Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Ferocious Feminine: Carmen Romero

When I got the email invitation to cover Carmen Romero's upcoming show (opening March 16th at Theatre Centre), I was excited. I have seen Carmen perform only a handful of times over my 20 years in Toronto, but I remember each time clearly. I remember seeing her at Dusk Dances with my son -- his first encounter with flamenco -- and could feel his startled excitement as well as her ferocious femininity in the open air.  Unforgettable.

I jumped at the chance to visit a rehearsal. Because I'm a bit of a creative process nerd and I love (LOVE) coming in to rehearsals and witnessing how people work, probably because I've been a loner a lot of my life. And because I am so intrigued by the story behind Carmen's show, Jacinto. 

According to Camen, "I had been working on a project that involved the theme of Tragedy.  In flamenco dance we interpret song. There are three divisions or categories of flamenco which are: Cante Chico or Festeros (Small song/Festive), Cante Intermedio (intermediate song-happy/sad)  and Cante Jondo/ deep song, the most tragic in sentiment and theme.    In our project we were working on the theme of tragedy and exploring the sentiment, music and structure and then my father died, suddenly on a flight from Spain to the Dominican Republic."

Carmen had to suspend her creative and teaching project to retrieve her father's remains and go through all the logistics that surround the death of a parent. To add to the tumult, there was no will or written directive left by her father.

"My brother and I were at a loss as to what to do.  So we had to go through all of his belongings to find out banking information, employers, doctors."

The show mirrors this process, in three main parts. The first deals with the actual death, the shock, denial and acceptance. The second part, the part they were rehearsing when I visited the studio, deals with the man Carmen and her brother did not know. 

"...the secrets, the people who came out of the woodworks, describing to us a man we did not know.  Questions of who is he? How did I become the person I am? Why did this happen? Are we safe?"

In the rehearsal I experience a curious reversal of illusions. Quite often when we see great performances, a few performers on stage manage to conjure up more characters and energies that are actually there.  This portion of Jacinto did, for me, the opposite. In the most potent way possible, the other performers became projections of  Carmen's mind or Carmen's character's mind. Disembodied ghosts, memories or embodied emotions.

This is by no means a slight to the ensemble working with Carmen, quite the opposite. They are a fantastic group of musicians who are so much more than accompaniment. Collaborator and singer Stephanie Pedraza says of the show "By the end of it, it's like we've all been through a war." They are deeply invested and involved in every theatrical aspect. 

Honey-voiced director Karin Randoja gives small thoughts as they run this difficult second section. In some situations this might be distracting for the performers, but this team seems to sub-consciously absorb each thought Karin offers them. It's a gentle process, but Karin's ideas are not without power. She sees opportunities and connections between each and all of them.

Carmen describes the challenges of Act Two (they refer to the work in Acts but there's a fluidity to the boundaries between each): "This section is difficult and stressful. Our cast has to concentrate deeply to get through it with out getting lost in the emotion. Originally the show ended in the second section, however, once done, I realized, that my father's spirit was still with me."

The result of this realization: they applied for more funding, postponing production until they had the chance for more development and the creation of Act Three: Absolution.

"This is a soulful, beautiful dance that lets us all let go." Carmen says. "While this production is informed with my personal story, the theme of the production tells the universal story of loss.  My  intent and message are clear. I am the muse for which people can explore this difficult experience safely and my message is that we must carry on."

There is a lot of laughter and teasing each other as the ensemble gets prepares to run the challenging Act II again. They are attentive to details they must remember, but never without masses of humour.

How do you prepare for a show such as this, one that is so personal and yet with the goal of transcending that personal tragedy and confusion. I ask Carmen what her last moments before beginning a performance are like.

"Just before going on stage I always lead a non-denominational prayer.  I ask that we all hold hands and I thank my collaborators for coming together and dedicating their time and effort to the show.  Then when I'm alone and about to go on. I say my own prayer of thanks and asking for support.  I connect with my energy source and I enter a different state of mind."

You can feel it. Carmen transforms from the inside out. The feeling that surges inside shifts the shape of her face, the line of her shoulders, the way she breathes. I am so excited to see this show with lights and projections and full sound and costume, all within the intimate space of Theatre Centre, where the boundary between audience and performer is similar to the rehearsal hall. Even in the back row at Theatre Centre, you can feel the inner world of the performer. 

