Working from his collaborative dance centre, the critically acclaimed choreographer examines aspects of himself through the eyes of others in his new production, FACETS
Story and photo by Tony Martins
The cruel winter has eased at last and big blue skies open up along highway 148 near Tedd Robinson’s place north of Quyon, Quebec, about an hour west of Ottawa.
As a car approaches, a trio of wild turkeys skitters down the road and then gracefully takes flight. The idyllic nature and the peaceful seclusion are appropriate here. This is, after all, Robinson’s latest attempt at constructing a kind of Camelot—the mythical and blissful Arthurian castle with no fixed address.
Robinson and co-director Charles Quevillon have called it Centre Q: A Centre for Questioning. Now quietly operating for two years, it sits on 18 acres and includes an old barn that may one day be converted into a performance space. Or not. Outcomes such as this reveal themselves through the course of things at Centre Q, where Robinson and collaborators take a very Zen-like approach to creating contemporary dance and related projects.
The Centre’s vertically oriented old farm house is now a quirky assemblage of studios, lodgings and spaces for reflection that Robinson has ornamented with a diversity of antiques, collectibles, and assorted stuff. It is mostly a creative space: too much order is not welcomed.
Highly acclaimed and frequently honoured, Robinson himself is a living artifact of Canadian contemporary dance going back 35 years. His latest production, FACETS, will debut at Ontario Scene from May 7 to 9 at the NAC. The show will feature the venerable choreographer and six Canadian colleagues in a series of solo pieces that reflect and counter-reflect on Robinson’s famously unique dance ideas.
To stitch together FACETS, Robinson invited collaborators to interpret archived video of his profoundly personal solo pieces. Once the new solos emerged, Robinson shaped them into an arrangement that includes a performance of his own. Contributing to the project are choreographer-dancers Angie Cheng, James Gnam, Ame Henderson, Thierry Huard, Simon Renaud, and Riley Sims. Quevillon will compose and perform original music to accompany.
In early March, Robinson and Quevillon could offer only general ideas of what FACETS would eventually look like; a mere handful of particular elements had been identified. Robinson was constructing a large canvas coat adorned with dozens of metallic bells to be used as a costume/musical instrument. Quevillon was composing with the knowledge that many of the dancers would frequently sing as they perform. Beyond that, he simply trusted that the production would gel about a week before the NAC world premiere.
Humble and initially reluctant to revisit past successes, Robinson jokes “For me it was horrifying to sit and watch this video material,” adding that the creative process for FACETS was like reassembling a fractured mirror without much of an idea of the end product.
Robinson’s way of being keeps him in the moment, clearly influenced by his six years of study as a monk in the northern mountain order of hakukaze soto zen and two-decade-long apprenticeship with Ottawa choreographer Peter Boneham.
Although Robinson is looking back on his career for FACETS, there remain many more future questions to be addressed. In his life and dance work Robinson aims to create what he calls “little worlds” and then invite people in for a while.
Following seven years at his retreat and performance space La B.A.R.N., Centre Q is Robinson’s latest stop in a quest for a Garden of Eden. “I keep trying for Camelot,” he says.
This content originally appeared in Scene, a free newsprint prologue to the National Arts Centre’s Ontario Scene. Available at all Bridgehead Coffee locations, Scene was created collaboratively by Guerilla, Apt613, and Herd Magazine.