Second Coming will premiere at Dundee Rep exactly 10 years to the day since the company first performed his work. That earlier commission came about courtesy of the Peter Darrell Choreographic Award, a visionary package of mentoring support and creative opportunity that placed young choreographers on lengthy attachment with established companies. Quijada describes that experience as "an important milestone".
"The piece – Self Observation without Judgement – was my first real commissioned work, and I think it contained all the essential elements that I have been researching, from different angles, through each one of my works. Ten years ago, I was in a young, wild moment in my career. When I arrived at SDT in 2003, I was spitting out tons of movement material that was very natural to my body and I depended a lot on the dancers to manage and make sense of it. Over the past decade, I've become expert at communicating the method behind my movement approach, so this time I was better able to prepare the performers for the technical demands."
The intervening decade has, in fact, seen Victor Quijada, and the Montreal-based RubberBanDance Group – which he had formed only months before his SDT/Darrell commission – rise to the forefront of Canada's contemporary dance scene. There have been awards, international tours, involvement with film-making and a steady stream of commissions from high-profile ballet companies – Atlanta Ballet, PacificNorthwest Ballet and Ballet Met among them.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Quijada was initially influenced by hip hop culture. The dynamics of break-dance are still seeded through his stylistic vocabulary, but even in 2003 there were signs that Quijada was interested in counterpointing that visceral thrust with elements from other dance forms. Classical ballet and post-modern investigations add in the kind of seemingly spontaneous "jolt factor" that keeps audiences and dancers from slipping into any complacent familiarity. SDT has flagged Second Coming as "tinted with notions of regret and inaction". Quijada explains that he headed back to Dundee with thoughts of repentance, missed opportunities and second chances clustering in his head. "I had been reading a collection of poems called Regrets Only, and I suppose that particular sentiment was resonating with me," he says. "Coming back to SDT maybe triggers a process of reflecting on what your choreographic 'voice' has become."
Norwegian choreographer Jo Stromgren has never worked with SDT, and though his own company has been seen in Scotland – most notably on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and 2006 – it has never set foot in Dundee. In a way, Stromgren shares a theme of returning with Quijada, for in Winter Again – the second part of SDT's new touring double bill – he revisits a favourite piece of music, Schubert's song cycle Die Wintereisse.
"There's no reason you can't use music again, for another purpose," says Stromgren, whose new piece for SDT is quite unlike the work he made for Nurnberg Ballett many years ago. "That was a very different kind of project," he continues. "Here, I came with a certain situation in mind. SDT is very versatile. The whole company is interested in hearing about concepts, and trying to fulfil what the choreographer really wants." He chuckles, however, when he recalls some of the discussions that followed from his starting point. "It is rather grotesque. It is a group of people and they all kill animals – and then they try to deal with the guilt afterwards. Cruelty is put beside something beautiful – the Schubert – to explore behaviour. Darwin's 'survival of the fittest, is a concept misused by so many ideologies to justify their actions. We often try to excuse what we do by adapting nature's rules – like culling baby seals. We had some very strong discussions on these lines."
Like so much of Stromgren's repertoire, this piece weaves unlikely humour into a brooding scenario. Time was, of course, when Dundee was a major player in the whaling industry, so who knows what ghosts will stir in the ether during Winter Again. And it turns out that Stromgren himself has unexpected connections with the city. "My first dance teacher took me on – and taught me for free – when I was around 16. I had no previous training, I just phoned her up and said 'I want to dance.' She comes from Dundee. I really like it when small circles in life come together this way." Those small circles could easily expand. Stromgren already has a considerable parallel reputation as a theatre director and playwright with productions of Ibsen a particular forte. Who knows? We could perhaps see him return to the Rep one day making words, not bodies, dance on stage.
The new Scottish Dance Theatre double bill begins the Spring tour at Dundee Rep tonight.