And with Carmen Romero on stage, you will want to feel it.

Watch the trailer here:

Go see the show:

www.theatrecentre.org for more info and tickets

www.carmenromero.ca/jacinto for more info

Images courtesy of Compania Carmen Romero 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Radically intelligent: Emma Kerson on the upcoming Blue Valentine

They are funny, smart, rebellious in the most endearing way. They are Common People and they are bringing you what is bound to be a smart, rebellious and quirky double bill production next week at the Citadel. Blue Valentine throws Emma Kerson and Andrew Hartley into two commissioned duets, one by Simon Renaud, the other by Tedd Robinson presented as part of Coleman Lemieux Compagnie's Bright Lights series February 15-18th.

Andrew Hartley and Emma Kerson

LR: I know you and Andrew have known each other since you were students at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, but were you drawn to work together then? What makes you want or need to work together?

EK: It’s true, we met over eight years ago, and I can actually remember us becoming friends on the first day of school.  We collaborated a lot in things like the student run coffee houses where you can really try out wacky ideas and experiment.  Our sense of humour really brought us together to dream up some crazy works and actually put a few of them on stage.  When we left school, the comedy that was our lives manifested into an ongoing saga that was the creation of our semi-autobiographical piece, The Waiters: The Process Revealed: A Tragi/Danci-Comedy.

LR: As "Common People" what are your aims? What kind of work do you want to be part of?

EK: After school we continued creating and performing works with each other, but we started thinking about commissions as a way to stretch ourselves artistically and push beyond what was familiar to us.  What was clear was that we both had no desire to follow trends in dance and make choices based on what might be seen as cool.  We knew we wanted to give absolute value to pure and honest voices, and to highlight our common humanity.
LR: How did Simon’s creation for you come to be? What made you choose him?

EK: We both knew Simon personally, and artistically as an incredibly articulate and driven emerging choreographer.  His work is visual, physically rigorous, and unique.  We were both excited about the possibility of stepping into his world.  We knew it would be a departure for us artistically.  We had full trust and respect for Simon’s vision and he didn’t disappoint!  The work pushes time and is extremely fulfilling to experience from the inside and hopefully the outside as well.

LR: What shape has the creative process for Blue Valentine taken? When did you start working, how have you worked?

EK: So we commissioned Simon back in 2014.  We worked intensively for a few weeks in November and December and held a showing for his work l’inanité des bibelots / love would only slow me down.  We knew we wanted the work to sit on a program with a companion piece.  This opened so many possibilities and ideas.  We had never done any of this before, so the potential and amount of directions to go in was overwhelming. 

Simon’s been choreographing under the mentorship of Tedd Robinson for the better part of a decade.  As emerging artists, we’re influenced by our mentors.  We asked Tedd to create a piece in response to Simon’s work, as a way of bringing this conversation full circle.  In December of 2015 we ended up travelling to Centre Q for two weeks to create his response, Songs and Tarps, with composer Charles Quevillon.

Since then we’ve worked in pockets throughout the year.  Simon and our new composer, Ida Toninato, came up in November.  It had been two whole years since we touched the work.  Andrew and I have both changed considerably as people since its first creation process, and Simon was keen to explore who we are in our own skin now and who he has been developing into as a choreographer.  The piece has shifted considerably, but its essence is still very much there.  It’s in a way a living, breathing reflection of pieces of who we are.

Tedd’s here visiting as well right now, and it’s great to have this time to re-explore the work a year after its creation.  We’re finding the work’s strength not only as a piece in conversation with Simon’s, but as a work on its own.  We’ve also been extremely fortunate to have Susie Burpee and Dan Wild in the studio with us as our rehearsal directors.  They’re both endless wells of information and ideas, and they’ve been incredible at guiding interpretation and finding the depths of the works. 

Common People photo by Omer Yukseker

And now the show’s next week!  It’s been such a long process to get here, but it’ll be over so quickly!

LR: You and Andrew are both fascinating artists, and radically intelligent people; I'm curious to know what you hope for over the course of your career? What kinds of things do you want to be doing — either in performance or otherwise…I guess I’m asking what are your dreams, your plans?

This is so hard to say.  I am a very different person from when I started this process three years ago.  My values are clearer, my ambitions are new, and a lot of this is from what I’ve learned in and out of the studio over these three years.  

