American postmodern dance pioneer Trisha Brown has died in New York, the city where she reinventing dance as an act of non-virtuosic rebellion. She was legendary, even in her own time, and in 1989 I went to New York to review her latest premiere, a collaboration with the artist Robert Rauschenberg, a frequent collaborator. Reading my Globe and Mail dance review, I can see her again vividly in memory, her hips swaying sensualously as she danced as she often did– with her back to the audience. I hope it recalls to you, too, how unique she was:
Choreographer pushes limits of unpredictability
25 March 1989
WITH Astral Convertible, U.S. modern dance innovator Trisha Brown forges a meeting ground for old and new. Where in the past the 52-year-old dancer and choreographer explored the rock-bottom elements of dance – space, time and weight – and the ways in which external influences affected them, today she is concerned with seeing how the basics of choreography affect and (significantly) alter the world around them. The new piece, which had its U.S. premiere at City Centre last week, excites and startles precisely because of this unpredictability.
As she has done many times in the past, Brown has here collaborated with artist Robert Rauschenberg. He designed the sets, a series of eight aluminum towers with headlights attached, while Richard Landry, another long-time collaborator, designed the sound: traffic noises mixed with instrumental and percussive compositions. The sound system and Ken Tabachnick’s lighting designs are hooked up to sensors hidden within the Rauschenberg towers. They respond to and are directed by the dancers’ changing movement with the result that it is the choreography that determines the aural and visual composition and not the other way round.
Brown introduces a wide margin for controlled improvisation, which means that no two performances of the piece are the same. A hand gesture one night might sound a drum beat, raise the volume of the city traffic. On another evening, the same hand might move differently and inspire a whole new set of noises or lighting effects. It is unpredictable, yet in many ways reminiscent of Brown’s avant-garde work in the past.
In the sixties, when Brown was cutting her teeth on experimental work, she specialized in artful collaborations with artists from other disciplines. From the beginning, she was interested in widening the parameters of dance and jostling conventional ways of seeing movement in the theatre. She specialized in “happenings,” events organized around a “found” object or chance occurrence. Astral Convertible harkens back to those days with its concentration on randomness of expression and serendipity of design.
Critics have noted that, on one level, Astral Convertible is sixties avant-garde recycled for eighties sensibilities. The brooding, post- industrial aura of the entire piece and the varying nature of the work’s formal elements do lend themselves to this interpretation. But with this work Brown reaches some kind of breakthrough in technique. While it is true that Astral Convertible is set in the context of previous works – familiar are the volubility and propulsive flow of movement, the careful spacing, sudden changes of speed and constant shifts in spatial relationships – the dancing is looser, the phrasing more dynamically varied and the rhythms more keenly edged. The dynamism alone is stunning, as are the shapes the dancers carve out of their loose-limbed and precisely angled bodies.
Astral Convertible was originally commissioned by the Montpellier International Dance Festival and co-produced with the Aix-en-Provence International Dance Festival, both in France. It received preview performances in Moscow last month as part of the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Exchange, and will have its open-air premiere in Montpellier in June.
Brown presented it on a mixed program consisting of works from the past, including Set and Reset, her now classic 1983 collaboration with Rauschenberg and Laurie Anderson, and Opal Loop, a work danced in silence.
Alternating with this program at City Centre was another also featuring past works: last season’s Newark (Niweweorce), with a set and sound concept by sculptor Donald Judd; 1985’s Lateral Pass, with sculptural pieces designed by Nancy Graves and a score by Peter Zummo, and 1981’s Son of Gone Fishin’, designed again by Judd with a score by Robert Ashley.
Brown danced a solo in Lateral Pass, and while she is perhaps a generation older than the nine nubile dancers now in her Trisha Brown Company, she amply suggested the zest, intricacy and loose-hipped sensuality of her salad days. Lateral Pass illustrates Brown’s distinctive style and technique, as it is formed of “accumulations:” small, plain moves collected in what critic Deborah Jowitt has called an “add-a-gesture structure.” Each piece of movement is like a building block on top of which Brown supports dances of increasing richness and complexity. Brown’s dances, like Brown’s dancing, are expressions of elusive fluidity, and anyone interested in virtuosity and integrity in choreography shouldn’t miss them.
A number of years ago, a wealthy girlfriend was cleaning out her well-filled closets when she came across an old fur coat she hadn’t worn in some time. It was ankle-length, made of raccoon and had fox accents. Seeing that it was ragged around the cuffs, she was struck by a touch of noblesse oblige and thoughtfully tossed it my way.
“Wear it when you take the kids to the park,” she said. “It will keep you warm.”
I did, but only once.
My friend is a tall Teutonic blonde, meaning super-broad-shouldered. I, something of a Celtic dwarf, was fairly swimming inside the linebacker-appropriate fox-fur sleeves. It was all very eighties, but I looked and felt ridiculous. For the past few years, that old coat has been gathering dust in my basement.
I almost forgot about it until an army of fur coats marched down the runway at Toronto Fashion Week, each click of the high-heeled boots worn with them signalling fur’s return to the fashion radar.
Sales of fur, in fact, have been skyrocketing, up almost 60 per cent since the end of the 1990s, when every supermodel worth her multimillion-dollar contract declared she’d rather go naked than wear fur. Methinks they’re not saying that now.
Fur’s new-found cachet lies in its growing status as a “green” material, says Canadian fur designer Paula Lishman, who grew up in Labrador and thinks that fur is a more environmental choice than fake fur, “which is a non-renewable resource.” Wearing real fur “shows that you’re concerned with the environment and shows your support for the trappers who work the land,” argues Lishman, who is also a firm believer in recycling fur. She uses laser cutting and other new technologies to give old furs up-to-the minute looks.
Which brings me back to the fur in my closet. Looking at it in this light, all it needed, I figured, was a judicious trim here and a bit of restyling there, so I took it to Toronto fashion designer Farley Chatto, whose creations had made such an impression on me at Toronto Fashion Week. Chatto has lately been employing a technique called stripping, whereby he literally shaves old furs down to reduce their bulk, leaving a series of wispy tails he then sews and weaves back into new lighter-weight coats that are the last word in chic.
