Dance Review – DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation

DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation takes place at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 16-18.

Mimi Beck

When DanceWorks began 40 years ago, it was one of several presenter dance series in Toronto. Now, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is almost the only game in town, which makes its longevity all the more notable.

One expects tributes to the past on such an anniversary and DW curator Mimi Beck’s program certainly gives us that look back. There are also several premieres, and this old/new viewpoint makes for an enjoyable totality. Pieces from 1981 and 1995 are given new life, while the other three works are brand new.

How good it is to have Learie Mc Nicolls back on a Toronto stage. The dancer/choreographer is another Torontonian who has moved to Hamilton in search of cheaper housing. Mc Nicolls is responsible for two works on the program, and both reflect his quirky approach to movement – those tell-tale, abrupt changes of direction, those short, quick, staccato body impulses, for example. The solo

Learie Mc Nicolls
The Night Journey

The Night Journey has Mc Nicolls as a bold, commanding and dominating presence on stage inspired by a soundscape of Dutch musician Wilbert de Joode’s solo double bass riffs. Judith Sandiford (another ex-Torontonian) is responsible for the eye-catching if moody, grainy live projections of Mc Nicolls, which adds to the mystery of the piece. The excerpt duet from Mc Nicolls’ 1995 Dancing with the Ghost, wonderfully performed by Jennifer Dahl and Robert Glumbek, is a witty girl-meets-guy parody. They go through a physicality of angst before giving up in a “what the hell” attitude of resignation as they leave the stage in separate directions.

Robert Stevenson and Holly Small

Evan Winther
Cheap Sunglasses

Another blast from the past is Holly Small’s 1981 Cheap Sunglasses, but with the twist of gender reversal. Originally, Small danced while composer Robert Stevenson’s sound poetry score was performed by men. This time male dancer Evan Winther takes centre stage (sporting the cheap sunglasses) while a quartet of women (Jocelyn Barth, Minjia Chen, Bea Labikova, Laura Swankey) vocalize the very peculiar soundscape of noises. Small has always had a wry sense of humour and this piece shows that attribute to the max – an individual seemingly at the mercy of the music, but showing a devil-may-care attitude nonetheless. Winther, a York University student, is a most eye-pleasing dancer to watch, at once supple, graceful and crisp of attack.

Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique
Amalgam

Twenty years ago, kathak dancer Joanna de Souza and flamenco dancer Esmeralda Enrique created their duet Firedance, a smash hit which travelled far beyond DanceWorks. Now the women have added Amalgam to their distinguished careers. What is so delightful about this work is how they move in sync. They perform the same steps, but as a flamenco dancer and a kathak dancer would. Of more importance is that these women of a certain age still have the fire in the belly when it comes to their solos. The fabulous original world beat score, composed by the performers, contains a flamenco guitarist (Caroline Planté), a tabla player (Santosh Naidu), a bass guitarist (Ian de Souza), and the always marvellous and brilliant Arabic singer Maryem Hassan Tollar. This performance by dancers and musicians a like, is a class act.

Moving Parts

The most surprising piece of the evening is Denise Fujiwara’s Moving Parts, a finale that has armies marching, meaning nine dancers, two musicians and a huge choir led by Cathy Nosaty. I say surprising because Fujiwara is Toronto’s queen of the dark, deep and melancholy butoh dance, yet she has come up with choreography that hops, skips and jumps for joy. The score features tuneful pop songs with lyrics proclaiming hope in the face of disaster, culminating in the Parachute Club’s Rise Up, which becomes a community sing.

Long may DanceWorks continue to present Toronto and Canadian dance artists.

DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation, featuring works by Learie Mc Nicolls, Holly Small, Denise Fujiwara, and Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique, takes place at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 16-18.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theatre Profile – Jacquie P.A. Thomas/Theatre Gargantua and the new work Reflector

Theatre Gargantua’s Reflector is showing at Theatre Passe Muraille Nov. 2-18. The production’s wellspring is the impact that photojournalism has on public consciousness, and how information can be framed and manipulated.

INTRODUCTION TO THEATRE GARGANTUA.

