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'David Earle: A Choreographic Biography'
by Michele Green

Book Review by Leland Windreich

April 2006

In the 1960s the National Ballet of Canada was in the early throes of audience-building during its second decade of development when David Earle and his partners,

Patricia Beatty and Peter Randazzo, introduced Modern Dance to Canadian audiences.  Earle and Randazzo both had early ballet training but had found their true medium in the work and vision of Martha Graham, a direction to which Beatty had dedicated herself exclusively. Over the years the two dance disciplines would incite both collision and cooperation in Canada in times when their aesthetics seemed world apart.

              Born-to-dance David Earle, a native of Toronto, would pursue his vision passionately, working with meagre funding at a time when their rival, ballet, was only beginning to achieve any kind of fiscal stability in Canada and was obliged to guard its resources zealously. Thus, the young trio established the Toronto Dance Theatre in 1968 at the worst possible time. The uneducated critics were basically scornful of both their intentions and products, and audiences being cultivated to appreciate the characteristics of classical dancing were puzzled and offended by a linear, earthbound medium of expression. One of TDT’s major tasks was to create a new audience from scratch.  Nothing came easy to a maverick enterprise in a basically indifferent community.

              On a panel at a conference in 1979 for the National Ballet School's 20th anniversary, Earle defended his cause by insisting that Canada's modern dancers were not "ballet's rejects," a prevailing belief of the rigid academy and its adherents. He wryly proposed for his next project in choreography a new version of Fokine's "Les Sylphides," to be danced by 20 nurses in white uniforms with a resident physician in their midst.

              A scanning of this magnificent new volume reveals photos of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful practitioners at work with their craft. Earle did not have to look far to find dancers with noble bodies and striking faces. Author Michele Green, a former dancer, was given complete access to Earle's journals and memorabilia in the composition of this documentation of a brilliant career. She has chosen wisely in her presentation of visuals, offering vivid examples of the imagery that Earle's work inspired, capturing the intensity of their drama and the broad sweep of their emotional content. On hand to celebrate his works have always been some of the finest dance photographers in Canada, many starting their careers in the early days of TDT.

              Earle composed 130 works of choreography between 1963 and 2005. Green lists them chronologically, giving all details of their inspiration and ultimate production: musical collaborators, designers of decor, casts at premieres, company offering first performance and date and place of its debut. Interspersed with factual data and the graphics are excerpts from Earle's journals which relate to the creation, preparation and reception of the dances. Facsimiles of house programs, reproductions of critical notices, and an occasional afterthought by the choreographer give an intimacy to the proceedings.  An essay by the poet/critic Graham Jackson, who worked as a collaborator in the 1980s, writing texts for many of Earle's dances, provides perspective for the examination of Earle’s career.

              Most of the earlier dance works were composed for Beatty's New Dance Group and its evolution to Toronto Dance Theatre, which Earle served for over 25 years, taking on the role of sole artistic director from 1987 to 1994. In more recent years he creates as a freelance artist and for a new ensemble of his own, DanceTheatre David Earle. All through his career he has moved away from his Toronto base, devising dances for companies in Victoria, B.C. to Warsaw, Poland. On several occasions he took crossover assignments in Canada's ballet troupes and has enticed classically-trained dancers to participate in his creations.

The subjects and themes he chooses to celebrate in his works cover a broad range. His preoccupation with ecclesiastical issues has resulted in a large body of works for both theatre and church, and he has choreographed dances to the Requiems of both W.A. Mozart and Gabriel Faure, as well as a version of Arthur Honegger's opera "King David."  From intimate duets to ambitious concepts involving large ensembles, Earle, a philharmonic dance maker, has made use of the works of composers ranging from Corelli to Arvo Pärt, from J.S. Bach to Ray Charles. Always in awe of the world of ballet, he has devised new choreography and fresh concepts to such established pieces as “Scheherazade,” “El Amor Brujo,” and “L’Histoire du soldat.” 

              Published in Earle’s 67th year, this remarkable volume is particularly welcome at a time in which the choreographer contemplates the struggles and frustrations involved in the conception of 130 dance works, most of which are now lost, due to the chronic neglect of means and the absence of funds to preserve them. A few of Earle’s creations for film and television survive, but these fragments do little to convey the significance of his vision and the dazzling scope of his creative output. Modern Dance remains a fragile form, rarely pampered with the services of notation and filmed records. Michele Green has done the next best thing by documenting the career of a Renaissance man who continues to serve as a passionate champion of his chosen art and an inspiring teacher and mentor in Canada‘s dance world.

Dance Collection Danse, 2006.  237 pp.  illus.  ISBN: 0-929003-58-6.  $52.95 (Canadian)

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