Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Michael Caldwell: A Factory of Humanity

Last week I had a great conversation with Michael Caldwell, a conversation that encompassed photo-bombing others' selfies to the mouldy memories that remain in dance studios connected to our student years, sci fi to American politics. But most importantly we talked about his upcoming show Factory, happening September 20-23rd at the Citadel (details at the end).
Michael Caldwell 

LR: So…I don’t really know anything about your upcoming show other than it’s happening. That’s kind of a fun place to start….

MC: Like most pieces we do, it started years ago. The trip I took in 2010 to Vietnam was the start. I made a choice to really document the experience through writing, photography, video. That turned into my solo at dance:made in Canada in 2011. But I had so much more stuff. I was alone in this country, I could’ve got sick, I could’ve died. I wanted to investigate that isolation and loneliness.

At face level Factory is about the complexities of human interaction. Beyond that  it’s about well, how you and I could get into an argument about the quality of this recording for example. But that argument is influenced by so many other factors: our commutes, what we ate this morning, something that happened when I was five that reminds me of this. And we’re not aware of it while the situation gets intense and out of control very quickly.

On a personal level we understand how that can happen, but on the macro level people with power make big decisions…

LR: Coming to it with those same influences, they may not be aware of as they make decisions.

MC: Exactly. The title Factory references an assembly line. And in our interactions are like an assembly line; we keep understanding and learning but at the same time these patterns keep recurring, in slightly different ways but the same thing.

LR: Evolution takes millions of years.

MC: In order to move forward together we have to figure out our shit.

LR: I just listened to an interview with Glen Beck [former Fox news super right-wing political commentator] who is now apologizing for how 8-10 years ago he stoked some of the fires and caused some of the polarization of American people. He was saying how those who feared Obama should be empathetic to those who fear Trump now. It’s the same fear in a different form. The only way to move through this is to work together. We don’t have to agree but we have to work together.

MC: In the piece what you see is the microcosm, but the bigger idea has grown from it. I overlaid an arbitrary idea onto how we created the movement: you dancer 1 do this to dancer 2 and dancer 2 do something to dancer 3 all the way around back to dancer 1. What you do will get back to you.

LR: Ah, a sort of assembly line.

MC: And Factory is also now turning into the idea of factory as your community and then the question is what do we want to pump out of it? What do we want to make in response to climate change? What do we as Toronto want to do about Black Lives Matter? It’s a collective movement of acting together and by doing it together we can sort things out. In opposition to a leader like Trump who is functions in isolation.

LR: The word factory could have a slightly negative connotation to it: automation and remove from humanity….but I like the expression you used “what do we want to pump out of it”. The word pump makes me think of the heart,  a mini-factory in each of us. Human beings are the factories and you are pumping something that is directly human.

MC: I’ve been talking about a lot about technology and humans with a friend of mine who works at a high level in a technology company. He said there is no doubt that humans and technology will be totally integrated. That fact has created two camps. There are a lot of people who say let’s return to nature and the body and the environment and the other option is let’s innovate and go go go. And he says if we don’t look at this integration as a  positive now and start thinking about what this will be and making solutions together,  then when we get there [to the total integration] it’ll be a gong show.

LR: Technology and innovation are not inherently evil. It’s how it gets used, it’s the corporate ownership that calls ethics into question.

I’ve been reading a lot of sci fi lately and I understand the social function of it – to criticize society and warn “if we don’t get our shit together, this is going to happen!” But I long for a sci fi story in which something goes wrong and we fix it.

MC: Have you seen the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster? Carl Sagan wrote the novel it was based on.

LR: Yeah I went to see it right after my dad died. I actually saw it in that theatre across the street there!

MC: That would’ve been intense….But it had a more positive view on the future.

LR: Yes. Carl Sagan was pretty special. In kids’ sci fi they put the hope in the hands of children, characters who run with the positive idea towards the next horizon. We should put it in the 40 year-olds’ hands too. There’s a lot of vital energy in 50, 60, 70 year old now, energy they could put into the problems. Cross-generational work. We’ve got to work together, like you’re saying.

