Christopher House builds a chilly beauty

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      Choreographed by Christopher House. A Toronto Dance Theatre production. Presented by the Vancouver International Dance Festival. At the Roundhouse Community Arts a
      nd Recreation Centre on Saturday, March 8. No remaining performances

      Toronto Dance Theatre’s Christopher House pushes few choreographic envelopes in Chiasmata, but he certainly pushes his dozen dancers. Over and over, he has them strain into radical asymmetries that then crumple and collapse; over and over, they rise and repeat. During ensemble passages, they fall like waves, like avalanches, like soldiers under fire, although always in perfect sync.

      There’s a mechanical chill to this perfection, however. Chiasmata’s early sequences seem to refer to the factory floor, as the dancers rotate to pull at imaginary levers or twist invisible dials. Even when House quotes from other movement styles—at one point, he conjures up a dozen bharata natyam Shivas, each pivoting on a single foot; elsewhere he references the whooping Indians of Peter Pan and the pulled punches of Hollywood stunt fighting—these have a purely visual impact.

      Chiasmata only finds its soul in its penultimate movement, and it’s not a pretty sight. In this duo for Brendan Jensen and Sean Ling, every tenderness conceals a blow, every embrace a rebuff; Jensen caresses Ling, who’s lying prone, only to roll him over and over, shoving him from one side of the stage to the other with lascivious hands. Their relationship is ugly—but it’s powerful dance.

      Powerful enough, in fact, that it largely eclipses House’s final sequence, a heterosexual duet for Luke Garwood and Kristy Kennedy. They tentatively stroke each other’s faces, only to pull back. When they finally do find union there’s a brief moment of relief, but that’s soon undone by memories of the choreographer’s earlier, and more powerful, suggestion that romance might be intrinsically poisonous.

      And so Chiasmata ends on an ambivalent note—an ambivalence that carries over to other aspects of the production. It is thrilling, for instance, to see so many talented performers on-stage at the same time—and a luxury that’s rarely afforded local companies. And House certainly knows how to use space: during his solos, a second figure often materializes in the corner of our vision, offering a flickering counterpoint to the main event. But he hews too closely to Phil Strong’s ’80s-retro score, to the point that the shivering limbs that often accompany its electronic stuttering seem almost ludicrously obvious.

      House is a masterful technician, his dancers are impeccably trained, and Chiasmata is always beautiful, even during Ling and Jensen’s toxic flirtation. Still, it left this viewer wishing it had more heart.