SLoE previews...
Monday, October 1, 2012 at 09:14PM
Julia Sasso

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.”

Article originally appeared on Canadian Contemporary Dance Company, Contemporary Dance Choreography - Julia Sasso Dances (
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