The King & Queen of Ruins choreography by Sasha Ivanochko. Presented by DanceWorks at the Du Maurier Theatre (231 Queen's Quay West), Thursday to Saturday (March 13-15) at 7:30 pm. $22, stu/srs $15. 416-973-4000.
Sasha Ivanochko is repeating a movement over and over. To everyone else in the rehearsal studio the move looks perfect, but she's unhappy. Something's not right. Then, as she tries it once more, she lands awkwardly on her neck. We all bolt up, ready to help.
"I'm OK!" she says, standing up. "Really, it doesn't hurt."
Despite injuries, frustration and the all-important fear factor, here's a woman who's truly at peace when she's dancing.
Or is she?
"A choreographer once told me she thought I was so together and competent in how I move through life," confesses Ivanochko. "In reality, I sometimes feel like a monster inside."
An insecure monster, at that.
A week before the indie dance artist's high-profile two-part showcase goes up, she's not sure she's able to dance one of the pieces she's choreographed for herself.
"It's scary to go onstage and not be perfect," says Ivanochko, whose relationship with perfection goes back to her childhood training as a gymnast competing throughout Asia, Europe and the USA.
"But what interests me now," she says, sipping a cup of tea, "is the vulnerability, the rawness of the experience."
The piece in question, ironically titled Perfect Pretty, is as dense and challenging to watch as it is demanding to perform. Even after poring nightly over videotapes of rehearsals of the work, Ivanochko's not sure how she feels about it
"Sometimes I find it funny, other times heart-wrenching. Sometimes I horrify myself."
Using her compact, muscular body -- it's easy to see the gymnastics training -- in what she calls a "bizarre and extreme" way, she explores the life of a woman teetering on the edge.
Fear is a common theme in the program. The show's other piece, The King & Queen Of Ruins, was inspired by recurring nightmares.
"I dreamed I was being followed by an unidentified figure and I'd do anything to escape, including try to kill myself," says Ivanochko, who would wake up sweating, fists clenched and shoulders up around her ears.
"I was surrounded by dismembered bodies, floating limbs."
With these disturbing images in her mind, she kick-started her creation process with dancer Elijah Brown (replaced in this revised version by Michael Moore). Since the images weren't as personal for Brown, she used him as a filter, helping her to see the material in a new light.
While she refuses to discuss the meaning of the dreams with me, she stresses that the work isn't about putting her personal therapy onstage, but instead about using an aspect of her life as a jumping-off point to build something universal.
"I've gained distance from the original material," she says. "I can see it as art now rather than a piece of me."
Before we part, I ask why she does what she does.
She pauses, stares at the ceiling.
"Dance is the most important thing in my life," she says, holding back tears.
"It's hard and horrible and wonderful all at the same time. It's how I communicate with the world. If people can walk away with one image and be changed by that, then I've done my job."