TIMECODE BREAK choreographed by Christopher House. Presented by Toronto Dance Theatre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Tuesday (October 31) and runs to November 4, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $15-$38. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
We've all seen so-called "multi media" dance shows in which the images onscreen are far more compelling than what's happening onstage, or vice versa.
Video artist Nico Stagias is hoping that won't happen in Timecode Break, his first collaboration with Christopher House and Toronto Dance Theatre.
"There's a constant push and pull between the choreography and the video," says the Vancouver native, who's videotaped several TDT shows and recently co-directed a prize-winning short shown at the Inside Out film festival.
"Christopher and I wanted to maximize the effectiveness of both mediums, so the audience was looking at and stimulated by the dance but also by the video. We didn't want the two to be conflicting forces."
The piece, which got raves at the Canada Dance Festival last summer, explores themes of technology, temporality and the body. Early on, Stagias videotaped each of the TDT dancers away from the rehearsal hall, sometimes asking them to be angry or silly. These play out onscreen along with glorious images of the dancers performing House's movement, the steps often manipulated to seem as if the artists are defying gravity.
"Initially, some of the dancers had reservations because they didn't know what was going on," Stagias explains. "I'd come in and just shoot them at rest or in casual conversation. My camera kept rolling. I wanted to find some casual, undancerly moments that would capture their personalities."
The company developed the piece in Banff last spring. Stagias spent hours editing or manipulating dance footage with special effects, and he'd then bring it to rehearsal. His material, in turn, affected the choreography, which he captured and manipulated again.
What he loves about filming dancers is the ability to focus in on something that an audience member might not catch in a live show.
"Audiences don't have the luxury of zooming in on an eye or a wrist and seeing that subtle movement," he says.
House intends to revisit the piece later, so that five or 10 years from now we can watch the performers dancing in front of images of their younger selves.
"It will change what the piece is," says Stagias. At the work's debut in Ottawa, he points out, dancer Johanna Bergfelt twisted her ankle and couldn't perform, but her image remained onscreen.
Of course, with a work that's so dependent on technology, you'd better be sure there won't be any glitches. One wrong cue and the whole thing can fall on its face.
"That's kind of scary," laughs Stagias. "Initially, I thought I'd run the video from my computer, but sometimes it would disconnect and the sound would cut out. Now we're running the video with the same application the sound designer is using. Plus, we've separated the piece into major segments so we can re-cue if necessary.
"And as a backup," he says, "we've got a DVD."