Monday, February 5, 2018

Margaret Grenier and Dancers of Damelahamid

This week DanceWorks presents Dancers of Damelahamid, an Indigenous dance company under the direction of choreographer Margaret Grenier. The company is currently focussed on defining their practice to ensure continued tangibility and accessibility to future generations. They have travelled all over the world with their multi-disciplinary dance performance works that draw on Northwest Coastal dance as well as producing the annual Coastal First Nations Dance Festival since 2008. Margaret Grenier holds a Masters of Arts in Arts Education from Simon Fraser University and was a faculty member for the Banff Centre Indigenous Dance Residency 2013. She serves on the Board for Vancouver's Dance Centre as well as the Canadian Dance Assembly.

Margaret took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about identity, creative process and the Northern Flicker.

LR: You cite dance as the most significant inheritance from your parents and grandparents...I wonder if you can elaborate on why you feel it is the most significant, I suppose in its essence as a physical art form and also its function in a community?

MG: Dance has defined my identity as Gitxsan. It is a tangible expression of who I am. It has been the main source of connection to language, story and the artistic practices that have been part of my family for generations. Northwest Coastal dance is in its essence connected to the oral histories that hold both law and governance. It is something that was so closely lost, that decades of work was need to ensure its revitalization. The love and dedication of the past two generations, to move the dances forward, is a beautiful gift to receive and uphold. 

LR: I have been a bird watcher since birth (my parents took me on my first major excursion when I was just 8 months old) and I do love the flicker -- its sounds and size, the unique attributes of woodpeckers' anatomy. Could you tell me a bit about the this bird, the flicker as starting point for a dance/multimedia performance work?

MG: The Flicker’s unique tail feather is an important part of Northwest Coast design, as it forms the shape of the split U. Even the most elaborate of Northwest Coast artwork is created from two basic shapes, the ovoid and the split U. With the dance piece Flicker we wanted to look deeply at what the essential elements are within the dance form in order to build from there. 

For our company, Flicker is one of the first pieces that we have worked on to bring contemporary perspectives within the traditional form. Flicker is also a metaphor for light. We explored different mediums to express this concept of light within Flicker. Just as light flickers, the underlying metaphor is about how carefully we must nourish our artistic practices in order to sustain them and ourselves.

LR: What is most important to you in your creative process?

photo by Derek Dix

MG: The most import thing for me is to be true to myself. My incentive is to honour the generations before me and also to do my part to pass this forward. I have to carefully navigate my place in this because for me it is about being intimately connected to the knowledge base and at the same time challenging myself to take risks with where I see my limitations. For the most part those limitations are false. My creative process is for me a process of decolonizing. 

LR: How do you work in rehearsal with the dancers?

photo by Derek Dix

MG: I see the choreographic process as going beyond the studio. The relationship with the dancers is that of creating and maintaining a family. Therefore the work becomes quite personal and is a reflection of identity. Each dance piece becomes a framework that guides us through an exploration of self and community. It is also a process that connects us to ancestral knowledge. I find that it is very hard to find a means to maintain this connection without the art form. 

LR:  What else are you working on and or what is next?

MG: The Dancers of Damelahamid are working towards developing a new multi-media dance work, Mînowin that integrates narrative, movement, song, performance, and multi media design, connecting to landscapes from contemporary perspectives of customary Indigenous dance forms. Mînowin describes the act of recovering or clarifying direction. 

LR: Thank you Margaret for taking the time with me! I am really looking forward to seeing your performance this weekend.

Join me there!

Dancers of Damelahamid
February 9 and 10 at 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre


more info on the show:

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Dreamers: Karen and Allen Kaeja dream big

Have you heard about Solo Dance Xchange? A dream of Karen Kaeja's, brought to fruition through film by Allen Kaeja and a performance happening this week at Crow's Theatre's beautiful new space in Leslieville. Produced by Kaeja d'Dance, 22 dancers reinterpret the solos of each other in a stream of evolution, with the potential to reveal the beauty of the individuality as much as the universality of the artists involved and dance as an art form. Check out this link for a more detailed description of the whole monumental undertaking:

They've been dreamers for a long time....
Karen and Allen Kaeja

Below, I've compiled questions and answers with Karen and Allen Kaeja, and dance artists Esmeralda Enrique and Roshanak Jaberi, on the nature of inspiration and reinterpretation.