MC:  It’s all about how we relate and live together. We live together everyday but we just don’t think about the systems that support us. The streetcar tracks, the bike lane, the pipes that carry water to wash my hands. They all connect us to each other so we can function. They are there everyday and all the time, connecting  us.

LR:  Back to Factory more specifically….What about the design elements?

MC: When I went to Vietnam  back in 2010, people thought I was from every Asian country possible and then some people just knew I was from Canada.  There were subtle clues in how I was dressed.

The costuming for Factory is like that too. All neutral colours with hints at character: “Oh that guy is kind of hip, she’s edgy and she’s conservative.” I wanted to have some element of an era or style.

LR: Not explicit.

MC: No, to hint at another layer of the relationship when the dancers are together. It’s subtle enough that it’s not the total reading of the work, but a layer.

LR: It’s great that you are doing something  with this big a team. Have you done anything this big before?

MC: No. It’s great to have a group. But really five is as much as the Citadel can hold.

LR:  It’s funny how five can still seem like a small group but six becomes a big group.
And what about Phil Strong, the composer?

MC: He is live mixing in sound and space.

LR: What’s it like? What are Phil’s parameters?

MC:  His play is how he rides the performers differences from day to day. Maybe one day a dancer is a little slower or a little more agitated in their interpretation. He makes choices to adapt his sound structure.

LR: He must love that. Making the sound based on set ideas but integrated with the energy of any given moment.

MC: He does

LR: What he does creates another creature. All these creatures coming together, working together to pump something out of the factory.

MC: The audience is on two sides so the audience is IN something. The risers are just a little higher than the performers space. To offer that point of view that we’re in it and we’re watching it together, but we are separate, watching it from afar but very close.

LR: Just those few inches difference in level.

MC: Seeing each other across the performance….

LR: I love the multiple physical perspectives on performance. It reinforces that there’s no one right way to see the work.

MC: The proscenium theatre is great because we can abandon the idea that it’s about us at all, as an audience. The energy is focused forward, we know we’re not being watched….but then this [audience on two sides] is a good experience too, that you are part of it. Everyone is part of the complication and the complexity. You’re being watched, you can’t check out. Well you can, but someone will see you checking out. You are part of the image.

LR: Part of what someone else is seeing.

MC:  Yes and part of that is seeing someone not taking action when something violent might be happening. Or someone might be moving in response to the action.

I call it a dioramic view. You’re not in the action. I want that to be clear. There’s enough separation that you can just watch. You are close but just that little bit of elevation for the audience creates space.

LR: I think that’s an interesting delicacy to find. How thin can that fourth wall, that separation be and still keep the magic? The otherworld-ness, even when it is very recognizable whispers “that’s not me out there but it’s a reflection of me”.

MC: A lot of what I’m doing artistically now -- my performative, choreographic, presenting, curatorial work -- are working in tandem and are related. They are merging into one overarching idea: site responsiveness.

How we respond to the physical make-up and structure of where we are making our work, the history of the site, the community around it. Curatorially, I’m interested in programming the works of artists and companies who think about site. My interests are going towards companies and artists who are looking at all the things going into the space in order to create the whole vision.

LR: That’s something I’m very interested in too, it kind of grew organically over my last few pieces but I’d like to learn how to see and cultivate that more consciously. While creating my last work Animal Vegetable Mineral and because of it’s content,  I started to feel theatrical spaces of all sorts are like ecosystems.

There’s always so much to talk about, I am infinitely curious about how people make stuff.  People are doing fascinating things, always. Like this, like Factory. I am sorry I am out of town for it, but I hope it is a great success. Give my best to all your dancers and collaborators.

September 20-23, 2018 at 8pm
The Citadel; Ross Centre for Dance
304 Parliament Street
Toronto ON M5A 2Z6


photos by Zhenya Cerneacov

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Amelia Ehrhardt: Curator and Optimist

As Dancemakers launches into a new venture, the Mini Festival, it seems appropriate that I launch into an interview with Amelia Ehrhardt, Dancemakers' curator,  to get to know her better. Amelia and I have met a few times but never had a real conversation before this interview. It was a beauty. 

Read on to hear about the Mini-Festival and most engrossingly about Amelia's values of community, politics and space-creating.

Amelia Ehrhardt, photo by Yuula Benivolski

LR: This is really exciting, the Mini-Festival ….