So I don’t have a set long-term dream, because I hope that if I continue to expand both personally and artistically, that my current self wouldn’t be able to fathom what I will be dreaming of ten years from now.  

What I definitely do hope to do is to seek out and surround myself with people and artists that I really respect, am in awe of, can learn from, and can collaborate with.  Dance is one endless puzzle for me as an interpreter and creator, and I feel really lucky to be part of the fabric of our community.

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s Bright Nights
Presents the World Premiere of
The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance
February 15-18, 2017
All performances at 8PM
Tickets: $20 Artists, Students, Seniors / $25 General Admission


all photos by Omer Yukseker, courtesy of Common People
design image by mssngr.com

Monday, February 6, 2017

"I want to see our community blossom." Peggy Baker's unflagging generosity and unique upcoming show

Early in January I had the new-year joy of sitting with Peggy Baker to talk about her upcoming show SplitScreen at Theatre Centre. A clear, crisp day of fresh month, Church street seemed cleaner and brighter as I headed over to the National Ballet School, where she and her company are resident, to meet with her.

Peggy was just emerging from Christine Wright’s ballet class for contemporary dancers (a program spear-headed by Peggy Baker Dance Projects), and we headed up to her office, lined with books and a smattering of gorgeous posters on the walls.

I have known Peggy for a long time now, but I still get a little nervous when we talk. The clarity and precision of her thoughts possess the same clarity and precision of her choreographic works, with a beautiful layer of warmth as well.  Wisdom in motion.

photo of Peggy Baker by Aleksander Antonijevic

We started with a little chat about the New Yorker...

P: I subscribe to the New Yorker and what I really appreciate about that magazine is the volume of conversation about literature of all kinds, dance of all kinds, art of all kinds. Dance resides right in there with political commentary and science and cartoons…It’s really where dance is, part of the world.

L: It needs to be talked about in amongst other things.

P It stimulating, exciting, nourishing to read it in that way. It’s a struggle in this country for this kind of holistic view.

L: Speaking of a holistic view….I was reading about the program for your upcoming show…. What was the impetus or spark to put those pieces together…it’s a mixed program, but it’s not.

P: No, it’s not a variety pack….Well….The move to a new [theatre] space ….I did my first show in 1991 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, then for a while I was at the Fleck Theatre, then I went back to the Betty O. They are both conservative spaces, a really old format that’s very successful. Proscenium staging is amazing, like a fantastic sound studio.

There were pragmatic issues about the theatre, the main one is that it’s a teaching studio so if you are presenting there you have to dismantle your show everyday. My  shows have been getting pretty complicated staging-wise and the last time we were there, it was frightening to pull apart the level of technical we had every night….

L: And Theatre Centre, where SplitScreen is happening is an outstanding place. The leadership and values are apparent in the actual bricks and mortar there!

P: Toronto has been lacking a place like this for many years.

It’s important to me to try to find my integration in our community. We [the dance community] are at a disadvantage because we don’t have a central meeting place or presenters who champion local creators.  I’ve been separate because of the location of presenting my work.  Theatre Centre puts me in a neighbourhood that’s alive with ideas and images and activity and art.

So why did I choose these works….

Not presenting anything new was pragmatic as I’m working towards a very big project so I had to budget my resources this year.

I felt like one of the things that’s been happening and I’ve been questioning is the utter disposability of everything we make. I wanted to bring together works that I felt had some resonance with one another and were strong in their own right, with a good balance between male and female and in the Theatre Centre space to could offer an intimate experience with the performers.

I wanted works that require great artistry, that are substantial as a choreographic works and as I put them together a pathway through these works emerged….

Opening with a woman alone on stage. That’s how I’ve spent much of my career…You understand that incredibly vulnerable position.

L: I do.  

P: Then to look at two men.  Ric Brown and David Norsworthy. Ric is almost twice the age of David…at opposite ends of their career arcs. They are thoroughly unique.  The material very available for David at his age and a triumph for Ric as an older dancer.

L: I don’t know Ric at all, but when I see him in person or dancing he has an almost angelic energy.

P: He is completely open, uncluttered.

And next in the program is Split-Screen. I really love Split Screen Stereophonic….I don’t know if this is literally true…but I don’t know that I had choreographed about intimate relationships before this piece.

