Tale of the Tape

Dancers you might like to know, if permitted

Accidentally getting a time-code break when editing a video on a computer can confront you with a frustrating task—somewhat like trying to put a scrambled, unpaginated manuscript in order. I think that Christopher House titled his 2006 dance Timecode Break in part because it uses video projections that may or may not be in sync with what's happening onstage, and in part because he became interested in techniques of fast-forwarding and rewinding while scanning.

Timecode Break has won prizes and accolades in Canada. But although it's attractive and well-made, I didn't find it as fulfilling as I'd expected. The 12 dancers in their beige gym suits by Jeremy Laing are all excellent. Steve Lucas's lighting and set design (a large screen framed in black to display Nico Stagias's videos) set them off elegantly. House makes interesting movement in a style that pre-sents the dancers as strong, untroubled, and direct. They're as nimble with their feet as they are bold with their arms and flexible in their torsos. I especially like the beginning, in which they stand scattered across the stage like a flock of wading birds, aligned diagonally and leaning slightly forward to twist their heads and stare at us before they start trying out simple gestures and moves.

House makes extensive use of unison and canon, but rarely breaks into full-fledged counterpoint. The canons are usually beguiling. Clustered performers fall forward one by one and then fall back, as if a tape were being rewound. More complex canonic sequences pop and splutter satisfyingly. Many times, dancers sprint and leap in diagonal paths across the stage, as if channeling the usual climax of a modern-dance class (one twisty-legged leap is especially eye-catching). There are good solos for long-legged Kristy Kennedy, for Matthew Waldie and Valerie Calam.

Toronto Dance Theatre in Christopher House’s Timecode Break
Aaron McKenzie Fraser
Toronto Dance Theatre in Christopher House’s Timecode Break

So why am I not thrilled? House puts movement and pattern front and center in his choreography. But unlike, say, Lucinda Childs, he doesn't let you know that this is the core of the work—plain, simple, clear. And Phil Strong's emotionally colored music and Stagias's videos tell another story. The projections often mirror the choreography, but they also present close-ups of the dancers' faces in stylishly designed patterns. Sometimes they grimace; in one sequence, the performers lie together like puppies in a basket, nuzzling and kissing. The disconnect between the video and the stage action may be deliberate, but it sends mixed messages. I'd like either to get to know the onstage dancers as individuals rather than as members of a handsome herd, or to not receive token reminders that they have urges and emotions.

 
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