Sporting Life

Sporting Life
Choreography by Julia Sasso
Performed by Jesse Dell, Daniel McArthur, Irvin Chow, Mateo Galindo Torres, Matthew Cuff
Sound Design by Julia Sasso and Eric Cadesky
Julia Sasso dances and Danceworks/NextSteps
Harbourfront Centre, Toronto
March 3-5, 2016
In this remount of Julia Sasso's full-length 1996 work, Sporting Life, five dancers wearing business suits-- jackets, trousers and traditional lace-up leather shoes-- enter an unadorned stage sliced diagonally by shards of light. There seem to be five men. They seem to be in competition, and there is roughness and harshness to their movement. They appear constrained, anxious, stressed, and under an ontological pressure that comes from the hard shaping light, the soundscape, and from each other. Their leaps are not of joy, but as if hurdling over obstacles or seeking escape. They shrink from vulnerability, are strangely sexless and dominated by the limits the light shapes make on stage. Even the music, which has become large and orchestral, dwarfs them into anonymity.
Even after removing some of their binding clothing, they are buffeted by traffic and train sounds. They dance solo, in duets, in threes, in simultaneity or in opposition, and their cavorting is temporary; they take the fetal position and then pose with extreme awkwardness, heads on the floor, necks twisted, knees on the floor, arms wrenched up behind their backs, hands gripped and gnarled together. 
Tension slowly builds until it becomes so disruptive that a disintegration of rigidity occurs and they begin to find release. They undress at the front of the stage, mugging and chatting to us, and replace their tight, cliched garments with soft dresses. That one of the dancers is a woman is a surprise, and reinforces the sense of the dancers shedding a kind of character-muting disguise. By geometries of bodies and limbs-- harsh angles to gentler bending-- and the shifting of musical tone-- "Gimme a little kiss, will ya, huh?" to German lieder-- their physical expression shifts and unveils a kind of pure joy, and humour. The dancers--Jesse Dell, Daniel McArthur, Irvin Chow, Mateo Galindo Torres and Matthew Cuff-- are strong and physically eloquent, performing this challenging and intricate work and its emotional, dark and comic expressive range with tenderness, elasticity, and precision. The subtlety and depth of this transformation is quite extraordinary.
Julia Sasso has a unique and splendid way of creating kinetic "paintings" across the stage in her work. Washes of movement-- rash, soft, harsh, flowing, isolated, interactive as the piece requires-- build and flow in a transcendent experience for the audience. In Sporting Life, it is as if we are given a window into a striking period of societal change, a microcosm of partial breakdown of barriers, a manifestation of the process of liberation that it is hard to imagine art being able to create in any other way.
It is wonderful that DanceWorks has delved into recent Canadian dance history to produce Sporting Life for a contemporary audience. This is a beautiful idea that should happen more often, allowing us a tangible view into our cultural past, to build on tradition, and at the same time recreating classic work that stands the test of time.