Monday, April 27, 2015

CanAsian Dance Festival 2015 Feature #7: Lata Pada of Sampradaya Dance Creations

For my final feature covering the CanAsian Dance Festival of 2015, I am lucky again in getting to interview another great of Canadian dance, Lata Pada.  Her career is vast and varied, her work personal and universal in its storytelling. Vivarta, Lata's work for her company, Sampradaya Dance Creations, will be part of this year's festival.

Lata Pada photo by Onward & Upward photography

LR: How do you begin creating? What is it like in the studio at the start of a process?

LP: Ideas for a new work come sometimes out of nowhere; a phrase from a song, a personal turning point, reflections on life. Even though the ideas have been percolating in the head for over several years and start taking shape for a new work, collaborators contacted, discussions had, outlines formed, when one gets into the studio, it is a terrifying experience.

Where and how to start is the most traumatic feeling I am confronted with.  For me, the most intuitive and important starting place is the music, I work much by instinct and don’t really have diagrams or choreographic notes.  Listening to it continuously the images start forming and I jot them down. They are only impressions at that point, bound to change and be transformed.

The first day in the studio, I spend the first day with the dancers, and we talk, talk and talk, about life, personal and artistic experiences.  As a choreographer, I take in what makes them ‘tick’ and then I get a sense of what shapes them as interpreters. The early part of the choreographic journey is many days in the studio, listening, talking, allowing the music to move the dancers and taking notes.

Sampradaya Dance Creations in Prayoga 
photo by Onward & Upward Photography

LR: How do you weave your contemporary view into the classical form?

LP: For me the classical form is always contemporary. It has through time evolved, continues to evolve and has endless potential to be revitalized and shaped into a modern idiom of expression. For me, it is always about the ‘here and now’ and that is where I situate my dance.

Sampradaya Dance Creations on Prayoga
photo by Onward & Upward Photography

LR: You are involved in so many aspects of arts and culture, the TAC, the ROM, CDA, York, Centennial College as well as your own company and school, do you have a favourite hat to wear?

LP: I am happiest when I am in class, teaching. There is such joy in seeing one single movement being expressed with courage and honesty. Everyday in class, there is always an ‘ah -ha’ moment for me, when a student has, unknowingly, just taught me something about dance, that I had not discovered before.

Sampradaya Dance Creations in Vivarta
photo by Sanjay Ramachandran

LR: What keeps you motivated and inspired?

LP: Curiosity about life and an innate need to transform the personal into the universal.

LR: Could you tell me about one piece of choreography or performance that changed you and/or your approach to making art? Who was it, where, when, why did it move you?

LP: Revealed By Fire, that premiered in 2001 on International Women’s Day is a work that was seminal, both in my personal and artistic life.  An autobiographical work that told of loss and renewal, following the 1985 Air India terrorist bombing that took the lives of my husband and two daughters, this production was a journey into the unknown. I was confronted with many questions, many fears. How do I tell my story of such unspeakable grief in a way that makes it accessible to all audiences? How do I bare my soul in the telling of this story? Is it appropriate as a work for the stage? Revealed By Fire was essentially about a return to wholeness through dance and the impact of its transformative power on my life.

Be transformed!

CanAsian Dance Festival 2015 
April 30 - May 2, 2015
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
231 Queens Quay West, Toronto

tickets: 416 973 4000

Thursday, April 23, 2015

CanAsian Dance Festival 2015 Feature #6: Lee Su-Feh

Lee Su-Feh is a Canadian dance force. A choreographer, a teacher, a dancer, a dramaturge, an innovator, she has been rocking the Vancouver dance realm since 1988. Cofounder of battery opera with multi-disciplinary artist David McIntosh, Su-Feh is a fiercely intelligent, fiercely gripping performers. And she'll be here next week with CanAsian Dance Festival 2015. Don't miss her.

Despite a hectic time for her, Su-Feh was gracious, frank and wonderful in answering my questions.  I am inspired. I hope you are too.

Lucy: You have referred to the dancer as activist not object. I am curious: how do you make this happen? What steps do you take, approaches, goals, physical or psychological tactics realize this goal?

