Heidi Strauss is a purebred independent dancer. It’s true she once spent a year with a small company, but it wasn’t for her. She’s more likely to start a dance troupe than join one.

That’s exactly what she did when, at the age of 16, she and dancer Sunny Horvath started earthdancers, a Sudbury operation dedicated to raising money for environmental activism. That was 1989 and the company still exists.

“I guess I’m more interested in self-directing,” says Strauss, whose name comes from her German father. Heidi is short for Adelheid, the name she’s given to her website and to the show she opens tonight at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre.

Since graduating from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 1994, she has forged a career performing with others while creating her own work developing her own artistic vision.

Strauss has made the rounds here and in Europe, either as a pick-up dancer or having forged artistic connections for herself. She has worked with Michael Downing, Kaeja d’Dance, Sylvain Emard, Marie-Josée Chartier, Sarah Chase, Denise Fujiwara, Peter Chin and Julia Sasso. She has also choreographed for the Canadian Opera Company’s La Nozze di Figaro.

A partnership with photographer and video artist Jeremy Mimnagh began in 2004 when they worked on a project for the Ryerson dance department’s student showcase. That led to marriage and more collaborations. Mimnagh has been key to the two works the slender Strauss will perform this week, Das Martyrium and ohne.

Strauss’s solo work began in 1998, soon after she met lighting designer and theatrical director Jan Komarek, whose artistry she’d admired, particularly his lighting.

“It wasn’t like dance lighting,” she says. They worked together on Das Martyrium, a hauntingly beautiful solo where the lighting is like a partner. The movement is inspired by the lives of Joan of Arc and an autistic schoolmate that Strauss has carried in her memory.

Tonight’s version of the piece is the culmination of its development from its premiere in the Czech Republic, where Komarek now lives. Komarek and Mimnaugh — the visual extensions of Strauss’ choreographic mind — also worked with her on ohne. The word means “without” and Strauss explores a myriad meanings, including fortuitously dashed expectations and “the idea of not being in control or losing what you think gives you control.”

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