AE: I’m really excited about it too.

LR: How did the idea for the Festival come about?

AE: It’s a festival of circumstances. We were in a situation of scheduling so many artists – international and those who work internationally. Dana Michel’s work we had planned and Antony Hamilton's work. But we discovered we could only present them within a week of each other. It was really tight timing to make this decision. The general manager [Frances Shakov] and I were both new to the organization and we knew it would be hard to market two major shows within a week of each other so we said, "Let’s make it a festival!"

As opposed to trying to market two separate shows, adding more to the time and more activities would make it more appealing to the public. Thank everything that Andrea Spaziani and Amanda Acorn were available at the same time. We added Andrea’s lecture and Antony’s classes and an artist panel and now we have a full roster of activity.

It wouldn’t have happened if we tried to plan it.

LR: I feel like in dance recently a lot of really cool things have emerged because of circumstances. 

AE: It's seasonal problem solving

LR: It’s an advantage we have in dance. We’re ephemeral and small. But we’re able to be responsive.

AE: Yes we’re able to be so flexible. The longer I’m in this job the more I realize there are certain things that have be nailed down, but we need to stay responsive to opportunities that arrive.

LR: On my way here, I was remembering you used to work for the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists, Ontario Chapter. I was on the board for 6 years and  that’s where I learned the advantage of what is sometimes posed as our weaknesses, the small size of our organizations and their lack of spaces and operating budgets. We can move more quickly without major physical or bureaucratic institutional weight.

AE: CADA-Ontario could still use an extra $80,000 a year but yes, absolutely. They could still be responsive even then.

LR: So all the artists in the Festival are or have been resident artists with Dancemakers?

AE: Yes. The core residency is three resident artists over three years with staggered starts so it’s a different company of people every year. Year one an artist brings a piece towards production, shows it in an informal setting. Year two the artist starts a second work, produces the first. Year three, the artist produces the second work. So they leave with two produced works, a lot of studio development time and dancers as needed. That is the model Michael Trent launched when he was running Dancemakers. Then there’s an emerging artist program as well. Doorbuster deals on studio rental, Emerging dance writers in residence, and Technical/Production residencies.  A lot of residencies are pretty specific, but we’re trying to make sure our programming stays open so more people are eligible.

LR: So this is the culmination of Dana Michel’s time?

AE: Yes. Dana’s first year was during the craziness of Dancemakers transition. And she plowed through year two. Year three she wanted to take a step back and reconsider her process for her residency time, after creating so much. So we asked her to show a piece of repertoire as a way of sharing publicly some of what she’s working on this year. Her solo "Yellow Towel" is astounding. It's toured all over the world and Impulstanz created an award to give to her for it.

LR: I remember meeting her at a Series 8:08 ages ago, probably more than ten years. She was so kind and her work so compelling.  She is an amazing artist and also just a great person.

Antony is from Australia, so did he come on board?

AE: Antony came on board when Emi [Forster, former co-curator with Ben Kamino] was still here. She is also from Australia and wanted to bring him. I wouldn't have come in contact with his work otherwise, I don't think. But I'm glad to know him. He is really sweet and works so fast. 

LR: One thing I find really interesting about the programming….I love it.... The "Is it Utopic Even to Ask? Artist Discussion"….where did this come from?

AE: We wanted to have an artist panel and this topic specifically is interesting to me. I worked really decidedly in DIY spaces for the first 5-6 years of my career, and then I got more institutional – programming at Summerworks and then this job. I am so dedicated to artist-run situations. They feel so important and pressing to hold on to as they are becoming more and more rare. Hub 14 is a miracle... how it keeps going.

How can I hold onto that ethos in the Dancemakers situation? I mean best-case scenario at Dancemakers is to be ground-level, grassroots and community-driven. What I’ve learned in the past 18 months about the implications of that is that it can seem utopic to even think it’s possible.

I’m reading this book that is fairly popular in contemporary art theory right now: Cruising Utopia by Jose Esteban Munoz. It's has me thinking.