LR: So, Karen and Allen…what gave rise to this project? What need did you see or feel in conceiving the Solo Xchange?

KK: I have been incubating the Solo Dance Xchange for about ten years. It has taken many forms in my mind but this incarnation is the one that stuck.  It was always a short, under 5 minutes, explorations where the inspiration came directly from another dancer’s articulations and practice. I never had enough money to move forward, just lots of conversations. I kept it percolating and I guess it never left me. I love making platforms for people to research, create and shine and I seem to keep doing it in different incarnations.

AK:  Both Karen and I have been dreaming of these initiatives for over a decade. In 1997 I was beginning to immerse myself in film, I said to Karen that, as we were touring around the world, from India, Europe to South/Central America, I wanted to shoot short solos of her in every location. When we started to discuss what to apply with to the Toronto Arts Council Strategic Funding program, I though what if I expanded the concept to many of our incredible dance artists in deeply personal spaces throughout Metro TO and I knew I wanted to shoot in 4K.

KK: Sooooo, driving along a country road with Allen, heading back into the city a year and a half ago, we were discussing the plethora of projects to apply for. We both tried to convince each that our long-term incubating ideas were way more important/impressive/necessary than the other's. After lots of long pauses, it became clear to me that both our dreams can live together as one project. That was it. The combined project became Xtraordinary TO Dances. Important to me was that the artists were all given the same parameters and had exactly the same opportunities offered throughout the process.

LR: One of the most compelling things about the Solo Dance Xchange project, to me, is the transference of one artist’s material to an artist working in a different genre or medium of dance. At root movement is movement, but we know our bodies have their familiar physical homes and pathways…Esmeralda and Roshanak, could you tell me: what stood out in the for you in the physicality, or movement qualities of the artists whose work you are interpreting?

RJ: What stood out to me in the artist's movement quality was their musicality. There was a lot that remained a mystery because while I had seem them many times in performance, I didn't know much about their artistic motivations, which is what intrigues me most. So my approach was to connect with the elements that personally resonated with me, drawing inspiration not only from their movement but also from their story.

EE: What has stood out for me is not so much the material but the intention of their movement, the abandon and the joy in hurling yourself into danger!

LR: How did you select the artists involved, what were the key elements in the artists you wanted?

AK: For the film aspect of the project, this was a very long and difficult process and we have sooooo many Xtraordinary Dance Artists (EDA) here in TO. We set a number of parameters that helped us narrow down the EDA’s and they included:
                                               i.     Must be a Choreographer
                                              ii.     Must be a Performer
                                             iii.     Must be comfortable improvising
                                             iv.     Must be available for both projects: Film & Stage
It was very important to us that we represented, as much as we could, the mosaic of dance currently active and excelling in our city. We also wanted a strong multi-generational representation. They range from their 20s to their 70s.

KK: The ‘selection process’ for the 22 Xtraordinary TO Dancers took about a year. First we had to decide how many artists we could bring in to the project – budget budget budget. Then we began intuitively making our way through the huge number of artists in our minds that are deeply imbedded in their practices. We could be easily making XTOD’s annually for the rest of our lives with the number of great artists in Toronto.

LR: For the stage aspect of the project, how did you determine the transferences, the pairings of dancers to reinterpret each others' work?

KK: After the film shoot, we gathered and the dancers drew a name out of a hat. If they got their own name it went back in for a redraw. So that was in June 2017 and it rolled forward from then.

LR: How did you, Esmeralda and Roshanak, approach translating that movement into your body? what was the in-studio process like for you? As much as you can tell me, as I know the pairings are secret until opening night!

EE: I am a much more cautious person at this stage of my life as it relates to physical danger. I do not take unnecessary physical risks. But hurling myself into music, rhythm, inner feelings and outer sensations, all of these new or unknown are exciting for me. So I have worked in-studio to embody these stimuli. We can only feel and know in our own bodies but I have tried to push the edge of my comfort zone in all areas.

RJ: I met with the artist one-on-one to learn more about the person behind the dancer. I was interested in their lived experiences and how their individual journey is expressed through their art. I was also curious about what excites them most and how that translates into their practice.

We met a second time in the studio with the intention of moving together. What I expected to be a short lesson in the physicality extracted from the artist's solo, turned into a one and a half hour improvisation which I walked away from feeling artistically full and with a deeper understanding of the person.

