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Brian Bantugan
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Gerry Trentham makes no Apology for his art
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Drinking as fundraising

A wine tasting helps finance a daring dance piece


Tutored Tastings, a wine-tasting event highlighting the bounty of Prince Edward County and the expertise of Richard Johnston, the owner of By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery and Vineyard, takes place this month to benefit Apology, a new contemporary dance piece by choreographer Gerry Trentham’s company Pounds Per Square Inch.

Trentham, like wine, has only become better with age as an artist who is able to cross artistic boundaries. Known for his androgynous movements and experimental productions, he takes his company further into uncharted territories with Apology.

Brian Bantugan: What was the idea behind your company PPSI?

Gerry Trentham: It was developed about 18 years ago. I was dancing in the city for another organization, a major Canadian company. I was touring the world with them. I was happy doing that, but I had always created my own work. In order to support that artistic habit, you might say, an artist has two choices: do that work on your own or you can create an organization around that work, which was what I decided to do. So I gathered together a number of people who were close to me, around 10 people, who were all willing to support your artistic vision. It was very empowering. And they were architects and theatre people, business people, physiotherapists – all kinds of people.

What can Torontonians expect from the company?
The things that I do are what very few individuals do, a different niche. I became a very successful technical dancer; at the same time I was very involved in theatre. And when I was finished with a company, I went back to school and I did a graduate program in theatre, in performance and directing. I also did a graduate diploma in voice and speech. There are lots of dancers who use song, but there are not a lot who are quite as trained in terms of speech. I take the dancer forward into text, not so much in casual speaking but in refined script. One of the interests in my work, possibly where the Dora nomination came from last year, is the dancer has to be a very strong actor – they have to be able to move between forms, not necessarily within a theatre or dance construct, but in an environment that is quite interdisciplinary.

Our new production, Apology, has an incredibly powerful emotional impact on the viewer. It asks a lot from the viewer, but it also relates back to their own lives. It doesn’t matter if they’re gay or not. What matters is that they’re relating it to their own situation of shame and oppression, of being the oppressor or the oppressed. The piece is all about the falling body, the falling nation. It does talk about our world as we know it, which will fall into pieces and will decay unless we decide where to put our efforts, where to spend our energy to keep the things we really want and allow the other things to go away. Those things need to be conscious changes, conscious choices; otherwise, what has been gained by the work that has been done over the last 40 years for gay rights will be taken away.
You’re a very experimental and conceptual artist. Where does it come from?

I had a lot of great teachers. I suppose I always feel that I am in between places. I feel I am often a bridge between one place and another, and I feel that that bridge isn’t just a connector but a meeting point. It’s a gathering place. I’m not just trying to connect theatre to dance. What I’m trying to do is create an environment where the action that happens can use all the facility and tradition of dance and theatre, but necessarily draw attention to, whether a form of dance or theatre. I try to look at theatre and dance sometimes without their conventions. I often ask, “What if we take those conventions away to create a sense of story or character without being a play?”
What’s your “me” time like?

What I do is every morning I read and then write. It has to be very early in the morning, usually around 6am, so that I have some time to myself in the quiet to read inspirational stuff. 

You still have time for a significant other, despite your hectic schedule?

My significant other is so special. He puts up with me. Our relationship is really solid. He’s a visual artist. We are interested in our own lives as well as in each other’s. He truly takes an interest in my work. He’s an amazing cook. He constructs. He can fix the house.  He tends to be at home more, and as a performing artist I tend to travel all the time. We balance each other. We’re similar and different in a lot of ways.

It’s been said that Church Street is changing. Do you like the changes that you see?

I think that over the last number of years the area has changed, since I lived there in the '80s and '90s, but we have spread out -- lots of areas in the city are various hubs. I think that that has its positive aspects, but it also makes it a bit harder to gather and centralize. I think it is important to not forget both -- how far we have come and how far we have still to go -- and find ways to gather and gain momentum and not become complacent, even though we are spread around the city. Outside the city, it is often a different story -- even in Canada.
What issues are important in the last few years of the Rob Ford era?
Being well-read and understanding things outside of your own perspective is very important. I think we’ve gone backwards a lot. And it’s just another sign that perhaps we’ve been a bit complacent over the last 10 years. But I want to say very clearly, that’s not everybody. Even in the dance community, I feel that sometimes gay issues or issues of gender that come up are pretty far behind. I do works that are on some gay issues, but my art has to connect to a whole which is part of who I am.
What do you think about Obama’s inaugural speech on equal rights?
It’s been a long time since we’ve had someone in public office who is articulate, who has really clear rhetoric, and who is so right there. For the president of the US to talk about Stonewall and start to talk about gay liberation in the same way as black liberation in the States is extraordinary. Obama is very clear.
What does your company mean to you as an artist?
Over the years, it certainly consumed a great deal of my life. To run an arts charity is a huge commitment, and to support artists in their work and do all the work it takes to do that has had a huge impact on my life. Two of those three new associate artists I’m bringing in the company are gay artists, or artists who happen to be gay. The charity supports them and brings attention to my work and helps me facilitate the collaborators that come together to talk about these things. I’m very conscious that it takes a great deal of resources to make one dance piece, and I always have to consider, “Is this idea I’m doing important enough to all those people to spend all their time or donate money? What is that costing the environment?” If they’re doing that, they’re not doing something else. Their support is truly necessary to talk about the issues that we need to talk about now.
Tutored Tastings is Thurs, Feb 28, 6-9pm, at 100 Lombard St. $75. poundspersquareinch.net 

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