Hart’s Return to the Stage in RWB’s Vespers is Bold, Brave, and Beautiful

By Sarah Helmer

published on Saturday May 13, 2017

The RWB in Vespers

The RWB in Vespers

This weekend, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet presents the World Premiere of its latest commissioned work, Vespers. Created by the award-winning Canadian choreographer James Kudelka, Vespers features iconic ballerina Evelyn Hart in a role created especially for her. The production runs from May 10th-14th at Centennial Concert Hall. The new ballet is set to Monteverdi’s “Vespro Della Beata Vergine 1610”, which was arranged and orchestrated by Tadeusz Biernacki and performed live by Winnipeg’s Camerata Nova choir and an ensemble of musicians from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Vespers is a truly stunning ballet, full of power and intentionality. Each small detail of the choreography, set, lighting, and costume design comes together with the music to draw the audience into a fascinating and richly textured mythology. Stepping away from classical ballet’s traditional narrative structure, Kudelka boldly explores themes of Nature and the Fall of Man through atmospheric contemporary ballet choreography in two contrasting acts.

From the moment the curtain opens with the first notes of a single vocalist, we are immersed in a world reminiscent of a Renaissance tapestry. The set, designed by Nick Blais, is visually arresting. What looks like the tangled root system of a great tree is built into the corner of the stage. One huge branch arches upward and across the backdrop, standing backlit against a twilight sky. Dappled light evokes the ambience of a wild, idyllic forest.

Half of the dancers represent People, dressed in simple black tunics and pants. The other half represent Nature, each playing a different animal, wearing gorgeous, larger than life masks designed by sculptor Karen Rodd. The animal masks, which completely cover the dancers’ heads, are complemented by Denis Lavoie’s stately costumes featuring vests, waistcoats, and smoking jackets, resplendent in velvet and shimmering in sparkles that call to mind the night sky.

The RWB in Vespers

The RWB in Vespers

The choreography throughout the first act invigorates the space with full, exuberant movement, drawing from both classical and contemporary styles, while also evoking the weaving patterns and formations of traditional folk and court dances. We are introduced to Ram, Bear, Horse, Cardinal, Hawk, Duck, Pig, Porcupine, Fox, and Rabbit, who each play distinct social roles and move with their own idiosyncratic postures. Pig’s featured solo, danced impressively by Yoshiko Kamikusa, is particularly charming. She shows off the quivering bristles of her beautiful mask with delightful shivers, quirky angles, and quick footwork before retreating to one of the den-like recesses hidden in the set. We see ritual, respect, and relationships of deep harmony as People and Nature move together in a series of tableaux, seeming to intuitively embrace one another’s characteristics and ways of life.

As the curtain closes on the first act, humans and beasts splinter into two factions in a frenzied group sequence, foreshadowing the division and disconnectedness to come. When the second act begins, the set has dramatically transformed to reflect a cold modernity. The once wild forest has been tamed; the centre of the huge branch which swept across the stage in the first act has been cut away. Tubular fluorescent lights bridge the void, casting an eerie glow over the scene. An imposing wooden table and benches, lined with People, appear to have been hewn from the missing section of the tree.

We finally see Evelyn Hart, the present-day Everywoman whose story we follow for the remainder of the piece. Outfitted in a midnight blue dress, she sits at the foot of the table with her partner Dmitri Dovgoselets. The Ram (danced by Yosuke Mino), who was an athletic and vivacious presence in the first act, looms ominously over the head of the table, disturbingly reminiscent of a hunting trophy mounted on a wall. This sets the tone for Hart’s journey of awakening as she reconnects with the lost knowledge of Nature, which at first feels like madness but ultimately brings her closer to transcendence.

It is difficult to focus on anyone other than Hart once she takes the stage. Her ever-enviable technique underpins a presence that is unparalleled in depth, emotion, and maturity. She dances for the entirety of the second act, surrounded by visions of beasts that no one else can see, gradually coming to accept and understand her unique connection to Nature and growing in her ability to share her wisdom with others. The recurring pas-de-deux between Hart and Liam Caines as the Horse are particularly beautiful and touching. Caines approaches the role with boldness and sensitivity. He, Dovgoselets, Mino, and the other featured men in the cast are all excellent partners for Hart throughout daring lifts and tender moments alike. At the end of the ballet, we are left yearning for more.

Kudelka’s Vespers is rich, surprising, delightful, moving, innovative, complex, bold, evocative, and meaningful. Every element of the production is carefully chosen and adds seemingly endless layers of depth to the world it embodies. Dancers and musicians equally display artistic excellence of the highest caliber in bringing Vespers to life. This brilliant creation is not to be missed.

Vespers continues at The Centennial Concert Hall until Sunday May 14.

Learning to Abstract

Peter Quanz discusses the elusive creative process, the importance of mentorship, working hard and how to avoid burnout

By Jillian Groening

 

There are certain minds where it feels like a privilege to get a glimpse inside. Having the chance to ask questions and prod around the grey matter feels akin to entering a grand and empty basilica or observing a first run-through performance while tucked in the corner of the dance studio. Peter Quanz has one of those minds.

