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