The Toronto Star | May 2018

toronto star

[Originally published by Michael Crabb in The Toronto Star May 2017]

Canadian theatre’s Serious Games is a swift passage from childhood to adulthood

Source: The Toronto Star

Forget about a holiday. When you’ve got a demanding performance only days away, a long weekend is all about hard work. And, if you’re among the school-age members of Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre you relish every moment of it.

The Toronto troupe opens its regular spring season at Harbourfront Centre on Friday. A big chunk of the Victoria Day weekend was therefore spent in CCDT’s Parliament St. studio preparing a five-part program of new work and revivals that would test the mettle of the most seasoned professionals.

But, as Toronto Dance Theatre co-founder and veteran choreographer David Earle points out, professionalism is not a function of age or employment status. It’s a state of mind and CCDT’s dancers, ranging in age from 13 to 19, embody that principle with a maturity that belies their youth.

“I’ve always been impressed with the company’s level of technique,” says Earle. “Beyond that, their performances always achieve a very high standard of professionalism.”

This week’s show includes a revival of Earle’s Serious Games, originally made for CCDT in 1998. It began as a frolicsome trio for three of the company’s youngest female dancers. Earle later added a second more contemplative section for an older trio of women, a reminder of the swift passage from childhood to adulthood.

The title of Earle’s work is also the overall banner for the entire program. It aptly captures the fact that while CCDT’s dancers have plenty of fun learning and performing the work of established adult choreographers they approach the task with total commitment.

“They listen carefully and respond to what you tell them,” says Earle.

The cusp of adulthood theme is also evoked in a work by Colin Connor, a frequent CCDT choreographer and, since last summer, artistic director of New York’s legendary Limon Dance Company. Connor’s August carries the sense that the close bonds of youth may inevitably diverge along different paths.

Other revivals include Rain Horse by CCDT artistic director Deborah Lundmark, accompanied live by harmonica virtuoso Carlos del Junco and trio, and The Gift by Toronto’s Hanna Kiel.

The new work on the program marks a return of sorts for Jennifer Archibald. She was born and raised in Toronto and, somewhat unusually, trained in both classical ballet and hip hop. Archibald left more than 15 years ago to study at the School of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York and, apart from family visits home, has spent most of her time south of the border.

She founded her own Arch Dance Company in New York more than a decade ago and has won choreographic commissions from numerous American ballet companies, meanwhile developing a formidable reputation as a teacher. She’s currently on faculty at the Yale School of Drama. CCDT, where Archibald took a summer intensive as a child, is the first Canadian company to commission a work by her.

Titled SEEDS.whisper, it’s hyperphysical, melding the sharpness and snap-in-place body isolations of hip hop, its ferocious drive and energy, with the more attenuate phrasing and sculptural shapes of contemporary ballet and modern dance. Although the work is formally abstract, the connections between the dancers and their alertness to each other’s presence generates a potent human charge.

Archibald describes dancers as the colours on her choreographic palette. She starts with a blank canvas and lets the work evolve, using the music as her inspiration; in this case by German pianist/composer Volker Bertelmann, mostly known nowadays as Hauschka.

Archibald has a busy schedule and, although eager to work with CCDT, she knew her time would be limited. Fortunately, she found the dancers more than willing to get the job done.

“There’s a maturity about them,” says Archibald. “They’re hungry for movement and ready for work.”

Serious Games is at the Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W., May 26 and 27; or 416-973-4000.

May 30, 2017