Of the original dancers -- Ben Kamino, Sahara Morimoto, Sean Ling and Sarah Fregeau -- Sarah’s the only one I have this time. So it’s been really interesting and great to shift it so much. The chemistry is very, very different. It’s a kind of evidence of the strength of the composition.

I’ve set out to make works that compositionally have the strength and flexibility of something like a musical score or a play so that it’s only the choreography. It requires artists to enter it and create performances. They are both necessary and strong: the composition and the performance.

Then as a companion piece to Split Screen Stereophonic, I made Epilogue. So through the whole arc of SplitScreen we have a balance of vulnerability and virtuosity, a blast of a flip side with the men, then into relationships and then a lone woman again. A woman at a different point in her life than the opening woman.

Women who are dancers.

L: Women who are dancers. They have to be dancers….What made you want to return to performance?

P: I feel very in command of the demands of Epilogue. It’s still very close to the bone for me. Until I’ve really completed all my personal quandaries around it, I’ll do it. And I’m not sure it belongs outside the Split Screen Stereophonic context.

Not every piece needs to go on. Some of my solos have relevancies outside of my necessity to make them, some of them don’t.

L: I know what you mean. I don’t have the same span of career as you, but I’ve found already that some of the solos I’ve made, some of the ones I love to dance, the reasons don’t arise to do them again. Others do. They have more opportunities. It’s hard because some are really in the heart,  they were epic and hard to make and they may never happen again and I have to be okay with that.

It’s kind of the flip side of the disposability you spoke of before.

On to something else. There is always something structural, architectural about your work….a description in your materials about “lines of action” struck me. It’s not about the structure sitting there, but alive through action. The structure is an emotional structure or one that can be felt, lived by the dancers emotionally.

P: I came to dance through theatre, so that’s my primary point of entry. Character, situation, relationship….something needs to be going on. We need conflict. If nothing goes wrong there’s nothing. Where’s the complication? the difficulty? the misunderstanding? And yet I’m pretty abstract in my way of going at it. I love the physical character of the work. But there’s always subtext. Motives.

Everything can’t be spoken for, otherwise there’s no room for the dancers to create, to be spontaneous. All those things that are available to you when you dance your own work because you can make those decisions and responses as you go-- I am wanting to make similar situations for my dancers, to make work that always has room, that creates room for the artists.

Dancers want great work to be inside of….it’s that feeling of watching it and wanting to be inside it that dancers get. That’s great resonant work.

L: I have that feeling all the time, but I hadn’t thought of it that way. The movement seduces me,  because I just want to be dancing all the time. But I think it’s actually the journey that’s happening inside the movement that really grabs me. It’s the whole world.

P: It is movement too. And it requires a dancer. It requires an artist who is a dancer.

L:  It’s funny when I see plays I don’t want to be in them even though I’ve been involved in theatre for more than 15 years.  But dance does it for me because it is the movement. I am a bit addicted to moving.

P: SplitScreen is hard for me because I can’t watch this show -- I’m in it. I can’t quite know how it functions in performance. Being outside the work over the last few years I’ve learned so much. But I can’t with this show because I have to look after my performance.  Once I hit the time for me to prepare for my performance, that’s it.

Peggy Baker in "epilogue". Photo by Makoto Hirata

L: I haven’t figured that out yet. When I made a duet for Elke Schroeder and Sky Fairchild-Waller last year, I loved just watching, It was first thing I choreographed that I’m not at all in….but the twitchiness to be in …to dance, is still there…how many more years do I have, it whispers…

P (laughing): I don’t have that twitchiness anymore. That’s already made itself clear. I’m no longer a dancer but I sometimes still perform. I’m the ruin of a dancer. I could only be what I am now if I had been a dancer. Even if someone else could do the things I can do I’m not sure I’d buy it. I just know that all of that investment we make in our physical practice makes a different kind of performer.

L: You have sort of talked about this a bit already…. But how has your choreography evolved?

P: An accelerated evolution. I’m looking with incredible kinesthetic memory. From what I’m feeling in my body and what I’m seeing and the impulses of my dancers. Before it was my own kinetic impulses….I didn’t expect to be a choreographer at this time in my life, but I wanted at first to experiment with working with other people with the same tools I used on myself. After a somewhat lurching entry during which I learned a huge amount, something started.  My own drive to make took over. Before it was always self-exploration….