Living more and more in this present that feels so oppressive, and less so for me than other people, well it has me thinking about where we can find or create utopias.  I see optimism as active and important labour. I hear many people saying we should give up on the institutions, and I understand that, I've hit my head against that wall. But there’s something about it that makes me want to dig my heels in. It seems provocative to ask these questions at Dancemakers. Is this working? How does it work? What is the point of artists investing time into these organizations? It might be easier to get a non-arts job and fund our art through that job?

LR: That’s clearly not for you. You’ve got a vision.

AE: Yes. What is it that we’re trying to do together? What are we trying to maintain?

LR: One of my favourtie bloggers Maria Popova published a 10 things I've learned list when her blog hit its 10th anniversary and I have a printed list of them in front of my desk at home. Number 10 is the most critical to me right now: Fight cynicism. Fists out to fight it in yourself and other, more gentle ways to resist and fight it in others. I’ve always felt bad about being an optimist. I can be morose, but deep down I am always hopeful. I can’t abide apathy.

AE: Optimism doesn’t preclude being fucking mad.

LR: Yes. That was another aspect of Maria Popova's writing on this: the difference between skepticism and cyncism. Cyncism being stagnant and skepticism still moves things forward because there's a question, a curiosity fuelling it.

AE: We have no choice but to be optimistic about these things. When Flowchart, my presenting project for experimental, conceptual work, started getting a lot of attention and gained a lot of energy, people said “Great you’re a presenter” And I thought “no I’m a choreographer! I’m an artist.” But I was doing it at Hub 14 and it’s wonderful but so small – performing for 30 people maximum…

LR: …And 30 people in there are getting sweaty just sitting still….

AE:…Yes and it’s so much work. So much hard work. I told myself not get bitter.

LR: It’s going to creep up but you have to keep it in check.

AE: Exactly. There are a lot of things I wish we could speak a little more openly about in our dance community.

LR: It’s our polite Canadianness and the smallness of the dance community….How can we speak to one another critically and without cruelty?

AE: Dissenting doesn’t mean that you don’t care about it. In fact it means you care a lot! You’re investing in it.

LR: It’s kind of exciting to see some of the restlessness and riled-upness happening politically right now. It feels shitty in the midst of it, but something is happening! Like a chemical reaction.

AE: It exists in the dance community too. There are certain boats you’re not supposed to rock….But things have started to change. About ten years ago when I got out of school, and the Toronto Dance Community Love-In started.

LR: Yes I felt that. A couple years after it got going I noticed more sharing going on, more openness or togetherness.

AE: Yes. And now I can see artists emerging about ten years younger than me who have a more open-minded approach to things. The New Blue Festival for instance. Open sharing is a really critical part of the process for them….That’s the upshot of dissent. "I’m going to stay here and these are things I don’t like of what’s going on and this is what I’m going to do about it." It wasn’t like that ten years ago. Then everyone was just forming companies and hoping something would happen with that.

LR: I’m so glad to have this conversation with you…I tend to be a bit awkward and shy moreso with people I know a little than with people I don't know at all. I don’t know what to say and I panic. We've had a few brief exchanges over the last few years but not a lot, I could've made this a really awkward interview. But now I feel like I want to get together with you once a month and get riled up and optimistic.

How do you feel all this coagulates into your role at Dancemakers?

AE: Everything is so rooted in studio work for me. Curation feels like a manifestation of studio practice. In my artistic practice I think about circumstances…that doesn’t necessarily manifest as a dance work, but as frames for dance works to happen. So it feels practice-based, not administrative. I am at my desk, just like independent artists doing the administrative work, but the rest of the time is thinking and reading and rolling around to get clear thoughts and ideas.

I’ve always been involved in advocacy.  Since I was in school.

LR: Where did you train?

AE: George Brown. I was surprised at the ways of talking to students that were still acceptable in dance training. I was the one to go into the office and give voice to the problems. At that point I was beyond caring about my grades, so advocating for the students became important. That sticks with me. I care about the labour of dancers.

LR: It sounds like this ties in to what we spoke of earlier about developing healthy dialogues, dissent and optimism.

AE: My mom worked at a Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, so I was raised in a space that was working hard at equity and access. When I got into dance I noticed these ideas were still guiding me. I’m politically motivated and social justice oriented and a Sagittarius so I keep at this.

