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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 good "Nest."

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