centre, 207 Queens Quay West, 3rd Floor, Queen’s Quay Terminal, Toronto, ON

Info and Tickets: tdt.org

© 2019 Arpita ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine

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