Jacquie P.A. Thomas

For 25 years, Theatre Gargantua has defined the term multi-disciplinary with original productions, built from scratch, that are an eye-popping mix of narrative, movement, music, stage design and state-of-the-art technology. The devised play is always about a substantive topic – usually concerning the zeitgeist of the day. At the helm of Theatre Gargantua is founder/artistic director Jacquie Thomas, and it is her unique vision of what theatre should be that underpins the company’s productions in terms of both process and performance.

To hone her craft of devised total theatre, Thomas took workshops with or joined the companies of acknowledged leaders in the field. Leonidas Ossetynski’s Actor’s Lab in Los Angeles. Centre Artistique International Roy Hart, Malérargues, France. The Actors Centre, London. The National Theatre of Greece. Wlodzimierz Staniewski’s European Centre for Theatre Practices, Gardzienice Teatr, Poland. Peking Opera masters. Another invaluable source for Thomas was studying archival videos of multidisciplinary creators/directors at Richard Gough’s Centre for Theatrical Research, Aberystwyth, Wales.

Reflector
Photo Michael Cooper

TG’s distinctive productions have garnered for the company many awards and nominations in categories diverse as outstanding new play, direction, sound design, set design and lighting design.

 

INTERVIEW WITH JACQUIE P.A. THOMAS, FOUNDER/ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THEATRE GARGANTUA.

 What was the epiphany moment that put you on the course of devised multidisciplinary theatre?

It happened when Don Rubin, my theatre history prof at York, recommended that we see the Polish theatre company Gardzienice at Harbourfront’s World Stage Festival. Throughout the performance, I was on the edge of my seat. In the play there was a half naked actor who performed literally under the falling embers from torches. I knew then that I wanted to make theatre where you could be on fire and not care. It was so different and inspiring.

How did you go about training in this specific kind of theatre?

After the Gardzienice performance, I wondered who else was out there – people making theatre – so I researched directors devising their own work, and then I wrote letters to those I was interested in, asking if I could train with them. That’s what started my journey. I grew up artistically with these directors.

Auditioning for Gardzienice in Poland and becoming a member of the company must have been the dream of a lifetime.

I was with them for two years. We spent one year just developing a show, but it was an insane time politically. It was during the fall of the Berlin wall. Inflation was rampant and it was hard to live there financially.

So you came back to Toronto.

I did get acting work but it wasn’t satisfying. I really wanted to find a group of artists interested in developing a show over time following the European model. New creation companies are very rare in Canada.

How did Theatre Gargantua begin?

I got a $2000 grant from the Toronto Arts Council and a donation from my dad. The first project took three years, 1992-94. It was about the trials of the Templars. I was fascinated by the accusations against these warrior knights, particularly the sensual language of the historical documents. I put an ad in NOW looking for actors, and pulled a group together. The Trials got seven Dora nominations.

TG’s associate artistic director, Michael Spence, was one of the actors in The Trials.

Yes, he joined in the final year, and I broke my own rule about no inter-company dating. In effect, I auditioned my own husband. We have two girls, Meghan, 15 and Zoe, 13.

Michael evolved into TG’s leading writer and designer.

I love set pieces that transform into something else, and Michael figured out how to do that. For our second play, Raging Dreams, he was an actor and designer, but his writing stood out, so he moved into that role. Our company has always given opportunities to actors who have a special interest, even if they don’t have the background.

What were the early years like?

Refector
Photo Michael Cooper

For the first ten years we rehearsed and performed at the Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, near Kensington Market, but every Saturday night, we had to take everything apart in order to get the sanctuary ready for Sunday. We actually ended up converting the backspace into a church hall – our gift to St. Stephen’s. We still develop our productions there, but as technology developed, we outgrew the church as a performance space. We needed a proper theatre for the sophistication of multiple projectors, for example. Reflector is at Theatre Passe Muraille which is a good space for us because it has height. Incidentally, St. Stephen’s has had a long connection with the theatre. Dora Mavor Moore rehearsed there.

How would you describe your “European model” process of play development? I understand it’s a two year cycle.

I use the skills that I brought back to Canada. We spend the first year creating the show. Initially, the entire conceptual team gathers, both creative artists and the actors. We open it up and invite people we’re interested in. That’s where the ideas start. Our plays always have a narrative, and everything springs from the text that we create. The writing starts collectively, but a specific writer has to ultimately drive the script. Part of the creation is how we blend together all the elements. We cast after the first workshop.

