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ANDREW STAWICKI IN TORONTO


As Christopher T Grider flings himself into the air in the Toronto Dance Theatre's new production Persephone's Lunch, what meets the eye is dazzling. But beyond that are stories you couldn't guess at.

The work itself, by company artistic director Christopher House, was inspired by Homer's epic poem The Odyssey. Grider can relate. His whole life has been something of an odyssey, and the story of his start in life has an aura of legend.
Born in Nepal, raised in places as diverse as Kansas and Somalia, Grider fits beautifully into Toronto's human medley. His odyssey ends here, in a feeling of home.

In a dance company that functions as an ensemble, with no designated stars, there's no getting away from it: he takes the eye. He's a hotshot. And at a youthful and vigorous 33, he finds to his surprise that he is the senior dancer in the 12-member company this year.

Grider was born in Kathmandu. His mother, a secretary in a Peace Corps office and a college graduate, was unmarried. His married father offered to make her his second wife. She declined, deciding that she wanted something better for her child, and chose as his adoptive parents an American couple working there with the Peace Corps at the time.

He left Nepal before he was a year old and has never since seen his biological mother nor the country of his birth. "I know I have a spiritual connection with Nepal," he says. "I don't speak the language and I know little of the culture, but I want to do some reading about it and to find Toronto's Nepali community. I would like to go back to Nepal and experience it."

Such an expensive trip to reach out to his roots is a bit of a pipe dream at the moment, on his dancer's salary. When Grider joined Toronto Dance Theatre in 1997, he was particularly glad to learn that it is a touring company, and had danced in India. "If I were ever to get that close, then surely ..." he says in a wistful tone, his words trailing off.

Someday, he says, he may also try to track down his birth mother-he's heard that she eventually moved to the States, married and had another son-just to tell her that he has a happy life and understands how she came to give him up for adoption.

"I would reassure her that I have no hard feelings, and tell her I know she did what she did out of love for me," he states simply. With his adoptive parents working in the Peace Corps, Grider grew up moving around every few years. He spent time in Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and a number of US cities.

"I was always a wild, loud, movement-oriented child," he recalls with a disingenuous smile. He took up gymnastics at age nine, and complained that the men weren't able to do their floor routine to music as the women did. He found himself naturally moving into jazz dance-gymnastics routines. "I loved performing," he says. "I loved being on the stage." He briefly took a few ballet classes when his family moved to Topeka, and lasted long enough to perform in one Nutcracker, but ended up dropping dance to concentrate on becoming a competitive swimming star.

Exposed to dance in first-year university, he fell madly in love with it. He immediately gave up a five-year swimming scholarship to take up dance seriously at the extremely advanced dance-student age of 18. "I knew right away that this is what I want to do," he says. After graduation, he danced with the Dayton Ballet Company in Ohio for seven years before auditioning successfully for the Toronto Dance Theatre. This required him to move to a new environment in another country and to take up a new type of dance, contemporary instead of classical, but all of his instincts shouted yes. He listened. "I had other good offers, but everything seemed to be pointing me in this direction," he says.

Grider is able to blend a sensitive artistry with his dynamic athleticism in his work. And his love of what he does is palpable to the audience. "I hope to keep up my excitement about life," he explains. "We don't want to be jaded and cynical. I think we can all benefit from hope, and a sense of childlike wonder."
(The Toronto Star)


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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