LR: Something you said earlier struck me, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As curator you need to roll around on the floor and be in your body. I know this place. I’m at my desk trying to work  and inevitably I stand up and dance around a flood of ideas rush out of me so I have a notebook beside where I dance to get it down on paper. I think of Besser Van der Kolk who a researcher in psychology and trauma. He's developed a program for people with PTSD that involves a yoga practice, his ideas being that moving the body moves the emotion and helps the sufferer get un-stuck. It's all one system. When I read about his work, I couldn't help but understand in a new light the power our art form can have.

So off on another track: what’s the most exciting thing about the Mini Fest?

AE: Having all the artists in the space at the same time. First time. For one day they will all be here together.  From the transition of a company to this model, we lost a company and the community of artists immediately around me is not much or not often.  That has been hard.

LR: The physical interaction is important. There's definite synergy to it. It's not popular to say this but I believe our devices are good for us. There is so much we can offload to them that I think we will become more embodied because we are freed from some info we don’t need to keep in our heads. We'll be more able to be present with each other.

AE: I was an early Internet adopter. An early blogger. I always felt I didn’t know how to interact with people. The Internet used to be a thing that only weird teenagers were using. So social media has always been, for me, about connecting communities even before it was called social media.

LR: It must be challenging  and maybe lonely to be solo at the helm of a historied organization like Dancemakers.

AE: When I started the job I noticed a shift in how people talked to me…not my close friends…but more peripheral people. When I first started I was reticent to talk about the power in my position. But then I realized it’s important to own up to it. My job affects others. When one person gets a residency, it means saying no to 20. It was really hard in the first year. I found refuge in the queer community and art community and places where I was more anonymous. I’m not a CEO or anything, but I have one of very few paid jobs in a sector where very few get paid to do their work. I get paid to write and answer my email…. It’s really different.

LR: It’s a tough thing to be handed at a young age. 

AE: I just turned 30. 

LR: Probably wouldn’t matter how old I was be, I would have a hard time in that position. I doubted it when other women in their 40s used to tell me how good it would be to get there, but age definitely bring more of the I don’t give a fuck what people think about me, which is so liberating. However we are also in a line of work where we have to care, because it's the artists' responsiblity to reflect the society they are immersed in and many of us receive public funding for our works. So we have to care what people think. It doesn't mean we have to have them like us or what we do. 

There's this thing that happens for women as you go through the 30s and into the 40s: I know what I am good at and what I’m not good at it….I think men get there earlier, they are encouraged to or learn to fake it earlier?

AE: For sure. 

Dancemakers was in a wacky place when I started.  There were a lot of questions from the community. There was no general manager. People didn't know what was happening. I was definitely entering the organization in a tricky transition. 

I’m ambitious and I get in over my head really quickly. I have a panic disorder and my health is really important to me and at the same time I’m attracted to stressful jobs and situations. I don’t want to give up the work and I don’t get to give up my health.

LR: I say this from a certain kinship. I bet there’s something that deep down is really attractive to you in the challenge of that balance. I think dancers tend to be perfectionists, not because they want to be perfect but because the challenge of getting to perfection is actually unattainable, especially in contemporary dance because what that perfection might be can change instantaneously. It’s values, physicality, and goals. I think we reset the goals if we get close to them. It’s admirable on some levels and also addictive.

AE: You just don’t know what perfection is in contemporary dance and that’s the point of it…. I feel good right now…I’m not in my technical chops but I feel good about my dancing body right now. This is how I do this. And it’s ok. …I wish we could claim that at a younger age.  

LR: Thanks Amelia. Good luck with the Mini-Festival and all its events!


There's so much happening in the Mini-Festival I can't put it all here, so click on this link for the info. And get out there. Have a healthy, critically optimistic time. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Kaeja d'Dance: Watching a CRAVE cue-to-cue

Last week I was invited to sit in on two rehearsal sessions at the Theatre Centre, both for portions of the two-week shared programming of Kaeja d'Dance and Cloud 9 (produced by Moonhorse Dance Theatre). 

