Singularity in Collaboration: Singular Bodies from TDT in conversation

Singular Bodies pairs dancers from the current TDT roster with visual artists to make short solo works that defy strict categorization and challenges us to see art as art, as rigid boundaries between art forms are tested. Even with the rise of multi-disciplinary collaborations, this is still a unique venture in Toronto. I'll admit I find it intriguing because it seems equally likely to produce disaster as to produce startling beauty. I am drawn to the gamble I might take as an audience member because it fires my curiosity to a fever pitch.

TDT Artistic Director Christopher House and dancers Pulga Muchochoma, Alana Elmer and Megumi Kokuba kindly answered some of my questions, illuminating the potency of collaboration, curiosity and the ability to just keep working hard.

LR: Christopher, What was the original spark of inspiration for Singular Bodies, or its predecessor, On Display? Was it a big risk for TDT at the time? What did you find compelling about this venture?

CH: The seeds of this program were planted in 2007, with a program of solos by twelve different choreographers. Two of the choreographies were by artists whose practice lay outside of dance; I had invited them on instinct, and was excited to see the freshness and clarity of their proposals. 
 Christopher House 

Since that time, the word choreography has expanded its presence in the world, with artists across disciplines expressing a huge appetite for engaging with dance, the body, and choreographic practice. 

In 2014, to acknowledge this appetite and to celebrate the increasingly porous borders between disciplines, we produced a program of solos by theatre and visual artists called On Display. And now, with Singular Bodies, we are narrowing the field to focus on the choreographic in the visual artists.

 LR: I am always fascinated with how artists make decisions about collaborators….how did you find/select the visual artists for Singular Bodies? 

CH: The artists were chosen through my own experience of the visual arts world in Toronto and through recommendations from artist and curator friends. I wanted to include a balance of practices, ages and backgrounds. It's been fun to bring all of these artists together under one umbrella!
photo of Christopher House by Omer K. Yukseker

LR: How did the pairings with the dancers happen? 

CH: The artists and I had a number of discussions. A few had a particular collaborator in mind but everyone was open to suggestion. There is something wonderful about these "arranged marriages" in that the process begins with getting to know each other. There are few expectations up front and the field is open for discovery.

LR:  Dancers, who are your artist partners? Tell me a bit about your collaboration.

PM: I am working with Jean-Paul Kelly who is a video and film based artist.
We never met until our first rehearsal and the connection was great, even though choreography is not his area and film is not mine. But  we had something nice going on.

I also like the fact that we both sometimes don't understand what each other is talking about but we both agreed that we are here to figure it out together and that gives room for a better understanding of the work from both sides.
photo of Pulga Muchochoma by David Leyes

I like that Jean-Paul chose a film that was shot in Africa and the rituals translated by the body language speaks to me from my childhood experiences. So that makes the process much easier when you know that what you are watching on the documentary is something that you have experienced in real life.

AE: Bridget Moser and Chris Curreri are the two artists I'm working with and at the risk of sounding like a groupie I'm pretty in love with both of them and their artistic brilliance. Their work is very different from each other's but they both share the ability to transform what I thought I was looking at in strange and delightful ways. 

MK: Johanna Householder is my artist. She is an amazing woman. At the reception after the opening night of Echo in last November, Johanna introduced herself from nowhere and from her atmosphere I was interested in her right away. And magically we are working as a pair! 

She has been making performances, video and other artwork. Her all performances have interesting concepts and really unique like "The Clichettes". Her presence in her work is really strong but delicate and I'm really curious because I think it's a key of our work as well.

photo of Megumi Kokuba by David Leyes

LR: How is this process different from other creations?

AE: Every process is different and unique. I feel grateful for how much both Bridget and Chris trust me to bring to life physically what they imagine in their minds. 

