At its 20th birthday party, members of Canada’s most enduring moderndance company were clearly in an exuberant mood. Performing in the converted inner-city church that is its home, Toronto Dance Theatre capped the evening’s program last month with the finale from Baroque Suite, a 1983 piece choreographed by TDT cofounder David Earle. The work recalls the stately joyousness of court dancing, but, instead of wearing the usual pastel leotards and flowing skirts, the dancers appeared onstage in outfits ranging from a Wonder Woman costume to an elephant suit.
Over the years and through financial crises, TDT has retained a fervent commitment to modern dance. But, evidently, the company—once described by a critic as “serious to the point of glumness”—has also learned to laugh a little along the way.
Lately, the troupe has had ample cause to celebrate.
Last year, its founders—Patricia Beatty, 52, David Earle, 50, and Peter Randazzo, 46—won a Toronto Arts Award. Jurors noted that the trio had “changed the face of dance in Canada.”
And, in 1988, TDT was the only North American modern-dance company to be invited to the Olympic Arts Festival in Seoul. Later this month, the company’s 14 dancers will embark on a tour of the United States and Central and Western Canada and in the spring they will perform in Europe. Holding fast to the principle that art should be challenging as well as entertaining, the company is at last gaining the kind of recognition it has sought. Said Randazzo: “We’re finally getting the audience we should have: not people looking for novelty, but people who think and aren’t afraid to get involved.”
Currently, there are more than 30 professional modern-dance companies across Canada, but, when TDT was created, the art form had yet to take root in the country. The alternative—classical ballet—did not interest
Despite their common grounding, the three have always had distinct choreographic styles:
the three founders. Said Earle: "Classical dance can be very moving and powerful but generally isn't." All three studied with Martha Graham and other leaders of modern dance. By 1968, they were living in Toronto and decided to join forces, creating TDT and its school. At present, the school, which offers a three-year professional program, has 60 students.
Beatty inclines toward symbolic, impassioned action, Earle to flowing lyricism, and Randazzo to clean, incisive movement. The combined strength of their work has attracted some of the rising stars of the modern-dance world. By the late 1970s, the company employed such artists as Danny Grossman and Robert Desrosiers, now internationally known choreographers with their own companies. In 1978, dancer Christopher House came to TDT, be-
coming a resident choreographer three years later. Now 33, he has injected the company with the innovative, bracing athleticism of his own dancing and his award-winning creations.
While the late 1970s were a period of artistic excitement at TDT, the company was struggling under a mounting debt. In 1980, the financial situation forced the company to cancel its season at the St. Lawrence Centre. Half of the company’s dancers left. By 1982, it appeared that the company might have to fold. Said Beatty: “From Day 1, we choreographed, we taught, we balanced the books, we cleaned. And we just got tired.” In order to recharge themselves, the founders handed TDT’s artistic leadership to Kenny Pearl in 1982. During Pearl’s tenure, which lasted until Earle took over as artistic director in 1987, the company began to struggle back from the brink. Partly as a result of improved management and marketing, the organization’s deficit, which stood at more than $300,000 three years ago, is now down to $139,000.
Meanwhile, TDT has flourished in other ways. National Ballet principal dancer Veronica Tennant, who has appeared as a guest artist several times in TDT’s Christmas show, singles out the company’s school as a source of growfh. Said Tennant: “I’ve never seen the company stronger in terms of the quality of its dancers than I did this season.” But TDT’s founders are too intent upon the future to revel in the present. Said Randazzo: “I don’t think we’ll ever feel we’ve arrived.” The artists of Toronto Dance Theatre clearly have never forgotten that without movement, there is no dance at all.
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