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    A High Energy Sporting Success - A review by Susan Walker

    It is an all too rare occasion when a piece of contemporary dance gets revived. Months of workshopping, fundraising, rehearsing and grant writing go into a production; it gets three or four performances and poof! – the show is truly over.

    Taking her title from a British term for gambling, Julia Sasso made her first full-length dance for presentation by DanceWorks in 1997. Energetic, menacing, dramatic, Sporting Life makes a welcome return in the current Harbourfront season.

    It is a show of many moods, original movement and striking imagery: a frame upon which several narratives could hang. From the bursting entry of five dancers in men’s suits, the clatter of their oxfords on hard floor providing percussion, we sense imminent violence.

    This is a dance that calls for terrifically skilled performers and character actors. Timing must be impeccable, their faces working as hard as their feet, their body slams demanding the resilience of a wrestler. Sporting Life recalls the great years of Serge Bennathan’s Dancemakers, when Sasso was both performer and choreographer.

    Rushing and leaping, throwing themselves to the floor to rise up again like puppets on strings, the dancers are gradually revealed as individuals. It’s a few minutes before we realize one of them is a woman: Jesse Dell.  Sporting Life is patterned into a fearful symmetry. Over the hour the dancers separate and combine in trios and duets, gaining identity with each shifting scene. Matthew Cuff wears a jacket with a plaid weave;  Mateo Galindo Torres, Irvin Chow and Daniel McArthur with his shaved head have a similar gangsta mien. All five shed sportsjackets to reveal vivid shirts and ties, bringing to mind the colour-coded thugs in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

    Eric Cadesky’s soundscape and musical composition drive the production. From a heavy electronic dissonance, to train sounds to siren-like violins to a moody saxophone, or a Johnny Mathis ballad, the music shifts as violently as the hard-driving choreography. In an especially affecting moment, two fallen dancers make a tom-tom beat with one of their shoes tapping the floor like sticks in the hands of a drummer.

    Gabriel Cropley’s lighting design creates the settings on a bare stage: a cone of light with criss-crossed bars suggests a prison setting, a splatter of blue hexagons on the floor a ballroom.

    The quick scene changes evoke still relevant themes: crime and punishment, torture, bullying, gender-bending, playing at dangerous games that could end in death.

    Dressing and undressing becomes the motif for a lot of shape-shifting. Having stripped down to their skivvies (Dell’s hands over her breasts), they re-dress, re-combine and then in a momentary lull in the action put on black evening dresses, preening and applying lipstick in a line before imaginary mirrors.

    This dramatic shift ushers in tenderness and celebration. Light shines on a final, poignant grasp of an unseen hand before Torres exits, parting from his companions in a heap on the floor.

    It’s a winning gamble for Danceworks and Sasso, who leaves nothing on the table in this brilliant revival.

    (Posted on March 4, 2016 by susanwalkerartsblog )


    not two, not one...


    SLoE reviews...


    Dance International Magazine Winter 2012

    TORONTO SCENE by Michael Crabb

    As the new season opened, veteran choreographer Julia Sasso fulfilled the wish of Ann Southam by bringing to the stage her dance visualization of the late Canadian composer’s minimalist, introspective and mysterious piano score, Simple Lines of Enquiry. Sasso chose the acronym SLoE as the work’s title.

    Even as she was composing the hour-long work, Southam, a staunch believer in supporting female artists, commissioned Sasso to choreograph a self-performed solo to it. As the project evolved, Sasso decided, with Southam’s approval, that she’d prefer to remain on the sidelines and make it a group piece.

    Choreographing to such an intensely personal piece of music, one that demands close listening, even through its strategic silences, must have been a major challenge. Sasso boldly responded with a physically intense, dynamically varied dance for five women and a lone man that, as the work unfolds, becomes not so much an illustration as emotional counterpoint to the score — performed live, onstage by Eve Egoyan, for whom it was written.