LR: Well you both lead clearly to my next question about the value of this project to the artists involved. Obviously you both have experienced really positive challenges and growth. what do you think the value of this project is for the artists involved? for the audiences that encounter it?

RJ: The energetic exchange with a new artist re-invigorated my relationship to dance because it reminded me of my love of the unexpected and the sheer joy of moving with a new body without expectations.

EE: As artists we get to explore areas of how we can tell a story from very different perspectives, still our own, but perspectives that we usually do not rely on.

LR: And the process of giving your solo to another artist, what is that like? How involved were you?

RJ: I'm delighted and honoured to have my solo interpreted by an artist I admire. I met with the artist to talk about my story, and then again in the studio where I shared some of my movement vocabulary with them. I don't know much about what the outcome will be, but I'm most curious to see what the seeds of inspiration will be for my interpreting artist. 

EE: We are not interpreting each other’s dance, but rather finding out how the other artist approaches their creation of movement, what inspires them, and approaching our dance with their inspirations. I am very curious to know and see how my approaches to my dance can inspire another dancer in a very different style.

LR: Anything surprising happen in the course of this project? Of course there must have been...

AK:  During the process of filming, we interviewed each of the EDA’s for 10 – 15 minutes. Their answers were mind-blowing, introspective, personal and incredibly enlightening. We hope to make a documentary with their dance and interview processes.

KK: Originally I thought I would visit rehearsals for all the works, and I have seen some, but I will not have seen most of the works until we are in the theatre. The artists have not seen each-others, nor heard their own solo music which be improvised live each night. I am most enamoured with the amount of trust that the artists have given Allen and I in this whole Xtraordinary TO Dances project.

LR: So the biggest surprise is still to come for you Karen! On another vein, how do you manage as a company to keep expanding the scope of what Kaeja d’Dance does? — I guess I mean this from an artistic and energetic viewpoint rather than a managerial one, but I know they must overlap.

KK: Who really knows? I have always instigated projects that ring true to me, always self-taught. I had my own night shirt business called Dreamers, before I chose to commit to dance. Rather than waitressing to subsidize my career in the early phase, I made and toured my Dreamers Nightshirts for five years to craft shows all over Ontario, while I lived and trained and began professional work in both Montreal and New York. 

John Oswald was one of my first nightshirt purchasers! I remember years later when I stopped the nightshirt train, John had called and wanted one – so he was my first and last to ask! I started the nightshirt biz much in the same way Kaeja d’Dance was born – out of a need to fulfil a passion. 

AK: Karen and I believe strongly in following our passions and visions. We also are very supportive of each other’s creative visions and do everything we can to see each other’s ideas find a life.

KK: Both Allen and I are doers. In the first decade or so he was always the big idea person and I was the epitome of detail – dancing and brain. Over the years those roles have merged and transformed. I have moved out of my shy phase (for the most part) which let my urge to create bust out. 

AK: We are always dreaming and realizing these directions. If an idea or project doesn’t receive enough funding to see it come to realization, then we just put it on the back-burner until either opportunity presents itself or it morphs into a newer, more vibrant idea.

KK: Kaeja d’Dance is an ongoing collaboration. Allen is an amazing human being. He and I definitely inspire and feed each other. We share a love to be in a state of creativity and travel and we are there for each other. I would call it orienting the disorienting. There are perks in our partnership for sure – and yes, of course there are challenges. It feels like we are a never-ending, always-evolving story, with kids in tow and hundreds of artists and team players in our sphere.

LR: And what inspires you as artists? All of you?

RJ: I'm currently challenging my artistic practice by deepening my research through my creative process, re-envisioning my aesthetic and physicality, as well as ideas around audience engagement. I'm interested in the intersection of dance with other art forms, with social justice at the heart of it. 

KK: My current choreographic drive is really realizing what my lifelong passion has always been, which is all aspects of ‘Touch’. So I am taking 3-4 years rather than our normally slated 2 years to make a new work called Touch X. I am charged about working with professional and non-trained dancers.  And I have four commissions this year which I am really honoured by. I do very much thrive on mentoring the next generation in a one on one context with their creative team. Giving them whatever I can and being in the studio in a way that works for them in creation.


EE: I am most curious about depth of expression, about how subtle I can be without losing the ability to communicate to an audience what I am trying to express.