I have to learn how to resist the the urge to catch that butterfly and pin it down, to preserve it,” Quanz says. “It’s most beautiful when it’s still flying.
— Quanz

The Winnipeg-based choreographer, founder and Artistic Director of Q Dance has an impressive amount of experience under his belt for his relatively green 35 years. From being graced with commissions from the Mariinsky Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Hong Kong Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada to being bestowed various grants and the Clifford E. Lee Award for young Canadian choreographers, Quanz’s resumé is more than admirable.  Quanz’s resumé is more than admirable. But these achievements wouldn’t have been possible if Quanz’s brain wasn’t in a state of perpetual motion. He also works like a dog: this year alone he will develop seven new creations and is staging eleven ballets.

This June, Quanz will be premiering his sixth program under Q Dance to hungry contemporary ballet fans in his adopted windy city. After being granted a commission in 2009 from New York’s Guggenheim Museum to create a new work to a score by pioneering minimalist composer Steve Reich, Quanz set to work. Needing dancers and concerned about the exorbitant cost of hiring movers south of the border, Quanz chose to work with Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) company members and an enriching partnership was born.

Now a highly anticipated aspect of the RWB season, Quanz makes sure to honour his company’s humble beginnings.

Q Dance, photo by Vince Pahkala

Q Dance, photo by Vince Pahkala

“The dancers worked for free, we worked on lunch hour, on weekends, whenever there was time available in the studio,” Quanz recalls over espresso in his lofty exchange-area art space. With the RWB company members busy creating Moulin Rouge The Ballet, Quanz was given studio time for his work, In Tandem, parallel to their pre-existing schedule. Quanz would sit in the studio, waiting for dancers who may have gotten let out early or weren’t needed for certain sections. Never knowing who to expect or when, there were some days where Quanz would sit alone for up to six hours.

“I was so lucky to get to work with them and they were donating their time. Everything comes at a price,” Quanz reflects. “But the energy of that creation was so fantastic that after the piece premiered I founded Q Dance. I wanted to have that type of experience on an ongoing basis.”

Now celebrating five years of existence, Q Dance has had the privilege of collaborating with three different choreographers and has forged important relationships with the likes of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music, visual artists such as Dominique Rey, and many more.

Now when I step into the studio I really acknowledge that the people that I’m getting to work with are far superior as dancers than I could ever have been but I know how to make them better and how to find something more in them and that is a tremendous privilege and excitement
— Quanz

“Q Dance is about branching out and making connections and trying to think about how to redefine the model,” Quanz explains. While trying to think outside the box and filling theatre seats are all too often opposing ideals, Quanz has found a way to make it feasible through artistic partnerships and Q Dance’s relationship with the RWB. With Quanz’s works having been seen by over five million people in over four continents, it appears that his strategy is working. “It’s proof that the investment made in creativity here in Winnipeg can have a worldwide impact. It’s built from community and it’s drawn from the inspiration of everybody who is a part of the team. We work together and we connect and that’s why the work relates to people in China, in Cuba, in Russia, in Europe and in New York. It’s just so exciting to see that happening.”

With a vigorous schedule ahead and the weight of a rockstar company on his shoulders, Quanz has the expert ability to know when to compartmentalize and when to let ideas bleed together as well as being highly in control of his creative motivations.

“[My ideas] come from deadlines, I’m horribly slow at a lot of things,” Quanz confesses. “It helps to think about what is meaningful to me right now. What ideas do I want to carry forward from the last project and change into a new direction? What am I curious about now? So everything I’m doing is very much in the moment, which is great.”

This immediate attitude towards creativity helps Quanz balance out projects ranging from classically-toned contemporary ballets to endurance-based performance art works. Making lists, managing his own communications and daily meditation also aid in staying on top of his workload and avoiding burnout. Not to mention accepting when certain things are better to be ignored. Such as vacuuming.

In a sense I’m more an architect of time, of the space, of the environment. We are creating the structure for other people to inhabit.
— Quanz

“It’s not important for me to vacuum my floor, [my home] is a retreat and a refuge and I’m fine with that. I’m not going to get stressed about it,” says Quanz. Being aware of his priorities for the day allows him to stay focused on his rehearsals. “I have the opportunity to work with truly gifted artists who have prepared their bodies and their minds to come into the studio and work with me and it’s my responsibility to treat that resource with respect. First thing is the work in the studio and that is the privilege.”

Apart from a lot of reflection and a clear focus, Quanz is also blessed with a handful of mentors who have aided in guiding him throughout his still fresh career. This ability to work closely with heavily respected members of the greater artistic community has not only fed him pearls of wisdom and experienced advice but has also passed on the understanding of the necessity for a supportive arts community.

From dance artist and advocate Stephanie Ballard to former Artistic Director of the RWB, the late Arnold Spohr, dance critic, writer and cultural ambassador, the late Francis Mason, the late dancer, writer and senior ballet mistress at American Ballet Theatre Elena Tchernichova and dancer, historian and archivist Vincent Warren, Quanz has had the honour of being able to learn from a bevy of highly respected artists and advocates.

“I really try to connect with people who have a vast experience and who want nothing more than to share that,” Quanz states. “That’s an inspiration and a model that I hope I can achieve. We have a responsibility in our community to be connected, to talk about what we are doing, to educate. That’s our responsibility. We are here to connect. We are here to be ambassadors.”

This sense of guidance and purpose was something Quanz was lucky enough to experience at a very young age. After attending the theatre often as a child with his parents and sister, Quanz was fascinated by the well-choreographed happenings on stage.

“I was really struck by the way that Brian Macdonald [past director of the Stratford Festival] not only did the choreography for the dance performances but also the set changes,” Quanz remembers. Macdonald, the late dancer and choreographer, would subsequently become one of Quanz’s mentors. “There was always something happening that commented on the show from another level.”