L: When do you feel that switch started to happen?

P: It happened when I came home from rehearsing with the dancers one day and felt really happy. I realized I hadn’t felt like this since I was really in my body.

L: So fairly recently.

P: The last six or seven years.

It was with Coalesce (2010)….it got me excited. I was learning, I was growing. I couldn’t wait to go back into the studio. It was the same feeling I had in my dancer life.

L: Since I had that mentorship grant a few years ago and you sat with me in my renovation-ridden house and you gave me some breathtaking advice, I associate you with generosity – resources, information, spirit. How do you keep yourself so generous?

P: Oh my goodness….well I’ve been the recipient of such tremendous generosity….I come from a big family. I learned how to share and take pleasure in sharing. I love being part of a community, a network that’s healthy and vibrant. The more any artist here succeeds the better it is for everybody.

I want to see our community blossom. I want dance to be a great milieu. It requires everyone to contribute to that possibility.  I want to do that. I want this to be a great place for dance. There’s some stuff in the way but we shouldn’t be in our own way.

L: I’m glad I have this recorded because I can listen to it again and again to feel re-inspired and rooted.

See Peggy Baker Dance Projects in the heart of the arts:
February 21-26, 2017
(1115 Queen St. West)
Adults: $30
Students/Seniors/Arts Workers/CADA Member: $22
Early Bird promo-code: EARLY20, expires Jan 31st
Other discounts available through The Theatre Centre Dance Card

Monday, November 7, 2016

Passion in performance: world premieres and inspiring dancers at ProArteDanza

In my quest to expand the coverage of these interviews and articles and to learn the methods and madness of new dance artists, I offer now an interview with the seemingly tireless Roberto Campanella, current artistic director and co-founder of ProArteDanza. They have a show coming up next week which includes a world premiere by Roberto and a ProArteDanza premiere of Robert Glumbek's work Diversion, originally made for Ballet BC.

Read on for Roberto's answers on change, passion, inspiration and the amazing dancers of the company.

Roberto Campanella

LR: Probably you've been asked this question a thousand times, but from the vantage point of more than a decade of ProArteDanza, what spurred you to found the company and what drives you to continue?

RC: Well...sometimes I feel it was very naive of me and Joanna Ivey to found a dance company in this very challenging financial climate....

A lot of our inspiration stemmed from the need to create a venue for all those talented dancers, young and older, that were populating Toronto during those days, something that Joanna felt really strongly about, and to continue to foster the creative partnership between Robert Glumbek and me.


LR: The company tag line is "passion in performance" -- how do you draw this out of your dancers and collaborators? And with your Summer Intensive Program, how do you instill this value in students and young professionals, especially in a time when hyper-technical dancing and tricks seem to be the trend?

RC: I personally feel that it is a combination of the whole team that surrounds ProArteDanza, a team of incredibly passionate artists. A group of people with a strong feeling of enthusiasm, excitement, intense drive and love towards what we do.

We also view the term passion as a great sense of sacrifice. And we all know how much dancers sacrifice their lives and their bodies to achieve that moment of magic on stage. Without this two-fold approach to dance we don't feel it's possible to create art, or artists. It's a non-negotiable ProArteDanza culture.


LR: Where do you personally draw inspiration to make new works?

RC: It's always different. It might start from the music, as is the case for my new creation Fearful Symmetries. It can also start from a more biographical reference; such is the case in Robert Glumbek's works.

In the studio with the dancers, I sometimes just patiently wait for the moment I say "ah!" and the light bulb goes on. It happens often working with the calibre of dancers and collaborators we work with.

LR: And about Fearful Symmetries -- what is the source of this work?

RC: My original idea was to delve into the world of the silent, black and white old movies: Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin....

Then I came across a video of a live concert that was playing John Adam's composition Fearful Symmetries while showing on a big screen behind the musicians all of Buster Keaton's amazing stunt work.

As I was being transported by the drive of the music and the fast tempo of such an intriguing piece of music, I realized that that is the tempo in which I -- and a lot of other people on this side of the world -- conduct their daily lives, at the speed of light. We move and operate at a very quick pace, but where we're all going is  still a mystery to me...At times I feel we're all sucked in to a big vacuum, a big black hole.


LR: How does it feel to be on the cusp of a world premiere?

RC: Nerve racking!