How do you blend the elements?

By breaking them apart. After we have discussions about the initial idea, people do research in the library, and what they bring back is the inspiration for the writing. We develop the story, text, movement and songs separately. The music track grows out of the musical improvs that we record. The movement is an allegorical language. Each show develops its own movement – a physical composition that pushes the narrative forward. The design is also linked to the narrative, and is sculpted to the space. The design, and how set pieces transform, is like another character. We have specific design workshops where we explore possibilities. After each unit is developed, we marry them together. A song goes here, that text goes

there. We throw out stuff as well.

What happens the second year?

Reflector
Photo Michael Cooper

We hold public work-in-progress performances – usually six – and get feedback from the audience. At that stage the narrative, movement and score are prototypes. The public performances allow us to see what elements need the most work. We then amalgamate everything tightly together to distil the material down to the final show. Works are a living thing which means they are always changing.

How does the Canadian reality impact on your European model?

The impact is economic. In Poland, they did full time development. It was a union job and they came to work every day. We can’t do that financially. My solution has been to breakdown the work into phases. Allow it to sit with the artists. It’s a better mouse trap.

What’s the wellspring of your new piece Reflector?

It started with the photo of the young refugee Syrian boy who was washed up on the beach. It affected people all over the world. It affected the Canadian election. Just one photo galvanized the planet to act on the refugee question. It probably saved thousands of lives. The photo was an iconic image – a moment in time that imprinted itself on the collective memory. How did the phenomenon happen? What made the world stop and look? Those are questions we pose.

Who are the characters in Reflector?

Reflector
Photo Michael Cooper

The main thread of the narrative is what happens to the conscience of a people – how a picture can affect us. We have four characters, all inspired by real people. We based our photojournalist on the guy who took the picture of the helpless child with the vulture about to attack her. There was a terrible backlash and he committed suicide. The second is inspired by the book The Woman Who Can’t Forget. Hyperthymesia is a condition where a person has total recall and can’t forget anything that happened to them. Their memories are stored in pictures. The third character is based on our daughters and their exposure to hundreds of images on the internet. Fluency on the internet means dealing with an avalanche of pictures. The fourth character is inspired by neuroscientists who study how images are processed in the mind. So the four characters are a psychiatrist and his three patients. The set is a waiting room. All four are reacting to a picture that has affected them.

What does the title mean?

Michael came up with the title. The central image for the show is a camera lens, a lens that can be replaced by an eye. Reflector is an active state – reflecting images that we see in the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance Preview – Life Eternal choreographed by Janak Khendry

Janak Khendry

Introduction to Janak Khendry and his new dance piece Life Eternal

Life Eternal is at the Fleck Dance Theatre Nov. 9-11.

At 78, choreographer/designer/sculptor Janak Khendry is the doyen of Indian classical dance in Canada. Roughly every two years, he produces a gigantic dance piece of sumptuous beauty and deep philosophical inquiry. This year’s offering is Life Eternal, which examines the pathway to immortality in three great religions – Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. When it comes to themes, Khendry is always willing to take on the big picture, so to speak. His repertoire is filled with epic works of lofty purpose. He also designs the gorgeous array of costumes.

Khendry was born in Amritsar in the Punjab, North India, and was a dancing whirlwind from the age of five. His forward thinking parents allowed him to study dance as long as he maintained a high level in his academic studies. Over time he became proficient in four distinct styles of Indian classical dance: bharatanatyam, kathak, sattriya and manipuri. He maintains that his years spent with bharatanatyam guru Swami Muttukumar Pillai in a tiny village in South India were the happiest of his life. After graduating with a B.A. in English and Art History, he took a second B.A. in metal sculpture.

Khendry moved to the United States in 1961, where he attended Ohio State University for his Masters in sculpture. He also studied modern dance, including Graham, Limon and Cunningham techniques. He then relocated to New York City where he spent 16 years, both as a performer of Indian classical dance, and as the gallery director of the New York Sculpture Centre.

Canada became his new home when he met Toronto dentist Herschel Freeman who became his life partner. Khendry moved to Toronto in 1979 and opened the first gallery in Canada specializing in glass sculpture. The gallery was a fixture in Yorkville for 22 years. He also founded his dance company which has been going strong for almost four decades.

The Interview (wherein Janak Khendry talks about Life Eternal).

