HEAVEN choreographed by Sasha Ivanochko, with Louis Laberge-Côté, Matthew Waldie and Ivanochko. Presented by DanceWorks at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Tonight (Thursday, October 19) to Saturday (October 21) at 8 pm. $27, stu/srs $17. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Sasha Ivanochko and I are sitting down to talk at the Drake Café, and I politely offer her a taste of my banana bread. She declines.
"Tempting, but I have to be naked onstage next week," she explains.
Oh yeah, I think, guiltily swallowing a piece of fat-laden cake and sucking in my gut.
Heaven, Ivanochko's first full-length work, features her and dancers Louis Laberge-Càté and Matthew Waldie performing for just over an hour sans music and costumes.
"We're getting a lot of energy just from being nude together," she says about the rehearsals. "Things are really heightened without layers of clothing. When somebody's stomach gurgles it's a little more audible. You pick up on the sound of a butt smacking the floor. The smell of deodorant - or not. It's very sensual, but in an unerotic way."
In Europe, nudity in dance and theatre isn't such a big deal. But in tight-assed Toronto, it still raises eyebrows and can be - how to put it? - distracting.
"Sure, it will be distracting for some people," says Ivanochko, looking slightly severe in a black sweater, with her bangs a perfect horizontal line. "I can't help that. The nudity supports the movement vocabulary. There's intimate contact in the piece; it's not like it's abstract. We smell each other, bite each other, I slap Matthew, he drags me across the room with my hand in his mouth, I straddle him, the men press together, we hug, we push each other away. I think what people will see is what they bring with themselves."
Ivanochko admits she couldn't have done this 10 years ago.
"Body issues," she sighs, "and a lack of daring. But I'm in control of this project, so I know the reasons why I'm nude. I've had that dancer/choreographer discussion with the two guys. They're very trusting and brave, which is important. I'm asking them to perform naked but also to reveal themselves emotionally."
Heaven could mark a turning point in Ivanochko's choreography career. One of the city's finest dancers, she debuted her double bill of The King & Queen Of Ruins and Perfect Pretty in 2003, and the work showed promise.
"I don't think King & Queen was the best-structured work - it didn't go anywhere. But it was the first piece that really captured my physical ideas. And I think Perfect Pretty was one-dimensional, overstating the same thing. I have a chance to perform Perfect Pretty again in Montreal next April, and I'm going to completely redo the middle section. I have more experience now of being in my work, and I've got rid of some of the cloudiness."
Ivanochko's named her dance company blackandblue dance projects.
"It's a metaphor for the bumps and bruises we encounter in life," she smiles. "My work's on the darker side, the bluer side, but it's not mopey or maudlin."
During the making of Heaven, she says her feelings about her career clicked into place. She's been talking with an agent about mounting the piece elsewhere, a necessity if you're going to survive in the business. She's performed sections for other presenters, and there's lots of interest.
She wants to avoid the syndrome of creating a piece and then letting it die.
"Having a one-off show is tragic, especially if the work is good," she says. "It forces you to create more work for yourself, and that's unhealthy. I also think touring helps keep the work mature. You get to see your work on different stages, talk to different audiences. In Toronto, the audience is made up of a lot of friends and colleagues, but it's healthy to get friction and critical feedback from others."
She's also been encouraged by the examples of Peggy Baker and Denise Fujiwara, two dance artists who have their own companies and flourishing careers.
"They're two amazing role models. They've shown me you can have a significant career through your later years. I plan to do that," she pauses, "but you never know."