D.A. Hoskins is Talking to Chris Dupuis

I sat down with Toronto-based choreographer and visual D.A. Hoskins to talk about his new work Portrait opening at the Theatre Centre this week. Go see it!

Presented by the Dietrich Group
Choreography by D. A. Hoskins
Featuring Danielle Baskerville and Robert Kingsbury
Video by Nico Stagias
Sound/Music by Gilles Goyette
Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Presented at the Theatre Centre
January 8-11, Thursday though Saturday 7 and 9pm, Sunday 2:30pm
Tickets $18-22, Sun PWYC
Call the Arts Box Office 416-504-7529 or visit www.artsboxoffice.ca

I understand that the project has evolved fairly substantially from its inception to what it now is. Can you talk about where you started, where you ended up, and how you got there?

Initially the piece was to be an investigation of the individual personalities of the two dancers (Danielle Baskerville and Robert Kingsbury). I brought Nico Stagias (Video Artist) and Gilles Goyette (Composer) as collaborators to the process intending to explore them in the same way. That whole idea just basically died. We started in that direction and I found it wasn't working to my liking. It was all sitting in a place that was too directed, too specific, and too heavy handed. At the same time, the perspective was very vague, which is something I find typical of Contemporary Dance and something that I try to avoid in my own work.

I find a lot of choreographers create work that's very open ended and they want to leave things up to the audience to interpret. This work eludes to a certain intellectualism that I feel like just isn't there. To me the idiom has to be very personal in order to reach people.

This piece has reached a point where it's still heavy in the subject matter, but I also feel like there's a great clarity to it as well and a specific point of view. Essentially it's a self portrait of me.

The idea of self portrait is something that artists often explore at the very start of their practice. I'm curious to know how and why at this point in your career you've decided to take that on.

The self portrait element has always been an integral part of my work. I have always used the idiom as a way to search for meaning for me. In some ways I'm still a young Roman Catholic boy and my work is often liturgical in a manner. It has a lot of symbolism that ends up being reiterated to me as a means of reeducating myself.

The way that you talk about contemporary dance hints that you feel like you're working outside the form.

I've become very discouraged in the idiom. When I first stepped into dance as a young gay guy I saw a dance show that had a play and sensuality to it that was the true opposite of my personal history and how I grew up. But then when I was studying it I started to feel like the entire education in the arts was about conformity. In that way I've been very discouraged by the idiom. I feel like it's pretty repressed.

Do you think that's contemporary dance in Toronto or do you feel like that's contemporary dance in the world?

I think unfortunately Toronto is a bit behind the times and lives in that sort of Sally Anne School of Dance world. I feel like my generation of artists is kind of stuck. I look at companies with great spaces, lots of rehearsal time, and huge budgets and I feel like the work they're producing is just unacceptable.

Are there any artists in Toronto who you think are doing interesting work?

I think Sasha Ivonochko is really interesting. I think Kate Alton is extremely interesting. Claudia Moore too.

What about artists outside Toronto?

I really like Deborah Dunn. David Ferguson is doing great things as well. A large majority of the work I see alludes to being what it's not. It acts like it has content but it doesn't.

What would you like to see happen to dance in Toronto?

I'd like to see a renaissance in the arts. The reason I started the Dietrich Group is because I wanted to interact with other artists and have an ongoing exchange. The dancers are included in the work and have as much of a voice as I do.

Can you talk a bit about the Dietrich Group and what you do?

The Dietrich Group is a collective that I started around the idea of bringing artists together to create interdisciplinary works. We feed off each other. Eventually I'm hoping that the dancers involved in the work will start taking on other positions in the process. I'm hoping it will be an ever evolving entity with new people coming in all the time.

In my research about you I noticed that you're always referred to as "choreographer and visual artist" as opposed to just "choreographer". Can you tell me a bit about your practice as a visual artist?

I self proclaim myself as a visual artist as a response to being in the dance idiom. With the way people assess and talk about visual art there's a serious critical discussion about the work that I feel is absent from dance. Even the people who are supposed to be critics don't take a very critical approach to the work.

I want to come back to this in a moment but let's take a sidetrack for a bit. When I started Time and Space part of the objective was to address the lack of critical writing about the performing arts. We talk about critics all the time, but we don't really have critics. We have reviewers, which is not the same thing.

Last year when we did Art Fag at Buddies, there was a critic who wrote a piece about me where I was referred to the "grumpy old man of modern dance". I find that kind of label really frustrating. I'm certainly vocal about the state of my medium. I question the choices that people are making and why certain work is getting funding that I feel is undeserving, but to call me that just sort of discounts everything I'm saying. When we sent out the original press releases for Portrait, we invited all the critics to write previews, but said we didn't want reviews. Eventually we caved and now all the critics coming. Someone said to me that it's my responsibility to be part of the arena and to have my work judged and written about like everyone else.

I didn't train as a journalist and I worked for a number of years as a professional artist before I started to do arts writing. I was really surprised when I got into the business to find the lack of responsibility that arts journalists are trained and encouraged to feel towards the people they are writing about. The artist isn't paying you. The editor is paying you. I straddle both worlds so I'm starting to get it more, but there's something that still feels so backward about that to me. I've had many occasions where I've been frustrated by editors pulling things from stories I've written about the artist's process and things that have been cut from the work because they feel like the public just wants to know what the work looks like.

I think it's a Canadian disease. When you go down to New York the way the work is talked about is so much more informative. How are we going to grow if we don't start educating people on a broader level?

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