On the other end, we all know that a new creation is also an adaptive organism in which we have the opportunity to tweak, adapt, modify, develop. Especially going on tour in Ontario (St. Catharines, Oakville and Markham!) before we land back in Toronto. It will give me the ability to sit back and have a better perspective on the work, and therefore make adjustments.

However, a new creation is always an unknown, we will never know in advance how it will be received by an audience. And that perhaps is one of the reasons why choreographing is so exciting?


LR: What do you value or look for in your dancers? You have a wonderful mix of long time collaborators and fairly fresh faces on board right now...that must be a really interesting experience....

RC: ProArteDanza has been incredibly privileged with the current and past collaborators who made the company we are right now. We value the dance artist who collaborates, thinks independently, takes initiative and who is committed to not only the work, but also the overall vision of the company. 

Our summer program -- which now has two levels, an apprentice program for 18-24 year olds and an aspirants program for young dancers 14-17 years old -- reflects that vision as well. We try to install all the above-mentioned values to our students on the cusp of becoming professionals.

We are the antithesis of hiring dancers who only do what they're told, as it was our training during the old days.

We have been drawing our new wave of company dancers from our summer program in August where the students spend a month working with us. At the end of our program we award an apprentice contract for the year, an ideal format for both the young dancer and for Robert Glumbek and I as creators.

This year Sonja Boretski is our apprentice.

Roberto Campanella

LR: Wondering if you could speak to both the current roster of dancers and the course of the company dancers over time....what have the changes meant to the vision or to you as artistic director?

RC: Our biggest challenge was to maintain the high standard which we never compromise. The challenge is to be able to continue to maintain a relationship with these high calibre dancers although we don't have the ability to offer more permanent contracts. We're slowing improving and developing into longer terms for contracts, but there is still a lot of work to do.

In the meantime, we plough ahead with the dancers who have been loyal to us, for which we are incredibly grateful and with the young dancers that we continue to cultivate....

See ProArteDanza in Performance

  • Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre
  • Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 8pm
  • Thu, Nov 17, 2016 at 8pm
  • Fri, Nov 18, 2016 at 8pm
  • Sat, Nov 19, 2016 at 8pm


More Info:

all photos courtesy of ProArteDanza

Friday, August 12, 2016

experimenting, sifting through memory and bravely: Allison Cummings at Summerworks 2016

Allison Cummings' work album  -- a collaboration with actor and sound designer Lyon Smith -- is a compare and contrast visit through the memories of Allison's and Lyon's lives. Just writing those words creates a vibrating potency. An album contains captured moments of life, often visual and visceral triggers, for something bigger than the paper or the 0s and 1s that make them up.

There's a trend in the dance contributions of the Summerworks festival this year, undoubtedly shaped by curator Jenn Goodwin, of simple, strong ideas guiding creations. They lead to deeper things, by way of the body not a philosophical, conceptual or technical approach.

Below is a short interview with Allison Cummings, a wry, passionate, uncompromising woman who surprises with each performance work she makes. Her show opens THIS AFTERNOON at 2pm. Go see it and be moved.

photo of Allison Cummings by Jan Blythe

LR: OK, so the obvious but important question is what triggered the creation of this work? What started the ball rolling on “album”?

AC: When Lyon and I first started talking about creating a duet together, we were initially inspired to include Lyon’s growing love and practise of photography. He has always collaborated with me as a sound designer and we thought it would be interesting to shift our usual dynamic by focusing on these specific skills of his. 

Originally it was going to be less personal, more about an exploration of the act of capturing moments, and how these moments that have been captured are remembered in a somewhat idealized way. 

We were always interested in dissecting our own photo albums as part of the process, but more as a way to create material.

But then on Feb. 25th this year, I lost my home and all my belongings in a fire. Our conversations changed after that, and the process became the material.

LR: I can imagine that would change a lot of conversations. And when people speak of losing things to a fire, so often it is the loss of photo albums that is most devastating. It goes without saying that the entire dance and theatre communities are so very glad that you and your son are safe after the fire.....

The last few works you’ve made you have not performed in--correct me if I am wrong. It seems absolutely necessary that it be you performing this one…although that leads me to a sub-question who would play you in a movie/dance of your life?… my main question is how does it feel to be performing? 

