Toronto Dance Theatre 2003

Paul Matteson and choreographer Terry Creach danced an updated Study for a Resurrection. (Sue Rees, courtesy Creach/Company)

Toronto Dance Theatre

Premiere Dance Theatre
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
November 27–December 1, 2001

Reviewed by Deirdre Kelly

Homer's ancient epic poem The Odyssey, which describes the long and elliptical journey its hero takes on his way home to Ithaca from the battle at Troy, has always been a rich source of inspiration to artists of all stripes—James Joyce, Stanley Kubrick, Derek Walcott, and the Coen brothers among them.

Into this illustrious crowd now strays Canadian contemporary dance choreographer Christopher House, who excavated parts of The Odyssey for Persephone's Lunch, a world premiere. Performed by and created in collaboration with his Toronto Dance Theatre, the hour long work is fragmentary and eclectic in style and content—Homeric in the sense that it moves freely through time and the imagination. It toys with epic themes: identity-building; the transformational powers of art, and specifically, the power of dance to transcend and alter consciousness.

But its biggest fault, and this is what will keep it forever out of the canon, is that it yields no joy in discovery. The Odyssey's power lies in describing us all. Persephone's Lunch instead describes a choreographer's limitations within the context of a gold-mine text.

In a voiceover at the start, House pronounces that he is "floating on a text," and invokes Umberto Eco, who once said that The Odyssey is a search for a story that does not exist, but will unfold. And it comes into focus in subtle, imaginative ways. A group of men on all fours suggests the transformation of Odysseus's male crew into beasts at the hands of the comely witch, Circe. Jessica Runge's whirling dervish of a solo that follows a video/voiceover account of the making of narcotic drink quite wonderfully suggests the transporting powers of movement, as she voyages to "the other side" of consciousness.

Designer James Robertson's set design of slatted wooden grates suspended from the ceiling suggests a shipwreck, while the more than two dozen dangling water bottles (also symbolic of the sea) recall Penelope's rowdy suitors perpetually at banquet (hence the "Lunch" in House's title).

Peter Roelof Snipe's exotic lighting design, meanwhile, is a rose-fingered Grecian sunset that bathes the low-lying banquet table, surrounded by sheepskins and crowded with pomegranates—Persephone's symbol—in a sultry twilight glow. And meandering Odyssey-like around the globe, Phil Strong's original score incorporates enticing Middle Eastern undulations of sound with the desultory echo of lapping waves.

While the poem lends the dance philosophical purpose and a distinct sensual feel, The Odyssey is just background. House created Persephone's Lunch as the final installment in a trilogy that has enabled him to successfully expand the horizons of his artistic talents over the last three years. In both Nest (1999) and Severe Clear (2000), he stuffed eccentric bits of information to show that the artist is a reflection of his times. The formula worked great twice. But the third time is not so lucky.

In Persephone's Lunch, the arcana (a laundry list of sheep diseases narrated by House in a voiceover) and the non sequiturs (a jokey on-screen closeup of Brad Pitt's abs on the December cover of Vanity Fair) are delivered through a multimedia pastiche of video, text, and fleet, sensual movement endowed with a gestural language that looks like ancient hieroglyphics.

For the most part, the eclecticism comes across as miscellaneous nonsense—largely because House has not been able to pin it to a concrete idea. The free-flowing theme of artistic and intellectual investigation only seems confusing, without end. Worse, it seems a kind of dead-end shtick, a repeat performance of techniques that yielded magic in previous works but here just look hackneyed.

In the final analyis, Persephone's Lunch has the whiff of someone winging it. And it's this lack of conscientiousness—real or imagined—that ultimately feels like a ripoff for the viewer.

The Conversation
News
Courtesy Ritzel

Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.

At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Jayme Thornton

When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.

"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Robbie Fairchild in a still from In This Life, directed by Bat-Sheva Guez. Photo courtesy Michelle Tabnick PR

Back when Robbie Fairchild graced the cover of the May 2018 issue of Dance Magazine, he mentioned an idea for a short dance film he was toying around with. That idea has now come to fruition: In This Life, starring Fairchild and directed by dance filmmaker Bat-Sheva Guez, is being screened at this year's Dance on Camera Festival.

While the film itself covers heavy material—specifically, how we deal with grief and loss—the making of it was anything but: "It was really weird to have so much fun filming a piece about grief!" Fairchild laughs. We caught up with him, Guez and Christopher Wheeldon (one of In This Life's five choreographers) to find out what went into creating the 11-minute short film.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Terry Notary in a movement capture suit during the filming of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Photo by Sigtor Kildal, Courtesy Notary

When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.

The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.

Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox