Bill James hadn’t danced in 30 years when he performed in a piece entitled October 16, 1978, created in 2013 for Public Energy, when James was Artist-In-Residence. A collaboration with 2 young dancers, Peter Hessel and Corey Wournell, the story was one we have known all too well or will surely know in our lifetime – memory and loss; in tuxedo and bare feet, James was part witness, part echo.
Originally from North Dakota, James didn’t begin dancing until the age of 19, and studied architecture before training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. You’ll find his name liberally mentioned among the who’s who of the Canadian experimental dance scene over the last 30 years. James is an award-winning choreographer; he has taught at the National Theatre School, and has been Artistic Director of Toronto’s Dancemakers. Ever a risk-taker, he has done site-specific choreography, worked with untrained mature performers like Old Men Dancing, choreographed 400 dancers for Dancin’ in the Street during Peterborough’s inaugural Artsweek, created a multi-media dance with a one-handed dancer, and collaborated with many local artists including media artists Steve Daniels and Caroline Langill. He seeks out innovative teachers and collaborators: he travelled to Turkey to better understand belly dancing; incorporated the bird imagery of Balkan folk dance and Malay martial arts into a work entitled Wind; approached internationally renowned choreographer Pina Bausch to study her process. In 2003 he produced and co-curated the Shared Habitat Festival of Art and Science, a five-week festival of site-specific dance, visual art and music that took place in an abandoned factory at the corner of Queen and Dufferin in Toronto. Paula Citron, senior dance writer for the Globe and Mail, calls him “the grand sire of site-specific work in Canada.”
But a decade ago he left the dance worlds of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto for a farm outside of Peterborough, complete with grazing sheep and chickens. Also an educator, James can be found teaching yoga and dance at Seeds of Change and other locations in town, as well as mentoring young dancers and performers.
There are few models for older dancers in our culture and this is another way in which James’ work is ground-breaking. After completing Kripalu yoga training last year, he has infused his work with new dimensions of movement, approaching this challenge as he would any new frontier in dance. Like haiku, out of physical limitations grow concise, exquisite expressions of thought and feeling.
This year Public Energy presents his latest work, eidolon, which revisits the theme of loss in a new dimension and is performed and choreographed by James in his first full length solo piece. Using an intimate lens, he takes us unflinchingly through the architecture of grief and memory as if it were an uncharted landscape, leads us through the symphonics of amplified emotion, interrupted by the unbearably mundane, and the song and dance of rebuilding life without someone we adore. He does so with an economy of style devoid of self-pity – the small recursive gesture, the embracing of space, constructing the unfamiliar atmosphere of absence, all lovingly dissected and distilled.
The accompanying soundscape by David Grenon of hello babies seamlessly speaks the same language as the choreography. Grenon has turned a bicycle wheel, a metal mixing bowl, a toy piano and a bell from Arcosanti into not just noisemakers, but instruments. It’s a performance in its own right, intriguing to watch, but not distracting. (“I found him on Trent Radio,” says James.)
As a choreographer his focus remains intense, open and always generous to both his dancers and the audience. What I admire about Bill James is his quiet strength and intellect, his never-ending and fearless pursuit of new avenues of perception and emotional truth. Perhaps more importantly, I trust him as an artist.
I watched a rehearsal of eidolon, and came away feeling as if I had been initiated into a realm beyond words; it enveloped me and has stayed like a blanket wrapped around me – surprisingly not sorrowful; not surprisingly, universal and profoundly resonant.
presented by Public Energy
October 24, 2014
Market Hall Performing Arts Centre
Choreographer and performance: Bill James; Director: Ruth Madoc-Jones; Music: David Grenon
n, pl -la (-lə) or -lons
1. an unsubstantial image; apparition; phantom
2. an ideal or idealized figure
Excerpt from eidolon: