For a choreographer, the starting point of a dance can come from anywhere: nature, an existing piece of art, a world event. Montreal choreographer and contemporary dancer George Stamos discovered the inspiration for Troglodyte Plastique, which premieres Thursday at the Sir James Dunn, at Value Village. In the secondhand store he found a bunch of masks---they look like the caveman from Geico, but with manes of long, coarse hair. Stamos was attracted to the faces because "of the way they looked--- they're really gross and funny," he says by phone.
Stamos often employs masks and other physical layers as visual cues in his work. Those who were lucky enough to be around in 2006 may remember Stamos' pieces Reservoir and Schatje, with their Mexican wrestling masks and pastel hoodies, turned backwards to hide the dancers' faces. Prehistoric faces are perfect outward expressions for the internal roots of Troglodyte Plastique: An exploration of "human nature and instincts, and where does it come from?" Stamos is interested in theories of human behaviour and dualist body-mind theories, like the ghost in the machine.
Sadly, Stamos' thinking about ancestry hit closer to home after his mother passed away. He began questioning the role of family. "When my mom died, I realized you're really alone in the world," he says. "You grow up." And although Stamos says that, as a result, the piece connects on a deeper emotional level and is the "most mature and cohesive" piece he's presented, Troglodyte Plastique still carries his signature sense of lightheartedness and fun.
Commissioned by Montréal Danse's artistic director Kathy Casey, Troglodyte Plastique is performed by a quartet of three dancers, including Stamos, and musician Jackie Gallant, known for her electro-percussive work with groups such as La La La Human Steps. "There are lots of drums and live guitar; it gets edgy at times," Stamos says, referencing the sound of Swedish duo The Knife. "It's rocking and percussive, then buzzed out and more ambient with new-age sound."
The Dartmouth-born dancer's career may have started in Halifax, where he won the MT&T award for choreography in 1988, but Stamos is a child of the world. After he graduated from The School for New Dance in Amsterdam, he moved to New York and began working as a go-go dancer, inspired by the king of vogueing, Willie Ninja.
In 2009 he boldly gave a DVD of his work to the executive director of the Baryshnikov Centre, Stanford Makashi. Mikhail Baryshnikov, or Misha as he's known, saw the video and personally offered Stamos a two-week residency last spring. There, Stamos worked on a new duet Cloak in the same room where Misha practised barre, and Beyonce would rehearse. Unfortunately things didn't go as planned: Financial assistance was limited, Stamos' partner Clara Furey hurt herself five days before the premiere, and he had to quickly bring in another dancer, shifting the piece into a trio. The New York Times, which usually reviews shows with much bigger budgets and production schedules, was bordering on cruel. It was also during this time that Stamos' mother died.
But as a professional, Stamos took the negatives into consideration. "I've learned a lot about planning," he says. One thing hasn't changed, though: "Who I am, and the art I'm making."