Paradise Lost

I have to say, Janak, that you don’t shy away from vast topics when you make your dances.

Simple themes are not for me. I’m a sucker for punishment, but I also want to create a work of art on the stage.

Where did the idea for Life Eternal come from?

It was during a conversation with friends when we were discussing different paths to immortality. The idea just jumped out and I grabbed it. I envisioned a work showing three different religions, each with its own language and traditions, and all of them striving for the universal truth of immortality, but in different ways. It was very tough creating the piece because I had to come up with three parallel stories. I did not want to preach religion. Rather, I wanted to explore the philosophy behind achieving immortality. Originally, I wanted to call the piece Immortality, but my advisors felt the word had too much religious connotation.

Life Eternal

I know you consult with what you call your research advisors as part of your mammoth preparation for a new work.

Dr. Tulsiram Sharma and Dr. Narendra Wagle are both specialists in South Asian Studies. Their input and guidance is invaluable. I’ve known them for years.

Why did you not include Islam in Life Eternal, the other great religion of the Indian subcontinent?

I’m very careful. Religion in general is a touchy subject, but with Islam, especially so. I felt I would need permission from Moslem leaders to broach the subject, so it seemed easier not to go there.

What is your next step in the creation process after research?

Women Liberated

I write a complete step-by-step draft of the story line, which I send to my music director, Ashit Desai, in Mumbai. Ashit and I have worked together for over 20 years. I also send the lyrics I want, which for Life Eternal, are verses from the sacred texts, the Vedas and the Gita. When the music is composed, Ashit then sends back a CD. This is done three or four months before rehearsals start. I listen to his compositions over and over again until my body absorbs the music. Slowly, movement starts to come in my head, and I make drawings of the choreography under the musical notes on the score. I document everything.

I see that to explain something so abstract as striving for immortality, or freedom that transcends time and space, as you call it, you use concrete narratives to illustrate the concept.

Yes. The Buddhist section has four characters: the Buddha, his young son, who is about 14, and two converts. One is a poor, downtrodden female street sweeper, while the other is a cruel man, a murderer, a thief, yet, as followers, both come to sit at the feet of the Buddha. The have all found love, peace and happiness.

And the Jain story?

The main character is King Payesi who is a horrible person until he hears the sermon of a Keysi, a holy man, that touches him deeply. Everything changes for him and he gives up his earthly treasures. In disgust, his wife Suryakanta poisons him, but he is reborn as a very pious human.

And the narrative that illustrates the Hindu path to immortality?

Markhendye is a sage who has reached a high level of spirituality. The god Indra sends all kinds of things to tempt the sage to betray his spiritual self, but Markhendye does not react. The gods are pleased that a human being is so pious, and he is given the blessings of the supreme god Shiva and his consort Parvati.

These are three very distinct sections. Do you bring them together at the end?

Three dancers, one representing each story, are seen walking to the back of the stage together. They symbolize freedom.

How did three different stories, representing three different religions, impact the choreography?

The movement came about according to what the subject matter dictated. Some of it is in definite styles of dance, other parts are my own movement creation. There is no end to what the human body can do to be expressive.

There are 14 dancers, seven men and seven women. Are they all local, or did you have to import some from India?

Life Eternal Dancers

All of them are from Toronto, but have different backgrounds. Most are of Indian descent, but there are dancers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, for example. The dancer playing King Payesi is a Moslem. I treat my dancers with love and respect because they give life to my work, which makes them a very important part of my life.

Eternal Life, choreography by Janak Khendry, is at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Nov. 9-11.

Dance Preview: Choreographer Kathleen Rea’s Men’s Circle – Dance Meets Psychotherapy

Kathleen Rea
Photo Simon Tanenbaum

Introduction to Kathleen Rea

Men’s Circle (Nov. 3-5) is Rea’s exploration of the vulnerability of men. She is the creator, writer, director and choreographer.

As a parallel career to her dance projects, Rea has maintained a private psychotherapy practice for 15 years. The wellspring of Men’s Circle was inspired by her own clients. Her life progression has been a journey from a troubled ballerina with an eating disorder, to a well-adjusted mother of two.