After some coaxing from a grade four teacher, the young Quanz decided to attend the RWB Professional Division. With all of his energy and training focused on becoming a choreographer, Quanz was given opportunities to flourish as an artist. Under the direction of Spohr, Quanz was taught important and intuitive methods of instructing dancers.

“I was so fortunate in those early experiences because yes, I could get an idea out but I didn’t know how to coach it,” Quanz recalls. “I didn’t know how to pull a performance from dancers. I didn’t know how to reveal something in them that they didn’t know existed and Arnold Spohr was a great help with that.”

After graduating from the professional ballet program, Quanz jumped at the chance to work with the world renowned Stuttgart Ballet. Quanz signed a two-year contract and was given enough for rent and nothing more. But the experience was incomparable. With no money for food let alone a show ticket, Quanz learned how to hide in the train bathroom in order to travel across Europe and how to sneak in the opera house doors to watch performances.

During his time in Europe, Quanz traveled from company to company sitting at the front of studios and watching six hours of rehearsal a day. From Stuttgart Ballet to The Hamburg Ballet to Nederlands Dans Theater, The Royal Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, Quanz absorbed the methods of creating and coaching that were being practised at some of the world’s best and most innovative companies. By strictly being granted access, Quanz was able to learn fascinating things from some of the world’s top artists.

“I got an education by looking and that is a very different type of education then you get by being in a course and reading,” Quanz says. “This is the education of being self-taught and of experiencing living arts and being fortunate to have met people along the way who would take my education in their hands. Through doing that I got opportunities to choreograph with incredible dancers.”

Through his innovative and proactive learning, Quanz was able to gain tools to aid in the diverse creative puzzles he consistently throws himself in. Growing up in the classical ballet world where rehearsal time is tight and you’re often working with multiple casts of dancers, Quanz fostered the ability to be clear and concise. Thanks to a recent project with contemporary company Montréal Danse, Quanz has been able to switch gears entirely to where much of his role as choreographer means stepping away from that very title.

“I’ve set up a lot of parameters for this piece but there’s great opportunity and responsibility for the four interpreters to develop their own material, to be in dialogue with the challenges that I’ve set up and to contradict them,” Quanz explains of his work with Montréal Danse. “In a sense I’m more an architect of time, of the space, of the environment. We are creating the structure for other people to inhabit.”

Other times, Quanz is put in creative roles where there is no common language. After learning German, Russian and most recently Chinese, Quanz has also been forced to move past language to discover how best to communicate physically. Whether it be through wrapping himself around a dancer and feeling them move or attempting a further stretch by swiping their feet from beneath them, Quanz has been known to push dancers hard physically.

“It’s wonderful when you can actually feel the sensation in their body that they couldn’t access on their own because they were doing things to keep control,” Quanz says. “When the body is slightly out of control, that is when exciting things happen. That being said you need to do it respectfully and methodically over time.”

Depending on the process and the timeline, Quanz will sometimes find himself sitting on the studio floor to create and direct, or moving the rehearsal to a nearby coffee shop to discuss the work at hand. If there’s one thing Quanz is sure of however, it’s that each process and each dancer and each moment will desire a different approach. Everything is constantly in flux.

“It’s a messy business but I think knowing why you’re doing something is really important, more important than knowing what you’re doing or how you’re doing it,” Quanz reflects. “I think the why question is a really big one.”

For Quanz, often the elusive “why” reveals itself. Sometimes the why changes but it always gets enriched. With being granted the honour of ample work and opportunity, “why” is sometimes simply because the chance is there with the challenge being to look further.

“With this incredible blessing of having so much work, the only way to survive is by making each project as different as possible,” Quanz says. “To make each process as different as possible and to make sure that I keep asking ‘why’.”

Ruminating on the “why” aside, Quanz has also learned that if you try and define an idea too quickly, it can kill it and the idea has no option but to be thrown out.

“I have to learn how to resist the the urge to catch that butterfly and pin it down, to preserve it,” Quanz says. “It’s most beautiful when it’s still flying.”

One concept that Quanz strongly believes in is that work does not exist purely for the sake of creating something, but that it also must contain a function. An evening of dance is not created to satisfy the choreographers whims, but rather it should live to challenge the creators values and identity, to stretch the dancers technique physically and emotionally, and to entertain and educate the public.

“Entertainment should not be a dirty word,” Quanz states. “It should not necessarily be our driving priority, the work itself should be our priority but on some level you can educate and entertain and create art all at the same time. And that’s important.”

As well as pushing for the development of his own work and the work of his dancers, Quanz would like to use Q Dance as a platform to see growth in other choreographers. For the first time ever, Q Dance has been able to invite a guest choreographer to study, progress and create in the Q Dance incubator.

After meeting Gabrielle Lamb while creating Rodin/Claudel with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Quanz knew he wanted to support and commission her work. At the time Lamb was dancing with Les Grands Ballets while pursuing her own choreographic endeavours while Quanz had just recently began Q Dance but no doubt was highly aware of the company’s direction. Four years later and now based out of New York, Quanz is hosting Lamb as Q Dance’s very first choreographic guest of honour.

“This was the first time that I had the resources to do that and I’m very honoured that [Lamb’s] here,” Quanz says. “Yesterday when I watched her piece I cried during the entire run. It was my first time seeing it and I was so proud of what she’s done. That was a new thing for me, to feel that about someone else’s work.”

