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Christopher House still ‘Ahead of the Curve’

Christopher House.
Christopher House. - -File photo

Renowned Toronto Dance Theatre artistic director Christopher House was in attendance at The Rooms this week for a screening of “Ahead of the Curve,” a documentary focused on the artist and his works.

There was a quick foreword Wednesday by Jason Sellars, The Rooms’ education and public programming officer, and an introduction by Lois Brown, speaking on behalf of Neighbourhood Dance Works.

The film, co-produced by Rock Island Productions and Rink Rat Productions, begins with House standing on a cliff by the Atlantic Ocean, recalling an epiphany he had after taking a dance class in Ottawa when he was 20.

“This was the gateway to something that was going to make me three dimensional as a human being,” he said, speaking calmly and softly.

A photo of a young House faded into a clip from 2006’s “Timecode Break,” described by the Globe and Mail as “a work of such brilliance that it is ahead of the curve.” This quote perhaps provided this documentary with its title.

The exploration of the creation of “Timecode Break” is not the main focus of the film, however. The objective of the film is to get to know the man behind the movies — a man whom the writer and director, Rosemary House, knows very well.

She tells her brother’s life’s works from the beginning, recounting childhood memories onward through House’s early adulthood, and the educational opportunity that took him out of behind-the-times Newfoundland and Labrador.

House moved to the bustling metropolis of Ottawa at the age of 19, where he could “become the person I want to become,” the revered dance artist recalled.

He soon found himself immersed in the passionate, energetic and exciting Toronto dance scene, joining the Toronto Dance Theatre in 1979, becoming the resident choreographer in 1981 and moving into the role of artistic director in 1994.

In 2007, when the documentary was filmed, House’s most recent work was “Timecode Break.” Throughout the film, the audience follows the composed choreographer throughout the creation of the piece, splicing footage from the official performances with clips of the practising dancers, donning sweatpants and tank tops instead of the matching lace rompers worn onstage.

By juxtaposing these clips, the viewer is allowed a rarely seen glimpse into the creative process of a contemporary dance performance, delivered via the choreographer.

The artist talked about his approach to choreography, and how it had changed over the years, as he moved away from total control in favour of collaborating with the dancers. In the 11 years since the film debuted, his approach to choreography has again evolved and changed.
In a live discussion after the show, House revealed that he disagreed with about 50 per cent of what he said in the 2007 film, noting he has gone in a very different direction with his work during the last decade.

When asked if he would ever revisit “Timecode Break,” an idea he toyed with in “Ahead of the Curve,” House answered without any hesitation: “Absolutely not.”

I was slightly dismayed, as that particular piece of performance art was extremely visually striking. The screening did serve an extra purpose: generating extra excitement for House’s current project, a new work for 22 dancers of Neighbourhood Dance Works.

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