Rea studied at Canada’s National Ballet School, and was a professional dancer in Canada and Europe until she was 30. She performed with Ballet Jorgen, the National Ballet of Canada, and Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria. According to Rea, her body was too voluptuous for ballet standards, so her solution was bulimia. From the age of 15 to 25, her life was dominated by the eating disorder. Only during her last five years as a dancer did she have her health back.

Frames of Control (1996) choreographed by Kathleen Rea
Photo by David Hou

Her interest in psychotherapy was an outgrowth from her battle with bulimia, and she practices a specific type of arts-based treatment. Her acclaimed work Frames of Control (1996) signalled her victory over both the eating disorder and her poor body image. The clever ending featured a naked Rea jumping through a door frame to freedom. The ballet years also took their toll in other ways. Rea stopped dancing when her knees ran out of cartilage. Happily, she discovered contact improvisation, which allows her to keep moving, as it were. As a choreographer, she regards herself as a storyteller.

The Interview

We should really start with how and why you became a psychotherapist since there is a direct connection to your new piece Men’s Circle.

When I sought out treatment for my eating disorder, I looked for arts-based therapy because I’m an artist. Most therapies for eating disorders involve a reward system through food, but my treatment involved working out problems through the arts – healing through the arts, and I fell in love with it. I studied at The Create Institute which offers a three year Masters program in expressive arts therapy training. It’s affiliated with the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. I spent the winters in Toronto and the summers at the school. My Master’s thesis ultimately grew into my book, The Healing Dance: The Liife and Practice of an Expressive Arts Therapist, which was published in 2013.

Can you give me an example of arts-based therapy?

Having the client draw pictures as a way of expressing a problem. Telling stories opens up new perspectives.

You call yourself a storytelling choreographer. Can you explain?

 I first fell in love with ballet through the amazing stories it told through movement. In contemporary dance, stories are not popular, but all my dance pieces have a narrative line. The stories in Men’s Circle are told through text, song and dance. Tristan Whiston is my dramaturge, and we’ve worked on nine projects together. He helps me with the script, and sits with me in rehearsals making sure that the stories are getting told. He works on acting moments with the dancers.

How did you discover contact improv?

Bill Coleman
Photo by Olya Glotka

I had done some contact in Innsbruck so I was familiar with it. When I came back to Canada in 2000, I missed the feeling of family that you get from dancing in a company. I founded the Wednesday Contact Jam at Dovercourt House so I could be surrounded by a community of dancers. About 30 to 40 people show up each Wednesday, and I bring in a different musician each time to provide the live music that we move to. Dancing with people makes me so happy. I also teach contact at George Brown College.

What is it that you love about contact?

For me, it’s about following momentum, in your own body or with a partner. In contact you’re a momentum surfer.

Besides your clients being an inspiration, Men’s Circle also has a connection to your oldest son.

Wyatt, who’s seven, was diagnosed with high functioning autism. In marking his symptoms, I saw that I checked all the boxes when I was younger. I was extremely sound sensitive and socially awkward. It explains many things about my life. When there is an autistic meltdown, I know that we have to be removed from the sensory overload. I know what situations we have to avoid. Autism does not mean that something has to be fixed. Autism does not mean that you have to figure out what’s wrong. Autism means you accept what you have to do. One of the characters in Men’s Circle is inspired both by my son and by my own experience.

Photo by Olya Glotka

Men’s Circle is all about vulnerability. You certainly have taken a very sympathetic approach to the male experience.

There’s not a lot of room in our culture for talking about men’s vulnerability issues. The Movember movement, which wants to raise awareness about men’s mental health, calls the suppression of male emotions and feelings “the silent epidemic”. Suicide is the number one cause of death in men between the ages of 19 and 35. As well, men make up 75% of all suicides in Canada. The discussions about rape culture and accusations of sexual assault and harassment where women are victims dominate the news, but there is a “nurturance” gap in terms of men – by that I mean the physical and emotional nurturing of men. If we taught boys compassion and empathy, if we let boys cry, there would be less women victims. We have to create a world for boys that is not so narrow. We need to have a bigger conversation about men and vulnerability. Men’s Circle is about letting men tell their stories – giving them a voice.

Since your piece is storytelling, there must be characters.

There are seven characters, each with his own vulnerability. All of them belong to the same therapy group. Actually, the idea of a therapy group came later because I needed a connective tissue to link the stories together. The narrative follows the characters as they go through their individual journeys which all involve a learning curve. I gave them regular guy names so the audience could relate to them.