The guidance and mentorship that has supported Quanz and Q Dance now filters down to the next generation of artists.

“Now when I step into the studio I really acknowledge that the people that I’m getting to work with are far superior as dancers than I could ever have been but I know how to make them better and how to find something more in them and that is a tremendous privilege and excitement,” Quanz states. “To get to see these wonderfully talented people having breakthroughs and finding something new and reaching more emotional depth in their work and finding new things to obsess over, it’s really great.”

Releasing and Realigning

The Dance Post has been hosting twice a week training in Mitzvah and Itcush techniques taught by certified teacher Kana Nemoto.  

Kana Nemoto teaching Mitzvah & Itcush class

Kana Nemoto teaching Mitzvah & Itcush class

The Mitzvah Technique and Itcush Method is a new approach to learn movement and function of the body. Focusing on the alignment and mechanics of the body, we learn to release unnecessary tension and find efficient movement with minimum effort...we allow the body to return to its ideal movement, function and freedom to expand movement possibility.
— Kana Nemoto

Native to Kobe, Japan, Kana arrived in Canada in 2009 to pursue individual training with Amelia Itcush (1945-2011), an Alexander Technique, and Mitzvah Technique teacher who founded the Itcush Method. As a young ballet dancer, Kana was introduced to the Mitzvah Technique in 1996 when Amelia taught the dancers at Kobe Ballet Studio (Kobe, Japan). This stirred Kana’s interests in a holistic and practical approach to body movement and led her to complete a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences at the Tottori University in Japan while she continued training at Tottori City Ballet (Tottori, Japan). After graduation, Kana made decision to move to Canada and pursue study in the Mitzvah Technique full-time. She began teacher training with Toshie Okabe (Toronto) and Amelia Itcush. Kana was certified as a Mitzvah Teacher in 2014 and has moved to Winnipeg to start her own MT practice and is actively involved in collaborations with other Mitzvah Teachers such as Kathy Morgan (Saskatoon) and Chihiro Tsubota (Kobe, Japan).    

Artist Talk with Marc Boivin

Thank you to everyone who attended our first Artist Talk! More to come in the near future.

photo by Janelle Hacault

photo by Janelle Hacault

from left to right: Janelle Hacault, Marc Boivin, Lise McMillan.  photo by Ming Hon  

from left to right: Janelle Hacault, Marc Boivin, Lise McMillan.  photo by Ming Hon

 

Marc Boivin photo by Janelle Hacault

Marc Boivin photo by Janelle Hacault

The Young And The Reckless

By Jillian Groening

Forget the hierarchies. Forget the three-tiered grace of government arts funding. Forget the boundaries, the limitations, and most of all the certainty. Just for a minute, forget that hazy, undulating little black line between emerging and established. Now, consider Nova Dance Collective (NDC)’s most recent show, Not Potatoes & Judy and the Reckless. 

Debuting at Winnipeg’s Rachel Browne Theatre on the night of March 20, 2015, the seven woman powerhouse behind NDC takes hold of what could be a night of awkward firsts and transforms it into raw, shimmering, captivating performance. While at times enduring in it’s fumbling, defiant independence, the self-awareness behind NDC’s latest show asks nothing but to be met with admiration.

The dance theatre double bill, featuring NDC member Zorya Arrow’s work Not Potatoes followed by Canadian dance-land wunderkind Riley Sims’ Judy and the Reckless, is heavy on melodrama, loud voices, and perfectly tossed away movement. A deadly combination when thrown together with buzzing opening night energy and hysterically funny content. The show is practically sparking.

The scene for Not Potatoes has been set with a cozy brown love seat, a side table, a tall mirror and a lamp hanging from the ceiling - all items lifted from NDC members’ living rooms. An all too familiar family milieu is presented onstage with double-chinned dancers slouched on the couch, legs splayed, and vacant expressions staring out at the audience. With a slow, warm fade up, performers Janelle Hacault and Alexandra Scarola steadily rise from their seats in the front row of the audience. Although physically bridging the fourth wall, Hacault and Scarola are clearly sharing their own tender experience. Eyes softly on each other, the two move closer until they are side by side. Turning their backs on the audience, Hacault and Scarola hip roll their bottoms in a slow sweeping moon, a gloriously cheeky gesture. Here we go.

Photo by Rodney Braun

Photo by Rodney Braun

Moments of innocent slapstick surface often in Arrow’s work, much to the viewers delight. Having spent time in clowning school, Arrow is as skilled at drawing deep belly laughter as she is at creating a blue, lonesome atmosphere and is apt at balancing the two extremes. From Rachelle Bourget and Kelsey Todd’s freeform duet, moving their limbs as instructed by the lounge lizards on the couch - “soaring ribcage,” “fluttering phalanges,” “elastic lymph nodes,” “full body darting” - to Alexandra Garrido and Sarah Helmer’s bizarre yet poignant moment with a harmonica and ski goggles, Arrow presents viewfinder vignettes reflecting on family relationships and the line of genetically inherited mannerisms. Arrow creates a minute world under a microscope while offering a peek into what one thinks about when they’re alone in their thoughts, whether at a family dinner or home in a bachelor apartment. 

This youthful rebel yell, the bold voice finding her own in piles of claimed DNA, is epitomized in Helmer’s boogie-down in front of the mirror. Like the pivotal scene in a 90’s teen movie where the girl’s got the date with the guy and the parents are letting her use the car and her hair is doing good things, Helmer lets loose, dancing, head banging, and singing along to PJ Harvey’s  “Hitting the Ground”.

