LAMONT EARTH OBSERVATORY and muzz choreographed and performed by sarah chase, presented by Harbourfront Centre/DanceWorks at the Du Maurier Theatre Centre (231 Queen's Quay West), tonight through Saturday (October 18-20) at 8 pm. $20, stu/srs $12. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
sarah chase is getting intimate and interactive with me. She's relating a story, but not in your typical "Once upon a time" fashion. She's dance-telling it.
Her limbs are moving fluidly. Her hair's flipping back and forth. She's smiling mischievously as if she's got secrets she can't wait to tell. And she's beaming with the kind of intense look you only give your best friends.
The effect is overwhelming and hypnotic. I can barely move.
Turns out I'm not alone. Dance lovers all over the world have fallen under the Chase spell, thinking she's performing solely for them.
And in a sense, they're not wrong.
"I can't perform or rehearse a piece like this alone," she says about her Lamont Earth Observatory, which is paired with an earlier work, Muzz, opening at the Du Maurier Theatre tonight (Thursday, October 18).
"I can't tell stories without someone there to hear them."
For Lamont, Chase, ever the intuitive artist, dug up old family Super 8 films, taped informal interviews with her geologist father and asked musician Bill Brennan to play songs from her childhood.
"I thought if I could combine all these things, something would happen, I'd be taken back to this memory state."
In the piece, Chase tells childhood stories while moving to the sound of her dad's voice, foghorns and Brennan plunking out tunes on the mbira, an instrument from Zimbabwe that suggests both the sound of rain (Chase grew up in Vancouver) and a toy piano. Bits of home movies flash on a screen, and Chase mimics her own childish arm movements.
In this context, she tells her stories, which are exquisitely detailed yet, incredibly, never put down on paper.
"I only speak from inside the movement," she admits. "I'm interested in how movement provokes memories to come shooting back into the body, just as smell does.
"Often you remember not big, huge events but little details and moments. You're four years old and bored, lying on a dusty carpet watching dust particles in the air."
With Lamont, Chase wanted to explore life's synchronicities. She comes from a family of scientists and communicators; geologists, children's book authors, storytellers and professional dancers perch in her family tree.
"My grandfather, father and uncle were all geologists, and often when I was moving or dancing, I'd think about stalactites, the shifting of the earth, growth. It's influenced my dance vocabulary."
Like many Canuck artists before her, Chase -- who worked for years with choreographers like Benoît Lachambre, Peggy Baker, Claudia Moore and Bill James before embarking on her solo career -- is finding herself more famous outside the country than in it.
In Europe, she's booked for the next two years. You name it, she'll be there, bringing her long-limbed, enigmatic presence to generously subsidized theatres and knowledgeable, argumentative audiences.
"No, it doesn't bother me," she says. "In Europe, art is the heart of people's social life. It's part of their discourse. There's not a single theatre there that doesn't have a bar or restaurant in it for people to stay, talk and tell you why they loved or hated your work."
It's hard to imagine anyone hating Chase or her work. It's also hard to imagine some of her latest Europe-developed pieces being performed here.
A Small Room pairs Chase with one audience member for an hour. She offers a deck of cards based on her grandmother's family tree, the lucky participant picks out those that appeal to him or her and Chase tells a cycle of stories based on the chosen cards.
"In the same way as a Tarot reading, the people attract stories that somehow have meaning for them personally. And usually they end up telling me a story or two or three."
Another project sees Chase holing up in a ticket holder's home while the resident is billeted in a hotel. She and a design team sniff around, then later publicly perform a piece based on that person's life.
Still, Chase isn't about to settle in Europe. She likes the artistic, if not commercial, support in T.O.
"Plus, my boyfriend and dog are here."