Sporting Life rehearsal 10 by Aria Evans

Sporting Life original cast member, Julia Aplin, takes on the role of Rehearsal Director for the remount of the piece. We asked Julia to tell us about her early dance days touring with Dancemakers (and partying with TDT, Desrosiers, and Danny Grossman), meeting Julia Sasso for the first time (she was afraid), and bearing witness to the Sporting Life creation process (it was ‘profound’).

DanceWorks: What was the dance scene in Toronto like 20 years ago? What were you doing?

Julia: I was very fortunate to be part of the Toronto dance scene 20 years ago. There was a huge feeling of potential and excitement. I was performing with Dancemakers under Artistic Director Serge Bennathan. We were performing his highly physical work that demanded all of my resources, emotional, physical, psychological, and I loved it. My fellow dancers were also giving it their all and it was a time when it felt like anything was possible in dance.

Sporting Life was created around the time when Dancemakers was performing and touring a lot. We were dancing across Canada, Europe, North Africa and the United States. After a few years of working intensely together on work we truly believed in, the company developed a closeness like no other. Around this time, Dancemakers also forged connections with Montreal and Winnipeg dance communities through the collaborative remount of Jean Pierre Perrault’s JOE.

The other companies in Toronto were also full and busy. I remember TDT hosting a Christmas party where Dancemakers, TDT, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, and Danny Grossman’s partied on the dance floor together. The independent scene was buzzing and Ffida was in full force.

DanceWorks: How did you connect with Julia Sasso?

Julia: When I first moved to Toronto, I started taking class and hanging out at Dancemakers. Class was open to the community and was offered daily and Julia was a regular teacher. I very luckily got a position with the company shortly after moving to Toronto. Julia Sasso was the assistant artistic director and I adored her and was also a little bit scared of her. She was also a dancer with the company and I am both thrilled and honored that we shared the stage together for many years.

I first danced Julia’s choreography in ‘Dancemakers Presents’ in her beautiful work Theory and Practice of Rivers. I was a very young dancer at the time, new to the company and her high expectations made me stretch my capabilities. The piece included a mix of luscious flowing movement juxtaposed with a horrible recipe for boiling terrapins alive. It was an extraordinary combination of light and dark and I loved dancing it.

DanceWorks: Since you were part of the original cast, can you talk about your experience?

Julia: Julia began creating the piece as part of a Dancemakers Choreographic Lab. Each year, Serge would bring Peter Boneham down from Le Groupe Dance Lab in Ottawa to lead a lab with one or two choreographers from the community. This year, we were stepping it up and had three labs going on at the same time with different mentors. Julia had Murray Darroch as her mentor and he was joining us in the second week. Julia spent the first week creating phrases with me, Shannon Cooney, and Gerry Trentham. We had just come off the cross Canada tour doing Jean Pierre Perreault’s JOE. We were in top physical form and we had a shared understanding of timing, extreme physicality and group dynamic. I loved the phrases Julia made. They were physical, loping, falling, technical, and super fun to dance.

But then when Murray showed up everything changed. It was remarkable to witness. It was like he pointed her in the direction she really wanted and needed to go and we, the dancers, had to let go of ourselves and keep up. The dark side became a lot darker, in ways that, as a performer, you question if you can go there. The beauty and the light were still there, but in a more complex form that had to be fought for. It was not pretty but it was profound and real.

Murray changed Julia’s creation process during that lab. In my experience before Sporting Life, she would build phrases from beginning to end and craft them into a cohesive piece. Murray brushed that all aside. The power of the choreographic lab was that it was a “lab”; a place to experiment, to let go and try new things and, I have no doubt that is what we did that year. Murray honed in on defining Julia’s own remarkable physicality. He put on music, she danced and we had to gather whatever physical material we could. We would then reflect back her movement that she would pick and choose and develop. There was so much rich material. I remember a specific day where Murray said, “Pick three, only three movements and create something with it.” At first it was very difficult, but then it was like something unraveled and Julia quickly created what became an important section in Sporting Life.

I feel like the rest of the creation for Sporting Life followed swiftly after this time. In fact, it is a bit of blur in my mind. I remember it being physically difficult, working my ass off to keep up, but I don’t remember there being any hesitation or questioning. I can see how well-crafted and developed the piece is but at the time it just seemed to come straight from Julia’s intuition.

DanceWorks: How does it feel to re-visit Sporting Life now, in a new role?

Julia: I am really excited to be working on Sporting Life as rehearsal director. It is amazing to see the work from the outside and performed by this incredible group of dancers. I can still feel the energy and shape of the movement in my body. I remember how wickedly satisfying it was to do the choreography. I also remember how wickedly demanding it was and I have to say, I am really happy to be in a supportive role this time around.  After 20 years, I feel I have greater technical and artistic understanding, that I can offer the new cast. Coming back to the work with this new knowledge is a rare and meaningful opportunity for me.

Julia Sasso’s Sporting Life opens on March 3 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Tickets are available at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre Box Office.

 Photo Credit: Aria Evans