Published on Tuesday September 25, 2012
Special to the Toronto Star
When Toronto choreographer Julia Sasso unveils her latest work at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre on Thursday night it won’t be the first time her chosen score, Canadian composer Ann Southam’s Simple Lines of Enquiry, has filled that lofty space with its mysterious, minimalist sounds.
In May 2009, Eve Egoyan gave the premiere live performance of Southam’s solo piano work in the same venue to mark its recorded release on the Centrediscs label. Egoyan returns this week to play it again, this time sharing the stage with Sasso’s dancing cast of five women and one man.
“It’s like getting a music concert and a dance concert for the price of a single ticket,” jokes Sasso.
At the 2009 premiere, then Star music critic John Terauds described Simple Lines of Enquiry as a “a profound experience that transcends any and all musical genres ... (a) meditation in its truest sense.” Perhaps the kind of absolute music that defies choreographic treatment? Well, not in Southam’s estimation. She commissioned Sasso to set a dance to it.
Sasso, born in Windsor but brought up across the river in Detroit, set out to be a ballet dancer but after settling in Toronto in 1974 largely abandoned that goal, eventually turning to contemporary dance a decade later with Dancemakers.
There she remained for 16 years, a major portion of them as assistant artistic director and principal company teacher. Sasso then branched out independently as a choreographer, forming her own company while becoming a much sought-after teacher.
Winnipeg-born Southam, who died in November 2010 at age 73, had a long association with Canadian dance. One of the first works Sasso performed at Dancemakers was set to Southam’s music. After she launched her own troupe, Sasso and Southam became friends.
Sasso’s original plan was to make a self-performed solo to Southam’s 60-minute score but, on reflection, she decided she’d rather work from the outside. Sasso, now in her mid-50s, candidly admits to her misgiving that an hour-long solo by a dancer “of a certain age” might stretch an audience’s endurance.
“I thought to myself that I can do much better with younger, more agile dancers.”
Sasso’s last conversation with Southam, just a few months before the composer’s death, was to explain this new approach and to receive her blessing. Now it has become Sasso’s posthumous tribute to a woman she revered.
Sasso, who has chosen the acronym SLoE as her title, does not see the score’s meditative character as a hurdle.
“One can meditate in many ways,” she says.
She has sought to reflect Southam’s “femaleness,” a sensibility that the music’s patterning celebrates the repetitive nature and grace of traditional “women’s work.” Sasso’s inclusion of a man in her cast, the young Irvin Chow, has a lot to do with physicality.
“I love having lifts in my dances,” Sasso says.
Otherwise the performers and creative team are all women.
Sasso is deploying the Enwave’s flexible seating layout in a three-quarter round configuration to create an intimate environment in which the audience can, as she puts it, “embrace the world and content of this work,” which she sums up as “a metaphor for a life’s journey.”