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Silent Voices: Earle’s modern dance is a thing of beauty

A moment from Silent Voices.

Karolina Kuras

Dancetheatre David Earle
Al Green Theatre

Choreography by David Earle and Suzette Sherman

David Earle, the co-founder of Toronto Dance Theatre, is a legendary choreographic pioneer, and a towering figure on the contemporary scene.

The beginnings of his career were referenced in the program Silent Voices, performed last weekend and part of a two-year retrospective leading up to Earle's 75th birthday. The show also paid homage to International Women's Day, which has become a tradition of Dancetheatre David Earle, the company Earle established in 1997 after stepping down as artistic director of TDT.

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The Al Green Theatre, where the performance took place, is located at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto. It was at this building, then called the YMHA, that a very young David Earle began his career as a professional modern dancer, created his first choreography and taught his first class in Martha Graham technique.

One expects a David Earle program to be beautiful, and Silent Voices did not disappoint. Earle has never left the idiom of modern dance. His works are anchored in the technique of a time-honoured dance style, and he still makes the vocabulary speak in eloquent and elegant ways.

In an age where anything goes in contemporary dance, Earle's modern-dance choreography is like attending a symphony concert of classical music. It may be of another age, but it still finds a place in the human heart.

The second act was devoted to one work – The Heart at Night: A Requiem for Anna Akhmatova (2005). The piece is set to Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 13, and the edgy, moody, modernist music was the perfect backdrop for this melancholy dance.

Akhmatova (1889-1966) is one of Russia's most revered poets. Her cri de coeur masterpiece, Requiem, a sweeping condemnation of the Stalinist regime, had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union. Akhmatova's former husband was executed by the secret police, while her long-time lover died in a gulag. Her son was also imprisoned for many years.

Earle's The Heart at Night is not a biographical dance. Rather, he examines the mercurial relationship between a Poet (Suzette Sherman) and her Muse (Danielle Baskerville) limned by a Greek chorus of four dancers (Bill Coleman, Michael English, Evadne Kelly, Bee Pallomina).

This quartet represents both the happiness and the struggles of the poet. Against a backdrop of cheerful Russian folk-dance elements, to haunting images of death, the poet is inspired to make her words. The poignant choreography is like swirling circles within circles.

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Nightgarden (2011) is a gorgeous work of women's soliloquies and conversations set to early music. In solos, duets and trios, Earle presents the intimate thoughts of the female psyche. Joining his company dancers were wonderful artists from Earle's past – Kate Alton, Helen Jones and Claudia Moore.

Earle also honoured women by featuring the choreography of the ageless Sherman, an Earle dancer for more than 30 years. Sherman performed her lovely solo, As It Is (2007), a piece that travels through many emotions, from despair to empowerment.

Sherman also was the linchpin of the sweet Thoughts on Leaving (2009), danced with Julia Garlisi and Georgia Simms. We first see the young women in a duet of awakening, then the solo of the mother figure reflecting on her empty nest, and finally the trio where the mother lets the daughters leave.

Earle's (and Sherman's) modern dance, with its lyrical grace and emotional subtext, may be considered retro in certain circles. He, however, remains resolute. For Earle, modern dance is a thing of beauty, and so it is for the audience.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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