So let's get one thing straight: When dancer and choreographer Tedd Robinson takes to the stage this weekend with his latest work, REDD, it won't be the last time we see him perform. Sure, it feels that way from here, what with Halifax being the last place he performs his last solo performance, after two years of touring this show (his last) throughout Canada and abroad. But Robinson, 55, doesn't like putting it that way. "I hate to say that I'm stopping dancing...though I'm sort of stopping what I have been doing...so it is sort of stopping," he says with a laugh, trying to find the right wording. "My priorities are just shifting. Let's put it that way."
It's fitting that he chose Halifax. A professional dancer since the age of 22 (he would have started earlier if it weren't for a mother who channelled his artistic impulses into music), Robinson is a self-declared "jack of all trades" in the dance world. It's his solo performance work, however, for which he is most renowned. In 1991, at the Sir James Dunn Theatre (where he'll mount REDD), Robinson took to the stage alone for the first time when the late Diane Moore, founder and director of Live Art Dance Productions (the very people bringing Robinson to town now), invited him to perform here. "She phoned me up and said, 'Do you have a solo? Can you make one?'" says Robinson, who had just finished a six-year stint as artistic director of the Winnipeg troupe Contemporary Dancers. The rest is history. "Halifax is where I started my career," says Robinson. "I've come full circle."
Robinson doesn't like to talk too much about his newest production, because he doesn't want to give away too much. "It's a fairly slow journey with a lot of little surprises," he says cryptically. The 50-minute piece ("There's not really a lot of dancing," says Robinson, "I'm old.") unfolds in three parts---the first (corresponding to the letters R and E of the title) is about reading. "I tell stories," says Robinson, "but in a pretty specific way." The second part---the title's first D---is about dreaming. The final D is for dying, "but it's not that depressing," says Robinson with a laugh.
He says the piece, which incorporates music, props and talking to the audience, touches on issues of isolation and on becoming a hermit, all of which has an "inkling of truth." The piece was, after all, choreographed at his new homestead, a farm an hour and a half outside of Ottawa. "The first winter that I spent here in preparation for making this solo, three years ago, I would be lucky if I saw one car day go by on the road. I basically saw nobody unless I drove into town." Certainly, the move was a change for a man who has spent most of his life living car-free and within walking distance of a dance studio, whether in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa or Montreal.
Not that major life changes are anything new for Robinson, who spent six years of study (1994 to 2000) as a monk in the Hakukaze soto zen monastery in Ottawa. He continued to perform during that period, laughing at the fact that headlines always described him as "the dancing monk."
"When I left the monastery, I thought at last they'll stop talking about how I'm a monk, but now the headlines are always about the dancing ex-monk," he says. Robinson does admit the training has affected the decisions he makes as a performer and choreographer: "There's always deep questioning going on in my practice." Dance seems, somehow, a fitting art form for a zen monk. Robinson says its magical impermanence is what attracted him to it in the first place. "You could get something right one day, and then the next day it was gone again. Dance is impermanence working at its top level."
Robinson plans to stay active in the dance community. He's currently working on building a 50-seat performance space at the farm and as artistic director of 10 Gates Dancing he plans to host an intensive training program for emerging dancers. He may even squeeze in a little dancing.
"I always thought I would be performing 'til I'm 80," says Robinson. "I think I might hide out and do my performances in the barn, and if people want to see me, that's great, but I'm thinking that maybe in 10, 12...15 years, then I'll come out again with a new solo."
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