    Sasso likes big, bold, gutsy movement and there’s plenty of it in SLoE, but there are also moments of stillness that echo the pregnant pauses between Southam’s successive, questioning lines of notes. Sasso offers images that cover a gamut of human experience and emotion. They’re tender and aggressive, forceful and tentative, communal and individualistic. There is no discernable narrative although the interactions of the cast naturally suggest particular situations. Yet, by the end of SLoE, one is left with the same sense of life’s imponderability that is at the heart of Southam’s sparse yet deeply moving music.



    In SLoE--Simple Lines of Enquiry, pianist Eve Egoyan plays Ann Southam's Simple Lines of Enquiry for solo piano, a composition that is minimalist and atonal, and has a lulling trance-like effect. Julia Sasso counterpoints this with a highly charged visceral movement vocabulary that is strongly executed by the dancers. 

    When I saw SLoE I was sitting on stage in seats not far from where Eve Egoyan was playing the piano and very close to the dancers. This created an intimacy with the dancers, having the music entering my body, hearing and feeling the dancers’ exhaustion and breathing, and seeing quite clearly their facial expressions. This close viewing prevented me from seeing the visual shapes and patterns that I would have seen had I been in the tiered seating in front of the dance.

    Here is ia stream-of-consciousness look at what I saw and felt, ending with some personal lines of enquiry.

    Dancers as musical notes embodied in their bodies like a life force, driving their movements, caught in repetitive interconnections of bodies meeting, colliding, sliding, whirling, arms lifting skywards, legs kicking out, bodies hurling to the floor. Pushing one into the others, slamming them into the floor, elongated pauses in which a dancer here and there gently lifts, caresses an exhausted other, touching their faces, registering concern. Fixing their gazes on each other, competitive, indifferent, enticing, judgemental, trying to make connections in moments no longer there.

    Why does the domino effect of the interconnections call to mind pedestrian movement in the streets--bodies brushing against the other, no connections made in the fleeting moments, isolated and lonely figures in a crowd? Why do I feel their exhaustion, sense of frustration and impending death? What is the lone male dancer feeling? Does his presence raise gender issues? Why do I feel a sense of competitive gazes in relation to this male? Would there be a difference in the texture of the piano notes had a male played the piece? Is Southam's music and the breathing and footwork sounds of the dancers directing how her body reacts and feels, how her fingers hit the piano keys?

    There is always a sense of aesthetics in the way Sasso uses the long, white floor and the wide space to emphasize the psychological and physical distance between them and us. Egoyan and the piano become periodic respites for the dancers, as they move around it slowly, as if drawn to the source that feeds and controls them, waiting for direction, gazing at each other as a group but alone.

    Interesting how the title of this work raised questions from a gender and societal perspective. Result is compelling and visually arresting.


    audience feedback for SLoE...

    Saw your show tonight Julia. How exquisite and masterful - what a wonderful work you have created. beautiful in every way - Thank you~ love and best Carol (Anderson, dance artist, choreographer, writer, Associate Professor: Modern/Contemporary Dance - York University, founding member of Toronto's Dancemakers)

    Beautiful production, Julia!! Sophisticated choreography that soooooooo did the music justice. Beautifully performed by the dancers and Eve. It was a magical afternoon. Congratulations. xx Susie (Burpee, dance artist, choreographer)

    thanks for the amazing inspiring SLoE. just great. (Christopher Willes, artist)

    I became mesmerized as I took it all in. I brought my Mom-she really enjoyed it as well. Thanks! Congrats on a very beautiful work-must feel good!