AK: My work has transformed, whether purely physical, thematic, societal or personal. In my most recent production DEFIANT, I began to examine my deep personal past, having spent almost a decade being severely bullied, marginalized and trying to build a sense of self through the combatives of wrestling and Judo. Violence, re-direction of this energy into dance and redemption was at the core of this research.

I will continue with this investigation looking into the culture of shame and searching for the roots of inherent violence in our society, as well as the role of bystander in perpetrating this culture. Within this, I will examine the powerful roles of forgiveness, understanding and compassion as the roots of our humanity.


The Guloien Theatre
Streetcar Crowsnest (T.O.)
345 Carlaw Ave
Toronto, ON M4M 2T1


Thursday February 1, 2018                 
Friday February 2, 2018                         
Saturday February 3, 2018


photos courtesy of Kaeja d'Dance
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Saturday, December 2, 2017

About Screen Moves: at Dancemakers Monday December 4th!

Monday is traditionally dark night in the theatre but this Monday, December 4th Dancemakers will be lit up with Screen Moves, an enterprise of dance films made specifically for the event.

Conceived by the RT Collective and presented in collaboration with Dancemakers, Screen:Moves invites 20 artists from across Canada to create original short dance films for this one-night-only program.

The program features a wide range of formats—experimental, narrative, animated and comedic works, offering a unique cross section of Canada’s diverse dance communities on screen.

Artists include: Katie Ewald (Dora Winner with Public Recordings, Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Production 2014), Nova Bhattacharya (Summerworks 2016 Winner Outstanding Direction) William Yong (4 Time Dora Nominee), Robert Kingsbury (Premiere’s Award for Emerging Artist), Rodney Diverlus (Choreographer and Co-founder of BLM-TO), Brandy Leary (AD of Anadam Dance), Natasha Powell (Company Member Holla Jazz), Peter Kelly (TDT Company Member), and many others.

Here's an interview with the RT Collective's Chris Dupuis and Dancemakers' Amelia Ehrhardt,  as well as Nova Bhattacharya and William Yong, artists whose work will be featured in the event.

Still from Francesca Chudnoff's Effigy

LUCY: I am wondering how the idea for Screen Moves evolved? What sparked the need to make it happen? 

CHRIS: Screen:Moves was initially conceived by Marcin Wisniewski and myself (who run the RT Collective The company was founded in 2013 to present screenings, exhibitions, workshops and panel discussions centred around contemporary media arts practices. My own background is in performance, and so I had been interested in taking the platform we've established and using it as a way to start a conversation with artists working in that field.

Instead of having artists send works they've already made, artists submit proposals for new projects they want to make, and we select from those proposals to curate the program. While this is a very normal way to operate in the performance field, it's highly unusual in the film/video/media arts world. Dance film/video is an art form that has very few platforms for presentation, and so creating a space where we not only offer artists the chance to show their works, but also stimulate the creation of new works in this genre, is beneficial to both the dance sector and the media arts sector. 

On a personal level, I've also been interested in starting a conversation with Dancemakers and Amelia for a while, and so the project seemed like a good way to do that. 

Still from Katie Ewald's Bustin Makes Me Feel Good

AMELIA: From a Dancemakers perspective, Screen Moves evolved out of a former program started by my predecessors, Ben Kamino and Emi Forster. We cancelled it temporarily last season with the idea that we would pick it up again it the right partner came along, so I was thrilled when Chris approached us. More and more I feel that dance artists are looking for alternative ways to present their works, and as theatres get more expensive and digital media gets cheaper, the answer is obvious. 

Still from Nita Bowerman's Tutu

LUCY: How was the selection process? What were keys  to deciding who to program?

AMELIA: For Dancemakers we're really interested in artists trying new things - either for themselves, or trying to find new things for the form. So working with people who were pushing themselves or audiences was a priority for us. These kinds of programming decisions are always difficult....

CHRIS: Open calls can generate so much unpaid artistic labour, with people sending out proposals to different places all the time, in the hopes someone will offer them a shot. 

AMELIA: I think about this a lot, and how odd it is that people in positions like mine get paid to read the applications but artists who produce applications might not even get paid if they get programmed.

Still from Zachary Nicol's  Ill

CHRIS: You get so many amazing proposals that you have to turn down because you don't have enough money to support them all. In terms of selecting proposals, it was a three-way conversation between Amelia, Marcin, and myself, where each of us had certain proposals we were drawn to. Overall with the program, we wanted to feature a range of dance traditions as well as different approaches the medium of video. 

