Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Do you know.....It's International Dance Day!?

It's a dreary raining gray, far-too-cold-for-April 29th day in Toronto, but you can be assured that somewhere in the world it is sunny and warm, and since it is International Dance Day, we can all soak up that sun vicariously.

I intended to write about International Dance Day sooner but have been bogged down by a string of illnesses over the last two months which have drained me of my ability to get things done in a timely fashion. I've been rehearsing one project or another non-stop, which is amazing -- truly amazing how dancing can transport the ailing body from itself even if just running a 30 second section of choreography. I can forget that I have pneumonia/sinusitis/a bad cold/an eye infection.

The possibility for transcendence through dance can be on this individual microcosmic scale, and also has been noted recently in work with those suffering from Parkinson's. Dance as a regular activity can override symptoms and give participants in dance liberation from their ailment. (See Dance International's most recent issue for more about this.)

In Toronto, this evening there is a reception at Queen's Park to celebrate International Dance Day with a performance from Kevin Ormsby's Kashe Dance. It is by invitation only, but still wonderful to see the day acknowledged by our provincial government.

Canadian Dance Assembly is hosting free events at Dundas Square. Mama Dances, dance yoga, a flash mob, and fantastic performances by Jasmyn Fyffe Dance, Motus O Dance and the Dance Migration.  11 am to 1pm.

It's hard to say what will happen with this dreary weather, but keep your eyes open and if you're nearby you can bet there will be dancing if the weather breaks.

There are many more IDD events and activities going on. Just google it and you'll see!

The above photo is from 2009 when I was lucky to be part of the IDD Dundas Square performances on a cold April day when I was 7 months pregnant. There were hints of rain that day -- although nothing like this morning. That year the event was put on by Dance Ontario with the Dance Umbrella of Ontario.

I had five amazing and lovely dancers work with me over a few short rehearsals to make a structured improvisational score dedicated to a dear friend Onik who was lost off a breaker on a rainy, windy day on the Pacific Ocean.  To dance under a wide sky with the threat of rain, feeling dwarfed by the buildings and billboards around us somehow mitigated the loss and made the dance even more bittersweet.

This is what dance can do -- make your heart and intellect soar while dancing for or about the darkest and most terrifying things.

I can't remember who said it, some genius artist like Peter Brook or Pablo Picasso: all art is about loss.

Inuit artist Alootook Ipellie said making art is a way to contribute to the human quest for the meaning of life.

These scattered thoughts collected here today are my wish that all of us run out into the rain and wind -- and let our bodies be beams of light scouring the dark, wet places to find what shimmers.

Happy International Dance Day!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Do you know?....Tracey Norman


      Tracey Norman is the co-producer of the Blumberg/Norman Double Bill and one of the hardest working dance artists in Toronto. A teacher, choreographer, interpreter, researcher, arts advocate and truly one of the kindest and smartest people I've met it is no wonder so many of her collaborators work with her again and again. Tracey is currently on faculty at York University in the Dance Dept, where she completed an MFA in Dance dramaturgy in 2010. 

       Here are Tracey's answers to the same questions I posed to her co-producer Angela Blumberg about their artistic practice and their upcoming show.

e    Where do you get your ideas for new dances?

My ideas come mostly from everyday life. I’ll be walking down the street and see something that makes me think of something else and so on. The actual object or subject I am drawn to in the first place might be highly compelling or quite mundane but there’s something about it that draws me in. Images are big for me – these usually come to me in dream-like states when I’m in that space between sleep.

Words, phrases, song lyrics and prose are highly influential for me. So much so that I have to limit myself in this category. I’m highly linguistic and was creative writing long before I was creating dances and so if I rely on the written word too much, I feel it stunts my choreographic work.

I get lots of ideas from other peoples’ work – mainly the work of other dance artists or theatre and visual arts. When I go to a show I often feel inspired and it makes me want to try new things or I see something in the work that makes me more curious about my current process. And if I’m not into the show but I’m in a ripe creative headspace, I do this thing where I blur what I’m seeing/hearing so that I can view images and ideas I’m having while still watching the performance unfolding. I often get so many ideas at shows that I need to scribble them in the dark on my show program.

I keep lists of ideas in my notebooks. Surprisingly, I eventually create something from most of my ideas or at least I attempt to. That’s the other side of this, to be honest, often I begin with an idea/ starting off point and then shift completely when I get into the studio. It often becomes “of the body” and I am even more interested in developing methods toward creating movement and context than I am at pre-determining ideas for work. I am drawn to certain images and motifs and this begins to tell me something about where the work is headed or the world of the dance.

How do you translate those ideas into movement? Is it instinct, planning, trial and error, a system or code of your devising etc?