    (Sharon B. Moore, dance artist, choreographer)

    I could watch Susan Lee dance all day every day beautiful choreography, stunning dancers! (Mary Fogarty, Assistant Professor: Dance Education, Ethnography, Improvisation and Breaking Technique - York University)

    Thanks for your beautiful work. Your dance embodied Ann's music with profound grace and with potent images of the human condition. She would have loved it! xo Claudia (Moore, dance artist, choreographer, artistic director: Moonhorse Dance Theatre)

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your piece last night.  It was beautiful and riveting to watch.  So many moves I had never seen before and fell in love with.  All the dancers were so strong and were so in love with the work.  Congratulations!  Glad to be involved. Take care, laurie (Brown, host of The Signal on CBC Radio 2)

    Congratulations on your beautiful show.  Eve was exquisite and the dancers were wonderful. Lovely, luscious, poignant movement material. Peter thought Rebecca's lighting was superb.  Bravo all 'round. Much love, Pat (Fraser, Artistic Director: The School of Toronto Dance Theatre)

    Beautiful. Please send my love and best wishes to your astonishing dancers. And that amazing Eve - although she doesn't know me... C XO (Claire F. Wootten, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Dance. York University)

    Julia that was absolutely beautiful!!!!!!!!!!   I don't know how you do it.  You must be so pleased!   Magical.  We spoke briefly to Eve before she was mobbed by fans.  thanks again so very much for a wonderful performance.  Much love   Kip xo (Christopher Southam)

    I did get to tell Eve how great she was. It was an amazing performance Julia!! I'm so glad I could see it. Ann would have been proud - hope you are too! Bev (Beverley Wybrow, President and CEO, Canadian Women's Foundation)

    What a powerful performance! we had a lively conversation all the way home about your choreography and Ann's music. A happy combination....

    Throughout the evening, I kept feeling the interweaving of lines of music and lines of dance -- a mutually completing fabric, rather than one foregrounded over the other. Made for a really full feeling. I love the way you held the dancers back, allowing the spacious music to create a space for them to dance in. And the dancers repeatedly launching from and returning to the piano as the place from which the energy unfolds was wonderful. The mysterious imagery created by the suspended abstract shifted throughout the evening, there but subtly so. And the costumes were ideal -- also suspended between there and not-there... which seems to me the backbone of this piece of music as well. All in all, the parts created a wonderful whole.

    I think this is your best long piece yet. Distinctive motifs and movements I associate with you finding a home. And the gathering momentum behind the single man and multiple women was impressive. I could never say what the dance "means" because there are, like life, shifting layers. Crystalline moments stood out for me like the texture in the weaving, and then carried back into the supple fabric of the dance. The most moving moment for me was the "pieta" of Susan Lee cradling the dying/dead/resurrecting man. So much of the challengings and relatings and risings and fallings came home at that moment.... As always but now in a new way, your choreography reveals the mysterious conjunctions and disjunctions that underlie all relationship....

    The dancers are gorgeous, and I love the way you mix up body types. Quite special to see an entirely new-to-my-eyes group of dancers. Angela and Deanne stood out for me (Angela reminded Alix & me of a fine-boned Sasha I.), and Susan's quiet ferocity was excellent. A beautiful crew of beautiful dancers. And such a gift to have the music played live on stage as an integral aspect of the dance.

    Congratulations, Julia, you've created a beautiful dance… love, C (Cathleen Hoskins)




    SLoE previews...

    Long day's journey into light

    Julia Sasso's latest dance piece is a metaphor for life

    Julia Sasso sits intently in the basement of the Toronto Dance Theatre on Winchester Street, back straight, Tim Hortons coffee sweetened with stevia in hand. Her bare feet — bumpy, rough, calloused — are planted firmly on the floor. They provide a road map of her provocative dance career and call to mind a Neruda poem:

    When I cannot look at your face/I look at your feet/Your feet of arched bone/your hard little feet . . . /I love your feet/only because they walked/upon the earth and upon/the wind and upon the waters/until they found me.

    Sasso is watching her ensemble rehearse, teasing out the details, carefully examining the bodies she has chosen to help her tell a beautiful story. “Sue,” she says to one of her dancers, “touch Irvin’s face.” Sue fixes her gaze on Irvin’s face and touches it with firm tenderness. Sasso cocks her head to evaluate the emotional quality of the gesture. It pleases her. She nods.

