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    SLoE by choreographer Julia Sasso to be unveiled Thursday at Harbourfront

    Published on Tuesday September 25, 2012

    Michael Crabb
    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.”


    Julia Sasso dances in association with Harbourfront Centre presents SLoE - Simple Lines of Enquiry


    ‘A new work by… Sasso is a reason to get up and dance…’ (Glenn Sumi, NOW) 

    Created and directed by one of Canadian dance’s foremost female voices, Julia Sasso’s SLoE pays tribute to the late iconic Canadian composer Ann Southam with a production that celebrates femaleness, women’s work and the feminine perspective in dance, music and design. Commissioned by Southam to embody her ‘immense, mysterious piano piece Simple Lines of Enquiry’ (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), Sasso’s SLoE delivers a robust and virtuosic physical response to the composer’s quietly emotional solo piano masterpiece.

    Presented in association with Harbourfont Centre as part of the NextSteps 2012-13 performance series, Sasso’s highly anticipated full-length world premiere features six outstanding dance artists accompanied by the music’s ‘sparkling interpreter’ (John Terauds, The Toronto Star), pianist Eve Egoyan for who it was composed. The Enwave Theatre’s in-the-round seating and marvelous acoustics locates the audience inside the world of SLoE. Enhanced by Rebecca Picherack’s atmospheric lighting and Cheryl Lalonde’s elegant costumes and ‘floating’ set piece, Sasso’s SLoE literally envelops the audience in an eloquent, intimate and deeply compelling experience of sound, visual and movement imagery.  

    With SLoE, Sasso bucks the trend of aesthetic excess instead aiming to move the viewer by the quality and transformation of the body in motion. ‘I trust audiences to be receptive to this approach, to be curious about movement and music and to embrace the world and content of this work.’  Relying on the composition’s slow unraveling to evoke a magically suspended, weightless sound world Sasso’s intricately crafted choreography takes great physical and emotional risks in counterpoint to the music’s resonance and stillnesses. In collaboration with her richly diverse cast Sasso has employed the ‘crisp, muscular physical language for which she is noted’  (Paula Citron, The Globe and Mail), to create SLoE’s cascading ensemble sequences, intimate duets and powerfully striking solos.

    Champions of one anothers’ work for many years, Southam and Sasso were artistic collaborators and personal friends. SLoE introduces new audiences to Southam’s music and to those already familiar with it, Sasso offers a fresh perspective on and unique experience of the composer’s remarkable musical universe. ‘… immense, glacial, hypnotic…’ (Alex Ross).


    Choreography/Direction: Julia Sasso
    Music: Simple Lines of Enquiry by Ann Southam
    Lighting Design: Rebecca Picherack
    Costumes/Set: Cheryl Lalonde
    Production Stage Manager: Gillian Lewis
    Featuring pianist Eve Egoyan and dancers Angela Blumberg, Irvin Chow, Jesse Dell, Vanessa Goodman, Susan Lee and Deanna Peters

    Duration: 60 minutes


    Long day's journey into light
    ON STAGE / Julia Sasso's latest dance piece is a metaphor for life
    Alex Tigchelaar / Toronto / Thursday, September 20, 2012

    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.”


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