AC: I am performing in this piece and yes, it is crucial that it is me. Lyon is also performing and the same goes for him. Hmmm…. who would play me? Hopefully someone with a sense of humour…. 

Truth be told, I am terrified to perform. However the nature of this piece is casual, more like a live conversation unfolding or intimate sharing of memory with its triumphs and vulnerabilities. That in itself is scary as there will be no “choreography” to remember. Our process has only entailed long conversations about our lives. The piece will begin to be made once we enter the space the day before we open the show.

As a choreographer setting work on others, I am able to create the vision outside of myself, this is satisfying for me as a process because I can see what is and what is not working, I can trust my collaborators to suggest paths and in the end I can detail and hone the work as I see fit. Creating a piece like this, I have no outside viewpoint and no clear idea if its going to work. So its pretty unsettling. But maybe that’s exciting too.

LR: Can you share a bit about what are those landmark moments of comparison in the work?

AC: Lyon and I are two days apart and both grew up in Ontario. We both went to post secondary theatre / dance training, we both work in the arts, we are both parents, we both have had relationship struggles and break-ups.

However, we have chosen very different paths and if we parallel our lives through ages together they veer off incredibly, yet, here we are at this age in this room doing the same thing, together. 

In our conversations, we both discovered these vast oppositions in our whereabouts and priorities from age to age. It opened a space to deepen our understanding of true individuality in each other and then beyond us, the various characters that show up in our archives, memories and photographs.

photo of Lyon Smith and Allison Cummings by Nannes Springer 
 LR: Are the visual records of your histories and memories physically part of the show, do they appear in their original form, abstracted, embodied?

AC: Yes, there will be photographs in the space.
Some will be dealt with hands on. Some through abstraction and some not at all.
There will be dancing.

LR: I feel that your work is always highly personal, but not necessarily transparently autobiographic— how do you prepare or approach this kind of transparency in “album”? For instance you have literally been sharing old photos and memories on Facebook leading up to the Festival.

AC: This is scary for me… I am more inclined to hide behind theatrics, language and clear choreography. 

This will be very different. This will be raw, constantly changing throughout the run and unpredictable.

Lyon and I will veer off from each other, but hopefully still end up in the same place at the end.

LR:  Can you tell me a bit about your history with Lyon Smith?

AC: Lyon and I met while doing the Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times in probably around 1998. He was acting in a show for Rebecca Brown and I was playing “Cow” in Gil Garrett’s “Severe Blow to the Head”.

That’s a long time ago. We always admired each other's work and became part of the same young theatre scene that started our careers in the festivals in Toronto: Rhubarb, SummerWorks, Fringe, etc.

We started really collaborating in 2008 when he volunteered to create composition for a piece I was doing for the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

There’s an urgency and unpredictability to Lyon’s soundscape that really compliments my need for detailed precision and dark matter subject lines. 

We both delight in finding beauty in the underbelly, release in confusion and have an understanding of the poetry that can be found in those moments that are designed to unsettle.

We have also become great friends which has laid the foundation for this particular experiment.


You have lots of opportunities to peruse Allison and Lyon's album

Friday August 12th2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Friday August 12th4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Friday August 12th6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Friday August 12th8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Friday August 12th10:00 PM - 11:00 PM
Saturday August 13th2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Saturday August 13th4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Saturday August 13th6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Saturday August 13th8:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Saturday August 13th10:00 PM - 11:00 PM

all shows at Hub 14 
14 Markham Street
Tickets $15
book online:

more on Allison's work http://soreforpunchingyou.com

photos courtesy of Allison Cummings

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Exploring the small, quiet moments: Simon Renaud at Summerworks 2016

The more of these interviews I do here, the more I realize our discipline, the arts, the city and actually the world is populated with some really wonderful people. I continue to be inspired by the creativity and ideas all these artists are exploring. Though I know the subject of this interview less well than many of the others I've interviewed, Simon Renaud still captures my artistic heart.

Simon's work noyé/e/ opens on Saturday as part of Summerworks Performance Festival 2016. It is a study in minimalism, or perhaps more appropriately micro-ism, a deceptively quiet piece aimed at drawing the audience into the minute details of the relationship and partnership of its two dancers, questioning what can be virtuostic, what is compelling in the subtle and quiet.

Simon Renaud and Joanie Audet

LR: What led you to be interested in the small, quiet and intimate? Has this alway been an interest or a recent pursuit?

