Beauty choreography by Julia Sasso, with Justine Chambers, Michael Sean Marye, Mike Moore, Heidi Strauss, Ron Stewart and Michael Trent. Presented by Julia Sasso Dances in association with Harbourfront Centre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queen's Quay West). Opens Tuesday (January 28) and runs to February 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $21-$37.50. 416-973-4000.
julia sasso has some definite ideas about beauty. So it's no wonder it's the title and subject of her latest dance piece."Beauty comes down to humanity, human contact, human emotion," says the choreographer intently over a pre-rehearsal coffee a couple of weeks before the Toronto premiere.
"The work covers birth, death, sex, of course. There's a lot of humour, some tenderness and a bit of violence."
Since Beauty's acclaimed debut last June at Ottawa's Canada Dance Festival, Sasso has had time to fine-tune it.
"The actual choreography happened pretty fast," she explains, never breaking eye contact. "I can come up with steps, no problem. Figuring out what they're saying is the difficult part. I wanted something more significant than just a lot of pretty movement."
Working in collaboration with her dancers and dramaturge Brian Quirt, she's gone through the painstaking process of refining each movement to its essential qualities.
"I wanted to give the scenes more space, more stillness. The piece has these moments of chaos that settle into unison. It's like watching a flock of birds fly aimlessly and then come to rest."
At just under an hour, Beauty is dense. All six dancers are onstage the whole time, an intentional challenge.
"Entrances and exits make a dance piece look like it's on TV," says Sasso. "You have to involve everyone all the time, without creating transitions to move people from one place to another. It's a cop-out when choreographers don't know what to do with someone so they just get them offstage."
Another priority was establishing a balance between the energies of the six performers.
"The last time around, I felt that the women were overpowered by the male energy. I'm working on a section now that will feature the power of the female."
It's worthwhile perfecting the piece, because Beauty marks an important turning point in Sasso's career. It's her first full-length work since leaving Dancemakers, where she was assistant artistic director for 12 years.
"It was a very hard decision to leave," she says, pausing under the weight of the sentence. "Working for a company, even a small one like Dancemakers, is the most secure job you can have in the dance world. I always thought I was going to be a lifer."
Feeling frustrated at not having time for her own choreography, she finally made the decision to leave in early 2000. "Some part of me thought, "You're crazy leaving to start your own company in middle age.'
"I have no illusions that it'll get any easier, but it's been fantastic."