At least that’s what I feel about mine, post-makeover: My former bear of a coat was cut and reshaped into a fab knee-length fur trench that turns heads every time I wear it. Chatto also managed to create a pair of fur pillows out of the sleeves as well as a matching muff. I got three distinct looks out of one source, all for $1,250.
“Look at you, Miss Reduced, Recycled and Reused,” Chatto said recently as he helped me into my wrap. “The ultimate in fashion.”
His new Toronto nightclub is bursting with space, but Peter Gatien has a small cramped office on the fourth floor – and he can’t even call it his own. Unopened boxes of Kidrobot toys are piled in the corners. Leg room has been usurped by Che, his Argentine Dogo, who has laid claim to one of two couches.
Mr. Gatien’s wife, Alessandra Kobayashi, has staked out the other, typing on a laptop and saying, no, she won’t comment on her famous husband. “Soon,” she adds cryptically, “you can read all about it.” A screenwriter, she’s the perfect partner to the man who is a legendary scenester. But she is the pillar Mr. Gatien has leaned on to get through the past difficult decade.
When you talk to him – his voice muffled, his gaze shielded by blue-tinted glasses that hide a missing left eye – Mr. Gatien (thrice-married father of four) speaks of “values” and “the importance of family.”
This is not the coked-up creep portrayed by Dylan McDermott in Party Monster, the film based on the story of Mr. Gatien’s ex-employee Michael Alig, who brutally murdered a drug dealer. Rather, the lingering impression of Mr. Gatien is one of a genial guy with deep reserves of inner strength.
Dressed in jeans, a red polo shirt and a blue jacket, he speaks civilly to his staff and solicitously to his wife even though the phones are ringing non-stop. In less than two weeks, the double doors of Circa will open – and at long last. More than 3,000 people, including press flown in from New York, representing such hip glossies as Juxtapoz, Paper, Nylon and Time Out, are clamouring to get on the “list.” It’s as if disco never died.
But maybe people just want to see that Circa really is opening. It has endured many false starts since Mr. Gatien first dreamed up the concept for this club, in 2005.
He has had to overcome problems with investors and contractors, opposition from Councillor Adam Vaughan (who feels the neighbourhood is saturated with clubbers) and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which – after 11 months and six days of hearings involving 15 witnesses – finally granted Mr. Gatien his liquor licence in July, only to issue an appeal of its own decision in August.
That appeal will be heard Nov. 15. Till then, a stay has given him the critical licence. So Circa will open on Oct. 4, with the prodigal son back on top of his game. “Once you have a project that you believe in, the doors start opening,” Mr. Gatien says. It could be the motto of a life that played out as a New York fairy tale.
He was born Aug. 8, 1951, in Cornwall, Ont. The one-time National Hockey League hopeful spent 30 years building a business empire in Manhattan, capping off the 1980s and 90s with the ownership of four legendary discos: Palladium, Tunnel, Club USA and Limelight.
It all spun out of control in the late nineties. Caught in Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s club crackdown, the kingpin was hounded on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges, but the charges didn’t stick. In 1998, Mr. Gatien was acquitted, but the state and the Internal Revenue Service went after him for income-tax evasion. In 1999, he pleaded guilty, paying a $1.3-million fine and serving prison time.
But even after spending two months on Rikers Island, the notorious New York jail, losing his fortune, including his 10,000-square-foot Upper East Side home, after being deported to Canada, his life’s journey (which he has just penned into a book for Random House) was far from over.
In 2003, he arrived in Toronto friendless, out of pocket to the tune of $5-million in legal bills spent fighting the drug-trafficking and racketeering charges. “I had less than $100 in my bank account,” he said in an interview this week.
But through sheer determination, he has engineered a comeback. With the opening of his newest club, a 55,000-square-foot wonder in the old Playdium/Lucid location on John Street, backing on to Chapters and the rainbow-coloured extravaganza that is the Scotiabank Theatre, Mr. Gatien, 55, is poised to take Toronto after losing New York.
“My crowning achievement? I’m too young to call Circa my crowning achievement,” he scoffs. “It’s one more door on the road to being a pretty gratified person,” he adds, nursing a can of Nestea – the closest thing to a narcotic the former altar boy allows himself. “I am now of the mind that it is what you overcome in life that gives you strength, not what you accomplish.” But his current accomplishment is nothing to sniff at. The new behemoth enterprise costs $6.3-million, according to Ari Kulidjian, Mr. Gatien’s business partner and lawyer, and the only one of Mr. Gatien’s 23 backers who will publicly identify himself.
Circa can hold 3,000 people on its four floors of glitz and gorgeous finishes. At $15 to $20 a head – with higher ticket prices for special events – the club should bring in some major coin if it gets rolling. The City of Toronto estimates that, every year, the restaurants, bars and clubs in the area generate $125-million in economic activity, and Mr. Gatien and his backers want a piece of that action.
Even though there is uncertainty about his club’s future – if he loses the AGCO appeal he will have to close Circa – he may yet have a shot at it. Zark Fatah, the nightlife entrepreneur responsible for Blowfish, Doku 15 and Atelier, says Circa is “huge and it’s ambitious. The reaction I am hearing from DJs, promoters, everyone, is that it’s not just unlike anything in Toronto, it’s unlike anything in the world.”
More than a club, Mr. Gatien emphasizes, Circa, which includes a recording studio, is a cultural multiplex. The vast club has four separate entrances, an indoor holding pen that will let 100 partying hopefuls stand inside behind the velvet ropes, and an escalator to keep the action flowing from one floor to another. Rooms have been carved inside rooms to create a sense of intimacy – and not just within the VIP room.
Attention has been paid to every detail. Brian Rosevear, Mr. Gatien’s publicist, leans onto a bar counter, where a bright orange light illuminates his every move. “It’s a Sensacell bar,” he says of the touch-sensitive light surface. In two adjacent private booths, touch-sensitive tables also let patrons control light and sound fixtures near them.
Elsewhere, there is the ocean-themed Fathom 22 Bar and the Kidrobot Room, a bar that doubles as a showroom for the pop-art toys. Upstairs, in the art-deco-inspired Ballroom, tiny, sparkling mosaic tile adorns the pillars and elongated light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling. In the ultramodern Skyy Vodka-sponsored bar and screening room, the aesthetic shifts again, to white leather couches with navy blue suede accents.