Photo by Rodney Braun

Photo by Rodney Braun

With original ambient music and sound by Scott Leroux and Julia Tchira, Not Potatoes is an impactful piece and an impressive feat for what is Arrow’s first half-length group work. 

Following intermission, the theatre erupts with an even louder, even wilder work; Toronto-based dancer, artist and choreographer Riley Sims’ Judy and the Reckless. 

Bursting through the theatre doors as if in a drunk fury, NDC dancers tear through the audience yelling, crying, and acting like your general messed up stumble bums on the last party bus stop. With clothes flying and bodies flailing, an insane and hysterical world is created in a matter of minutes.

“You fucking pussy!”, “I fucking love you!” and “it hurts when you speak” are heard amidst the chaos of screaming women and shocked laughter from the audience. So convincing are the performers antics that one alarmed audience member even goes in to break up a faux fight between Scarola and Bourget. 

Photo by Rodney Braun

Photo by Rodney Braun

Carrying on with Arrow’s themes of coming-of-age and self-discovery, Sims hones in on escapism. From chemical vices to cinema and the act of performance alone, Sims presents a hilarious, vivid and beautifully intelligent depiction of the lengths we to go to in order to abandon our realities. Each dramatic moment flows smoothly to the next, ebbing and flowing in intensity but clearly presenting images of raw desperation. 

A re-creation of a scene from West Side Story involving Arrow playing both director and passionate protagonist has the audience howling. Bluntly shifting back and forth between the two opposing roles, Arrow’s expert performance not only conjures up peels of laughter but also exposes the reality behind the fake blood and wind machines involved in cinematic displays of emotion.

Photo by Rodney Braun

Photo by Rodney Braun

After all the fun and the laughter and the uninhibited thrashing, the fast-paced work settles to a glowing ember. With dancers covering Bourget in clothing that had previously littered the stage, the captivating performer begins to choke out Judy Garland’s classic monologue from the last film before her death, I Could Go On Singing (1963). Swaddled and stuffed like a zit about to pop, Bourget’s teary round face cries out honest words of showbiz burnout, fading youth and tragic beauty. Amidst dancer’s bodies falling heavily, repeatedly, on the ground, Bourget strips herself of the party-outfit trappings and in doing so finds escape. 

“On stage, you don’t feel a thing,” she says as the lights dim, leaving a luminous orb around her face.

Back to reality.

Jillian Groening is a Winnipeg-based writer and dancer. She has contributed to The Uniter, Stylus and Noisey as well as lending her interning skills to The Dance Current magazine. When not crouched in front of her computer/best friend, Groening is an apprentice dancer with Gearshifting Performance Works.

RANGE OF MOTION

Young Lungs Dance Exchange’s 10th anniversary marks a decade of innovation and independence for Winnipeg creators

Contributed by Jillian Groening                                                                                                                @jill_groening

It’s a difficult feat to find a Winnipeg-based contemporary dance artist whose career has not been touched by the fingerprint of the city’s most vital performance resource hub and dance collective.

From emerging young performers navigating the grant writing system to established creators and respected senior artists alike, Young Lungs Dance Exchange’s (YLDE) presence permeates   through every corner of Winnipeg’s tightly knit dance community. Born out of the need for opportunity for young creators and performers, YLDE was a DIY response to a segregated dance landscape.

Young Lungs Board Meeting 

“It became a sort of survival technique,” dance artist and YLDE founding member Natasha Torres-Garner explains of the collective’s beginning. “It was becoming clear to us that there was less and less work available and we weren’t going to sit and wait for jobs to be offered to us. Coming together as a group made it all possible.”

Inspired by Ottawa’s Grasshoppa Dance Exchange, YLDE members were able to self-produce by learning all aspects and responsibilities of putting on a show, from stage management to promotion to lighting design. 

“Gabriela Rehak told us about how Grasshoppa was serving an independent community in a place where otherwise things weren’t serving independent creators or performers,” dance artist and fellow YLDE founding member Freya Olafson explains. “That model sparked some activity and happening here where there were emerging performance makers who wanted to make work and not necessarily dance or solipsistically dance.”

Having an openness for change means that it can always be evolving to what the community wants and needs.
— YLDE Board Member, Zorya Arrow

The loose artist collective model allowed the group the ability to be anything to anyone, a place of creation and belonging regardless of training level. The notion of change has been an important part of YLDE’s mandate. Responsibilities within the collective, both creative and administrative, are constantly in flux.

“Nothing gets stale and new opinions are always coming in,” YLDE board member Zorya Arrow explains. “Having an openness for change means that it can always be evolving to what the community wants and needs.”

However, sometimes this constant has been a weakness. In the past it has made the collective difficult to define for those not directly involved and the nature of the variety-style shows could be taken as confusing or without direction.

YLDE's first production poster by founding member Freya Olafson

Despite YLDE’s remodelling and re-visioning, Torres-Garner and Joanna Riley have stood as pillars of the collective since the beginning. 

“They keep an overhead watch on vision and values but they are also always very inviting to new ideas and new people,” Arrow says. “That’s what makes it so powerful and successful is having the balance of it all.”

With no one person curating the shows and no singular vision or aesthetic to follow, the group had freedom to exercise their skills as performers as well as creators and often found themselves at a crossroads between dance and theatre.

