it's an insanely cold winternight, and even though they're safe indoors, Heidi Strauss and Darryl Tracy are slapping their thighs, jumping up and down and beginning to breathe deeply. They're in that dreamlike limbo, the dance rehearsal warm-up. Loosening muscles, trying out difficult moves, getting the blood flowing.The two dance artists are limbering up for Four Chambers Dance Project, a quartet of new duets by choreographers Conrad Alexandrowicz, Yvonne Coutts, Sylvain Emard and Julia Sasso. It's the culmination of two years of heavy collaboration, and Strauss and Tracy are pumped.
"Don't worry about running into me," says Tracy. "If you hit me, I'll fall. That's OK."
"I feel," says Strauss, " like I'm diving into a ditch."
Even from across the Toronto Dance Theatre studio floor, the pair's chemistry is electric. They contrast beautifully, Tracy blond and chiselled, Strauss shorter, darker and more willowy. They communicate with a tip of the head, a shrug of the shoulder, a glance.
It's hard to believe the two haven't performed duets before.
"It's one of the reasons for doing the program," says Strauss, now on the floor, rubbing a complicated wooden device on her thighs. "We had danced in each other's works and in group sections, but we'd never performed together."
Yet they knew the chemistry was there.
"We understood each other's creative preferences, what we like, how we dance, how we interpret work," says Tracy, who's now massaging his calves with a small blue ball.
Originally, the pair drew up a list of all the choreographers they'd like to work with. They figured their first step would be choreographing a program for themselves. Then they'd move on to step two and approach the choreographers.
"But Julia Sasso told us to skip the first step," laughs Strauss.
Tracy, a trained physiotherapist, came up with the program's title, an allusion to the heart's four chambers, its atria and ventricles.
"It's fitting since there are four choreographers," says Tracy. "The heart integrates the idea of anatomy and the emotions. Physically, it pumps oxygen and blood to keep you alive. It's also about relationships. And when you're excited, or working hard, it beats a lot."
The pair's hearts have been pumping madly, not just to keep up with the complicated moves, but also to arrange time with the four busy choreographers, who -- besides the local Sasso -- hail from Vancouver (Alexandrowicz), Montreal (Emard) and Ottawa (Coutts).
The program starts off very physically, goes to a more emotional place, subverts itself with humour and then ends with a work that combines all of the above.
"It's a bit like a graph of the heart," points out Strauss.
The works, both agree, stand on their own. There's no through-line. They've been arranged around music and mood rather than narrative.
"We don't want to blend them together, or to suggest that just because there are these four great choreographers from across the country their work has to be the same," says Strauss.
They've also hired two design greats to work on the show, something that's usually not done in independent dance. Sound Image Theatre's resident genius Jan Komarek is designing the lighting, while Heather MacCrimmon -- whose credits include Théâtre de Complicité and the recent Nicolas Cage flick The Family Man -- has designed the costumes.
"Dance has a ton to offer, and it's often not seen in the way it can best be seen," says Strauss, cautiously.
"Heather and Jan bring in these other perspectives," adds Tracy. "Because they've worked in other fields, they're not limited to seeing dance in a certain way."
The project's a risk -- they're gambling time, money, reputations -- but the two aren't having a coronary.
"There's a quote from La La La Human Steps' Edouard Locke," says Strauss. ""Risk always involves a kind of passion, and that passion brings forth in its nature hope.'
"This work is our hope."FOUR CHAMBERS DANCE PROJECT choreographed by Conrad Alexandrowicz, Yvonne Coutts, Sylvain Emard and Julia Sasso, w/ Heidi Strauss and Darryl Tracy, January 16-21, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $15, stu/srs $12. Dancemakers Studio, 927 Dupont. 323-1715.