I often attempt to translate ideas into movement… unsuccessfully. But when it does work it’s because I stay fairly simple with it. Many times I’ve realized my ideas are not going to translate (at least in their entirety) into dance language and that I’m better off writing about them or letting them percolate until they transform into something else.

I definitely use lots of systems or one overriding system in devising work whether it be from pre-determined ideas or ideas/events that present themselves in the studio. I love to give my collaborators tasks, which are layered over one another, as well as employ compositional rules or rules for the dance in general. I feel like it generates presence and honesty in the performers and theme becomes evident without them having to create one. 

For example with Jesse and Jordana’s duet [part of the Double Bill show] I did go into thinking I was intrigued by an article I had read and especially the sentence: by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality.” This was something I had heard before but as is often the case, this time something about it registered with me differently. And so the starting point for my work with Jesse and Jordana stemmed from this interest in the Observer Effect and how it applies in human terms. 

For the first few weeks of process we played many games and took on physical tasks related to observing with and without sight, and I was able to learn from watching them and feeling their energy as to “how” we can witness one another and how we alter our behaviour accordingly based on our cognizance of being watched. From that point we were able to develop the language, relationship and arc for the work which stemmed from this physical research.

You and your Double Bill coproducer Angela Blumberg both collaborate with your 'domestic partners'  -- what is that process like for you? How do manage or embrace the bleed between artistic work and home life?

Well, Craig and I collaborate only to an extent…I think we both perceive that we shouldn’t overlap our working lives too much. As is the case with many dance artists I know, Craig is much more involved with my professional life than I am with his. 

He works in television as a producer so his training and experience is incredibly varied and on the side he has developed a photography and videography business. Through this he often photographs and records dance and this is both useful and inspiring to me. 

Our aesthetics are completely different, but something works when we meet in the middle. I’m often overly subtle or interested more in nuance, whereas his practice is about wowing an audience and showing the extremes. We’ll come up with ideas for video projects or photo projects together and I think we balance each other out. 

He is hugely supportive of my artistic practice/career and is a genuine fan of dance. We’ve been together for many years and so he’s also the person who has seen my work evolve over time and so when I speak to him about my work it’s often in this context. In terms of his work, he often has me read his scripts and recently I choreographed for a commercial he was producing. I think we both have the sense we will be honest with one another, even if it hurts sometimes and somehow we need to separate this from the rest of our personal lives (this doesn’t always work).

 What made you want to coproduce with Angela?

Angela and I co-produced a Fringe show this past July so there was a history of working together in this way. I’m pretty picky with who I choose to make work with and even pickier when it comes to co-producing. I can count on Angela, I trust her, I really like her and she gets a lot of work done in a short amount of time. We have a mutual respect and admiration for each other. She came to me in December with this idea and we’re pulling it all together on a shorter timeline than usual but I think it will work out well (fingers crossed).

What has led you to this project/these works in the Double Bill? Where do you place this production or these choreographies in the evolution of your work?

I’m showing a duet, Witness, and a new self-solo. I think both works play a significant part in the evolution of my work, but I’m not sure I can be very articulate on “why” at the moment.

Witness was created along with performers Jesse Dell and Jordana Deveau last year for a production we co-produced. It has experienced a further life with subsequent performances and then in preparation for this show we’ve gone back into the studio to make changes, edits, additions, and play with the sound. The work is quite site-specific so it’s interesting to continue to work on it now in the compelling space at the Citadel.

The solo is another matter. I’ve only made a few self-solos and they’ve all been completely different beasts. I haven’t focused my time on performing in the last three years and so it’s been a bit of a psychological battle convincing myself to start and continue working on it. 

In contrast to the duet, which has experienced prior life and a good amount of time with Jesse and Jordana this past month, the solo is coming together quite quickly and so it’s a bit difficult to discuss “what” it is at this point. I went into it with a bunch of ideas for what it might be and it’s becoming something totally different. 

Whatever happens, I know I need to do this. I consider my choreography and teaching practices to be the heart of my artistic work but without performing or creating on myself, I was starting to cut off a part of my artistic practice and in turn I know this was beginning to impact my abilities to reach my artistic potential. I’m fortunate to work with Julia Sasso as my Outside Eye and so her feedback is crucial for me, supporting and challenging my choices. 

Blumberg/Norman Double Bill
May 1-3 - 8pm
The Citadel
304 Parliament St., Toronto
Choreographers: Angela Blumberg & Tracey Norman
Performers: Angela Blumberg, Irvin Chow, Jesse Dell, Jordana Deveau , Carmen Kraus, Tracey Norman, Lucy Rupert

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do you know?.... Angela Blumberg

     Continuing my interviews with artists collaborating on projects, I am bringing you a couple from the choreographers of the Blumberg/Norman Double Bill. I posed the same questions to both choreographers -- Angela Blumberg and Tracey Norman. Up first is Angela, an electric dancer with refined and unusual ideas in choreography and piercing body intelligence. Angela is originally from Germany, trained at the Laban Centre in London, then came to Toronto where she completed her MFA in Choreography at York University. Her choreography has travelled to the UK, Sweden and recently to Taiwan. She frequently collaborates with her partner, composer Augusto Monk.