It's a clever sharing. Each company takes an entire evening, but over the two weeks each company also gets a longer trajectory of performance. Contemporary dance performances in Toronto often suffer from dismally short runs, which truncates the potential growth of the creation and its interpretations, so when the arc of performances can be 5 or 6 shows and even those shows over the longer stretch of two weeks, the performers and the performances have a chance to flourish, mature, recalibrate and refine. Toronto artists and producers are getting more creative in finding way stop make this happen.

My last blog entry was about witnessing D.A. Hoskins' brand new work for Cloud 9 and today I've got something a little different: CRAVE, Karen Kaeja's 2013 duet for Michael Caldwell and Stephanie Tremblay. This remount it is being staged for the first time with live musicians for the gorgeous music by Sarah Shugarman.

No one notices when I first enter the Franco Boni Theatre, where rehearsal is taking place. What is happening is not chaotic or noisy, but full of inner activity. Intense thinking. Pacing, staring into the space, listening.

Dancers are catching a moment to check email and updates on their phones, dramaturg, choreographer and composer are triangulating the space with stage manager. Musicians are placing their instruments, stands, chairs, adjusting and tuning. Large bean bags are being dragged about -- surprisingly quiet as they go.

The most intense thing in the room is Karen Kaeja's mind. You can't hear it but you can feel it. There is a lot to synthesize in this first rehearsal with live musicians. Much time is devoted to discovering the level of amplification needed for the cello and violin, the ideal positioning and movement of musicians. All options must be heard, seen, understood.

Amid four or five separate conversations happening among the collaborators, Karen is a GPS multi-tracking system. I'm not sure how she is ingesting it all and maintaining calm. But she does.

They begin a cue-to-cue rehearsal where dancers and musicians and technical collaborators step from moment to moment to sort out cuing of sound and lights or sensitive spacing. 

As the dancers mark through the choreography I can't help but reflect on the Cloud 9 rehearsal I visited the day before. In contrast to the fully embodied marking I witnessed in the older dancers, I see Michael and Stephanie marking choreography much more internally, as though each has a small doll-like version of themselves inside and that doll is fully dancing the piece. A peculiar sensation.

This makes me wonder about a shift in ways of learning as we mature. Is there a shift from visual (or visualized) learning to visceral (visceralized?) learning? 

Either way you work, it is fascinating. 

The most wonderful part of this rehearsal is the rehearsing of the bean bags. Not even a dance of or with the bean bags, but the sheer time and figuring-out energy invested in how they get on stage and where they best land when they do arrive. 

Much time in this rehearsal is actually spent with what we might see as the more mundane aspects of the piece, entrances and exits (of people and bean bags!), the cuing of two-second transitions. As different elements and sections of choreography and sound are sewn together how visible are the stitches? They certainly don't all need to be seen or unseen, the way each of these mundane moments is finessed creates magic.

It is so clear that Michael and Stephanie are comfortable with the choreography, they know it and each in other in it down to the marrow of their bones. And rattling around in that marrow now is the live sound. Karen tells the dancers they can chill out, but once the musicians play they can't help but get on their feet and go with the music.

Dancers and musicians are enthralled with each other. They revel in each other's company. 

This synergy between musicians and dancers, within the first couple of hours of working together, is so palpable, I can't quite imagine the new dynamism and electricity that will circuit the theatre once this show opens. 

I know I want to be there to see it.

See Kaeja d'Dance in CRAVE/DEFIANT
Theatre Centre
1115 Queen St. West
Toronto ON M6J 3P4

Karen Kaeja's CRAVE
Allen Kaeja's DEFIANT

May 11 at 8pm (sold out)
May 12 at 8pm
May 13 at 8pm
May 16 at 8pm
May 17 at 8pm
May 20 at 8pm



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cloud 9 -- An impressionist view of a rehearsal

It is worth noting that in my recent visit to a Cloud 9 rehearsal of D.A. Hoskins' "Bird Nesting in Fingers in Bloom" I did not see a run of the piece. Instead I saw a working rehearsal with technical elements at play; spacing, working, playing and serious figuring-out by all members of the team in the room from stage management to lighting designer to choreographer to dancers. 

Observing these often awkward and painstaking parts of the creative process taps into a different kind of electricity from watching a run: how do artists choose succinct and simple words to communicate twisting, multi-layered ideas? what is the image-world mutually created by the artists involved? which small moments get a large chunk of time and attention and which are left to sort themselves out? how do authority and collaboration intermingle?

