(Re)Tracing Fred dances to centre stage at York

"Dance daredevil" Darcey Callison looks to Hollywood as a hotbed for men expressing masculinity in movement with his new dance/media production, (Re)Tracing Fred. York University’s Dance Department welcomes his company Da Collision as resident artists for several weeks leading up to the world premiere Feb. 24 to 28 in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre.

From screen stars Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to Elvis Presley, John Travolta and Jon Heder’s Napoleon Dynamite, (Re)Tracing Fred reinterprets Hollywood film’s choreography for males, exploring the ever-present assumption that there is something inherently masculine in the danced languages that Hollywood constructs for men.

 Above: Foreground, from left, Louis Laberge-Côté and Jessica Runge

Callison’s inventive "mash-up" takes iconic dance phrases we all know and love, and reimagines them in extraordinary ways. Astaire’s sweeping floor patterns, Kelly’s signature arm gestures and Travolta’s pelvic action express physical, social and cultural codes that Callison and company deconstruct and reinvent through original choreography.

Callison has assembled seven outstanding dancers as creative collaborators for his production. Johanna Bergfeldt, Michael Caldwell, Jennifer Dahl, Louis Laberge-Côté, Ryan Lee, Shawn Newman and Jessica Runge have been working with Callison for two months to develop and interpret the choreography.

Right: Jennifer Dahl. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Callison’s creative team includes his York faculty colleagues, theatre Professors Ines Buchli as co-director and Elizabeth Asselstine as lighting designer. The show features media design by Simon Clemo, original music by John Lang and costumes by Barb Starr.

The dancers perform live on stage within in a virtual world created with the Dance Department’s new state-of-the-art Catalyst media server. At times their movements are simultaneously recorded and projected with multiple layers of digital media and real-time rendered visual effects. The result is a riveting dynamic tension between "real" and technologically mediated expression, both happening in the present moment.

(Re)Tracing Fred is thematically linked to Callison’s 2007 dance Reconstructing John, which explores and reinvents John Travolta’s signature disco solo from the film Saturday Night Fever. With Fred, Callison – freshly minted "Dr. Callison" with the completion of his PhD in Communication & Culture – takes his studio and academic research to a new level. His investigations (supported by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada) into the nature of gender in dance and its pervasive effects on identity and expression underpin the choreography of (Re)Tracing Fred. The work is grounded in Callison’s doctoral dissertation, which focused on Hollywood’s choreography for men and how it preserves the patriarchal hierarchies of the American dream.

"As a young dancer, I was the only boy in class," said Callison. "My teacher called me her studio’s ‘Fred Astaire’. In retrospect, I believe she did this to justify my participation in what is generally understood in North America as an activity for girls or sissies.

"I may have been the lone male in that studio, but my nickname was not a unique experience," Callison said. "I’ve met many men and boys who were renamed in order to justify their desire to dance. This is one of the ‘traces’ of the danced masculinities understood and accepted by North American audiences. The vast majority of these ‘traces’ are derived from Hollywood’s first, and arguably most popular, male dancer – Fred Astaire."

Right: Front from left, Michael Caldwell, Ryan Lee, Jessica Runge and Louis Laberge-Côté. Back row, from left, Jennifer Dahl, Shawn Newman and Johanna Bergfeldt. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

In the weeks leading up to the production, Callison, who directs York University’s new MFA program in dance, is bringing his company into the Dance Department as artists-in-residence, opening their rehearsal and production process to students.

Callison is a choreographer and dance scholar who has worked extensively with Authentic Movement, the physical voice, Viewpoints and post-modern theatrical dance. His research integrates creative work in the studio with dance-based media and cultural studies. His choreographies have been performed across Canada and Mexico and range from formal explorations of the physical to character-based narratives. His works include In the Belly of the Whale (1991), Shellac (1992), Where Were You When the Chair Hit You (1993), With the Moon Falling from Your Eyes (1994), The Mourning of Queens (1995), Albrecht: Personal Deviations on Giselle and Other Romantic Conflicts (1998) and Revisiting the Sandbox (2002).

(Re)Tracing Fred runs Feb. 24 to 28 at 8pm, with matinees Feb. 25 and 28 at 2pm, in the Sandra Faire & Ivan Fecan Theatre, Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus. Tickets are $15 or $10 for students and are available through the York University Box Office Web site or by calling ext. 55888.

(Re)Tracing Fred is presented by the Department of Dance, York University and supported by SSHRC, the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and the Laidlaw Foundation.