Stage Door News

Toronto: The Canadian dance community mourns the passing of Danny Grossman

Monday, August 21, 2023

Danny Grossman, hailed as one of Canada’s boldest, most innovative and significant choreographers, died in Toronto on July 29 at the age of 80 of natural causes.

A modern dancer, choreographer and artistic director of the renowned Danny Grossman Dance Company, he was a recipient of numerous Canadian arts awards over the course of his career including the Jean A. Chalmers Award for choreography, a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Choreography, the Toronto Arts Foundation’s Murriel Sherrin Award for outstanding achievement in dance and the Dance Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame in 2018.

During his long career, Grossman created a total of 67 dances. His body of work was humanist, driven by a distinctive physicality, a satirical sense of humour and his devotion to progressive social and political values. His bold and unconventional contemporary works spoke powerfully to his passionate concern for those on society’s margins, the state of our planet and disdain for political inertia. Also, in an era where queerness was not widely accepted, the segment of Grossman’s work relating to gay themes broke barriers on concert stages across Canada and internationally.

Grossman – the child of social activist parents – was born in 1942 and raised in San Francisco. He moved to New York where in 1963 he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company. In the course of a decade he rose to become one of its most outstanding dancers.

At the invitation of David Earle, Grossman relocated to Toronto in 1973 to perform as a guest with Toronto Dance Theatre and a year later became a Faculty member at York University. Grossman launched his choreographic career in 1975 at a student/faculty concert at York University with his astonishing and critically acclaimed Higher. The Canadian dance community and public were immediately transfixed by the magnificent physical and choreographic talent that was Danny Grossman. In the next year or so, he choreographed such works as Triptych, Inching and Bella, a whimsically romantic and enduringly popular duet co-created and originally performed in 1977 by Grossman and the late Canadian dancer/choreographer Judy Jarvis. That same year Grossman choreographed a solo for himself that is widely regarded as a modern-dance masterpiece: Curious Schools of Theatrical Dancing: Part 1.

This early burst of creativity quickly established Grossman as one of Canada’s leading choreographers. It also led to the 1978 formation of the Danny Grossman Dance Company which quickly rose to a place of prominence in the Canadian and international dance landscapes.

Grossman’s stature as a major creative force was solidified during the 1980s by such further works as Endangered Species (1981), a viscerally unsettling indictment of war (memorably filmed and nationally broadcast); Nobody’s Business (1981), mirroring his lifelong belief in sexual freedom; Genus (1984), originally made for the Paris Opera Ballet; Ces Plaisirs, Divine Air, Magneto Dynamo and Scherzi – all from 1985; Hothouse: Thriving on a Riff (1986), choreographed for the National Ballet of Canada who subsequently toured it to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House; La Valse (1987) and the very personal, award-winning solo Memento Mori (1988).

His creative output continued throughout the 1990s and included collaborations with such fellow choreographers as Indian classical Kathak dance artist Rina Singha and classical ballet-trained Lawrence Gradus. Grossman’s insistence on the importance of maintaining a modern-dance heritage led him to introduce noteworthy works by other historically significant choreographers into his company’s repertoire such as Paul Taylor, Patricia Beatty, Judy Jarvis, Anna Blewchamp, Charles Weidman, Peter Randazzo, the Clichettes, Paula Ross, Carol Anderson, Rachel Browne, Lester Horton, Robert Desrosiers, David Earle, Anna Sokolow and Randy Glynn. Apart from works on his own company, Grossman choreographies entered the repertoire of the National Ballet of Canada, the Paris Opera, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Toronto Dance Theatre.

For over 30 years, the Grossman Company provided a supportive platform for all who worked there. Grossman chose his dancers carefully, investing heavily in their artistic growth and in turn, they stayed a long time. With never more than 10 core dancers, the company was a flexible, mobile performing unit, presenting countless home seasons and touring across Canada, the US, Mexico, Central and South America, Israel, Cuba, the UK and many European countries.

Although the Danny Grossman Dance Company, wound down with Vanishing Acts, a special gala farewell event in 2008, its founder continued to teach and stage his works, often licensing them to professional modern-dance training academies. In 2018, to mark his 75th birthday, Grossman presented a full evening of recent works in Toronto, including three world premieres. With the help of Eddie Kastrau, his long-time artistic associate, Grossman completed a video creation days before he died. He titled it Dancer For Life.

A long-time advocate for the documentation of dance works to serve as a source for public education, scholarly activity and future reconstruction, Grossman leaves behind a comprehensive, archival summary of his life’s work which will be accessible through select libraries and institutions. Original Grossman and company materials are currently housed at Dance Collection Danse, Toronto (including an extensive costume collection) and at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, York University, Toronto. Visit the website for further information on his works.

Danny William Grossman; born San Francisco, 13 September 1942; died Toronto, 29 July 2023; survived by his sister, Kathy Herman; pre-deceased by his parents Aubrey and Hazel Grossman and his partner of 53 years, Germain Pierce. A Celebration of Life will be held in Toronto in the coming months; details to be announced.

Photo: Danny Grossman. © 2018 Liliana Reyes.