Toronto Dance Theatre’s Christopher House performs I’ll Crane for You, a piece created with Deborah Hay
Back in the early nineties, a famousÂ American choreographer named Deborah Hay developed a revolutionary new process for creating solo dance performances. In her technique, she coaches dancers to shed all their habits and cherished ideas, and instead to move perpetually and fearlessly into the unknown. The dance that results is an unfiltered and uninterpreted flow of personal discovery.
This weekend, the celebrated Toronto choreographer Christopher House,Â Artistic Director of Toronto Dance Theatre since 1994,Â performs I’ll Crane for You, one of three works that he’s created in collaboration with Hay since he began studying with her almost a decade ago. The performances run until Sunday at the Winchester Street Theatre.
The piece begins as the lights go down and then come immediately back up. House performs I’ll Crane for YouÂ without music or any accompaniment, under the full blare of the ceiling lights. It makes you feel very alert,Â to be illuminated like that andÂ sitting so quietly in rowsÂ with otherÂ watchers, as if we were the ones on display. You can hear the hum of the electricity, the rustling of heavy winter coats, and the beating of your pulse in your ears.
The production design by Cheryl Lalonde and Simon Rossiter is equally spare, consisting primarily of eight good-sized light panels that hang down from the ceiling at the level of basketball boards. With the room so brightly lit, the whole set feels like a minimalist abstraction of a gymnasium, and a sloppily-applied plastic sheet on the back wall contributes to the aesthetic of stylized functionality.
House enters from the wings wearing a skimpy, seventies-era wrestling singlet, red with gold trim, and sporting white converse sneakers with black socks. It’s an absurd and charming costume, as if he’s emerged from a piece of erotic fan fiction about an aging Petit Prince. He flutters into the room like a butterfly, with stuttering and distracted steps.
Following Hay’s injunction to surrender patterns and let go of attachments, House’s performance is defined by constant movement and continual change. Every part of his body is engaged at all times. He never settles, and so neither does the audience. If House were less skilled, it might be exhausting to watch, but his articulation is extremely precise and controlled, and so he carries us confidently through all that tumult.
By refusing to follow a sequence, House expresses a state of perfect disorganization, such as what someone with dementia might experience. The arrival of each new impression or instinct is complete, filling the screen, and then it is entirely erased by the next one. The accumulation of ceaseless mutation actually creates a consistent mood; in this case, it’s one of entrancement, or happy loneliness.
Here and there I was reminded of the “prancercise” video that went viral in 2012. Or of someone afflicted with choreomania (or St. Vitus’ Dance), the “dancing plague” that apparently spread across Europe during the Renaissance. Or simply of an aging professional dancer whose body moves with exquisite gentleness all on its own, in the same way that others might hum to themselves.
If the performance had remained on the same plateau of relentless flittering from start to finish, I suspect it would have been interesting but unsatisfying. But House interrupts his flow at two distinct moments, and each time it turned the whole show on its head. I think those two surprises are some of the best things I’ve experienced in a theatre in Toronto. I could describe them, but it’d be much better to see for yourself.