Where do you get your ideas for new dances?
I can find inspiration in various things including literature, music, simple movement explorations, and the visual arts. What remains. [a new work premiering in the Blumberg/Norman Double Bill] for example was inspired by jewellery-like accessories that the Paperhouse Studio created for the three dancers. 

When I started defining a choreographic concept I asked myself what is the reason for wearing theses accessories? What world do they belong to? And how do they make the dancers look – scary? Majestic? Embellished? Following these questions I spun a story in which the accessories became objects of desire, and the dancers’ goal to be in possession of these objects. 

For Shadow, [Blumberg's second choreography in the upcoming show] on the other hand I was inspired by a movement exploration where I had worked with chairs. I was interested in developing a daily life activity such as sitting into an abstract movement phrase and then reduce it back to sitting. 

My idea was to bridge the gap between narrative and abstract movements and to come up with a choreography that tells a story in an abstract way.  

Obviously, the choreography has come a long way by now. I remember trying out a “chair chase” where I imagined both dancers going over and under and in between the chairs to avoid being caught by one another. I think this is when I had the idea of a shadow chasing the person who it belongs to which then became the starting point of the choreography.

How do you translate those ideas into movement? Is it instinct, planning, trial and error, a system or code of your devising?

I think it’s all of the above! There is always a good amount of trial and error, but in my case there is also an idea or plan that I try out. What helps me is working from a concept because then I can try out ideas in a fairly focused way. 

For example, let’s stay with Shadow and the idea of developing daily life movements into abstract movement phrases: I know that there are tools such as repetition, tempo changes, or traveling movements that allow me to abstract a movement. So there is a system or code in place that I can draw from. But of course these systems and codes are very general and you need to keep layering information into the equation to make your phrase specific and relevant to the piece. That implies a significant amount of trial and error, and of course I did fail at some points! Due to my own technical limitations, a lack of imagination, or simply because I am doing something that I have never done before. I have never worked with chairs before and I don’t know how to say what I want to say. 

And I think that it is important here that you don’t over-challenge yourself as a choreographer. The gap between what you know and what you don’t know needs to be “bridgeable” otherwise you have little chances of solving the problems that you encounter. 

Another thing that is important for me when translating ideas into the physical realm is to be clear whether an idea is an inspiration or if I want it to be understood by and audience. An inspiration might only serve me as a choreographer as a stepping stone that the audience doesn’t need to be able to trace back and understand. 

You and your Double Bill co-producer Tracey Norman both collaborate artistically with your domestic partners  -- what is that process like for you? How do manage or embrace the bleed between artistic work and home life?

Working with your partner has great advantages but it also comes at a price. What I value most is that my partner is as dedicated and committed to my work as I am – it’s our “baby”. The flip side is that we always talk about work and don’t go home in the evening leaving the work behind us. 

You also need to understand how your partner functions and respect that to the best of your ability. For example, Augusto has a constant flow of ideas that he likes to discuss with me in order to filter the essence. I, on the other hand tend to make instant decisions without considering every option. So here we need to meet half way: While Augusto needs to narrow down his ideas, I need to be more open towards discussing and questioning my own decisions.

What made you and Tracey want to coproduce with each other?

I’ve worked with Tracey in the past and know that I can 100% rely on her as a co-producer. I know that I can delegate tasks and that she cares about my artistic work, which is important. As co-producers you need to support each other and be willing to find solutions that accommodate both your own and your partner’s artistic needs. With Tracey I have found that and I am really excited about this 2nd co-production of ours!

What has led you to this project/these works in the Double Bill? Where do you place this production or these choreographies in the evolution of your work?

I have always been interested in collaborating with artists from other disciplines and have worked most extensively with composers, musicians and writers. In the Double Bill I had the opportunity to expand my interdisciplinary collaborations and work with visual artists. 

IIlustrator Luisa Stenzel made animations for Shadow, and the Paperhouse Studio made props and set designs for both pieces. I think in this production I was probably most aware that I am creating for an audience and throughout the process I tried to see Shadow and What remains from their perspective. 

I was very aware of what I wanted the audience to see, and what I wanted to communicate. So I spend a lot of time on translating my ideas without the simple joy of seeing movement in space and time – lets see if it worked!

Blumberg/Norman Double Bill
May 1-3 - 8pm
The Citadel
304 Parliament St., Toronto
Choreographers: Angela Blumberg & Tracey Norman
Performers: Angela Blumberg, Irvin Chow, Jesse Dell, Jordana Deveau
Carmen Kraus, Tracey Norman, Lucy Rupert