My impressions of course are coloured by my personalization of these experiences.  Watching dance is visceral, personal and always reflecting my current state of being. Which is how it should be for every audience member, yes? But this is why, despite being asked quite a few times to review shows, I can't do it. I am always a questing dancer, a buoyantly bruised choreographer. I am writing this after just closing a new show for my company, while I am in the process of writing reports and evaluating how I handled all the creative and productive elements of it. So these obsessions will poke through as I watch...

In particular what seduces me in observing a working rehearsal is the action of repetition (in French this is the word most used for rehearsal), the repeating of movements, thoughts, interpretations over and over. When you have a cast of veteran artists, Larry Hahn, Karen Kaeja, Claudia Moore and Robert Regala, what is evident in the repetition is the process of learning, the process of processing. It may be this spectacular collection of dancers, but I do think it is true of many older performers, there is no veil disguising the inner work, no attempt to hide confusion or questioning.

Similarly, Darryl Hoskins responds to confusion or questioning with (paraphrased) "I don't know the answer to that yet, let's figure it out. Let's try it." Questions or confusion do not threaten the creator or the work because they are offered in absolute purity. And so are the possible solutions.

As pauses occur while Darryl and lighting designer Simon Rossiter figure some things out the dancers keep going, keep moving, working through material in full physicality. Marking or stepping through material doesn't really happen for these artists. Marking something is a full-body experience with only a small retreat to the inner world, calibrating and recalibrating the sensations always. They track these inner sensations fully which creates an outward expression that is no less dynamic, no less impactful. 

I wonder in watching this quartet if they feel like I do, that in the second half of life and dance career, there is a push-to-curtain. Not a drive to get to the end, but a drive to go with gusto, to exert oneself fully and completely. To empty oneself of all the physical impulses. An hour and a half into the rehearsal and they are still going, going, going. They haven't stopped.

Simon flashes through various lighting states, creating a dark but somehow luminous black square at centre with a bright framing, later interpreting Darryl's request for a state that creates parallel worlds between right and left. These moments of translation are astounding. It reminds me of how these "silent" art forms -- lighting design and dance-- excel in communication.

Entities that lack a voice will find brilliant ways to be heard.

Some things that moved me: 

1. A blue basketball allowed to find its own end of a bounce. Its bounce started by a man in tropical green and blue, vivid colours that remind me of the view of earth from space. 
2. Movements or transitions that take the time they take. Could we do this in life, instead of trying to move things along so fast all the time? Sometimes the time it takes is very little, sometimes we need more. Let's be honest. Rush and lull....
3. Each performer seems to have a mystery behind their eyes. Not one is the same mystery.
4. The strange words or images that Darryl uses to describe moments or actions and the nods of dancers who understand exactly what he's referring to. I don't know this language but this is a magic I love. 
5. "Smushy smushy" a whispered reminder between dancers of a new layer of quality to a certain section. What a great word. Dancers find new words to describe hybrid feelings.
6. How much movement my audience eye can take in of one duet without watching it specifically, while paying attention to a more languorous duet happening elsewhere on stage. I can see it all without realizing it exactly.  Darryl is really smart in creating this balance of just enough on both sides.
7. Claudia Moore's ability to transform to a child instantaneously, the way her face takes the light.
8. Robert Regala's subtlety: wearing the brightest colours on stage, he manages to suddenly disappear and then reappear somewhere else.
9. Larry Hahn's delicacy. His physical presence is huge but he can move like gossamer
10. Karen Kaeja's consistency. She moves in such a spontaneous way, yet in watching the repetition you see how precisely she can reproduce the in-the-moment feeling.
11. The mirror-head. Something from Oz. Disturbing and blithe at once.
12. Darryl's ability to synthesize many elements into one idea, one sentence, one image. And his kindness.

I wrote so many other notes that are, frankly, illegible and after a certain point, I stopped writing my scribbles in the dark and just tried to absorb the light of these radiant collaborators.

This is a beautiful piece, a beacon that hopefully will beckon you to the Theatre Centre next week. 

