TZIGANES choreography by Serge Bennathan. Presented by Dancemakers at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Opens Tuesday (April 20) and runs to May 1 at 8 pm. $21-$37.50. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Serge Bennathan grew up as an army brat, and by the time he was 14 he had lived in at least a dozen cities. Now, as the artistic director of Dancemakers, he takes his troupe to places as far-flung as Buenos Aires and Monaco. So it's no surprise his latest piece, Tziganes, deals with the wandering Roma.
"I don't have a home where I think, 'This is my home till I die,'" says Bennathan a week before Tziganes begins its two-week run at the Premiere Dance Theatre.
"I have many homes. Toronto, France.... I love Venice, Japan and Vancouver - wherever the water is. A smell or scent can be a room for a while. To hear a language can be a home."
Bennathan got the idea for the piece in 2001, when a small village in France became hysterical over an impending gathering of the nomadic Roma people. They were afraid their town would be overrun by crime.
"It was straight out of the Middle Ages," says Bennathan. "I couldn't believe there was still this fear in the new millennium. And then I began to wonder if their fears weren't just jealousy about the notion of freedom.
"We like freedom, but only when it's well-framed," he explains. "We've lost spontaneity."
Instead of mimicking the dance vocabulary of the diverse Roma people, Bennathan tried to capture an essence and attitude. The piece is more of a metaphor about moving from dark to light, cold to warm, as the Roma moved from Eastern Europe to the south of Spain.
To capture the idea of free movement, he's created situations in which his dancers have to react to each other.
"We went through exercises," he explains. "I pointed out one dancer and said he'd just came back from a long trip. Then I asked everyone how they felt about that person. Art is all about questions and answers, and different approaches to the same subject."
Bennathan's excited about his gig next season directing Rossini's Tancredi for the Canadian Opera Company.
"In Europe, a lot of choreographers direct opera," explains Bennathan, who helmed the short Venus And Adonis for the COC a couple of seasons ago. "It's not another career - it's the same one. I'm just expanding.
"Ballet companies are all cut and reduced. Opera is one of the few arts where you get to do what you really want.
"In Paris recently there was an opera where the whole stage got flooded. It was phenomenal in terms of mise en scène. It's one of the few arts where you can still surprise."