One thing worth mentioning about the RT Collective's curatorial process is that each program we do is made up of a small number of pre-selected artists and then completed with an open call for submissions. This process allows us to forge relationships with new artists and build relationships with artists we already know. When we're making our pre-selection for a new program, some of the artists are always people who've previously applied to one of our programs, but whom we weren't able to offer a spot to. So being turned down for one program, definitely doesn't mean that we aren't interested in working with someone.

LUCY: Nova Bhattacharya, you were one of the pre-selected artists...

Still from Nova Bhattacharya's Traces

NOVA: The invitation created the impetus for me to do something that had been on "the list" for a long time. It gave me the opportunity to put something out there that had a dancer of colour, working in a form of dance that resonates for many Canadians descended from the South Asian diaspora.

LUCY: Tell me a bit about your contribution to Screen Moves -- what are you exploring, how does it fit with your overarching artistic vision?

NOVA: It's about ritual practice and bharatnatyam iconography, the use of the body as a filtration system for emotions. It pursues an ongoing line of inquiry into ritual practice through dance and pushes the space for a wider understanding of the art form. Later this season I'll be doing a series of pop-up performances at The Theatre Centre which will continue the exploration of ritual practice through dance.

Still from Melanie Gordon's Cutting Paper

LUCY: And William, what about you? what brought you to Screen Moves?

WILLIAM: I love the idea of showcasing dance and movement in a film and show it in a movement-themed film festival. I have performed or choreographed in many dance films. When I was presented with this opportunity, I knew it would be a wonderful film-making practice for me to make another dance film.  I used to love a film festival called Moving Picture Festival but it folded many years ago. I miss it terribly. I am excited what Screen:moves has to offer.


Still from Shakeil Rollock's Mask4Masc

LUCY: So what is your film about? How does it align with your overall artistic vision?
I think this film project is rather more aligned with my artistic challenge than my artistic vision. My master degree dissertation in dance was research into the specialization of dance film and video making. It was always part of my practise to study dance films. Even in most of my full-length stage works, I often incorporate video projection visuals and integrate them into live dance. I also love editing films. I edited all of my company's trailers and teasers. So, this project is a further challenge to see how I manage technically to direct, film, light and edit a whole short film single-handed.

With my film "Quench" I am interested in how individuals have different intentions and emotions even doing the same routine activities. Particularly in a private environment.

LUCY: The bathtub?

WILLIAM: Yes, three individual immerse themselves in self-indulgent bathing ritual behind closed doors...

LUCY: This will not be your last film, clearly.

WILLIAM: My next focus will be on developing my upcoming full-length dance work for my company Zata OMM...but I want to learn more about directing and making films. I would love to make at least one feature film before I die.

Still from Natasha Powell's Jazz Dictionary

LUCY: And the future for RT Collective and Dancemakers? 

CHRIS: RT Collective has a full wave or programming set for next year, including an exhibition in March at the Gladstone Hotel as part of Myseum Toronto, and then two screenings in June and one in July. We're also definitely interested in continuing to work with Dancemakers on a second edition of this program next year and possibly some other initiative we've yet to dream up.

Still from Rodney Diverlus' film.

AMELIA: Dancemakers has its next edition of "Flowchart", on January 25th, a series of multidiscipliary performance. William Ellis will show work alongside Francesca Chudnoff and Justin de Luna -Francesca who is also showing work in Screen:Moves! - and then in February we have our last "Flowchart" of the year, with Aisha Sasha John, Marisa Hoicka, and Barbara Lindenberg/Allison Peacock. We'll also show more work by Emerging Artist in Residence Amanda Acorn, bring Andrea Spaziani's "Silver Venus" to production this year, host Lee Su-Feh's "Dance Machine", and get a first look at a new work by Antony Hamilton. 

Still from Brandy Leary's Melting

We for sure hope to keep working on this project with RT collective, it's a really ideal co-production. As for my immediate future, I'm about to go teach an adult beginner dance class, finish this tea, and hopefully have a huge sleep tonight. 

Still from Cassandra Wittman's Night Mother

Check it out this Monday, December 4th
Dancemakers Centre for Creation
9 Trinity Street
Theatre Studio 313
Toronto's Historic Distillery District
Tickets are Pay What You Can at the door 
suggested contribution of $5-$10

More info here:

all stills courtesy of RT Collective and Dancemakers. Thanks everybody!