DA Hoskins has a holy horror of constrictions. Even though he is artistic director of The Dietrich Group, he remains an independent choreographer and a critic of the conformism that he believes holds sway in contemporary dance training and performance. “I’m an artist… and my job is not to play it safe,” he says. He finds in interdisciplinarity an excellent means of not being confined to such strictures, and since the beginning of his career has been joining forces with all sorts of different artists. These include the composer Gilles Goyette and the filmmaker Nico Stagias, who have participated in several projects such as Death of a Serious Clown, a piece commissioned for senior male performers, members of the Old Men Dancing company. It was with an eye to taking more risks in his approach to choreography that in 2008 DA Hoskins founded The Dietrich Group, a platform focussed on exploring a non-conformist aesthetic and a forum for interactive exchange. Taking risks involves not only an ongoing exchange and interacting with the different artists working on a piece, but also their commitment to exposing themselves in the process, for Hoskins believes that the idiom must be eminently personal in order to touch an audience. It is also how an artist responds to a quest for meaning. It comes as no surprise then that critics praise his audacity and his ability to renew his aesthetics. Style, elegance, humour, sensuality and power are terms often used when describing his work.
DA Hoskins likes to say that he is first of all a visual artist, but that dance is his preferred medium for creating worlds where interactions among artists are encouraged and where artistic diversity can be expressed more specifically. If his initial impetus was toward visual art, it was because dance was not available in the small town where he grew up in northern Ontario. He saw a ballet for the first time when he was 16, and moved to Toronto soon afterward to study dance. He became a professional dancer with the Toronto Dance Theatre, but turned to choreography after breaking his ankle during a rehearsal. It wasn’t long before the visual artist resurfaced.
D. Hoskins has drawn inspiration from new media, conceptual art and video clips, and he incorporates visual projections, text and voice into his dances. While his works have a strong theatrical element, they are not meant to be either theatre or dance, but a metaphorical transformation of reality that unfolds by means of distinctive stage devices. In Portrait, the performance space is not clearly defined. There is no real distinction between the stage and the backstage area, echoing the choreographer’s openness to all sorts of influences, like a blank page to fill in without worrying about straying beyond the edges of the page. He is exploring multiple sources of inspiration. The screen on which video images are projected dominates the space, making it almost a third performer, and the interaction between the dancers and the images onscreen is extremely effective, one example among many of his keen visual sense. The female dancer in Portrait, Danielle Baskerville (who has been working with Hoskins for over a decade), says that he “choreographs like someone sculpting energy… I have to find a way to make those steps be energy” to ensure that she renders the movement in all its complexity.