Throughout, there is a series of gallery-like display cases of art. The sex-fetish photographs of filmmaker Bruce LaBruce provide jolts of graphic colour to the moody entranceway. Native artist Kenny Baird contributed to the club’s futuristic pop-art design.
“If nothing else, I’m good at surrounding myself with talented, creative people,” says Mr. Gatien, surveying the scene from the fourth floor. “It’s why I got into the business. The nightclub is … a collection of talented people assembled to put on a show.”
While that may be why he got into this business, it might not be enough to keep him there. Mr. Gatien is working on a television series with his wife, Ms. Kobayashi, a native New Yorker who is 17 years his junior and mother of his 13-year-old son, Xander. There are also plans to create a movie based, in part, on his experiences among the demi-monde. After Circa is up and running, he wants to start up a Canadian franchise of boutique hotels and bring the Chocolate Bar, a U.S. chain, to Toronto.
There is also talk of him overseeing a project in Las Vegas, “but that’s not foremost on my radar right now.” He can return to the U.S. to do business because his maternal grandmother was Mohawk and, with that heritage, he can cross the U.S. border. But that doesn’t mean he’s rushing back to the country that, with much fanfare, evicted him.
“I love it here,” he says of Toronto. “My family has relocated here. My kids are in school here. It’s my home, even though I am still a Montreal Canadiens fan.
“That, I can’t overcome.”
Getting a liquor licence
Peter Gatien, who holds the lease on the John Street property, left Hingson Corp., his original backer, to find new sources of funding after the club failed to open in June, 2006.
He discovered that he had to apply anew for a liquor licence through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, because his name wasn’t on the original application. He said the AGCO assured him that the application would take about six weeks. Instead, it took 11 months.
E-mails (now part of the public record) written by Terry Bender, a veteran OPP officer seconded to the AGCO, show that the commission seemed to be trying to find a reason not to give Mr. Gatien his licence.
Writing to a member of the Georgia Department of Revenue (Mr. Gatien had opened a club in Atlanta in the 1980s), Mr. Bender specifically asked for “any reports or violations of a derogatory nature that could assist us in denying his application. … the Alcohol and Gaming Commission is prepared to cover all expenses to have someone from your own department come here and testify at a hearing.”
The reason for the request, Mr. Bender wrote in his e-mail, was because “in Toronto … there is some serious concern about his reputation and character.”
AGCO spokesman Ab Campion said background checks are status quo for any applicant wanting a licence. But, referring to Mr. Bender’s e-mail, he added, “I don’t think that this is a normal process.”
No one from Georgia did come to the Toronto hearing and there was no evidence to suggest that Mr. Gatien had violated Georgia state law.
But at the recent Toronto hearing, Robert Gagne, a New York City undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency who had investigated Mr. Gatien’s conduct in the 1990s, testified against Mr. Gatien’s character at the invitation of the AGCO, which had asked him to help them.
Another e-mail from Mr. Bender (dated February and sent to members of the AGCO) shows that the commission had encouraged Mr. Gagne to help them keep Mr. Gatien from licensing Circa.
Ultimately, the AGCO did grant Mr. Gatien the licence at the end of July. But within three weeks, it announced that it would appeal its own decision in Divisional Court and sought a stay revoking Circa’s right to serve alcohol pending the outcome of the appeal, whose hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.
In August, Madam Justice Sandra Chapnick refused the request for a stay.
In a dark space lit with flickering candles, a tangle of flailing arms, gyrating hips and pogo-ing legs pulse to a rhythmic beat.
“Bliss,” is how Taeji Nedilsky describes it, with a glassy-eyed beatific smile. “You can’t explain it. You have to do it. Just move.”
Whether it’s called trance dance or rave for adults, ecstatic dance that claims to take the participant out of the body and onto a higher plane of consciousness is growing in popularity with classes offered in most major cities across North America.
But is meditative movement really dance?
Former National Ballet of Canada member Kathleen Rea, now an independent dancer and choreographer whose works have been produced by Ballet Jorgen and FFIDA in Toronto, and festivals and companies in Europe, thinks so. She first went to an ecstatic dance session about four years ago, mostly out of curiosity.
“I was awestruck by the beauty of these people who had no training,” she said. “It was beautiful and humiliating at the same time because I thought that I had all this training, that I was a dancer and other people couldn’t be because they didn’t have training.”
Marusia Borodacz organizes “Sweat Your Prayers” dance nights at various downtown Toronto venues, and brings other teachers up from the United States to Toronto to lead spiritual dance workshops.
“I had always wanted to dance,” Borodacz says. “But I could never follow instructions. I always felt klutzy.” Then she went to New York to study with dancer Gabrielle Roth, the author of the 1997 spiritual handbook, Sweat Your Prayers.
Borodacz acknowledges that the idea of spiritual dance, “to free the body to express your innermost self,” is a challenge for professional dancers. “It goes beyond the formulas and allows the intuitive and creative to come forth.”
Rea, on the other hand, finds there is enough inherent structure to give her a direction. Sweat Your Prayers, she says, “is a very good structure to do improvisation in because it represents a flow of emotions — so it’s a way to follow the flow of emotions.”
And she has found artistic rewards in this loosening of her aesthetic process, recently producing a show in Innsbruck, Austria, that mixed two professional dancers with 10 non-professionals. “The only thing we had in common was we wanted to express ourselves in an authentic manner and it was a beautiful show, because it broke down the boundaries of what performance dancing has to be.”
Erica Ross trained in Russian ballet, but has recently banded together with therapist Nancy Keyser to offer women-only classes in spiritual dance. Like the Sweat Your Prayers sessions, the atmosphere at Transcendance is dark and mysterious. Altars dedicated to goddesses are heavy with beeswax candles, crystals and batik. A sculpture of fleshy women performing a circle dance sits centre-floor. Ross and Keyser, a psychotherapist, move entranced around it. Their arms undulate by their sides and with eyes closed they weave and bob their bodies, making them look like giant butterflies in flight.
“I don’t care what people think of me when they see me dance,” said Ross, resting between barefoot dips and swings. “After years of studying classical ballet, where everything has to be a certain way, that is quite liberating for me.”