“The smudging of lines between mediums did cause a bit of tension,” Torres-Garner reflects. “There was some thought that introducing those kinds of relationships would weaken the art form but in the end we were part of a larger movement that is very much in place now, where the word dance isn’t really the best way to identify what we do anymore.”

The groups first production, titled Frozen Not Canned, saw the young dance artists Jennifer Essex, Torres-Garner and Olafson each create a short work and the local band Red Say No played an ambient set. 

“We just fed off each other and would think that we were making magic,” Torres-Garner says with a laugh. “While at times we probably were, at other times we probably were not at all.”

Fast forward ten years and YLDE is presenting their annual Research Series, an event which gives six creators from varying performance backgrounds the opportunity to explore their ideas in-studio before offering a raw look at their discoveries to an audience. The three-night affair of mid-process showings juxtaposes different dance styles and invites the viewers to engage in a post-show chat.

“The Research Series is important in that it allows the creator to take risks and to learn from them while giving the audience a sense of what it means to make work,” YLDE administrator Ian Mozdzen states. “Nothing shown is a finished product so it opens people up to the process of creating.”

The ability to discuss the events unfolding on stage or even in-studio is a rare occasion in a lot of dance work. A focus of YLDE is to present a platform where discussion and critique are approachable and constructive.

“[Discussion] is a skill that is often a bit underdeveloped in our dance training,” Olafson says. “It’s a gift to be in the studio with someone who is very open about what they’re doing and the opportunity to add to that is great for your own learning. It’s great to talk about your experience because experience is also learning so having the challenge of putting it into words is really exciting.”

Olafson will be performing choreographer Treasure Waddell’s improvisation-inspired work during the Research Series as well as presenting her own physical experimentations. It will be her first foray into creating on other bodies after years spent working solely as an independent dance artist.

“The Research Series provides opportunity and entry points for new relationships to emerge and grow,” Olafson reflects. “It’s totally refreshing to learn another persons style and approach to research and ultimately it feels less stressful and less emotionally burdensome, like I’m not hitting my head on any walls.”

Providing the creator with a means of financially consequence-free experimentation while simultaneously opening the flow of discussion and critical thought encourages future dance creation as well as the understanding of contemporary dance, which can sometimes be alienating in it’s abstraction.

“By getting a peek at people’s processes you can see that artists aren’t magicians, they are just people responding to whatever is going on around them,” Torres-Garner says. “That part is so fascinating to see, that we’re all just people being people in the same place at the same time and this is how we’re talking about it, through dance.”

What began out of green ambition, punk sensibilities, and creative necessity ten years ago has now grown to an established, respected and overall important resource for the Winnipeg dance community.

“When it started it really did feel like we were creating a community for ourselves at the time,” Torres-Garner reflects.

That community has now grown, and allowed independent performance artists to grow alongside it.

Don’t miss YLDE’s Research Series December 11-13 at the Rachel Browne Theatre. A series pass is $15 and a single ticket is $10. Coming up in the new year YLDE presents a workshop with dance artist Peter Trosztmer. For more information, please visit www.younglungs.ca

 

 

 

Alexandra Elliott goes to prison in order to witness Pina Bausch's Vollmond

Hi Alex, I have a special request for you to consider.

I would love, if you were interested and willing to take 4-7 photos of your time in Ottawa at the show. ... a photo of the NAC exterior, the inside lobby, the actual stage, any signage/posters around Ottawa, a selfie of you there ...or anything fun and creative you like.
— says The Dance Post
The Prison Hostel

The Prison Hostel

I would love to be the photo correspondent!
— says Alexandra Elliott

Since we couldn't take all of Winnipeg to witness Pina Bausch's work, we asked Alex to take us along for the ride.  Meet our newest Photo Correspondent.  

The Beautiful Ottawa

The Beautiful Ottawa

The Excitement Builds

The Excitement Builds

Alex at the NAC for Vollmond

Alex at the NAC for Vollmond

The Calm Before the Storm

The Calm Before the Storm

Every Day at The Ministry of Coffee

Every Day at The Ministry of Coffee

A Lock to Seal Your Love

A Lock to Seal Your Love

Art by Shary Boyle at the National Gallery                                                CLICK IMAGE TO VISIT WWW.SHARYBOYLE.COM

Art by Shary Boyle at the National Gallery                                                CLICK IMAGE TO VISIT WWW.SHARYBOYLE.COM

The Power of Water: A Reflection of Vollmond

contributed by Sarah Roche

Photo by Alexandra F. Elliott  

Photo by Alexandra F. Elliott

 

Someone once told me that watching ballet was like reading a narrative and watching modern or contemporary dancer was like reading poetry. “Let the images and metaphors of the dance wash over you”. Similarly, I’ve heard the lovely analogy that watching a contemporary dance show is like stepping into a bath. Immerse yourself into the images and aesthetics of the piece and after, step out and let it drip off. (Some pieces are too hot or cold for me to immerse myself fully).  Notice what sticks. Notice if anything has been absorbed.

I was flooded with images as the piece unrolled in scene after scene. At certain points I chose to only watch the beauty of water droplets flying like fireworks in the lights.
— Sarah Roche

A night with Pina Bausch’s Vollmond performed by Tanztheater Wuppertal artists was a bath to remember. I had the privilege to be at the NAC in Ottawa last weekend on Nov. 8th and for nearly two and a half hours I soaked in powerful images of love and relationships. The overall aesthetics of this piece were so satisfying that I found myself able to sit back and enjoy, be provoked and captured into moments of laughter, pain, urgent desire and playful pleasure.

