Sunday, April 29, 2018

A quick Q&A with Ofilio Sinbadinho of GADFLY!

photo courtesy of Gadfly

LR: I love that your pieces get slightly updated names with each production, the 2.0, 3.0 at the end etc…What have you learned or developed in the pieces as you’ve restaged over time? 

OS: What we have learned I think is that those works were not finished. They were a snapshot in time of where we were as artists and things have changed. Being able to revisit works is not a chance but a must. We had to do it. We are not finished. We are not satisfied. We owe it to the people who come see our works. It is our choice. Go back into the lab and fix things that might have been rushed.

What we’ve gained is that our works represent where we are in our heads. We change, we grow and so do those works, especially the ones coming from very personal places.

LR: And the pieces you are premiering — what are the inspirations for them?

OS: Inspiration is a very tricky term for me. I don’t buy into the idea of one thing as the trigger for creating a work. We can promote it as such, but the work that we do, 24/7 365 days a year, we keep everyday going through things, asking things, enduring things, gaining knowledge and that feeds us when we hit the studio. We are never a blank slate. Never with one thing “this is going to be the inspiration”.

We go in and we go from instinct but that instinct is already a baggage composed of knowledge and experience we’ve acquired since we last came into the studio to make a piece.

LR: One of your premieres, DespiteBecause, is an immersive experience — how does this work at Harbourfront Centre Theatre? What does immersive mean to you?

OS: That’s a two part question so part A: We adapt to the architecture, the space, the liberties and constraints that the theatre gives us. It makes for a good challenge to makes something we haven’t done before. We keep searching. We don’t like to repeat.

And part B: For us it’s just trying to be closer to the people that come see our work. Try to touch different senses, touch their senses in different ways. It’s just that Narrow down the gap between the person who comes to watch and the performer.

LR: With all the challenges of being an artist, and the physical demands of dance, what keeps you motivated? inspired?

OS: I don’t know. Good question...It feeds us. Yes it is hard, especially to put big productions together, and it’s hard physically, our injuries and injuries of the dancers who work with us….

We’re motivated to move people. In this day and age so much is about consuming: splash, splash and noise, not much substance. Not much is meant for us to think, process and come up with your own conclusions. Someone has to do it. There are people who have to fight to do it. It’s not easy, but that’s what moves us.

LR: Are you dancing in this production? 

OS: At this moment neither Apolonia nor I, are performing. I was planning to but I have a knee injury that is taking a while to heal -- since last November. It is very unlikely I will perform…but you never know..

LR: What do you see as the fillable gap in the Toronto dance scene — what do we need, who are we missing, what possibilities are we not taking advantage of?

OS: That would be a whole interview in itself.

I can’t speak for everybody but I think collaboration is something that is always undeniably strong and offers growth for a lot of people. More collaborations. More solutions rather than complaining. And remembering that dance is important. To move to be creative.

LR: What are you reading? I am always so curious and game to add more books to the big stack I have to read!

OS: During production time, I’m not reading not much. But over the past year, I’ve been really liking The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, about subconscious, how we can control it, play with it understand it. Very practical. 

Another book I’ve been reading about is Kaizen – the idea of one small thing you can do to change something. 

Connecting things, the habits book gives you the blueprint of our habits from our subconscious: trigger, routine, reward. If you want to change that you have to address all three, but you have to do the changes many, many times to build the new habit.  So the second book says try the smallest little action first, the build from it. A really small step and add on it a little each day.


One small step you can make is to get on out to the final Mainstage show of DanceWorks’ 2017-18 season. Go see Gadfly:

choreographed by Apolonia Velasquez and Ofilio Sinbadinho
May 3-5, 2018 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Thursday, April 19, 2018

How to tear down a wall, with Tracey Norman.

When Tracey Norman's email announcing her show "How to Tear Down a Wall" arrived in my inbox, I teared up a little just reading its title.

How to tear down a wall.