It’s one of the first places to show your age, and one of the hardest to lift, peel, de-sag. We’re talking about the neck. It is the pillar on which rests the noble head, girded by gold or precious stones. It is the home of the throat and a shelter for daubed perfume. It is an erogenous zone where noses nuzzle, lips linger and hickies bloom like obscene hothouse flowers. The neck is powerful. And clothing designed to showcase it is equally potent, perhaps none so much so as the turtleneck.
The high-collared sweater is a staple of most people’s wardrobes, men and women alike. Its perennial popularity stems from its close-fitting, uncluttered lines, as well as its promise of warmth — an especially welcome feature for those of us about to enter a savage Canadian winter. But for the aging baby boomer, the turtleneck has emerged as one of life’s essentials, as important as ginseng and weekly colonics. And all because the turtleneck conceals.
No wonder a senior style-setter like Kate Hepburn was never seen without it. The turtleneck flatters and rejuvenates — no knives, no pills, just a simple roll of cloth. It also sexes you up. Witness Sharon Stone who wore a sleeveless Gap pullover to the Oscars in 1996. Out of the funnel came a goddess.
But it wasn’t always a shortcut to vanity. The turtleneck’s origins are on the contrary, prosaic. Historians identify 1860 as the year of the turtleneck’s quiet birth on the brackish fields of England. It was exclusively a man’s garment. Members of the shooting class wore turtlenecks to hunt. Sitting close to the body, with a tubular collar that kept the chill from the bone, the turtleneck was a discreet undergarment, stylish only by association with the gentry, who wore it strictly under wraps.
Noel Coward, the jaunty, ironic playwright and composer, himself of the manor-born, was the first to lend the turtleneck its cachet as a fashion item. Coward subversively pulled the turtle from out of its shell in the 1920s. He wore it defiantly on its own, under a jacket. No top shirt to lend it respectability. Hollywood actors Clark Gable and Robert Coleman soon adopted this roguish look, and turned the turtleneck into the epitome of glam.
Never one to let boys have all the fun, designer Coco Chanel was determined to give her women clients the sense of freedom in clothes enjoyed by men. She threw out the bustle, streamlined the silhouette and gradually, over six decades in fashion, appropriated several items from the male wardrobe for her haute couture. Among them was the turtleneck, the new badge of androgynous chic. Chanel paired it with natty suits and decorated it with her trademark ropes of pearls. She made the turtleneck proper. But screen siren Marlene Dietrich, who adopted the turtleneck as part of her femme-fatale uniform in the 1930s, made it dangerous by pairing it with a black beret and dangling cigarette.
With women of high style now wearing it, the turtleneck became a fashion icon. You could almost measure morality by it. What had begun as something practical had morphed into an emblem of iconoclasm. When you wore it, you exuded attitude: You were a loner, a freethinker, one who walked on the wild side.
No wonder the existentialists of post-war Paris adopted the turtleneck as their uniform. And the colour, of course, was black. Aspiring Jean-Paul Sartres everywhere took note.
The beats in New York took the look and made it ubiquitous in the smokey cafes and jazz bars of bohemian Greenwich Village. William S. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and father figure to several chemically dependant generations since his authorial debut in the 1950s, wore the black turtleneck through to the end of his days in the 1990s. It was a symbol of rebellion.
Beatniks, or weekend hippies who wanted to flirt with the danger-beat poets like Burroughs represented, appropriated the turtleneck. And like all outre trends absorbed by the masses, they made it safe. Worse, they made it cute.
The new darling status was personified by an ingenue named Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face. She paired the black turtleneck with black capris and ballet slippers. By softening the existentialist edge, she made the black turtleneck look effortlessly elegant. Coco Chanel must have been proud. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar paired it with cocktail skirts and pencil-thin trousers. Manufacturers, responding to the demand, made them fast and cheap, while high-minded designers lent them an air of luxury with costly fabrics like cashmere and silk. Rich or poor, no closet was without one. Marilyn Monroe wore hers with jeans and heels. The Beatles, meanwhile, paired theirs with long hair for their North American debut record, Meet The Beatles. The black turtleneck was sexy, cool, glamourous, proletarian — a sweater for all seasons, and reasons.
Its standing as a democratic item of clothing continues. On the catwalks of Europe, in the shopping malls of the globalized world, the black turtleneck rules. It is poised for winter but just as ready for spring, where designers like Miuccia Prada are forecasting its return paired with smart pretty skirts and strappy sandals. This is doubtless good news for boomers. If you’ve got to girdle your neck anyway, how comforting to know that it is in service of high style.
Having written a book on the Hope diamond, Toronto author Marian Fowler can assure you that the rock is not cursed.
The stone of stones has brought her the promise of a Hollywood screenplay and, at $350,000, the biggest advance of her seven-book career — “So, no, I’m not big on the curse.”
The malevolent side of the gem unearthed in India some time between 40,000 BC and 1660 AD is as famous as its beauty, Fowler says in her book, Hope, Adventures of a Diamond (Random House Canada): “Some of its owners suffered astonishingly bad luck: one died a very slow, horribly painful death; another, quite literally, lost his head; a third lost a young son to a car accident, a daughter to suicide and a husband to an insane asylum.”
Known as “the Blue Diamond of the French Crown,” the diamond was whisked to England after a farcical jewel heist during the Revolution. Resurfacing in 1812, it was coveted by British aristocrat Henry Philip Hope, who gave it its name.
Washington hostess Evalyn Walsh McLean later wore it, as did her dog. But it was jeweller Harry Winston, who purchased the diamond from her estate in 1949, who propelled it to celebrity status.
A master of public relations, Winston urged his press agents to create an air of mystique around the Star of the East. He thought the tales of death and destruction complete bunk, but he loved the buzz.
Fowler, who graduated from the University of Toronto’s PhD program in 1952, did her dissertation on courtship conventions in Jane Austen. Her 1989 book, Blenheim: Biography of a Palace, was a precursor to this one: “It was a biography in which the house was the main character and so I felt having cut on my teeth on a house, I could take a new challenge and take on a cold and tiny inanimate object.”
In a Gilded Cage, a book published in 1993 about American heiresses who married English lords, was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award.
