The Betrayal Project: The erotic dance of heartbreak

29 Jan 2006

"What I have tried to do, as seamlessly as possible, is to bring the pure movement and the theatrical element and try to make them one. So that we are not moving from a theatrical scene to a dance moment. That has been the really big work ... Making the whole piece a scene, a story, a narrative that''s told through movement, sound, song and music ..."

- Julia Sasso, Creator and choreographer of The Betrayal Project

Julia Sasso certainly isn't a stranger to the dance community. A veteran of 16 years with Toronto's Dancemakers company (1984-2000), she has since gone on to earn great critical acclaim for her original dance works and choreography. Particularly noteworthy in the multi-Dora Mavor Moore Award winner's arsenal was her debut full-length choreography, Beauty, in 2003. The Betrayal Project comes as a much-awaited follow-up to her recent success. But speaking to AfroToronto.com recently, Ms Sasso is quick to point out that awards are not the ultimate validation tool. As in any artistic field, the material rewards are few and far between but the passion that perpetually infuses the craft is what keeps the various art forms alive.

Dancers Ray Hogg (back) and Michael Trent rehearsing for The Betrayal Project

The very concept of The Betrayal Project as a dance piece exploring the universal theme of betrayal in a fascinating one. Ray Hogg, one of the five-dancer ensemble group, made up of four men and one woman, explains how much the theme of betrayal which Julia chose brought out moments of his own life in a very real way. "As I perform, it's so fascinating to see my own life on the stage" he says. "It's not like I told Julia a story and then she turned it into dance" he further explains, but Hogg believes the audience will feel a similar connection to the piece when they see it.

Interestingly, The Betrayal Project, while remaining essentially a dance performance, is somewhat of a cross between a dance piece and a theatre performance. What gives The Betrayal Project this interesting multifaceted dimension is the tightly-knit collaboration between Julia Sasso and dramaturge Brian Quirt (recently of Bombay Black) who hails from the theatre world. When pointing out this interesting marriage to her, Sasso explains that this is becoming a growing trend in both the dance and theatre worlds. Choreographers are increasingly working on theatre productions and dramaturgy is finding its way into dance.

Pointing to this interesting collaboration between Julia's dance choreography and Brian's theatre world, another dancer from The Betrayal Project, Michael Trent, reflects on how "we're not a very physical culture anymore and I think it's important for people to have access to a form of expression that deals with a very physical point of view." Quoting Julia Sasso: "I would say it is a theatrical or dramatic dance piece as opposed to purely abstract movement". The ensemble cast dances non-stop for an hour. But throughout all this physical movement, they have sought to weave a very thought-provoking, sexually and emotionally charged narrative into our common experiences with betrayal. At one point, a couple betrays one another. There are also friendships and group dynamics where a whole group will betray one person, or one person will betray a whole group.

Quoting Julia Sasso: "I would say it is a theatrical or dramatic dance piece as opposed to purely abstract movement."

In order to pull this off, Julia Sasso believed in finding multi-faceted artists who could bring the vision to reality. Four of the five performers are choreographers; and they also all have acting and even musical abilities. "The synergy has been fantastic!" Sasso says. "As a choreographer and creator I don't like to work in a vacuum. I really like to work collaboratively" she adds. All the dancers bring their own varied blend of talents, inspiration and experience to the production.

Particularly interesting is the story of African-Canadian dancer Ray Hogg who recalls to AfroToronto how his dream to become a dancer was born as a 9-year-old when he saw a performance of Cats, the musical. As he later developed his acting skills as an actor in his teens, he actively began pursuing ballet training. Ultimately, his dream came true and he actually joined the cast of Cats (in Germany and Toronto), performing it over 355 times. He also performed across Canada and Europe with Corpus. Hogg likes to take his Cats dream success story to youth in high schools. Often repeating his mother''s tried-and-true motto to the young people, many of whom are also from various cultural backgrounds, that "wishes never come true but dreams do."

The Betrayal Project will be presented at Harbourfront''s Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West, Toronto from Tuesday, Janaury 31st to Saturday, February 4th. 8pm nightly.

Tickets at Harbourfront Centre Box Office - 416.973.4000.

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