SR: It has been an interest for me from the moment I started choreographing professionally.  After dancing It can’t be dying, - It’s too rouge, a work choreographed by Alban Richard, now director of Centre Chorégraphique National de Caen en Normandie, that I discovered the possibility of creating vocabulary outside the pre-determined dance steps we all know.  

He also showed me that we could play with the temporality of physicalities, going from extreme slowness to quick as the wind.  The slow motion struck something in me.  It made even the smallest gesture become so powerful.  It gives the audience the luxury of really seeing and feeling - two actions we don’t often do in our crazy, fast-paced lives.  

I was lucky to have Tedd Robinson and Alban Richard, two unique and generous artists as mentors: Tedd, with his talent for showing you fantastical images with everyday objects; and Alban, who is constantly renewing himself and the way he works, and who by being specific with the quality of movement is able to share many textures with the audience.  That’s where it began, me trying to find my own voice.  I’m understanding more and more that I’m interested in choreographing movements instead of choreographing dance, if that makes sense.

LR: How did you decide to work with Joanie? She is such a powerful presence and artist, what specifically drew you to her for this project?

SR: I’ve known Joanie now for about six years.  I moved to Toronto knowing almost no one in 2010 and also barely speaking proper English.  I was lucky  that my upstairs neighbour was Andrew Hartley, another great dance artist in Toronto.  At that time, he was in his third year at STDT, in the same class as Joanie.  We quickly became friends, and the three of us were inseparable.  I remember Joanie dancing fiercely with her dark red hair in a Sasha Ivanochko piece and Christpher House’s Colder Ink.  From that moment on, I knew I had to bring her inside my world.  

She danced for me in 2013 in Les Reines Orphelines alongside Jasmine Inns.  Watching them carrying the images I had created blew me away.  Later on, she was part of a group study I did for Artspin here in Toronto.  Then, in late summer 2015, I was ready to start on something new.  I had created material during the project FACETS, a collaboration between Tedd Robinson, Ame Henderson, James Gnam, Charles Quevillon, Angie Cheng, Thierry Huard and myself, that I knew was the start of something.  I didn’t know if it was a solo or a duet at the time.  Joanie and I had both moved to Montreal around the same time and we decided to play in studio with some of my ideas from FACETS.  That’s how Joanie’s involvement with this project started.

Joanie Audet

LR: Is this work indicative of an overall interest for you, and/or what other themes, physicalites, ideas interest you?

SR: In the winter of 2015, I was commissioned by Common People (Emma Kerson and Andrew Hartley) and I created a duet for them called l’inanité des bibelots or love would only slow me down.  Through this creation, I discovered a more abstract, simpler aesthetic.  I wanted to keep pushing the idea of creating an independent, self-contained world in which people, shapes, and feelings evolve. It’s those same ideas that motivated the creation of noyé/e/. 

The Noyé/e/ process was also about trying to face the theatrical associations brought on by using props and objects.  I will continue to work with slow-paced movements and keep experimenting with different ways to give more space to the viewer than the space I created. I started working on a new quintet few months ago and realized that I only skimmed the surface of those ideas, so I think I’ll stick with those concepts for a bit.

Simon Renaud and Joanie Audet

LR: How was the experience of making such an intimate work while being one of the interpreters of it?

SR: It’s been helping my control freak syndrome (haha).  Knowing you can only be in control of yourself is scary but also so liberating.  I think it’s helping me to find a more direct, purer or truer way to be viewed by the audience and I think it will help me direct my interpreters.

Simon Renaud and Joanie Audet

LR: What do you hope the Summerworks experience will reveal, give, or embody for you?

SR: Honestly, I don’t want to have expectations.  My work is and will be about developing the work itself.  I hope people will see and feel that.  For sure, it would be great if some people would help us to give noyé/e/ a longer life, but that isn’t my ultimate goal.  I would also love to develop new artistic relationships with potential partners to help move my next project forward.  But in the end, I hope people will be open to an immersive experience and maybe will find something new.

Be refreshed and see noyé/e/

SummerWorks Performance Festival
Factory Theatre Rehearsal Hall (this is a gorgeous room!!!!!)
125 Bathurst St
August 13th at  630pm
August 14th at 12noon

Tickets $15
Book online:

all photos courtesy of Simon Renaud