Collaborations: Marie France Forcier on collaborating with trauma, dancers and her soon-to-be-born baby

Marie France Forcier's works have always created intense, moody worlds where humans are  almost exhaustingly human in their ability to manoeuvre and manipulate each other connecting without entwining. The first work I saw of Marie France's made my heart ache in a good way. 

photo of Marie France Forcier by David Hou courtesy of the artist's website

Her recent academic work delving deeply into dance as an artistic embodiment of trauma has taken her approach to an even more intense level. Her upcoming shared program with Tracey Norman in DanceWorks MainStage Series gives us a chance to see how it all comes together. Below are some thoughtful, honest answers to my questions about her process.
     LR: Can you tell me  a little about the collaborations involved in your portion of the upcoming Double Bill show?

MFF:  I am working with composer James Bunton again on this new piece. Over the last decade, our way of working together has evolved from developing our respective materials on parallel tracks to creating common works in a far more integrated ways. When he is in the studio with us, it feels natural for me to check-in with him about choreography-related decisions.

It is a real blessing to work with a collaborator who has an inherent knowledge of my artistry and work’s history. There is much trust in our creative relationship; this enables us to say what’s really on our minds: if one of us disagrees with something the other is proposing, we won’t hesitate to express that and dissect why that is. I think that this type of analytical honesty really helps to specify a product and increase its impact.    

As for my collaborative relationship with the performers, this current process, mostly because of its topic of exploration, is particularly reliant on a feedback loop. Because the work is largely informed by somatic reactivity to re-experiencing or enacting ideas of trauma, I am constantly asking the individual dancers to share what it feels like for them to be within the work, or what their physical instinct might be in reaction to a proposed idea or a certain dancer-to-dancer interaction. I am finding those exchanges really satisfying because it gives the work, a fairly structured affair, a certain dose of performative realism.  


LR: As you are soon to have a baby (congratulations!!) I wonder if you have thoughts about the collaborative process of being a body with another body collaborating inside you? 

MFF: There are many nuances to this “collaboration” I have with my unborn son, and those appear to be largely contingent on context.

I am constantly aware of him; he is a mover and I am rather somatically sensitive, so it is rare that I’ll go about my work for very long before getting a very concrete reminder that he’s involved. Consequently, I’d say that what I’ve produced in the last eight months as a writer or an interpreter has been somewhat informed by his presence. 

I have found the I've been creating and performing rooted in psychological trauma research to be far more challenging these last few months compared to what I have experienced since the beginning of my academic and professional investigation of trauma three years ago. 

My ability to recall post-traumatic states in performance has become somewhat impaired, and I suspect that this has been caused by unconscious attempts on my part to protect my baby from emotional stress.  

Similarly, in the creative process for Scars are All the Rage, I have been far more intellectual than emotional in my decision-making, contrary to my earlier habits. While a healthy dose of instinct and memory has still informed the work, I have been more emotionally detached than normal with my choreography. Strangely, this yielded the most graphic and emotionally distressing piece I ever made.

LR: You are working with dancers with whom you have varying degrees of history — how does that or how has that impacted the creative process?

MFF: It’s been wonderful to work with a fresh arrangement of characters, even if it wasn’t originally the plan.
I’ve tended to work with the same people over time, but one of my long-term collaborators  had a baby, and another one had irreconcilable scheduling conflicts. So Molly (Johnson) ended up being the only one returning; I love to have her in my work. 

I have worked with Justine (Comfort) since she was an undergrad student at York, and Louis (Laberge-Cote) and I have known each other for a long time, having had occasionally been involved in the same projects, but never in a creator-interpreter relationship until now.     
Having the three of them in the process has brought a new set of instincts to the table; this ended up creating a rather fertile environment in which to play. Navigating different experience levels could have been a significant challenge, but this has created an interesting dynamic in the studio.     

LR: What is your current creative process model? What is it like to be in the studio with you? 

MFF: This process has been a little bit of everything…

At this stage, we are wrapping up the work’s creation, so currently the process is fairly directorial and the dancers are refining their interpretation within a solid and established structure. It has been important for me to make sure that the rules I’ve asked them to follow made sense to them, especially because of our subject matter’s delicate nature. So there has been a fair amount of discussion and analysis going on.

However, this past summer, during the initial development phase, there was a fair amount of play. For example, one rehearsal, we ended up creating a 3-minute highly choreographed duet on superheroes with Graham technique as their power; just because that was the kind of mood we were in that day and despite of the fact that we knew from the process’ onset that the work’s aim was to address post-traumatic ideas. 

Of course, no one can identify this superheroes’ duet in Scars’ final version, because it has been stripped and re-contextualized, but it did make it in the final piece. … I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that it is currently important for me to allow for freedom and silliness in processes, because moments of brilliance often come out of goofing around.     


LR: You know anyone reading is this is going to try to find the Graham superheroes at the show. I certainly will be.  This leads nicely to my next question:  In working with ideas and theories surrounding trauma, have you found levity in the process? 

MFF: Yes. I have definitely found levity. Most significantly, I was introduced to the notion of post-traumatic growth (PTG) a few years ago and this changed my outlook on trauma research in general and my own history of trauma in particular. 

Essentially, PTG is a relatively new stream of research in positive psychology, and its premise is that a trauma victim can, following a battle with PTSD, not only return to their pre-trauma level of functioning and well being, but also exceed it by a significant margin moving forward. It’s the old what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger adage, based in scientific research. This discovery made a huge impact on my perception of psychological trauma’s transformative potential, artistically and otherwise.

LR: Can you tell me about one piece of choreography or performance that was profound or game-changing for you? 

MFF: There have been a few along the way. When I still lived in Montreal, about 15 years ago now, I saw a video version of David Earle’s Sacra Conversazione. This made me want to go to the School of TDT.  

And seeing Julia Sasso’s Beauty gave me an appreciation for fluidity and levity in tightly conceived movement, this made me pursue that classical artistic philosophy in my first creative attempts. 

In the recent years, I’ve been mostly shifted by the evocative imagery and the intellectual reasoning behind performance art– and I think that my current interest in the aesthetics of physical discomfort and visual/emotional dissonance originate from there.

Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Thurs. Mar 12 through Sat. Mar 14, 2015 8pm
Marie France Forcier and Tracey Norman (Toronto)
Choreographers: Marie France Forcier & Tracey Norman
Performers: Justine Comfort, Molly Johnson, Jessie Dell, Beth Despres, Brittany Duggan, Sky Fairchild-Waller, Louis Laberge-Côté and Marie France Forcier

Through works aesthetically different but astutely crafted and rich in imagery, local indie favourites Forcier (Scars are All the Rage) and Norman (what goes between) explore the impact of loss and transformation. 

Photos of Scars are All the Rage by Craig Chambers, courtesy of Marie France Forcier


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