Martyr Complex

DAS MARTYRIUM a co-creation by Jan Komarek and Heidi Strauss, presented by projekt komarek/strauss at the Theatre.

MARTYRIUM a co-creation by Jan
Komarek and Heidi Strauss, presented by
projekt komarek/strauss at the Theatre
Centre (1087 Queen West). Opens
tonight (Thursday, July 18) and runs to
July 28, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm. $15, stu
$12, July 21 pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN

Most Indie dancer/choreographers follow the same process. They begin creating the movement in the studio. They call in a designer. They call in a composer. And a week or so before opening, they gather everyone together, cross their fingers and hope things pan out in the theatre.

Heidi Strauss used to work that way. Then she met designer Jan Komarek. Before they began creating the movement for Das Martyrium, they holed themselves up in a tiny theatre space in the Czech Republic with a couple of costumes, an initial lighting scheme and a set consisting of a dusty old second-hand Persian carpet. The work emerged from these elements.

“The movement, the soundscape, the text, everything came from working together over there,” says Strauss. “I interacted with the lights, and the process felt very visual, like a series of moving pictures. The result is a show that feels really lived-in.”

Strauss, one of the more exciting artists on the local dance scene, first collaborated with Komarek when he designed Strauss’s and Darryl Tracy’s riveting series of duets, the Four Chambers Dance Project, two seasons ago. After Four Chambers, Komarek wanted to work with Strauss on a solo.

He was captivated by her strength, romanticism and sense of mystery. He had an image of her as Joan of Arc, and thought there was a resemblance between Strauss’s ethereal face and depictions of faces of early Christian martyrs.

So, when Komarek revisited his native Prague earlier this year for personal reasons, he asked Strauss to come over, and the two worked intensively, away from the distractions of Toronto.

“We rehearsed in a tiny room in this cultural centre in an old communist town called Neratovice, a half-hour from Prague,” says Strauss, whose presence does suggest other eras and geographies. “We had to commute daily to this dark space, with not a lot of moving air and little light. It began to feel like a mission, like we had to figure this out.”

The non-narrative piece they came up with originally included a character named Emma, an autistic woman with repetitive movements. Those movements now suffuse the entire work, along with glimpses of the woman’s sensuality and an exploration of schizophrenia and miracles.

“I think everybody has the potential for miracles in their lives,” says Strauss. “There’s always a task — it doesn’t have to be saving France or anything great.”

The work also suggests that Joan of Arc, like many female saints, may have been anorexic, a partial explanation for her hearing voices and hallucinating.

Strauss describes the show as a true collaboration. In the program notes, no one’s credited with the choreography.

“There are sections unlike anything I’d do just by myself,” she says. “They came about through us discussing where the character is at a certain time, where she is in the space, what the space means to her at this time.”

The piece has been reworked for the Theatre Centre production. The Persian carpet is gone and Strauss now dances on an area solely defined by light. An audience of 50 surrounds her from above, coliseum-style. She predicts that, as in the Czech Republic, the piece will evolve slightly from show to show.

“That’s the nature of this kind of work,” she says. “In most theatre, when dance is used, it’s “Here’s the story, here’s the dance, here’s the song.’ You can feel when a number’s coming up. But this work inter-meshes all the forms.”

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