    Sasso’s latest piece is called SLoE (Simple Lines of Enquiry) and is based on a composition of the same name by the late Ann Southam. The piece explores the big stuff with the delicate reserve the title suggests.

    “Life and death,” Sasso says. “Why? How come? When? What if? What comes after? Why do we do the things we do to each other?” These were all things, she says, that Southam was contemplating when she composed this work, which has the quiet, meditative quality of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, with a more affectionate touch. (Dare I say female? Southam was a huge supporter of what she called “femaleness,” and her work often reflects the repetitive quality of “women’s work.”)

    Southam made this piece late in her life and it is introspective and retrospective. There is a profound kindness to it, and Sasso gets at this by creating a tremendous sense of support, both visually in the piece and in the process. The dancers are unanimous in their sense of compassionate community. The burden of movement is supported by each dancer, and the grace of the movement comes from seeing the effort, rather than hiding it. As the notes dissolve in the music, so does the movement, dancers going forward with intention, their movement evaporating and being taken up by another. Throughout the piece there is a recurrent suggestion that we look for ourselves and our life experiences in other people.

    Southam made Simple Lines of Enquiry for Eve Egoyan to play, and Egoyan will play it in this production —upstage right, with a full-sized concert grand.

    Sasso talks about the support Southam and Egoyan showed for one another, “elevating each other’s careers though trust and generosity.” In 2008, Southam presented the piece to Sasso and commissioned her to make a solo for it, which Sasso did, but then realized she wanted to be outside of it as a choreographer.

    Southam agreed with her choice, which reflects the purpose of the work, and the theme of support that has been at its inception. Sasso takes all the notes she made with her own body and brings a variety of dancers at different points in their careers (five women, one man) to reflect this “metaphor for a life journey.”


    Choreographer Julia Sasso creates new dance work in SLoE motion


    NOW | September 20-27, 2012 | VOL 32 NO 3

    The lines and connections between individuals are rarely static – they continually coalesce, dissolve and regroup. Veteran choreographer Julia Sasso’s newest work SLoE reflects these restless currents of human existence – on every level from the cellular to the social and the cosmic.

    SLoE is set to the hour-long piano suite Simple Lines Of Enquiry by the late composer Ann Southam, with whom Sasso collaborated several times. Usually a choreographer goes to a composer for music, but here it was the other way round.

    “This piece literally started with Ann commissioning me to make a dance to this piece of music before it had even been recorded,” says Sasso as we sit in her kitchen drinking beers, post-rehearsal.
    The piece was originally conceived as a personal solo.

    “Ann was a big fan of female artists not dropping off the face of the earth as they grow older,” says Sasso. “She wanted to see me continue dancing.”

    But the choreographer got Southam’s blessing to create an ensemble work instead not long before the composer’s death in December 2010.

    “In terms of my artistic cycle, that’s just where I was at, that’s where my interest lay. I felt that with the size of this work I could do more, I could do better with an ensemble of younger artists. I wanted to have a nice juicy physicality for the work in counterpoint to this solemn and minimalist music.”

    If the rehearsal I watched is any indication, that juicy physicality has been achieved. The six dancers fill the room with dense and organic motion, rising and falling in a complicated matrix of movement.
    “The dance physically follows what I hear in this music as a series of questions,” says Sasso. “Every question leads to another question. And the questions are not answered. I think because Ann wrote this piece so close to the end of her life, she was asking big questions about life and death and what’s after.”

    For SLoE’s premiere, Eve Egoyan will play the score live onstage. That’s fitting, because Southam wrote Simple Lines Of Enquiry with Egoyan in mind and dedicated the piece to her. It’s another lovely strand in the complex and delicate evolution of this dance that Sasso convinced Egoyan to join the project.

    “My work is always about human relationships,” Sasso points out. “With SLoE the effect onstage will be similar to what happens in a community, where bonds form but they also shift and change. For me that kind of imagery in dance is very representational of what life is really like. I think it’s something the audience can relate to – they will see something about their own lives in this.”