Ottawa
2 min

See no evil

Dancer Andre Fairfield's visionary tales take centre stage

SIDE BY SIDE. Andre Fairfield and his guide dog Baboo. Credit: Capital Xtra files

Andre Fairfield will tell you straight up – there’s no such thing as second sight. When he lost his eyesight to a hereditary degenerative disease 11 years ago, the career dancer was simply on his own – at age 33, his stage had gone black.



But the Buckingham native comes from a line of go-getters. Like the characters in his pieces, fraught with hardships, Fairfield persevered.



And later this month, at the Salle Jean-Desprez in Hull, that perseverance will be fully on display in Kristallnacht, a production he directed and choreographed. The production recreates eerie November nights in 1938 when the Nazis made their first acts of overt physical violence against Jews.



Fairfield is not a new name in modern dance. He has been taking stages since the age of 19 during his basic training at Concordia University. He has worked in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and New York as a choreographer, stage designer and dancer.



But life took a tragic turn in the mid-90s when his vision began to wither. A year later, his mother died of an aneurysm. Later the same year, Fairfield says his father succumbed to a broken heart.



“I didn’t think at first that I would dance again,” he says above the persistent squeaking of his guide dog’s rubber hedgehog chew toy. “But as I got used to the new me, I just kept on going.”



In the late ’90s, he tentatively began choreographing and teaching again. But it was his friend, Maryse Lemay, who pushed Fairfield back into the light – by forcing him to dance in the dark.



She asked him to choreograph a short duet for a song her husband wrote. When no male partner was found, she pleaded with Fairfield to lead her onto the floor.



“It was a very simple piece,” he says. “I felt confident enough, and we did it.”



From there, he worked on See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. True to the Fairfield genre, this is the story of the cultural genocide of Canada’s aboriginal people through the creation of residential schools.



He has since created Dementia, a piece about the plight of psychiatric patients abandoned by the health care system. Last year, he was awarded a Canada Council arts grant and is the co-artistic director of Double Visions Productions, which is producing Kristallnacht.



“You aim for something and you go for it,” says Fairfield casually of his own challenges. “If you can’t get there, you renegotiate.”



Never quite alone, though. Fairfield’s faithful Bernese mountain dog, Baboo, helps him along the way. Aside from steering him around obstacles and taking him through his usual fitness routine at the gym, the guide dog is bound for stardom. Fairfield has cast him in an upcoming production he created about the difficult choice blind people make between a white cane and a dog.



“For people who never had dogs in their lives and suddenly have to make the choice, it can be quite challenging. That’s what the piece is about… having a person with you all the time. You can’t even go pee without a person there.”



Successes and challenges aside, Fairfield concedes there’s a silver lining to his blindness – he never overdoes a piece.



“I see it in my head,” he says. “Since I can’t really see it, I can’t edit it to death.”



Fairfield depends on 20-year partner Robert Greene for an honest opinion. “He will tell me whether things gel or not,” he says of the man he met one Sunday in the early ’80s, when Fairfield was still a waiter.



“I usually trust Robert, he’s quite nasty,” he laughs. “Quite honest.”



KRISTALLNACHT.

Thu & Fri May 27 & 28.

Salle Jean-Despréz.

25 Laurier St, Hull.

Tickets: $22.

Available at Salle Jean-Despréz box office.

Box office: 595-7455.