The Way She Looks Tonight: Five Women of Style, published in 1996, profiled Marlene Dietrich, Jacqueline Kennedy, Empress Eugenie of France, actress Elinor Glyn and Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, to illustrate her observation that apparel, “however old or dowdy or nondescript, always, to borrow fashion jargon, makes a statement.” Clothes, she concluded, “give a visual aspect to consciousness itself.”
In Hope, Fowler broadens the thematic focus of that last book to include jewellery, which she believes also mirrors the character and social role of the wearer. “The bigger the rock, the bigger the bank account,” she observes.
“A diamond’s allure is that it costs so much, and because of that it is a significant symbol of how much money a person has. People who buy big jewels want them to be outward signs their wealth. It’s vulgar, vulgar, vulgar.”
Fowler collects vintage costume jewellery herself. At home, she has piles of rhinestones and big Forties pins: “It’s all fake.”
Right now, she is wearing a faux Hope diamond brooch she found in the gift shop of the Smithsonian Institution, where the real diamond sparkles on display.
“I had written half the book before I went to see it,” she confesses. “I was afraid that I’d be disappointed. I had built a picture of it in my imagination after having been with it for so long. I was afraid I would see only a small piece of coloured glass.”
But instead she was mesmerized. “It truly was magical. It hypnotized me. I am a big nature buff. I have a special relationship with trees and birds, and maybe to me such an incredible piece of the natural world represents the raw energy of creation.”
Despite having fallen in love with the subject of her book, Fowler has no plans to buy a real diamond. “I like to spend my extra money on travelling.”
But once she did have one. Married for 23 years to a medical doctor, she got rid of the piece of marital glitter after the divorce.
“It was a diamond ring from Birks and I went back for a full refund.”
So what does that say about her?
“I needed the cash.”
Alessandro Columbo is serenely confident behind the wheel of his rented Chrysler Neon, coursing smoothly through the streets of Toronto like a local. He even handles the squeegee kids expertly, not bridling at what to him is a strange and uniquely North American phenomenon, but giving them just the right amount of eye contact and an inoffensive wave of the hand before driving off.
An architect from Milan, he has been in the city for less than a week, but already he is more familiar with the cultural landscape than most residents. True, he didn’t visit the Royal Ontario Museum, only looked at the CN Tower and refused to go into the SkyDome because of its monstrously ugly design (remember, he’s an Italian). But he has seen almost every landmark in town with a connection to Glenn Gould.
The late great Canadian pianist, who would have turned 84 today, September 25, is the sole reason Columbo has come to Toronto. And he’s not the only one to make the journey for Gould. John Miller, administrator of the Glenn Gould Foundation in Toronto, estimates that hundreds tourists each year come specifically to seek out “Glenn Gould” places, from the house in the Beaches, where he grew up, to Massey Hall at the corner of Victoria and Shuter streets, where at age 13, Gould made his orchestra debut to an astonished audience. His grave in Mount Pleasant cemetery, Miller says, is the most visited in Canada.
But don’t call them Glenn Gould tourists: For them, honouring the life and music of the pianist is not a busman’s holiday but a pilgrimage on sacred ground. “To listen to Glenn Gould’s music is a very rich experience,” said Columbo, driving with quiet purpose to Gould’s grave. “He gives us music and ideas and emotions. He is not only important as a musician but as an intellect.”
At the main gates of the cemetery there was no map to guide him to the site. But as if on cue, a passing groundskeeper stopped to give directions. Clive Haigh has worked at Mount Pleasant for 18 years and he is used to guiding people, mostly foreigners, to Gould’s piano-shaped marker.
Columbo asked if there are other famous Canadians in the cemetery. “Oh yeah,” said Haigh, “Foster Hewitt and Punch Imlach.” Columbo looked confused until he was told they were hockey personalities. “Oh yes, now I understand,” he said with a shrug. “A hockey player has to be more important than a pianist.”
Maybe so. But 34 years after his untimely death at age 50 on Oct. 4, 1982, Gould’s popularity has never been greater. Sony has just released a new multi-CD compilation, Glenn Gould Edition;a new biography has been published, Glenn Gould: The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius, by psychiatrist and long-time Gould friend Peter Ostwald;the Royal Conservatory of Music has recently renamed its professional training school the Glenn Gould Professional School; and author Tim Wynne-Jones has published The Maestro,a children’s book with a Gould-like figure at its heart.
So far, there is no organized Glenn Gould tour in Toronto, no Glenn Gould boutique. Those who want to make the pilgrimage need to do their research beforehand, consulting the plethora of Gould Web sites, for instance, or reading Ostwald’s biography, published in time for what would have been the artist’s birthday on Sept. 25.
One who frequently makes the journey to Toronto in honour of that birthday is Rebecca Rutkowski, a musician from California. Rutkowski wanders the Inn on the Park, the hotel where Gould occupied rooms from the sixties until his death. She eats where he ate and, although she can’t sleep in what used to be his bed (shortly after he died his rooms were converted into storage), she spends much of her time cloistered in the hotel playing her violin like a song of love.
Reached at her home near Los Angeles, Rutkowski spoke passionately of her devotion: “You almost feel like you’d like to say prayers to God so that there’s always light and golden colours around him.”
Gould is the phantom lover to many a devotee, male and female alike. His sexual ambiguity (no one is really sure what his sexual orientation, if any, was), his brooding good looks, his flamboyant eccentricity (the hotel concierge recalls him lounging by the pool, in the middle of July, dressed in mittens, coat, hat, scarf and galoshes) and his unmistakable genius for playing the piano have created a mystique that is as erotic as it is intellectually engrossing.
Canadian director Francois Girard added to the mystique with his 1993 film, Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Ditto for Switzerland’s Du magazine, which devoted its entire April, 1990 issue to the artist, calling it Mythos Glenn Gould. But it was the late Austrian author Thomas Bernhard who was the first to scale the mythological heights of Gould’s posthumous reputation and to point out the mania for the man looming on the horizon.
His 1983 novel, Der Untergeher (translated in 1991 as The Loser) has Gould as a main character. His superiority at the piano leads two other fictional characters to give up their own playing in despair. They become obsessed with Gould — one even kills himself when he hears about his death — and their lives are dwarfed by his legacy. Critic Robert Fulford, who knew Gould and who wrote about the book in Saturday Night, summed it neatly: “In Bernhard’s account Gould’s talent is so large that it’s dangerous as well as sublime — perfect material for a cult.”