MK: We are revisiting Johanna's 1978 performance work. I spent my first week in front of the TV learning her improvisation as choreography. Which was quite difficult, I'm not going to lie.  I asked some questions about the performance art scene in the late 70s and how they survived as artists or about Johanna's personal history. I think it's important for me to know about these things so I can layer it into the performance. This process brings Joanna's memory back to the late 70s. It's amazing how she remembers some movement through to her emotions and some, vice versa.

Johanna's daughter Carmen will read the text for the work. Working with the live text reading (becoming music) made more sense what I'm doing and gives vitality to this piece for sure.  Johanna was 28 when she performed this piece. Carmen is 28 and I'm also turning 28 this year. Magic number 28. 

I feel she is really trusting my work, letting me being more challenging as a dancer.

PM: Since I have joined the company this is the second time I have done one on one creation. The first time I worked with Tawiah M'Carthy who is a Ghanian actor based in Toronto who asked me to translate into movement an African story he brought in.

This time Jean-Paul also brought an African story but on film.

I feel very connected in both works equally since they speak the language of my ancestors and my culture, but I found the film much harder because the movements are very difficult to execute. I appreciate the challenges it gives me as an artist.

Jean-Paul is a very nice guy ad very understating that he also lets me do what I believe that makes sense and also he gives me a lot of directions from the film perspective that I am very happy to learn them. So far it seems like we are both having a Fantastic time. YEBO to that and (YEBO means YES in Zulu)  YEBOOOOOO!

LR: The company seems to have taken some big leaps of artistic growth over the past 2 or 3 seasons….I have felt some dancers almost unrecognizably different. It’s very exciting to witness. And the structure of the company seems to have changed too, with a larger pool of dancers coming and going depending on the project. Are the two things linked, do you think? 

CH: That's kind of you to say so. We've been focusing on stretching ourselves in a variety of ways; the chance to learn something new is a big part of what motivates our work. I think that making things a little more flexible allows for greater agency in the ensemble. When everyone commits to a project, there is a lightness in the studio that supports a shared sense of adventure. The group is very engaged right now and it is exciting to see how new voices inspire shifts in our practice.

LR: Pulga, Megumi, Alana,  you all seem to have grown immensely as artists over the last few seasons. What do you think has happened or changed to make this leap? 

AE: As an artist I feel it's a part of my job to constantly be growing and learning new ways of approaching how I work, if growth is noticed I think 'wonderful!' and then I get back to work.

photo of Alana Elmer by David Leyes

MK: As an artist... when this kind of questions comes up, I believe Pulga always says same kind of thing, but I feel, [as Alana says] my job is to always learn new, different ways to work. It's not easy for me of course.. And I definitely feel that I've been grown since working with such an inspiring TDT coworkers. 

Watching and sharing are the huge deal for me to learn. But sometimes I don't feel I am growing. Then someone comments -- sometimes a dancer, sometimes an audience member --  it's a beautiful moment to find out that I actually grow bit by bit.

Pulga Muchochoma 

PM: This year marks 10 years in Canada for me and 10 years at the Winchester building. I remember, from my first class as a student until now, my 7th season with the company, how much dance has taught me the value of life in general.

I have learned so much since then and I also believe coming from Mozambique I have learned how to do so much with less and Canada gave me so much at once that it was overwhelming experience, but somehow I adjusted myself to almost everything that life had to offer me here.

That's why I feel very thankful to have that in my career and I feel that I have grown a lot especially after working with Christopher House and the rest of the amazing TDT team. I had so much to give and so much to take and that is what I call learning -- give and take.

LR: Pulga, that says it all, give and take. Learning, performing, collaborating. It's not just as artists that we encounter this simple but profound equation. 

Thursday, April 14 -Saturday April 16 at  8:00 p.m. 
Sunday, April 17 - 2:00 p.m. 
Wednesday, April 20 - Saturday April 23rd at  8:00 p.m. 

Winchester Street Theatre, 80 Winchester Street
TICKETS: Regular: $26 | Student/Senior/CADA: $20 BOX OFFICE: 461.967.1365 

all photos courtesy of Toronto Dance Theatre. Thank you!!


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