by Michele Green
In the second half of 1939, Canadians were volunteering to serve in the impending Second World War, the country was reeling from the economic devastation of the Great Depression and, on September 17, Charles David Ronald Earle was born in the city of Toronto. Growing up in a volatile family with an athletic older brother, Douglas, who was deemed to follow his father into the business world, David became the peacekeeper - a role he has continued to play in relationships throughout his life.
Childhood exposure to Humbercrest United Church's 'pseudo-gothic' grandeur cultivated a passion for ecclesiastical architecture, stained glass and stone, as well as a love of liturgical music and poetry.
David's dance training began at the age of five with ballet and tap lessons from Beth Weyms and Fanny Birdsall; he made his dance debut at Eaton Auditorium that same year. His beloved paternal grandmother provided positive reinforcement when he presented his first choreographic attempts for an audience-of-one at her Peterborough farm.
"I wanted to be a Greek God. The tunic was one of the many remnants I collected obsessively and stored in my dress-up box. I used to dance all the time for Grandmother and afterwards I would ask, 'Was I good?' - the answer, always, 'Very good.' My best reviews ... from somebody who really mattered."
When he was eight years old, David joined Dorothy Goulding's Toronto Children's Players and the lavish productions - four each year - filled his summers with the discipline and creativity of the theatre.
"At Eaton Auditorium I moved and spoke on stage in myths and fairy tales until I was nineteen, and then I began to dance. It is movement as communication that has kept me tirelessly challenged and perpetually rewarded. Theatre continues to be a highly conscious aspect of my dance creations and, although I always intend to use props I rarely end up doing so. For my choreographic debut at Toronto's YMHA, I performed Oiseaux Triste to music by Ravel. I made two newspaper doves that I intended to scotch tape to my wrists but at the last moment realized they were a bad idea. My costume was a T-shirt that I had sewn between my legs. I did a huge sissonne and the whole thing went up my bum. Realizing I could not face the back of the stage I was forced to improvise. It was the first time my father had seen me dance and he came backstage and said, 'Well, young man, we saw a good deal more of you tonight than we've seen for many years'. Oiseaux Triste was never performed again."
Fleeing the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke after high school, David studied Radio and Television Arts for two years at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. At the age of twenty, a Bolshoi Ballet performance offered a profound inspiration to dance; he auditioned and was accepted as a scholarship student at the National Ballet School. At the NBS, where he stayed for four years, David met eurhythmics teacher Donald Himes who introduced him to the Laban technique at Yoné Kvietys' studio. David performed for two years with Kvietys' company.
Victoria Reilly summarized one event in a January 27, 1964 article in the Toronto Daily Star:
Yesterday, a specially invited audience had the chance to see what goes on in Yoné Kvietys' "Modern Dance Workshop" - a series of choreographic lessons held on Sunday afternoons at the YM-YWHA. Miss Kvietys' group of young people, consisting of eight girls and two boys clad in black and bare-footed, brought to life, amongst many things, such mundane objects as a typewriter and a washing machine! In her commentary Miss Kvietys stressed that the dancers were not trying to look like either of these objects but rather were finding and interpreting the 'quality' of their 'movements'. A lot of the work was improvised - improvisation being an excellent developer of creative imagination - but there were also studies prearranged by the dancers themselves, many of which were original and fascinating and at times reminiscent of Picasso's twining forms, now on view at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Outstanding among the performers were Donald Himes, David Earle, Vera Davis and Bessie Zavonovich.
Reprinted with permission - Torstar Syndication Services
In 1963, David studied with Martha Graham, José Limón and Donald McKayle at Connecticut College and spent the next two years on scholarship at Martha Graham's school in New York. Also studying in New York were Donald Himes, Susan Macpherson, Lilian Jarvis, James Cunningham and Patricia Beatty. Peter Randazzo was occasionally class demonstrator for Miss Graham. In 1966, as a member of the José Limón Company, David performed at Connecticut College and the American Dance Festival. At New York City's Harkness Dance Festival he entertained the Central Park crowd as one of the Beatles in Songs for Young Lovers. However, with the advent of the Vietnam War, David, a green card holder, had the potential to be drafted.
"During the Vietnam days, I wrote to José Limón explaining why I had to leave the United States. José wrote me a beautiful letter and said, 'It's tragic because for centuries, artists had international passports [as goodwill ambassadors] and were welcomed in any country that they would go to. It's a tragic change of values.'"
David Earle as quoted in The New Canadian newspaper, March 16, 1995
David then went to England, accepting a job as dance master from arts philanthropist Robin Howard. He worked with a group of commonwealth dancers assembled for the opening of the Liverpool Christ the King Cathedral and stayed to work with the newly formed London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) under the artistic direction of Robert Cohan.
In December 1967, David appeared as a guest in Patricia Beatty's New Dance Group of Canada in Toronto, returning to London to direct the LCDT's first London season. He visited Toronto again in March 1968 to stage a concert in collaboration with Peter Randazzo, rehearsing in Patricia Beatty's studio. David then completed his LCDT season, however, his future partnership with Randazzo had been established - Toronto Dance Theatre's (TDT) birth was imminent. Peter and David negotiated with John Sime, founder and principal of the Three Schools of Art, to start their company under his guidance. However, when Patricia offered her school and company as the base for this new venture, the three co-founders formed their unique triumvirate.
Toronto Dance Theatre, a professional company whose dancers trained in the Graham technique, debuted in December 1968 at Toronto Workshop Productions theatre. Nine dancers performed eight pieces, four of the works choreographed by David Earle - Mirrors (premiere), The Recitation, and Angelic Visitation #1 and #2.
David Earle wrote in his journal in 1973: "I think that when we began to work in Toronto many people were hungry for a more avant-garde oriented theatre experience than it was actually our intention to provide. On the contrary, with uncompromising demands on the technical standard of our dancers, we intend to preserve the classical yet humane dance forms of Martha Graham - so quickly abandoned by some members of her company who founded new, more abstract movements in a city with an unequalled pace in its demand for novelty."
TDT's growth was phenomenal. In 1972 they mounted their first highly successful European tour and for ten years TDT grew despite persistent financial hardships, a second unsuccessful European tour and scathing critical reviews. In the first decade David created thirty-five works.
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