Tune in tomorrow for another impressionistic view on Karen Kaeja's "CRAVE" rehearsal, part of the Kaeja d'Dance program that shares two weeks with Cloud 9 at the Theatre Centre.

Marking its 20th anniversary, MOonhORsE Dance Theatre raises the artform to new heights in commissioned works for Cloud 9 by Lina Cruz and DA Hoskins, with performers Louise Bédard, Karen Kaeja, Larry Hahn, Claudia Moore and Robert Regala.

Tuesday May 9 at 8:00pm
Wednesday May 10 at 8:00pm
Saturday May 13 at 8:00pm
Thursday May 18 at 8:00pm
Friday May 19 at 8:00pm
Saturday May 20 at 2:00pm
The Theatre Centre, 
1115 Queen Street West 
Toronto ON M6J 3P4

$30 (general)
$22 (student/senior/artist)
Dance Card packages also available
Two card pass for Cloud 9 and Kaeja d'Dance CRAVE/DEFIANT: $39

Tickets available  or at 416-538-0988
Approximate running time: 1 hours and 20 minutes

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Lovely and Iconic Esmeralda Enrique: 5 Quick Questions

It had to be quick because the celebratory performance, An Iconic Journey, is coming up so soon, but I am thrilled to share a brief, but no-less love-filled interview with one of my favourite ladies in Toronto dance, and someone who got balls rolling in new ways in Toronto when she founded her company 35 years ago.

Esmeralda Enrique

LR: You are celebrating such a big anniversary for the company! What are a few of your proudest achievements with Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company?

EE: I am very proud that we have been able to achieve a high calibre of artistry with our individual dancers, as well as recognition from our peers in Spain, an affirmation of the many years of excellent, well-rounded training and integration of guest artists into our company productions. My core dancers have been with me for over twenty years.

EESDC in Letters to Spain

LR: What made you want to have your own company? What fuelled that first spark to form your company?

EE: It was truly out of necessity at the beginning. As a flamenco artist I needed the support of live music and other dancers to be able to perform and even for teaching. But as time went on, the ideas for choreographies, explorations and collaborations seemed to be multiplying year by year and so a more focused effort became possible.

LR: How do you take care of yourself as a performer, how do you train, keep in shape, keep creative as a mature artist, but also one who is the head of a company and a school as well?

EE: I pay attention to my body, rest as much as possible, sleep and eat healthy. I teach over 16 hours per week, in addition to rehearsals of anywhere from 5 to 15 hours a week, plus all the separate administrative work for both the school and the company. I try to be concise and not waste precious time. I take Pilates classes which help me focus on other areas of weakness and it helps me relax. I read a lot and try to be aware of all my surroundings because I can find inspiration from all that is around me. I take one day at a time and enjoy my time at home with my husband.

Esmeralda Enrique

LR: How does this upcoming show reflect your 35 years of history as a company?

EE: We will be presenting a lovely range of flamenco and classical Spanish dance, a panorama of the individual and group qualities of our artists. In our production of Queen of the Gypsies of 2004, for example, I developed some unusual techniques for playing the cajón (box drum) which have been further developed in a new piece called Latidos. We have selected past works that have resonated with the dancers and have given them new life and a different context. We are also very excited to be dancing a gorgeous new work by Ana Morales from Spain. And all this with the uplifting, tremendous energy - delicate and powerful at the same time - of our very talented musicians. In An Iconic Journey we remember our trajectory and look to the future and all its possibilities.

EESDC in Epocas

LR: What's next for EESDC? For you? What is your dream project? Or what is the next dream project?

EE: The company has various concerts and festivals this summer and the fall brings us together for planning sessions for the development of next year’s program. My dream project is a small tour within Canada and, why not, even in other parts of the world. An upcoming project for myself is a film and stage production with Kaeja d’Dance in June; and at DanceWorks 40th Anniversary presentation in the fall, a collaboration with Joanna de Souza combining flamenco and Kathak dance.

Celebrate with Esmeralda and her amazing company!!

May 5 & 6, 2017 at 8pm, May 7 at 3pm
Fleck Dance Theatre
Tickets $32-48
Box office 416 973 4000 
or follow the link below
Please check road and public transit closures or detours to make sure you can join us at Harbourfront!

all photos courtesy of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company