Wall of ice. Wall of apathy. Wall of despair. Wall that divides, keeps out, keeps in, restricts.

In a time when walls really can't stop us from communicating with each other, or from knowing what's going on elsewhere, there is something still powerful, threatening about the idea of building a wall.

So how to tear one down? I want to know.

LR: How to tear down a wall  — what does this title mean? it’s super evocative, at face value, or taking into consideration some recent political statements of building a wall etc and our metaphorical/allegorical use of it in daily language. i want to know how to tear down a wall!!!!

TN: Well I think it’s a fairly accessible title to which you can attach surface value meaning right away and hopefully relate to in some way. I looked at it a bit as a challenge going into it. I had the title in mind fairly early on in our initial creative phase and it’s been a matter of trying to live up to it in some ways. I find it a lot easier to show conflict on stage than it is to show non-sentimental versions of its opposite. So I will say I’ve been working to figure out what the title means as we work our way through the piece. For sure, at the time of naming the work it has huge political meaning attached to it. This is purposeful and I’m mining for those tiny moments of misunderstanding  that fester and if left to unstable individuals turn into huge statements of discrimination.  

LR: How did this program come about? Does it stem from your research last year into community? I was happy to be involved in a couple of those sessions....

TN: This program first came about because I set the horse before the cart – I had a spot in Toronto Fringe and no plans for it. I thought about giving it up and then I looked down the long list of dance artists who’d applied. I saw one of my dearest friends, Alison Daley, on the list, as well as Half Second Echo (HSE) comprised of dancers Justine Comfort, Sarah Dowhun-Tompa, Miles Gosse, Niko Markakis and Denise Solleza. I decided to invite Alison to choreograph with me and asked HSE if they’d like to be involved in a creative exchange in which we make work with them and share in the workload and profits of the production.  A year ago right now I started working with them on the seeds of this work and I was having so much fun with them and compelled by working with a group of collaborators who were new to me and younger than me that I got excited about what more we could do and proposed the idea to DanceWorks. We went on to show a 15-minute seedling for the work at Toronto Fringe and then had a phase of further creation in December and we’re inside one right now, building towards the full work.

And yes, I would say it’s related somewhat to my research into community you’re referring to. That was kind of a scratching of the surface – more about getting some rust off the wheels after taking a break from choreographic work following having my daughter. I want to actually get back to some of that specific work at some point but also it did naturally  lead into my interest in this project.

LR: Now baby #2 is on the way, you're still on strike at York, you have a youngster at home...How are you managing all these facets of stress?

TN: If I’m honest, this has been a stressful period, especially since going on strike – we’re in week 7 of the strike right now. I knew this pregnancy would be different than the first obviously with less time to focus on being pregnant but it’s been unexpectedly stressful due to unexpected elements. In some kind of alliance with precarious workers or something my daughter, Pearl, stopped sleeping the night we went on strike. It’s been a weird 6 weeks of sleeping on Pearl’s floor, being completely out of routine and trying to dive into my production as much as possible. 

It’s not to say – boo hoo for me – but to say I’ve learned more about walls in this process. I’ve seen a clear example of what happens when people don’t communicate. This is the 4th strike I’ve been a part of at York between my time as an undergrad/grad student and contract faculty member. This one has been pretty ugly and heart-breaking. But it’s almost been moving in slow-motion from Aug 31 when our contract was actually up until now and it’s allowed me to look up close at how communication breaks down, old walls go up and all of a sudden I find myself very angry at the situation, the larger cultural implications, and how connected it is to our struggles of being taken seriously as artists. 

The same thing happened with Pearl, she turned 3, we went on strike and one night she just stopped sleeping. Formerly a fantastic sleeper, I wondered how could this just seemingly happen over night but of course the anxieties were likely building up for her below the surface for a while. And when you look at kids, as you know, it’s a real study in how quickly habits form. You lay with them one night and 7 weeks later you’re still there – the new normal. 

All this to say, I’m using some of the stress and set-backs as research into my current work.

