Toronto Dance Theatre/House Mix, choreographed by Christopher House (and guest Tedd Robinson), Fleck Dance Theatre, Feb. 11 to Feb. 15. Tickets available at harbourfrontcentre.com.
After touring nationally and internationally, Toronto Dance Theatre is finally bringing House Mix home. The program is TDT’s final presentation at the Fleck Dance Theatre under the artistic directorship of Christopher House who is stepping down in August. In summary, House Mix is a monumental tour de force of dance.
House joined TDT as a dancer in 1979, became resident choreographer in 1981, and artistic director in 1994. In that time he created over 60 works, so the five he chose for this final Fleck program are of singular interest. In terms of creation date, they range from 1993 to 2018, and so display a broad range of style and subject matter, while never losing sight of House’s commitment to form and structure. Part of House’s greatness as a dancesmith has always been the eye-catching ways he moves bodies through space.
I have always regarded House as one of Canada’s most intelligent and cerebral choreographers. He’s tremendously well read, and his far-ranging interests give depth to his dance pieces. I’ve even quipped that sometimes they are akin to a Ph.D. thesis in terms of intellectual manifest. In truth, it is House’s combination of full-on physicality coupled with profound meaning that makes him such an icon of contemporary dance.
The program begins and ends with two large group pieces involving the entire 12-member company — Martingales (2014) and Vena Cava (1998). In between is the duet Encarnado (1993), the quintet Echo Dark (2005/2015/2017), and guest choreographer Tedd Robinson’s quirky sextet 6 People Doing 6 Poses From 6 Photos to Music (2018). The latter work is a result of House asking various choreographers to respond to Glass Houses (1983), the dance that is considered his first great masterpiece. One would have thought that House would put the seminal Glass Houses on the farewell program, but this is a clever way of referencing the work.
Looking at the program overall, it is very House-ian to have dances inspired by probability theory (Martingales), The Iliad (Encarnado), the photography of Robert Longo (Robinson’s 6 People after Glass Houses), and the music of Robert Moran (Vena Cava). As for the much-reworked Echo Dark, it is a brilliant by-play of timing and dramatic lighting, performed in very long and very full khaki skirts and combat boots, that conjures up militaristic dominance and other evils. The program is a testament to the fact that House has never rested on his laurels, but has always challenged himself to try new ideas in terms of crafting movement.
TDT has always boasted some of the best dancers on the planet and this program is no exception. The various pieces ask them to execute balletic formalism, sculptured images, intense gymnastics, and relentless waves of total body physicality, not to mention throwing and catching balls and running backwards. At the end of House Mix the dancers were greeted by rapturous applause, as was House himself and rehearsal director Rosemary James. The latter, a former TDT dancer, has been rehearsal director since 1992 and certainly deserved the accolade.
I cannot leave without saying that Vena Cava is not only one of House’s greatest creations of pure dance, it is one of the greatest pieces of choreography ever created in this country. It is a true Canadian dance classic. House, of course, has continued to experiment and explore movement creation, and Vena Cava represents one fixed point in time, but there will always be a place for brilliantly conceived movement performed by supremely talented dancers.