His larger-than-life status has been helped by the fact that he was a child prodigy, the only son born to Russell Herbert (Bert) Gould, a successful Toronto furrier, and Florence Grieg, who called composer Edvard Grieg a distant relation. Gould’s mother began to give him piano lessons when he was 3. Alberto Guerrero, who taught him at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music for nine years, reportedly said, “If Glenn feels he hasn’t learned anything from me as a teacher, it’s the greatest compliment anyone could give me.”
Raw talent, so potent and unpredictable, fascinates and mesmerizes. People long to know its source, which is probably one way of explaining the number of foreigners who follow Gould’s life passage: By retracing his steps, they hope to solve at least part of the mystery of his creative power.
One woman who knew him believes the mystery is impenetrable even 35 years after his death. Marilyn Kecskes has been the superintendent of 110 St. Clair Avenue West since 1973. She first met Gould on the elevator, when he was wearing gloves and covering his face with a handkerchief for fear of catching her germs. Kecskes said she had never before met anyone like him: a maverick and eccentric who was also a raging hypochondriac.
She knew he was special, too, because his mailbox was the only one that had been tampered with. Someone had once tried to force it open in hopes of getting a bit of his mail.
Gould was by then an international celebrity, much sought after. English critic Nicholas Spicer notes in a 1992 essay that Gould’s fame was set at the age of 22 when he played for the first time outside Canada, at a recital in Washington. Columbia Records offered him a recording deal immediately after his first performance in New York in 1955. His first recording for them, Bach’s fiendishly difficult Goldberg Variations,became the best-selling classical record of 1956. It confirmed his superstar status and remains in print to this day.
Kecskes took the elevator to the top floor of this still stylish Art Deco building. Gould, she said, was messy (“orange juice and milk cartons everywhere”), and intensely private (he fired his cleaning lady of five years “because she liked to gossip about him”). Kecskes added that he covered his bedroom window with a bookcase, that he was a terrible driver who frequently drove his big Lincoln Continental into one of the concrete pillars in the downstairs parking lot, and that he disliked intrusions. “Once he called me on the telephone,” she said with a smile. ” ‘There’s someone knocking on my door. Could you see what they want?’ Imagine!”
When the elevator stopped, Kecskes opened the heavy doors next to what was once Gould’s apartment and mounted the stairs to the roof. She pointed below to what used to be his window. “I used to sit up here, after I had done my cleaning, and I would listen to him play all night long,” confessed Kecskes, blushing at the memory. “He never knew I was up here, or else he would have been angry with me, I suppose, but I had the moon and the stars and his music and there was nothing more beautiful.”
Not everyone is as enamoured. His detractors say that he was a one-composer musician who played Bach passably and other piano music poorly. Even Leonard Bernstein thought so. In a 1962 performance of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D-minor with the New York Philharmonic, Gould played the first movement so slowly that Bernstein, who was the conductor, publicly repudiated the interpretation in advance of the concert. As for Gould quitting the concert stage in 1964 to concentrate on a recording career, his critics say he finally lacked the stamina and composure to perform live. Gould was known to hum, grunt and stomp his way through his piano playing.
In his later years, he became increasingly obsessive about controlling his environment, as well as his personal relationships. Indeed, most of those were maintained over the telephone. He was also an insomniac whose irregular sleep habits — he liked to play and record during the night, then sleep, fitfully and briefly, during the day — undoubtedly contributed to the stroke that killed him.
Tim Vardy, a 22-year-old piano student from The Hague, was in Toronto recently on his Glenn Gould pilgrimage. Sitting at Gould’s historic Yamaha, on display in the foyer of Roy Thomson Hall, Vardy silenced the artist’s detractors with a bang of a hand against the keys of the very piano used to record a second version of the Goldberg Variations in 1981. “There are many great pianists in the world; he just happens to be the most interesting,” said Vardy, launching into his own performance of Bach. “For me what’s special about Glenn Gould is when you hear him play, in a way, it has little to do with piano playing but everything to do with pure music. Sometimes you are not aware that he is playing the piano, it is so direct.”
Vardy wanders off to the Glenn Gould Studio next door in the new CBC building on Front Street. There he spies the Chickering, Gould’s childhood piano. He leans across the velvet rope meant to protect the piano from the public and lovingly strokes the keys. “I like him because he is not conservative,” he said. “What he teaches me about the piano is that there is not one way of playing it.”
BACK at Mount Pleasant cemetery, Alessandro Columbo is smiling so hard he is practically laughing. “Look at the gravestone,” he says, “it is so simple, and so right that it is simple, because it is the essence of Glenn Gould.” He takes a few photographs, then aims his lens at a large boulder. On it is a plaque that commemorates a nearby Sitka spruce, whose wood is used to make the sounding boards of some pianos. Japanese businessmen from Sony, Gould’s record label today, planted it on an earlier pilgrimage, with the help of Gould’s father, at the conclusion of the 1992 International Glenn Gould Conference.
“Canada is the right place for what he was, because it is a country with a short history and not 2,000 years of history, and so it is possible to have more freedom,” says Columbo, climbing slowly back into the car to go to the airport. “I am completely in agreement with Tolstoy, who said art is something new. And that was Glenn Gould. A man too new and very different from what was normal. He was a genius.”
Here are some key locations in the life of Glenn Gould. Except where indicated, all are in or around Toronto.
The family home: 32 Southwood Dr., in The Beach district of east Toronto. The family of Robert Fulford lived next door, at 34. Fulford’s father, Russell “Bert,” a furrier and violinist, died in 1996; his mother, Florence, in 1975. A designated historic site.
The music lessons: The Royal Conservatory of Music, 135 College St., (then called the Toronto Conservatory of Music; now the site of Ontario Hydro; RCM moved to McMaster Hall, 180 Bloor St. W., in 1963). Gould began his studies there at age 7, in 1940, and received instruction there through 1946.
The high school: Malvern Collegiate Institute, 55 Malvern. Glenn Gould attended classes here from 1945 through 1951. As a special studies student, he never matriculated. Other Malvern students: Robert Fulford, Don Getty, Teresa Stratas.