LR: So amidst the stresses, what keeps you motivated to keep going?

TN: The people I work with keep me motivated… and the people I live with. I have a good support system at home. I work with people I feel lucky to be around every day. I teach with excellent colleagues and have the opportunity to work with young dancers who inspire me and keep me going on some days. 

I admit the process of coming back to my creative practice after having a child was not a smooth one for me. I’ve learned from it and hope it will help me this second time around. I went back to teaching when Pearl was 6 months but I really didn’t get going with my choreographic work until she was 2 years old (a year ago now) and once I was back working this way, it felt like I’d been missing a limb or something. I completely understood what I’d given up. 

That said, it was a good thing to go through and it made me hungry to be making things, working differently and proposing more modest productions that I could still sink my teeth into. Ego is not as present for me any more in my work. So I can attribute all of this to my daughter teaching me and having a partner, Craig, who understands the absolute importance of me continuing my practice.

LR: What specifically makes How to Tear Down a Wall a site specific work? What do you love and what challenges you about the Shaw street space?

TN: I believe that any time you think about the performance space and work as much as you can in the performance space, the work is site-specific. My MFA research was focused on connecting cartography and choreography – essentially how we map our processes and our spaces. Within this research I felt so connected to all of the research around the importance of place and space. 

I acknowledge that for others in their processes this isn’t so important. The same way my mind rarely goes to elements like costuming without being forced to. But since I was a small child I’ve always had this deep connection to my spaces and their ability to play a role in my mood and productivity. I am deeply affected by the spaces I work in and deeply invested in figuring out their character or history. 

Since walking into our Artscape studio almost 5 years ago, I had such a good feeling about it. It has positively affected many of us. I share the space with my collective, Intergalactic Arts Collective (IGAC) and it’s exciting to make work in the space and imagine this is the same space where people will witness the work. It’s limiting but also a feeling of the sky is the limit – this is our playground. We become intimately connected with each other in the process and also the space as a partner to that process.

LR: With so many processes you rehearse in one space and it affects how the rehearsals go, the material that develops the images that inform the work. And then you go stage it in another location. And you either have to conjure up new imagery, or work to rebuild those sensations without the sights, sounds, smells, textures being right there. I always feel that in my process, but never really considered it until just now.

So one thing I always want to know is what people are reading. I have a massive stack to get through but I'll make the pile higher...What are you reading now? Like you have time to read with everything that's going on!

TN: Yes, reading is a bit of a challenge right now but I still find time to read a few pages most days. Actually for the first year or two of my daughter’s life I read a lot because she was a marathon breast-feeder so I was flying through books! Right now I’ve just finished reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Your dear friend and my colleague, Jen Bolt, has done a lot of research into growth mindset and I became really interested in it and when I inherited a group of her students this year I decided to continue on this work with them that she’d started. The results were fantastic and Dweck’s research has become a personal interest for me. 

I also recently read The Weekend Effect by Katrina Onstad which was a really interesting look into how we fought for our weekends, only to allow them to be snatched back up because of precarious work, lacking boundaries in our work and shifting priorities. I have a lot to do before I can truly retrieve my weekends but when I do have a weekend focused on culture, nature and family I immediately see the effects of it on my week and how I am with others. That whole “busy is a decision” thing we could all realize more. 

I also recently read The Conscious Parent by Shefali Tsabary, which is so much more than a parenting book. It’s a really beautiful book that looks at our struggles with power, our own family history and finding our essence as adults before we can possibly parent in a way that encourages our child’s essence to flourish. Seems like I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately! I can see how all of these link to my creative processes lately and how I work with people. More than ever, I feel more clear about really listening to others’ voices in process but not losing my own. I think some of this reading has influenced that.

LR: Can you illuminate for me what draws you to each of the performers in your work? They are a really wonderful group of people!

