LOHA/THOK choreography by Roger Sinha. Presented by CanAsian Dance Festival and Sinha Danse at the Betty Oliphant Theatre (404 Jarvis). Tonight to Saturday (April 1-3) at 8 pm. $15-$20. 416-504-7529. FOUR AT THE WINCH choreography by Louis Laberge-Côté, Jessica Runge, Kathleen Rea and Yvonne Ng. Presented by Toronto Dance Theatre at the Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester). Wednesday (April 7) to April 10 at 8 pm. $15-$20. 416-967-1365 ext 24. Rating: NNNNN
If you think all modern dance looks the same, consider Roger Sinha and Kathleen Rea. Both are dance veterans, but their backgrounds and what you'll see onstage this week as they debut works are miles apart. Sinha received a black belt in karate in his teens and didn't start studying dance until his early 20s.
Rea trained in ballet but shifted to modern, and now, after double knee surgery, spends most of her life teaching something called expressive arts therapy.
Rea has an intuitive approach to dance, while Sinha, like the classical Indian movement he frequently works with, is more controlled. Rea's a WASP, Sinha's part Indian and part Armenian.
But dance, to borrow the name of Rea's production company, is their reason d'être.
"I want my choreography to take me to the edge of my abilities," says Rea, part of the prestigious quartet invited to debut works with the Toronto Dance Theatre for their annual Four At The Winch program.
A few years ago, Rea threw herself a wake, a big party signalling her retirement from performing. Today her knees are a lot better, but she dances once or twice a year instead of 60 to 100 times.
"I had osteoarthritis," she says. "Too many pliés and jumps."
Fortuitously, her physical limitations forced her to find words to describe her choreography.
"Since I can't simply show people, I have to find verbal or written ways to describe what I want," she explains. "This all begins with the 10 things that are specific to the way I work."
Rea describes two to me, including one concerning those moments between movements.
"Dancers spend so much of their life doing movements," she explains. "It's nice to have a space where there's a lack of holding or doing. It's similar to meditation practice, where you clear your mind."
Over a decade of choreographing, Rea has learned not to intellectualize her art.
"I don't preplan. I follow the emergence of the thing that's happening. I'm much more creative that way. If I go in with too many ideas I'll waste time making them happen. Intuition cuts through the extraneous stuff."
Her piece for Four At The Winch is tentatively called Lining and consists of three duets, each one with a piece of cloth - which could be the lining of a pocket or a hanky dropped and picked up.
"I can see the metaphor," she admits. "But I'm trying not to let that get in my way. I'm finding the sensuality of the dance. There's something forbidden about it."
Roger Sinha's also dealing with the forbidden. In his double bill Loha and Thok, opening tonight as part of the CanAsian Dance Festival, he's using elements of Indian classical dance and combining them with his forte, modern.
"I feel that Indian dance is too weighed down by tradition," says the Montreal-based choreographer, who's studied with everyone from Peggy Baker to Trish Beatty.
"There's a devotion to a certain way of learning the art form. I'm not interested in that. I didn't have a guru. It's hard for me to find legitimacy in that since I wasn't brought up with that form."
Instead, he uses Bharata Natyam, the ancient Indian dance form, as a technique "in the same way," he tells me, "that La La La Human Steps' Edouard Locke uses pointe as a technique, although he wasn't trained in ballet."
His new pieces were inspired by his desire to work with dancer/choreographer Natasha Bakht, who had firm training in Bharata Natyam; she's one of Menaka Thakkar's former star pupils.
He wanted to marry the two dance vocabularies - Natasha's Indian with his contemporary Western - into something cohesive.
"I wanted to take what I thought was lacking in Indian dance, the use of the pelvis, spine and torso, and what was lacking in contemporary dance, the fact that the energy stopped at the wrists.
"I'm combining my yang," he laughs, "with Natasha's yin."
It's taken Sinha a long time to feel comfortable in his own skin.
"One of my early pieces, Burning Skin, dealt with the shame I felt as a South Asian because of the persecution."
Born in England to an Indian father and an Armenian mother, he moved to Saskatoon in 1968, the "only kid of colour in my class."
Since leaving the Prairies, he's travelled and studied in India a couple of times, piecing together his complicated origins - personal and artistic.
"I'm finally proud to be brown."