David Earle's Blood Farewell

KATHLEEN M. SMITH
PREVIEW
THE DANCE THEATRE OF DAVID EARLE

Performed by Toronto Dance Theatre.
Choreographed by David Earle.
Premiere Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.
Dec. 10-14. $20/$27/$32, 973-4000.

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"Well, it's not very Christmas-y... ", says Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) co founder David Earle of his upcoming show at the Premiere Dance Theatre. The double bill of a new work called Sang ("blood") and Maelstrom (which premiered earlier this year at Spring Rites) lacks the seasonal cheeriness of commercial Toronto fare, made up of Nutcrackers and pantomimes. But Earle is much better known for his unflinching explorations of the dark before the dawn than for lighthearted dances.

The 58-year-old master choreographer is also known for spiritual themes and a preoccupation with "the tension between Christianity and nature, between the spiritual and the erotic." Christ, Earle says, has been an important role model ever since he was a child. In a way, this concert may be more "Christmas-y" than he thinks.

Over coffee, Earle offers up his Sang journal for inspection. He has kept a daily journal, as well as a creation journal for each of the over 100 works he's choreographed over the past three decades. This one is filled with graceful handwritten notes and snippets of text from Bach's St. John and St. Matthew Passions (works which, along with Arvo Pärt's Passio, inspired the creation of Sang). It is also crammed with images - woodland scenes photographed by Earle, and magazine reproductions of paintings by El Greco and other Renaissance masters.

"Cutting and pasting has been a life-long activity," he confesses. Most of the imagery pertains to Christ's Passion, the thematic launching pad for Sang, which Earle has dedicated to Michael Conway, a former TDT and Dancemakers dancer who died last July. Sean Marye, another TDT dancer, collaborated on the work. Earle describes it as "a piece done in mourning." It represents the end of one life chapter and the opening of another.

The performance marks Earle's departure from the company he has called home for more than 28 years. He had prepared a statement to be issued with the announcement of his departure from the company, but TDT isn't releasing it due to "its perceived negativity," he says.

He says: "I've spent my whole life sharing and collaborating. Now that time is very limited, the wisest use of my last years would be to devote them to my own vision." Earle is trying to be diplomatic, but one can't help but notice the indignant references to the company dotting his journals. At one point he refers to the company as having "institution itis." Whatever the details, it's indicative of the strained relationship that when Earle leaves at the end of the season he will be taking his formidable repertoire with him.

Earle plans to continue choreographing both in Canada and abroad. He also plans to spend as much time as possible outside the city of Toronto in the smaller communities of Guelph and Elora. "The city asks a great deal from you," he says. "After spending your whole life learning to open up as an artist, daily life in the city - if your eyes are really open to see it - can drain you creatively." Still, Earle plans to continue teaching and accessing the talent pool here. "It would feel strange to completely abandon the dance community here," he admits.

Earle is feisty about the future rather than melancholy. Even though he jokingly thinks of himself as "a senior," at 58 the idea of "leaving the shell" is still an exciting one. "It seems perilous but it's also a kind of rebirth," he says. "I'm finding it all kind of energizing."

No surprise from a man who has also said: "I've always been an artist who's more concerned with being hot than cool. I believe in fire and danger and being engaged as extremely as possible."