Only one of the artists in Toronto Dance Theatre’s On Display got to choose their collaborator. The project matches dancers from the company with first-time choreographers to create a series of solos together. Each pairing was an arranged marriage decided on by artistic director Christopher House. Except House’s own partnership, that is. From the beginning it wasn’t even a question he would work with Jordan Tannahill.
The pair first met in 2012 on the sidewalk outside the Sony Centre after watching Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s epic opera Einstein on the Beach. The five-hour marathon left audience members with a lot to digest, and they struck up a conversation about the show. Chatting led to drinks, which led to seeing shows together, which blossomed into a long-term friendship.
Their natural chemistry was part of the reason House thought they should collaborate. But on their first day in the studio, it became clear a shared history doesn’t automatically mean an affinity for communication in a creative process.
“All of a sudden, I had to develop a whole new way of thinking and speaking in the context of making a dance together,” Tannahill says. “There are obvious commonalities with making plays in terms of creating a live experience through images. But it took me a few days to get my head around how we speak together as dancer and choreographer.”
Dubbed Rough House, the piece began with Tannahill giving House a series of impossible tasks, most of which involved removing clothing. Though the result is at times funny, playful and sexy, the intention was to present a conversation between two different generations of gay men about the body and how it changes over time.
“I wanted to explore a sort of intergenerational queer sexuality,” Tannahill says. “The piece is, in a way, about grafting my sexuality onto Christopher and vice versa. It’s a very intimate exchange, and at times it becomes quite vulnerable. Other moments it’s a bit like watching a frenzied Queen’s Park hookup.”