The piece title translates to ‘full moon’. The set, as many will recognize from the 2011 film Pina, consists of a giant lunar-like rock upstage left. It sits in what the audience soon learns is a river of water that is permanently contained to the whole width of a panel three quarters up the stage. Camouflaged to look like any other panel, it is a playful surprise to hear feet splash through for the first time. The surprise continues and becomes all the more exciting once invisible clouds open and rain pours over the river for a great length of the piece. The moon pushes and pulls the tides and so water is a powerful and prominent element of the piece. Water, a metaphor for so many ideas, was explored in a variety of ways. I viewed the water in the panel as a river of life or a river of love. At times dancers were floating down stream, humorously swimming one after the other, splashing wildly and diving in or being dragged though. I understood that we all do those things in love too- flail wildly, freely dance in the rain, hold on tight to someone dragging us along. I was flooded with images as the piece unrolled in scene after scene. At certain points I chose to only watch the beauty of water droplets flying like fireworks in the lights. At another time I was reminded of Peggy’s Cove and the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean spray against the rocks. The use of props and set was masterful and I have yet to mention the dancers!

The accomplished cast of six men and six women ranged in age but all were mature, adept performers giving nothing less than a first-rate show. They were dressed and paired in classic male and female roles – dress pants and shirts for men, strapless gowns with cascading long hair for women. They shared dominance at different times and at some point they all executed electric movements that could be described as a clear flailing, in articulate speed, with wild, yet precise gestures. But they didn’t just move. They spoke to one another. In one instance we witnessed a woman helping a man to improve his speed of unfastening a bra. They spoke to us, the audience. At one moment a woman walked the stage, tracing each step with chalk so her feet looked enormous and she gave the advice that one way to defend yourself is to make yourself bigger. Another woman cried a wrenching scream, “I wait, I wait, I wait, yes, yes, I wait I wait…I cry, I cry…” as she clenched her fists along her body. Near the beginning, one woman mentioned seeing pink, and I thought, ‘perhaps I am watching with rose coloured glasses’. I was so excited sitting in my center stage seat of the amphitheater, quite far up, but center stage view none the less. And I knew, before anyone even entered the stage, that this was going to be a night to remember.

Indeed, it was a deliciously artistically pleasing night. “A piece like a pagan ritual full of a lust for life and for dance,” that is what the program said. I agree. I experienced love from all angles, water from playful to chaotic, and master artists at work. I enjoyed it so much I bought my very first dance show soundtrack…it’s brilliant!

Reflection on "Current See", part of The Production Series presented by Young Lungs Dance Exchange

contributed by Jill Groening

There's something magical about being in the Gas Station Theatre when it's raining outside.

Lise McMillan is rehearsing her first ever full-length work, featuring dancers Alexandra Elliott, Samarah McRorie, Elise Page and Tanja Woloshen, while the echo of rain slapping tin reverberates through the theatre. The women face each other in a close circle, their bare feet scratching on a large circle of astro-turf.

“Find what feels comfortable for you, what you enjoy,” McMillan calmly says to the dancers as they take turns tumbling to dip their fingers into mini-fishbowls full of water. As one reaches towards a desired bowl, the rest smoothly shift to support the curious ones weight. 

The work, titled Current See, explores organic imagery juxtaposed with the industrial, ahem harmful, aspect of human existence. McMillan utilizes an intelligent stage set up as well as a myriad of props, such as a luminescent chicken wire cloud and a sculptural tree-dress, to illustrate her well-thought out concepts. 

Presented as part of the Young Lungs Production Series 2014, Current See features the live music of composer David Graham. His subtle, looped instrumentations run parallel to McMillan's themes of naturally occurring cycles, the ebb and flow of life.

McRorie is alone on stage now, statuesque and balancing one of the fishbowls of water on top of her head. Reminiscent of some sort of water deity, her expression is concentrated as her toes grip the floor. You half expect to feel droplets on your shoulders as it continues to pour.

Samarah McRorie and Elise Page in "Current See"                                                                          photo by Lise McMillan

Q & A with Calgary's Michèle Moss

Co-founder of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, and here creating a piece for Nafro Dance Productions, Moss is no stranger to Winnipeg or choreography.

 

by Janelle Hacault

The Dance Post: Tell us about the piece you’ve created for Nafro Dance Productions and your creative process.

Michèle Moss: Casimiro invited me because I did the first Patana program - this idea of coming together. So, because there is nothing new under the sun… it’s about a community. A global, a national, a civic, a dance community, a community of individuals coming together to support. The title I’m throwing around is something like “support this”.

I often go in with lots of ideas. This time, I tried to shake off the notion of making phrases. Just be in the moment. I’m not going to lie, it’s often hard when you are sitting there, standing there or creating a move and your dancers are waiting for you like “now what?”. That’s when I whip out the licks… but I really tired not to do that and just be in the moment. So some of it’s wafty, kind of nebulous, it’s something internal, [with] impulse and emotion. So I have to have faith in the Artistic Director and the dancers to continue to fashion it and polish it… the good news is, I know these guys a little bit. It’s my fourth time here. It flowed.

TDP: You describe jazz requiring a sense of playfulness, improvising with a sense of humour, giving into rhythmic impulses, and allowing ones individualism to come out. Do you use this approach when it is just you performing?