The debuts: Eaton Auditorium, College Avenue at Yonge Street, Dec. 12, 1945: first public performance, on organ, not piano (destroyed by fire, 1963); Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., May 8, 1946: first public orchestral performance, with Toronto Conservatory Symphony, on piano; Massey Hall, Jan. 14, 1947: first performance with the Toronto Symphony.
The apartment: 110 St. Clair Ave. W., Apt. 902 (penthouse). A plaque at the entrance commemorates the 15-20 years Gould stayed there. No admission to general public.
The park: Glenn Gould Park, at the intersection of Avenue Road and St. Clair, northwest corner. Former home of Toronto Music Library.
The pianos: The 1945 Steinway which Gould began playing in 1960 is at the National Library of Canada, Ottawa; the Yamaha concert grand, which Gould used for his final recordings, is at Roy Thomson Hall; the 1895 Chickering, which he played as a youth and kept at his penthouse apartment, is at CBC Toronto, 250 Front St. W.
The churches: Uxbridge United Church, northeast of Toronto, where a five-year-old Gould played his first recital, for the Uxbridge Business Men’s Bible Class; All Saints Kingsway Anglican Church, 2850 Bloor St. W., where Gould, on organ, recorded The Art of the Fugue, Vol. 1 in 1962; St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 227 Bloor St. E., where Gould’s memorial service was attended by more than 3,000 on Oct. 15, 1982.
The gravesite: #1050, section 38, Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Gould suffered a massive stroke on Sept. 27, 1982, just two days after his 50th birthday, and died Oct. 5 at Toronto General Hospital. –Deirdre Kelly
Sources: National Library of Canada; The Globe and Mail; Glenn Gould Foundation; Bruce Cross; Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
(Originally published in 1997, this article has been edited and updated for this personal blog. I am the author.)
Toronto will host the Royal Academy of Dance Canada’s special first gathering of dance entrepreneurs and teachers from around the world this weekend, starting tonight.
The En Avant Dance Teacher Conference will include an array of specialist guest speakers highlighting international insights on dance pedagogy, as well as guidance on running a successful dance business.
The much anticipated event occurs comes after the RAD warned of the global dangers of unqualified dance teachers, as RAD research showed that over half of us automatically assume teachers are qualified in their subject area.
As concerns have been raised in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom about the worldwide lack of legal requirement to be qualified to teach dance, this Canadian conference will unite leading dance educators in a forum designed to set professional standards in the world of dance.
In addition to leading industrial insights, the conference will feature luminaries of the dance world and VIPs. Special guest speakers will include Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain; Emmy-Nominated, Canadian-born choreographer, Stacey Tookey; Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Dance, Lynn Wallis OBE, and Toronto local, DJ Danny D. The conference will also feature a keynote address from Li Cunxin, RAD Vice-President and Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet, as well as author of the award-winning Mao’s Last Dancer. Toronto dance critic and Globe and Mail reporter Deirdre Kelly, author of Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, is a panelist at the Sunday morning session examining perfectionism in dance.
The four-day conference, at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre through Monday, will combine industry sessions such as movement workshops and business seminars with special events such as a cocktail reception, fashion show and gala dinner. Full details can be found here and on the RAD website.
The news has just broken in New York that the legendary street style photographer, Bill Cunningham, has died, following a stroke. He was 87. He had worked at the New York Times for the past 40 years, regularly contributing to his column, On The Street, in which he shared his observations of what he saw while riding around on one of his many bicycles, clicking away at life. The Times’s report of his passing, published on June 25, the day of his death, describes him “both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.” I can corroborate that.
Mr. Cunningham shot me once, in Paris, where I was covering the shows for my newspaper in Toronto. We didn’t speak, and yet we had a conversation. He may have already clicked before I noticed him, down on one knee, near the Trockedero. I knew who he was, of course I did!, and was quite startled and then flattered that he had wanted to photograph me. I looked into his camera. I smiled. He smiled. That was me saying thank-you, him saying you’re welcome. And then he was off. I don’t know if he ever published the image. But I remember the moment vividly, and know what I had that likely caught his eye– a zebra print purse. That must have been it.
Animal inspired prints were everywhere that season and he had caught me, slavishly following the trend. That was his special gift: pinpointing moments in the fashion parade and preserving them in both image and memory. How fortunate I am to have had such a rare individual cross my path. He made the ephemeral seem eternal. May his legacy be as lasting.
As the Globe and Mail’s fulltime dance critic, I witnessed first-hand the global phenomenon that was Riverdance. I also spent time in a Detroit-area hotel room (more on that later) with its original star, Michael Flately, a dancer with an ego as big as his Guiness World Record for more clicks per second than ever before achieved by a pair of jigging feet. After Riverdance the American hoofer went on to form Lord of the Dance, and, yes, lording it over legions who had overnight gone gaga for ethnic folk dance performed in sport stadiums. The memory lives on. A 20th anniversary Riverdance revival arrives in Toronto on May 17 for a limited run at Mirvish Theatre. In anticipation, we went back into the archives to revisit the fury that first made step dance sexy.
A bare-chested sex god with a penchant for tight pants, diamond earrings and cologne liberally applied, Michael Flatley is Lord of the Dance, the highest paid dancer in the world.
When the 38-year-old, Chicago-born star of the internationally acclaimed Irish dance show slinks onstage, wearing a headband and a bottle tan, the air-thumping crowd shrieks and throws roses.
“Do you want more?” he screams. He asks the question again and again until the deafening roar of more than 10,000 yeeeeahs finally satisfies.
With a sexy pout of the lips, Flatley peels off his sparkling matador jacket, emblazoned (in sequins) with the green, white and orange of the Irish flag, and dances a blazing riff across the floor.
The house rocks when two smoke bombs explode at the finale. This time the audience really goes berserk.
Glassy-eyed fans wearing long, hooded robes that make them look like Druids on drugs rush the stage and chant his name. Mi-chael. Mi-chael. Flatley flashes a charismatic smile. Knowing that people love him gives him the ultimate high.
“It’s energy,” he says, gasping for air backstage. “You’re out there pumping out that great energy, night after night after night. And the audience gives it all back. Do you know what that feeling is like? It’s bliss.”