TN:  Yes – they are a great group of people I get to work with right now. When we started working together a year ago for our first project together, they came as a package deal. They are part of a collective, Half Second Echo, which they founded upon finishing school 5 years ago. Niko is no longer a part of the collective, but I wanted him in this process and they all still work together well. I knew all of them before this last year of making work together but this was the first time we’d worked together in this way. Like I mentioned above, it just felt right when we started working together and I wanted to keep pushing them and myself, thus our continued work on this project and upcoming projects for Montreal and Toronto Fringe. 

To get specific, I love how different they all are but how well they work together and in that millennial way really appreciate and encourage their differences, I think more so than my generation. 

Denise is this beautiful soul and it emanates through her. She is comfortable on stage in an almost eerie way. I could watch her stand on stage with her eyes closed for 10 minutes and be satisfied. I also appreciate how she is wise and paces herself in process, bringing out her full physicality only when needed. 


Justine is a powerhouse and capable of so much. I remember seeing her perform for the first time when she was probably 19 and I was wowed by her. Physically she’s able to accomplish so much but she’s also such a generous person who thanks everyone when she leaves rehearsal and has gone out of her way to help me behind the scenes. 

Sarah is strong and keeps her head down and works when the going gets tough. She’s been dealing with a serious injury for some time and finds a way to rise above. She’s one of those dancers who will offer you multiple ways to do something or find a way to correct something before you really realized it was going wrong. 

Niko is athletic, fierce and complex. He throws himself into his dancing and literally into walls and windows in our piece! He is kind and intelligent and I feel like I could ask him to do anything and he’d try it at least once. 

And last but not least is Miles. Miles is the sweetest person who I feel is super connected to his essence in the way I was just talking about with that parenting book. When I watch him work I feel like I see the child in him still, in the most positive sense, and I wish we could all hold onto this. He knows who he is and as a tribute to that everyone loves him. I ask a lot of him in this piece and he has willingly gone there from day.


Julia Sasso has been my outside eye/mentor, teaching colleague, and dear friend for almost a decade. It’s so funny because she’s so honest and there’s this vibe when she walks into the room in which I feel dancers are nervous and want to impress her… but for me she’s built me up and supported me more than anyone. She’s so complex but communicates so simply and I always just “get” what she’s saying. She’s picked me up when things go wrong and sometimes I process things like negative news about funding really quickly (I think it’s a defense mechanism) and she’s more pissed off than me or fighting for me when I don’t even think to fight. I realize how much she cares in these moments and that I aspire to be that person for others.


Tracey is an aspirational person herself -- calm and thoughtful through stressful times, immensely intelligent and generous.

I guarantee however she tears down that wall, it will be with kindness.

How To Tear Down a Wall
A DanceWorks CoWorks Series Event
April 24-29, 2018 @8pm
World Premiere
Artscape Youngplace, Studio 103
Featuring: Justine Comfort, Sarah Dowhun, Miles Gosse, Niko Markakis & Denise Solleza
Lighting Designer: Gabriel Cropley
Tickets $18-$25 


all photos by Craig Chambers courtesy of Tracey Norman

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Natalie Sappier (Samaqani Cocahq) and Aria Evans in Finding Wolastoq Voice

Native Earth Performing Arts is Canada's oldest professional Indigenous performance company, developing and presenting multi-disciplinary stories of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit of Turtle Island (North America), with collaborators from Indigenous communities from Latin America, Australia, New Zealand and Greenland.

They are known for their imaginative productions, for dedication to the expression of Indigenous experience told in visually arresting and unique ways. They nurture and collaborate with established and emerging creators.

The upcoming production of Finding Wolastoq Voice, as part of the Niimi'iwe Indigenous Dance Showcase is a joint venture between Native Earth and Theatre New Brunswick and between New Brunswick-based playwright/composer Natalie Sappier and Toronto-based choreographer/dancer Aria Evans.

Natalie and Aria graciously answered some questions for me while their work premiered at Theatre New Brunswick, a setting both artists cite as being incredibly supportive and eye-opening. Artistic collaborators such as set and lighting designer Andy Moro, were in the room from the first workshop, helping shape the overall vision. Everyone seemed to feel its potential flourish from the start.

