In Conversation: Christopher House of Toronto Dance Theatre

by Liza Mattimore

 Last week I made my way to Jet Fuel  to chat with Christopher House the Artistic Director of the Toronto Dance Theatre and choreographer of their upcoming production of Eleven Accords at the Fleck Theatre.  Mr. House has been with the company since 1979 and has served as TDT's Artistic Director since 1994.  We talked about how he got his start in dance, the creation of Eleven Accords and how contemporary dance has changed.

Born in St John's, Newfoundland Christopher House moved to Ottawa to study Political Science in the mid 70's. It was there where his interest in theatre, and later dance, was born.  At the age of twenty one, House shifted his focus to dance full time and eventually joined Toronto Dance Theatre. Since becoming the Artistic Director in 1994 he has been recognized for his commitment to innovation and his stunning work.  His many honours include three Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Dance and the Silver Ticket Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

  House says in his past twenty years his work has changed. "Dance, contemporary dance especially, is more experimental and much more open now than it used to be, a reflection of how the various divisions between the arts disciplines have broken down."

In the early part of his artistic career House tells me, "I made all of the movements on my own body. It was more controlled, formalist."  But Eleven Accords embraces collaboration, "this piece is very tied to the performers. It is not about steps. Quite honestly it is the most collaborative piece I have done...There is a lot more risk, and no two performances can be alike," says House, about the work.

Unlike in the past, House did little formal choreography for Accords instead he set movement guidelines, or "preparatory movement ideas that introduced the requirements of the work... gestures, pushing and pulling... everything is in relation to the surroundings and what is happening at that moment. I wanted there to be a sense of connection and engagement." He says, "I want the dancers to discover the work at the same time as the audience." In Eleven Accords the dancers are working with “rigour, attention and a sense of play” rather than from memory.

When I ask what inspired the piece House tells me about viewing a performance on video of "Music for 18 Musicians" by eighth blackbird.  "I was drawn in by their rapt concentration, the musicians listening and watching one another with such joy. It was that connectedness that I wanted to capture in this piece, except with dancers." Last May the company began conceptual development for Eleven Accords, which is set to the same wonderful music by  American minimalist composer Steve Reich.  The company have been in full rehearsal since September.  

  Photo Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh 

 Photo Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh 

 Eleven Accords will be premiering at the Fleck Theatre at the Harbourfront Centre November 6th and runs through the 9th for five performances..  Click here for ticket information, and here to learn more about Toronto Dance Theatre or Christopher House.  And check out the full performance of the inspirational "Music for 18 Musicians" by eighth blackbird bellow.