Since its dazzling debut in Dublin last summer, Flatley’s unique brand of arena dance has consistently sold out stadiums normally reserved for sporting events and rock concerts. Featuring a stage design by Jonathan and Cheryl Park, the people who dressed up the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour, and a throbbing lighting show by Patrick Woodroffe, the person who lights Elton John, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner, Lord of the Dance has grossed in excess of $28-million on its current 20-city North American tour and another $140-million on CD and video sales.
The Gael force blows into Montreal’s Molson Centre Theatre tomorrow and Saturday, and Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on Sunday and Monday. It descends on Vancouver in June. The shows have long been sold out.
Indeed, in Toronto, Flatley’s rejigged jig sold 18,000 tickets in less than 48 hours. The box office opened on March 22, a full two days before the Lord himself flashed his act in front of an international audience of nearly a billion people at the Oscars.
Critics tend to loathe him. His show is usually panned by reviewers who object to his unbridled stage bravado. One British review was headlined The Ego Has Landed.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again,” Flatley says. “People mistake ego for self-confidence. I would say that you need to have an enormous amount of self-confidence to face 10,000 people on your own every night. That’s not an easy thing to do. And if you’re not confident at your job, you could never do that. You could just never do that. The more confidence you have, the more willing you are to walk on the edge and be out there in front of them.”
Though an innovator, Flatley was unceremoniously dropped from Riverdance — another touring Gaelic dance show that he helped create and once starred in — in 1995 when he had a very public falling-out with producer Moya Doherty over creative control. Flatley is now suing Riverdance for 2 per cent of the show’s profits (about $7-million). The matter has yet to go to trial. But Flatley is already airing his side of the story.
“They wanted 100-per-cent creative control over my work,” he says, his voice registering hurt. “You know, they wanted control and they weren’t even dancers. And considering I had brought over the dance style and taught it to the Irish people, I thought it was terribly unfair. I’m from America, and everything here is freedom of expression. But they tried to make me a caged animal and I couldn’t live with that.”
Despite Flatley’s critics, other dancers don’t begrudge him his success. “The only thing I can say about Michael Flatley is I think it’s wonderful if anyone can bring dance to the masses,” says National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Rex Harrington. “And he’s very smart because he’s making a lot of money doing it and I wish I had his pay cheque. I think it’s a good thing and I think that he’s obviously quite talented.”
Flatley’s Lord of the Dance is not just another in a series of Celtic revival shows spreading their lucky charm around the globe. By taking a centuries-old dance form and turning it into an international pop sensation, Flatley has created what some are calling the show of the decade.
Flately has what every performer wants — great word of mouth.
Though Riverdance and Lord of the Dance are different — the firstis a folkloric dance variety show while the secondis a Viva Las Vegas-styleextravaganza in which dance serves to tell a tale of good and evil in mythic Ireland — each has contributed to a radical redefining of Irish dancing as a popular art.
(Riverdance, which jumpstarted Flatley’s mammoth popularity, comes to Toronto next month, with a week of performances at the Hummingbird Centre. It too is already sold out.)
Irish dancing is traditionally a poker-back affair, with the arms held stiffly at the sides and the gaze decidedly mournful, as if thought was perpetually cast on the misery of British rule. The footwork, however, has always been lightning fast and the jumps buoyant, as if the fairies themselves were dancing a reel.
Flatley has freed the arms in Irish dancing and added a dollop of flash to the overall performing style. He also accentuates rhythm in the footwork, using counterpoint to bring out different tones in the tap to complement the music. His dances looks like a marriage of flamenco and step dancing, part sex and part romance.
“The truth is, you can’t really define what we do,” he says with a touch of the brogue. “The best definition I’ve ever heard anyone use to describe it is pop dance.”
A concert-level flutist whose feet (insured by Lloyd’s of London for more than $70-million) can tap out 28 clicks a second, Flatley often describes himself in animal terms. “I was kind of like a wild horse,” he says, recalling his boyhood lessons in a Chicago-area Irish dance school. “I wanted to do kicks over my head and I wanted to do everything. But I didn’t want to wear a kilt. It’s not that I was being disrespectful. I just never understood that.”
Flatley’s first dancing teacher, Marge Dennehy, “knew from his first lesson that he was going to be great,” she says from her Oak Lawn, Ill., home. He was 11 when he started, she recalls. “He went from beginners to competition level almost overnight. He skipped all the categories, which is very unusual.”
Flatley went on to become the first American to win the All World Championships in Irish dancing. For a while he was the world’s only professional Irish dancer, touring occasionally with the Chieftains. But the number of gigs that call for a jig were few and far between. For many years, Flatley sustained himself by working on construction.
For a while he laboured under his father, who until recent triple-bypass surgery was a tradesman with his own business who taught his five children (Flatley has three sisters and a younger brother) the value of hard work.
Flatley’s meteoric rise has ushered many changes into his life. His 11-year marriage to Polish make-up artist named Beata Dziaba broke up last year as a result of a ruthless touring schedule. He no longer has a home — “I live in hotels,” he sighs — and his body hates him for it.
Before and after every show he gets a special rub-down (female hands only) to loosen any knots in his muscles. Every night he soaks his feet in ice to make sure he can walk the next day. He says he can lose eight to 10 pounds dancing each show. And at a lean 5’9″, weighing in at 147 pounds, Flately doesn’t have fat to spare. But the pain is worth it. Lord of the Dance has made him a very rich man. In conversation he admits to making a weekly salary that is in excess of $630,000. When he was with Riverdance he made $105,000 a week.
Flatley says he gets his confidence from self-help books. He says he doesn’t watch television, doesn’t listen to the radio and doesn’t read fiction. Everything for him is focus, focus, focus. “Those are things for passing time,” he says.
Next on his agenda is a movie. It will be a dance film, he says, with a love story. He will star (of course). Production will begin next March.
“I think it’s really important in life, whatever you do, to do it your own way,” says Flatley. “I can’t tell you how many times in the tough years I would try to get work as a dancer and everyone wanted me to dance like a tap dancer. But I persevered. I didn’t want to do it that way. I’m not a tap dancer. I’m a Celt. And I do it a different way.”