MM: I started many years ago during our processes that we developed at Decidedly Jazz [Danceworks] and out of my university training, and in my early years of company work, there was very much an appreciation for and a dedication to improvisation. Because it is a cornerstone for jazz and it is all about the individual artist. Sometimes we come together much like a jazz band and we play the same score, we play the same tune and so we do moves together in unison. But personal expression is really an important aspect of it. So even if it is set and I’m doing a solo, yeah [I use it] and it’s really fun! I did it recently and I had a full band behind me.

TDP: How do you juggle all the hats you wear? Assistant Professor at University of Calgary, Instructor/Choreographer for DJD, researcher in American swing and R&B/Soul/Funk social dances, Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, and Afro-Haitian, and West African dance styles.

MM: My focus is the university now. I’m at DJD in terms of teaching company class now and then, I teach the professional training program now and then, I teach the evening program, the West African program we designed, a guess teacher in the jazz classes now and then. So a series of 3 or 4 classes. My focus over there [DJD] is modest but i’m always open for an invitation…

Being an academic, I’m not going to lie, is a whole lot more than I bargained for. I do a lot of research that is related to greater projects so often I have a writing project on the go with publishers calling and saying “Ok, we got to get this going. You haven’t got your weekly draft in”. So, I’ve written in the last 4 years, 3 chapters for [text] books. And then there are always the articles that you are working for yourself. You are researching films, you’re over at the library reading journals, you’re at home reading books. You are also doing research for your own creation projects. 

The truth is, I did have this realization at home the other day that kind of amped up my weariness that was like “ah yes, I guess I know why I’m tired”. When you look at your CV and look at each and every item, it just reads as a little 4 line thing but that represents hours and hours of preparation, hours and hours and hours and hours in the studio in creation, hours and hours in production, and then reconciling all the technology… and then there are conferences, papers, phone calls. And at university, there are services that you provide to your community.

And. And. And...

Your instrument needs special attention when you get older so I did have a total hip replacement. It BLEW. MY. MIND!

TDP: What are your thoughts on Calgary’s current dance scene?

MM: "Get moving young people! Go make it happen!"

You do your little part and sometimes it resonates, and sometimes it doesn’t resonate. You can be busy running around, maybe make a company and it really has legs. That is what happened to me and I’m really lucky. I get to be embedded into the community in a way that I feel like I’ve made my contribution but it doesn’t always happen that way. I’m happy to still contribute, it’s not like “I’m out! I’m old! I’m gone”, I’m not! But the Calgary scene? Yeah, “you gotta’ get going!” And I think that for every community in Canada.

There are individuals out there that are made of steel, full of vim and vigour; Davida Monk is an example of that. And we’ve had many, thank God, that have a bit of fire in them. I hope that our university [of Calgary] program is one of those. I look here [in Winnipeg] and I see the School of Contemporary Dancers and it’s like they [graduates] are flying out the door, graduate upon graduate, people are just get things done. They are fired up!

But you look at other places in the world where Dance Scholarship, Performance Creation are embedded and respected… but they are struggling just like we all are. There are governments and decisions being made to bring the arts forward and recognize that you can’t run it like a business. It becomes prohibitive. The finance of it, the dollar and cents of it becomes a tricky thing. Some people would say fundraising is the way, that you have to have patrons and don’t depend on the government. But in fact, that is what they are there for. 

TDP: What made you decide you wanted to pursue a career in dance?

MM: I have to say, there is a little bit of tumble weed in it. Things kind of conspired and came together. I looked at an opportunity and I then I chose that path.

It was embedded into my life. My father is of Caribbean heritage. I grew up in England, with my mother who is English and dance is very much embedded in the English school system. There is also a tradition of sending your kids to a dance school so, at 3 years old, I went and luckily I did that. I moved to Canada and found another community through the Negro Community Centre, at that time that is what it was called, in Montreal. We had to travel a long way and I went with my cousins, and it was a full on Saturday, with music works, theatre, games and lots of dance. Something in me obviously went, “I want more of this”… but there was a lot of pressure to excel academically so dance went on the side. I ended up starting up a dance club in high school and then I started to do the things I had to do. I went to CEGEP, I went west for an adventure, I ended up going to university and was going to be a biology major. I had no idea what I wanted to do, really, I just thought I better get a general education… 

And then, I met this wonderful woman, Hannah Stilwell, who is a long-time friend and collaborator. I was walking across campus and she said, “Are you coming to dance class?” and I was like, “ Dance class at university? What are you talking about?”, but she said, “Yeah! Come to dance class…” So I went to go and it was full. Within an hour, someone had dropped out and I went in. And the rest is history. 

TDP: What’s the thing you love most about what you do?

MM: I feel very very grateful everyday. I go away on a business trip and someone asks what I’m here to do and I say “I’m here to set a work. I’m here on a creative process” and they are confused. Sometimes their reaction is completely opposite and they are like “Wow!”

There is a lot of work, a lot of training, a lot of reflection, a lot of attention to the practice, and a lot of sweat equity. I like to work in this way. 

I wear a lot of hats and I enjoy that, apparently!

TDP: What are some of your favourite places to go to in Winnipeg?

MM: There are a lot of cool things in Winnipeg!

(Whisper) I have a shoe fetish. Rooster is just around the corner from here (Nafro). It’s daaaangerous. 

I bought a beautiful pair of dance pants made of bamboo at Andréanne’s studio yesterday down south Osborne. I think it's called Voila.