(a)round 2 with choreography by Guillaume Bernardi, Marie-Josée Chartier, Sarah Chase and Lesandra Dodson. Presented by Four Chambers dance projects at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander). Previews tomorrow (Friday, September 5) opens Saturday and runs to September 13, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $16, stu/srs $14. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Guillaume Bernardi is one of the most articulate artists around, but lately he's become fed up with words. Ironic, because in the too few pieces he's directed locally - an adaptation of Alice Munro's The Progress Of Love and Pirandello's Six Characters In Search Of An Author come to mind - there's always been an emphasis on text.
Now he's dispensing with words for his first piece of choreography. He's one of four artists chosen by dancers Heidi Strauss and Darryl Tracy to create duets for them in (a)round 2, a sequel to their highly successful 1999 program The Four Chambers.
For Bernardi, the commission seems a natural fit. In his theatre works - the word "play" doesn't begin to approach what he does onstage - movement is an integral element. And for many years, in Europe and the U.S., he's worked alongside American choreographer Trish Brown.
"Just don't call me a choreographer now," he laughs near his home in Little Italy. "I'm a director who works with movement."
Still, he's thrilled to be working in dance here.
"Dance is 1,000 years ahead of theatre, especially in Toronto," he says bluntly. "Dance artists are much more connected with what's going on in the other arts, and they've freed themselves from a lot of things that theatre's still encumbered with: psychology, narrative, characters."
The piece comes at a good time for Bernardi, who's sharing the bill with Marie-Josée Chartier, Sarah Chase and Lesandra Dodson, all big names in the contemporary dance world.
"For a while I've been wanting to work with animal metaphors. Well, maybe 'animal' is not the right word," he stops himself.
"I wanted to work with a kind of preverbal state. That's why I was interested in dancers. I didn't want to deal with anything psychological. I wanted to create a narrative in a theatrical way, but when you're watching the piece" - he smiles here - "you probably won't be aware of a narrative."
Just back from Frankfurt, where he worked on Haydn's opera L'Isola Disabitata, Bernardi calls Strauss and Tracy two of the most trusting performers he's ever worked with.
Bernardi's always sensitive to what a performer brings to a particular work - in one piece he used the amateur clarinet playing of a performer to add different textures to a work.
"Heidi gets into what she does completely and thoroughly," he explains. "There's an incredibly emotional availability there. She goes there right away and every time.
"Working with male performers, on the other hand, is always interesting," he adds. "Especially in Toronto, male performers can be more caught up in self-image than women. What I like about Darryl is that he is very strong and at the same time delicate. I hope his work shows a more subtle masculinity onstage."
One of the jurors for the new play prize at the recent SummerWorks festival, Bernardi sat through some 40 plays, an experience that confirmed some of his feelings about the scene.
"I was really shocked by the lack of sensitivity to form here. In dance, you have to work with form. Theatre in Toronto and in North America in general is too content-oriented, and that's a big mistake."
He also realized that despite the enormous amount of talent in the theatre scene, the community's starved for money. Unlike their European counterparts, artists here can't afford basic design elements like costumes, props and sets.
"There's a huge discrepancy between what people could do and what they can do," he says.
"Everything is performer-based, because that's the cheapest thing. It means the performers work like hell, and the directors don't use any other language. That's really limiting."
And, no, he doesn't buy the argument that theatre can work with a simple chair and a light bulb.
"That is delusional," he argues. "That idea is destroying theatre here. Theatre needs serious money, serious funding, and real theatres with facilities. We have undermined ourselves by thinking that theatre is about the imagination so you don't need money."