How curiosity and lifelong learning enlivens the work of Christopher House
'Christopher helped me to believe in dancing as a way of experiencing the world and a means of making it anew'
Christopher House has helmed Toronto Dance Theatre, one of Canada's leading contemporary dance companies, for the past 25 years and is now retiring at the age of 64. This will not only mark the end of an era in Canadian dance but will also be a deeply personal milestone for him, having grown up in and worked with the TDT for the last 40 years. On House's episode of In the Making, host Sean O'Neill joins him just before he announces his retirement as he prepares to dance in Marienbad, a challenging and experimental co-creation with playwright Jordan Tannahill. Stream the episode now on CBC Gem and below read an essay by choreographer Ame Henderson on why Christopher House matters to her.
I met Christopher soon after my relocation to Toronto in the mid-2000s. In one of my first encounters with him, we were fellow participants in a workshop led by a visiting dance artist. This made an impression on my young artist self — here was this hugely experienced and celebrated dancer, choreographer and artistic leader, still so obviously dedicated to continued learning. I know now that Christopher is a lifelong student, this way of relating to the world so evident in all of his art-making. His curiosity continually enlivens new possibilities through interdisciplinary and intergenerational collaboration. He questions and renews his cardinal points in relation to other artists, ideas and practices, all the while sharing dance— and especially dancing — as a particular and magical offering.
Several years after our first meeting, Christopher invited me to make a work for Toronto Dance Theatre. Delighted and terrified, I said yes — and, in turn, mustered the courage to ask if he would consider dancing in the piece alongside the company's ensemble. By then I had seen one of his adaptations of Deborah Hay's solo choreography and was fascinated by his presence as a performer. I knew that there was much to learn about dance and, well, life, by spending time in the studio with Christopher. I am so very lucky he said yes.
Christopher has helped me believe in dancing as both a way of experiencing the world and a means of making it anew. While dancing, he moves through the here and now. He notices the light in the room, the surfaces of the furniture, the architectural features, the texture of the floor, those he dances with and the ones who witness. His attentiveness to the present moment is made material as movement. With profound trust in what the body knows, his practice makes visible embodied histories and heaps of felt experience. Choreography unfolds in real time, fully present, vivifying what is — spatial and temporal arrangements, forms and figures arising and disappearing.
As his dance unfolds, there is something pleasurably perplexing about the process: dancing seems to be something so utterly of this world, arising as it does through a practice of paying attention to what is happening and the often unglamorous reality of what and who is present. At the same time, Christopher's dancing evades capture. It isn't "about" anything other than its simple being.
Because dancing is also moving, things continue to change. Directing attention to the minutiae and gently shifting the nature of reality, dancing time travels and shape shifts. In attending to what is happening and where he is now, Christopher never knows exactly what will happen next. In the studio or on stage, this seems to happen effortlessly — an acceptance of what comes next as exactly the right thing. So when I think about Christopher moving on to new beginnings in his life and art, I can only smile and wait. There he is, dancing off into the unknown, with awareness and curiosity, finding form for the next whatever is.
In the Making takes you on an immersive journey inside the lives and work of Canada's leading artists. Stream the whole season now on CBC Gem, or watch it on CBC-TV Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. NT).