Choreographer Crystal Pite’s dance card is full.
KIDD PIVOT: LOST ACTIONchoreography by Crystal Pite, presented by Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), to Saturday (November 29), 8 pm. $15-$30. 416-973-4000.
Dance artist crystal pite hates smoking, but she's not above using a cigarette metaphor to explain her creative process.
"It's like chain-smoking," she says, on the phone from Seattle, where her company, Kidd Pivot, is in the midst of an international tour with their acclaimed show Lost Action.
"I take the fire from one thing and light the next piece with it."
About four years ago, after finishing a piece about ephemerality and loss for the Netherlands Dance Theatre, the Vancouver-based artist found herself in Montreal on Remembrance Day. An American man came up to her and asked her why people were wearing red flowers.
"As I was explaining it to him, I was struck by the scale of the loss," she says about the genesis of Lost Action. "I thought there might be a way to pull that into a new piece. War and death are scary subjects, and at times I didn't feel like I could do them justice or had enough maturity or knowledge to deal with them. But I kept plugging away and worked from instinct. What I have now is a piece that feels very personal. "
One of her inspirations was a series of letters written by her great-great-uncle, who died in the First World War, to her grandfather.
"They made everything so incredibly real," she says.
As with any Kidd Pivot piece, text and sound play a large role in the production.
"The piece employs narrative devices like flashbacks and foreshadowing," she says. "Sometimes you'll see images that repeat and recur. A particular event might be revisited many times from different angles and directions."
Sound, she says, can frame what you're watching, give it a tension or emotional tone.
"And it also offers another way into what we're doing. Not everybody is going to identify with the movement, but the sound of bells or a scratchy old recording of a folk song can trigger a response, an aha! moment."
She also talks about an element of improvisation in the work's creation - and in its performance. It's one of the main techniques she learned during her time dancing with William Forsythe's Ballett Frankfurt in the late 1990s.
"I was there for five years, but they were like dog years - every one year worth seven," she laughs. "It was so packed with learning, new people, colleagues and influences, theatres, cities, language. And watching Bill work was phenomenal. I was amazed at his ability to let go of his ideas. At the 11th hour he would throw something away and try something else if he felt it wasn't working."
Since returning to Canada in 2001 and starting up Kidd Pivot, Pite's dance card has been incredibly full. As an associate choreographer for the Netherlands Dance Theatre, she's expected to create a full dance piece each year. And next March the National Ballet of Canada premieres one of her works.
"I like working to those extremes," she says about the change of scale between Kidd Pivot and these bigger companies. "At NDT, the amount of time I get onstage is huge. The budget is big and the company is big and the stage and audience are big and the dancers are huge talents.
"With Kidd Pivot, I'm on the ground and involved in every aspect of the organization. I MacGyver the show. I'm involved in low tech and low budget and being efficient, lean and mean."
"Everything is smaller at Kidd Pivot," she teases, "except the talent."
Additional audio clips:
On moving back to Canada in 2001:
On her folk singer alter ego "Chrissy Rockbottom":