autobiography: chapters one through five choreography by Gerry Trentham. Presented by DanceWorks at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Tonight through Saturday (December 4 to 6) at 8 pm. $24, stu/srs $16. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
when i ask gerry trentham why he's divided his Autobiography into five parts, he chuckles. "Five feels like halfway to 10, and implies that there's more to come. I'm halfway to death," says the spry 40-year-old choreographer.
That may be, but even after a full day of rehearsal and then a photo shoot during which he does a quick change of trousers and nonchalantly reconsiders his hairstyle two frames from the end, he's got energy to spare.
Trentham's piece, which debuts tonight through Saturday (December 4-6) at the Premiere Dance Theatre, contains nothing particularly exclusionary, solo or even explanatory.
"The irony in this thing called Autobiography," he says upstairs in the Distillery District's Balzac's Coffee House, "is that if it's done right I disappear."
According to Trentham, the staged autobiography can't be a spotlight on self, simply because the people from his past, his current collaborators and his future projects all contribute to his life story thus far.
"This is a theatre piece about the discussion surrounding the creation of dance and the relationship of words to dance."
There's a lot of talking in Autobiography. So much that when I arrive at the rehearsal room a week before opening and hear a steady stream of voices emanating from behind a curtain near the door, I hesitate.
A dance piece with words is not uncommon, but this is exceptional. Is the Trentham rehearsal next door? Nope. When I peek in, performer Michael Trent is ambling around centrestage perusing a dictionary and calling out words spelling-bee style. Heidi Strauss is dancing alone, loose-limbed and oblivious, while Bonnie Kim sits at a child-size desk with typewriter, carefully considering the spelling of each word with cohorts Hope Terry and Katherine Duncanson.
Answers are blurted, then cheered or pouted over. Narrator Trentham is crouched at the edge of the floor observing benevolently, waiting for his cue.
The scenario feels like a grown-up Sesame Street gone awry. None of these things looks like the others.
"This piece is enormously layered," says Trentham later, "in terms of my role, the writer's role, the dancers' roles and how we move between dance, theatre and video."
Unlike some artists who seem to tack video or words onto choreography with minimal forethought, Trentham - who came to dance relatively late, at 22 - draws on his academic and professional training in dance, film, voice and theatre for his piece.
Included are landscapes that the artist filmed all over Canada, as well as pre-recorded sounds that composer John Sherlock layered on as the piece developed. Each chapter was conceived and researched in the landscape it portrays - at the lakeshore, for example, while sitting in the sand.
When I suggest that audience attention can be splintered by multimedia devices in live performance, Trentham agrees - to a point. Sure, pre-recorded film and the immediacy of live theatre can conflict with each other, but he appreciates the paradox.
"The power of video is that you have the sense that it's more intimate than the human being sitting there," he says. "You don't choose to be remote from the screen, because it's an object and it's not threatening, so it feels much more intimate than talking to a live person, which is really fucked up."
Trentham may never complete the other five chapters, but it's significant that it's taken him five years to prepare this work that shows five epochs of his life and includes five landscapes, with five other performers.
As well, Trentham is the middle child of five. There's an apparently unplanned theme here, but not much else about Trentham and his work will slot readily into place. And forget about artistic categories, borders or any kind of linear thinking.
It's precisely the resulting pressure of this artistic cocktail that interests him. Consider his company's name: pounds per square inch.
"We pack things in," he says passionately, "and all of a sudden something else explodes out of it."