Notes on Reimagining Repertoire with Christopher House

This is the first in a series of posts tracking the progress of Reimagining Repertoire, TDT's multi-year project that looks at the potential of repertoire through several lenses. In this note, TDT's Artistic Director Christopher House describes the impetus for Reimagining Repertoire while in rehearsals for Echo and Chiasmata, two works from TDT's  repertoire that  the company will perform this season.

Starting from my own mixed feelings about revisiting older works, the scope of the Reimiagining Repertoire project has expanded to include input from fellow artists, writers, historians and audience members. It feels right to document and share this journey.

The idea of reimagining grows from the way in which I have been reconsidering my own work in the last few years, revisiting work not to recreate the original but as a means for ongoing artistic research. An example of this impulse was my new work Echo (2015). Echo was a 50-minute piece built on material excavated from Echo's Object (2005), a sprawling dance theatre piece inspired by the early work of artist Scott Treleaven. Rather than remounting the original, I chose two of the more than a dozen sections, expanding their ideas into a new work that repositions the original material within my current artistic practice. In other words, everything that my collaborators and I have learned in the last ten years was used in questioning and building on the original.

The Reimagining Repertoire Project had its official launch via a symposium at TDT on Jan. 15, 2017. Many questions were raised during the lively discussions. This important conversation will continue over the next three years. We've posted a video of the symposium in our last blog post.

Our first creative project is a new look at Chiasmata (2007), presented at the Winchester St. Theatre from Mar 30 - Apr 8, 2017. My initial reason for revisiting Chiasmata was to distill the vocabulary and structure as I did with Echo. Once I began work, though, the focus quickly changed.

TDT artists Alana Elmer and Megumi Kokuba rehearsing Chiasmata with choreography by Christopher House. Photo: Ömer Yükseker, 2017.

TDT artists Alana Elmer and Megumi Kokuba rehearsing Chiasmata with choreography by Christopher House. Photo: Ömer Yükseker, 2017.

As background, the original production of Chiasmata came on the heels of a large-scale, tightly choreographed work called Timecode Break. Timecode combined live bodies and digital technology in a complex counterpoint; it was the last work in which I choreographed the movement in a traditional way, i.e. from my own body. In pursuit of a new challenge, I had just spent ten days with Deborah Hay in northern Scotland immersed in her radical methodology. My thoughts about choreography, performance and directing were deeply affected by this experience and I resolved to follow a new approach in my new work.

Chiasmata's original performers were unique artists with whom I had worked for many years. We developed the choreographic material together, using a number of improvisation modalities. After the regimented choreography of Timecode Break, they embraced this new project with relief and enthusiasm. The result revealed their personalities in a very special way.

Fast forward to this new production: in planning my approach, I had asked Tedd Robinson if he would work with me as a consultant.  We spent time together watching the original video and, as usual with Tedd, had very illuminating discussions. He confirmed my instincts about the strengths and weaknesses of the piece in relation to my current artistic practice. Rather than change the structure (with the exception of cutting one section and making edits to a few others), I realized that the reimagining of this project would exist in this question: How best to give a new group of artists creative agency in inhabiting previously improvised material that had become set choreography?

In my next post, I will focus on the way that we approached this question and on how the work has changed as a result. Thanks for reading!

-CH

We'd love to keep this conversation going. If you have any thoughts or comments about the meaning of repertoire or encounters with repertoire in your own practice, please share! Follow along with the conversation digitally by tweeting at #TDTSymposiumonRepertoire, or by contributing to our Notes on Reimagining Repertoire blog series. Send any contributions via email to info@tdt.org, or get in touch with us for more info about the project.