Rehearsal photo by Olya Glotka

Can you describe each man?

Joe holds back on his emotions, hiding behind bravado humour. He learns to weep. Kevin is high functioning autistic, a music savant who still lives with his parents. He loses his virginity and learns how to make friends. Matt is the most unstable and his emotions overflow. He becomes suicidal, but then he does find some grounding. Ran is the youngest. He’s at the group because it is court-mandated. He was caught selling drugs, and feels he’s “too cool for school”. Hercules grew up in a rough neighbourhood where he saw a lot of death. He wants a career as a ballet dancer, and is a perfectionist because he believes that, for a black man to get ahead, he has to be better than everyone else. He has faced systemic racism. Frank is the ghost of a client who killed himself, and he follows the therapist around. He can’t leave until the therapist forgives himself. And finally, Michael is the therapist, and he needs healing too. Frank was in a previous group. He had called the therapist for help, but Michael was too late to stop Frank’s suicide. When Michael is finally able to forgive himself, he can help the men in his present group. Incidentally, Harold Tausch who plays the therapist started a men’s support group 25 years ago, and it’s still going strong. (For the performances, the role of the therapist was played by Paul Lewis, due to Mr. Tausch’s illness.)

How do these stories play out in choreography?

The other dancers are support people for each story. For example, Matt comes from an unstable family, and this is shown through the other dancers lying on the floor, and Matt walking on the unstable surface of their bodies. Or, Joe reveals he failed grade two, so they all celebrate with a failed grade two party.

Contact improv is done in the moment. How is this handled in Men’s Circle?

Rehearsal photo by Olya Glotka

The show will be different at each performance because 25% is completely improvised. It’s structured improv so there are rules. For example, the dancers are given an emotional task and a specific shape that is different each night, and that they have to work out. There is also the breath canon. A dancer can only breathe when they touch a different part of a person’s body each time, or touch a different person. They perform in their underwear and they look both beautiful and vulnerable. The most impactful kind of theatre is when someone on stage doesn’t know what to do because its spur of the moment. It’s enhanced vulnerability.

You’ve got some really well-known dancers like Allan Kaeja and Bill Coleman. How did they happen to be in the piece?

All of them come to the contact jam. That’s how I know them. I just asked them to work with me, and they all said yes.

Men’s Circle, presented by REAson d’être dance productions, Betty Oliphant Theatre, Nov. 3-5. Tickets: www.reasondetre.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance Preview: Catching up with Matjash Mrozewski – the choreographer/director has two premieres

Introduction to Matjash Mrozewski

The next two weeks feature two Mrozewski premieres. Future Perfect Continuous, created with Anna Chatterton, (ProArteDanza, Nov. 1-4), and Abiding, a solo for Evelyn Hart (Older & Reckless, Nov. 10 & 11).

Mrozewski graduated from the National Ballet School in 1993. During his career as a dancer, he performed with the National Ballet of Canada, Le Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Early on he had shown a penchant for choreography, and his promise was revealed in the widely acclaimed A Delicate Battle created for the National Ballet of Canada in 2001. That year he stopped dancing, and given his enormous gifts as a dancesmith, it was expected that he would launch a successful international career. The proof lies in his creations for over 13 ballet companies that span the globe. He also choreographed for films, flash mobs, galas, classical music concerts and musicals. The road ahead seemed very clear – a lauded career as an international choreographer.

While the dance pathway is still very much in his life, Mrozewski has also added a new skill set. In 2016, he graduated from the two-year York University/Canadian Stage MFA program, whose focus is large-scale theatre direction. Subsequently, he has directed Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors in High Park, and Jordan Tannahill’s Botticelli in the Fire, which won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production, and netted Mrozewski an Outstanding Direction nomination, which joins his two Dora nominations for Outstanding Choreography.

Mrozewski’s world premieres for ProArteDanza and Older & Reckless, which debut over the next two weeks, reflect both his choreographic and theatrical hats. (Note: in the next few months, he also has new dance and/or theatre pieces for Ryerson University, George Brown Theatre School, the George Randolph Academy, and a Secret Shakespeare performance.)

The Interview (where upon Mrozewski, now 41, talks about his MFA and his two new pieces).

