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Flash Review, 4-13: Nesting House
At Home with Toronto Dance Theatre
By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson
TORONTO The Toronto Dance
Theatre is performing Christopher House's "Nest" through Saturday at Premier Dance
Theatre Harbourfront. Mr. House has built a multi-layered vehicle for himself
and his strong, polished legion of beautiful TDT dancers. In less adroit hands
the philosophy, message and symbolism could have clogged up the dance. Or conversely,
the dance could have blurred out the thoughts and edgy personal journey. But not
here. House's "Nest," which premiered last year, carries along seamlessly and
gorgeously. Spoken narrative winds through the dance. Phil Strong's music ranges
from techno club sounds to harpsichord via mandolin. "Nest" is about creation
and it is not one bit, as one may fear unnecessarily when hearing this, a navel-gazing
existential bore. Fine wit and a solid 'Housian' drollery reach out to us with
cozy familiarity and intelligence.
House appears on stage first. Alone,
he wears glasses and a felt taupe-colored suit, and carries a clear plastic bag
of what we learn is fat (lard). Ah, a statement. Perhaps the society, the constriction
of certain clothing, convention, beginnings.... House: "The suit I'm wearing is
unbelievably itchy." Deadpan he stands. (Ha!) Thus begins a swirl of words and
ideas, body and object for the next 63 minutes.
It is from the first instant that
the invisible fourth wall of traditional theater dissolves. House invites us all
in. We are welcome. "Nest" declares its presence on a stage in front of an audience.
You relate to loving words, fish,
the creative process, a delicious loose use of un-stretched feet, grounded-buoyant
strong dancers, the intimate thrill of reading a novel that speaks to you personally
-- you will, like me, be engaged by this ballet. You know the awesome and inspirational
fear of putting a creation out there for the world to prod and examine, the heavy
worry of loss, or just the bummer of having too many dirty damned oven racks to
cope with. You will, like me, find thought and solution in this ballet. The piece
is as varied as possible: solos, floor work, groups, couples, people being guppies,
gauze, tape, a sleigh, a blanket, and simple, effective nudity.
Seeing this group of technically
proficient and charismatic dancers engages my attention and inspires my admiration.
Last night however I felt something totally unexpected. I was, um, proud of the
performers, close to them, happy for them as humans on a journey on a stage. That
is a rather odd notion for an audience member (note: in this case unacquainted
personally with any of the dancers), let alone for someone making notes for a
review. Never mind. And maybe that's the subtle effect of "Nest"? It prods us
into thinking of our places, stages, and evolutions -- the grand picture in Technicolor
and emotion. The invisible fourth wall so obviously and easily gone from our usual
experience is liberating. At times I felt like a four-year-old who cannot resist
the urge to run giggling towards others playing. Other children who are total
strangers. They'll still play. We're in this together.
Set designer James Robertson does
a minimalist and fun job. My favorite element: the goldfish. Hanging from thick
rope are three large plastic bags, with another upstage, each containing about
a dozen real live goldfish. And so I think of habitat, cocoon, cage, home our
"Nest," and in this case, my own childhood nest: my goldfish Daisy and Dougal.
I sometimes think of them when I see goldfish anyway, but today is different.
Not all that far away from this theater, over twenty years ago now, D&D jumped
out of the bowl to their demise. I was told initially that they were hiding in
the conk shell. I looked for their little fish skeletons. I shook the shell for
ages after that, listening for a clink of a tiny bone against shell.
I thought about how D&D must have
felt and wondered if they knew they were jumping or swimming into dangerous places.
If this is the success of watching House's "Nest," it is resounding. There are
lots of places to find danger in creating a patch-work, self-exposing, funny and
meditative piece like this. But, besides the couple of minutes that I was conscious
of myself wondering about a certain modern plunky bit that I didn't like in the
music, "Nest" blends many arts effortlessly into a single dance. House makes a
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