Theatre New Brunswick has shown real commitment to building relationships with and supporting Indigenous artists. Natalie, a Wolastaqiyik Indigenous artist of the Tobique First Nation, says,

"They really know the importance of having an Indigenous voice on the stage. It has taken us some time to get [this relationship] grounded because it was something we all did not want to rush.  And this relationship will continue, with future residencies for Indigenous Artists to focus on new playwrights and performances. Possesom Paul of St Mary's First Nation will be entering a residency with me this summer for developing new works."

It was Theatre New Brunswick's artistic director, Thom Morgan Jones, who connected Natalie with dancer/choreographer Aria Evans. As Natalie developed the play and its images, she began to see the character dancing through the stories and music. When Thom introduced them, both artists became immediately intrigued with one another.

"Even though she came on only to workshop the piece, I knew from the first day she danced in the studio hall she was going to be the dancer for Finding Wolastoq Voice." says Natalie.

Aria concurs, "When I looked at her work, read her play and talked with her I knew that there was something special about her: an incredible mix of generous, humble, dedicated but also fiery and passionate."

Finding Wolastoq Voice is the first touring show originating from Theatre New Brunswick and Native Earth's Indigenous Dance Showcase is the reason for it. For Natalie Native Earth is family. 

For a long time I felt alone, because there are not too many Indigenous Artists focusing on Theatre/Performance work in the Atlantic.  When I was invited to the Weesageechak 30 [Native Earth's Development Festival of Indigenous Work], I was so amazed by the many Indigenous artists I met and the work they are doing. It was the first time I ever experienced so many stories that I can relate too, that left me with tears and laughter."

Natalie is a visual artist as well as a writer and composer. She creates oil paintings of scenes and ideas for her performance works, her images driving the creative process for everyone involved.

"Her words and images already had so much movement in them, bringing them to life felt fluid and natural." says Aria.

The story of Finding Wolastoq Voice is about a young Wolastoqiyik woman, whose ancestors awaken the sleeping stories within her. She takes a journey reflecting these stories towards a deeper understanding of her family and surroundings. It is a abstraction and exploration of Natalie's upbringing within an Indigenous community, referring to stories from her families and friends, heard around the fire and circles.  It is about, says Natalie,

"Feeling loved. But yet feeling unheard. Un-noticed. Trying to find our voice. Trying to keep close to our teachings and our Indigenous ways of being while living in a fast-paced, growing world."

Aria believes the play's personal and intimate aspects also provide many access points for all audiences. 

"It is honest in a way that feels raw and inspiring. For me it’s about healing and understanding, understanding our journey and accepting our experiences. The most powerful message in the play, for me, is the discussion around being enough." she says.

And who doesn't run up against that feeling?  Art is a legitimate route to releasing our audiences and witnesses from that pressure. So how do you prepare for the pressure of telling that story?

"For me, there is always a pre-performance ritual that I like to follow. With music I will warm up, centring my body and my breath for 30 minutes then I go and put on my costume and do my hair and make up. I always leave the 30 minutes prior to a performance to ground myself, to access the emotional places that I want to call upon for the performance - acknowledging my own stories that I bring to a performance." says Aria.

Though not a performer in Finding Wolastoq Voice, Natalie describes her own approach to performance,  placing importance on being present with her thoughts and truth and the understanding that it's ok to stumble. 

"A performance for me is ceremony. And its a beautiful and powerful place where I feel the most where human spirit connects.  Before most performance, I take time to go to the medicines, give my thanks and honour my teachers with a little song." she says.

Finding Wolastoq Voice
Native Earth presents a Theatre New Brunswick production
part of the
Niimi'iwe Indigenous Dance Showcase
the Aki Studio
March 29-31st, 2018

all photos courtesy of Native Earth and Theatre New Brunswick

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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