Let’s begin with your going back to school. That was a big bite of two years out of your life.

I had been a dance professional for 20 years, but at that point, I felt I needed to take stock of where I was in my career. I needed different challenges. I had a hunger to learn something new – to step away from the obvious track. A lot of needs were colliding together, and the MFA program seemed to provide a solution.

Why stage direction?

I had always had an instinct for text, and I felt that this MFA course would put me in touch with the tools I needed to work with language and dramaturgy – to develop my theatrical side. It would also open doors to the worlds of theatre and opera. My main motive was a desire to become an opera director – it still remains a strong interest.

How different was it to work with actors?

I love working with actors, because I really enjoy analyzing text. With dancers, you guide them from the outside. With actors, you give them clues to manifest ideas internally. Words are concrete and can get to the heart of things, while movement deals with abstract states. When I started the MFA program, my eye was strong but my ear was weak. The greatest lesson I learned was how to lift the text off the page – to develop a point of view about what the playwright is trying to say. I was clear in my mind on the “why” of the text, but I had to learn to articulate these thoughts in words.

Your ProArte piece, Future Perfect Continuous, is certainly text driven, which is a departure for the company.

Artistic director Roberto Campanello wanted to push his dancers in new directions, and he thought they were ready for that kind of stretch – the marriage of text and movement. In truth, the performing arts are all playing in the same zone. The walls are blurring between the disciplines, and I had been moving in this direction. A recent work I did for the National Ballet School included a long spoken monologue, while a new piece for Ballet Kelowna used the dancers’ voices.

How did you come to work with playwright/librettist Anna Chatterton on Future? She’s a really creative force in both the theatre and opera worlds.

A mutual friend suggested her, and I saw her work Quiver at Buddies. She’s certainly very versatile. We met for dumplings and really got along. In our first workshop, it was inspiring to watch Anna toss around language and text.

What is your point of departure for the piece?

Anna and I started with a discussion about the future – what in our lives were we most concerned about? For both of us, the question was, how do hope and optimism cope with denial and ignorance? We discovered that the place of hope was high in both our lives. It was important, however, that we not make the work a lecture. The dancers are not on a soapbox. We wanted to leave room for the audience to reflect on the subject, to relate to the dancers in their feelings of frustration and inadequacy, to think about the concerns we raise. Things are not tied up neatly.

 

Just how much text do the eight dancers have to deal with?

 

It’s 35 minutes long, and contains about 25 minutes of spoken word, which includes monologues and conversations. The dancers are really meeting the challenge of moving and talking. The audience is going to need their ears opened as much as their eyes to catch what they’re listening to.

What’s the choreography like?

It’s not classical dance, but there is still formality in the structure. It’s very physical – ritual-like gesture, floor work, contact partnering. It’s fluid, responsive and quite earthy.

What about Anna’s text?

The dancers are seen working out their frustrations about the future in both rage and hope. As the size of the problems facing them grows, the text descends into doubt and vagueness and incomplete sentences. It’s very human. It’s about life. There is also humour, which is one of Anna’s trademarks.

Did you fit in music with the text?

The underscore is an orchestral version of songs by the alternative British rock supergroup Minor Victories.

Let’s talk about your Older & Reckless piece for the great ballerina Evelyn Hart, although in terms of dance, she’s a senior citizen.

Claudia Moore, O & R’s artistic director, wanted Evelyn on the program, and she thought of me as choreographer. Like Evelyn, I’ve had the experience of ups and downs. The solo is a character study of a woman of a certain age, which utilizes Evelyn’s remarkable skill as a dramatic actress. I’ve set it to a luminous Handel aria.

Is Evelyn still a perfectionist? She used to demand a lot from her choreographers and dance partners.

We spent ten hours in a rehearsal room, meeting once a week. Dancers are trained to make choreography work, but with Evelyn, if something didn’t fit right, we fixed it. She’s very organic, quiet, delicate and powerful. Abiding is about her in this moment. Because it’s a piece for Older & Reckless, time has a bearing.

ProArteDanza, Fleck Dance Theatre (Nov. 1-4); Older & Reckless #40, Harbourfront Centre Theatre (Nov. 10 and 11); both shows are part of Harbourfront’s Next Steps Season (www.harbourfrontcentre.com/nextsteps).