Su-Feh: A fundamental tool I use is the eyes, the gaze. On a concrete level, I, the dancer, must ask myself, what do I see? Do I see the room I am dancing in, do I see the colours in this room? Do I see the shapes? Do I see the other people in this room? And do I see them seeing me? This puts me in quite another space than merely being seen, being defined by the gaze of another. When I take responsibility for my own gaze, my body has more agency. Immediately, I am confronted with my own humanity and the humanity of the other.

The other tool or guide for me is to be in touch with my autonomic nervous system, to be in touch with the wisdom of that -  the needs and wants of my biology, the rhythms that come out of that, the self-correcting, self-regulating wisdom of that. Reflecting on and interrogating pleasure is part of that. Allowing chaos into my experience, not managing my sensations or my breath is part of that. 

Lucy: How do the concepts of displaced cultures and socio-political history figure in the work you are bringing to CanAsian Festival?

Su-Feh: This solo was actually a commission in 2010 from the Dance Centre and the Canadian Music Centre in Vancouver. I was given the piece of music by Barry Truax to work with which I, at first, found incredibly annoying. After struggling with it for 2 months, I finally had a meeting with Barry and asked him to talk me through it. As he talked about how it was inspired and based on the I Ching I found myself making secret giant eye rolls, thinking,  “OMG white guy Taoist Tourist”!  But very quickly I realized that even though I smugly consider myself a Taoist, I myself am a Taoist Tourist. 

Because I grew up in a Chinese Catholic family in Malaysia (already, a few layers of displacement right there) where Taoist rituals were something my grandmother, in an effort to cover her spiritual bases, would sneak off to do. They were a part of my childhood, but they were seen as superstition, sinful, taboo. 

As an adult, my understanding of Taoism comes from reading English translations of classics and from practising martial arts. So, really, not that different from a white person. I decided to embrace the tourist in me, went to Chinatown and bought a bunch of ritual objects and surrounded myself with them. What I found was that by listening to the objects and how they demanded to be moved, if I gave in to the authority of the objects, I could learn a great deal about my body. I learned that what I had previously thought of as minor superstitious expressions of Taoism actually held lessons for embodiment and a meditation on time and space. 

The other part of this solo is the fact that on every piece of paper in the piece, I have written a message acknowledging my ancestors and the ancestors of the indigenous people on whose territory I am dancing. This is part of my interest and quest to understand my role as an immigrant in the settler-colonial state that is Canada, to find language towards a decolonizing effort. At the moment, my work is simply to find ways to acknowledge where I am. So that it becomes part of the protocol of making work on here.

Lucy: Do you access personal or biographical details in your work or does the personal arise in a more abstract way?

Su-Feh: Often, yes. I access personal stories - say, about my childhood, or about my relationship with loved ones. Although in "Everything" [the work Su-Feh will be performing in CanAsian Dance Festival 2015], it is a bit more abstract - it is mostly my politics and spiritual life that are expressed. Those things are personal too. 

Lucy: Paraphrasing from your description of "Everything"--connecting the who and the where in dance (e.g.: what the dancer is carrying and the surface she dances on) — how have you connected these in your self?

Su-Feh: Performing this solo requires a number of things: one, I need to actually find out whose territory I am on (so in Toronto, for example, it would be the Mississaugas of the New Credit ); and also, it requires a few weeks of writing over and over again the names of that first nation - thats about a few hours everyday of writing. This puts me in a kind of a prayer state. But it also inscribes in my body a different way of knowing history and geography.

Some years ago, I found myself wondering why it had taken me 20 years to actually learn the names of the First Nations on whose land Vancouver is on - the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, xʷməθkʷəy̓əm and Tsleil-waututh. Part of the reason is that we don’t see or hear those names enough, though we see and hear the name of the colonizer Captain Vancouver all the time - certain histories are privileged over others. 

The other part is that our understanding of geography is often a European one - determined by 2-dimensional maps that propose clearly defined fixed borders, implying ownership and control. We have forgotten other ways of understanding land. Glen Coulthard said recently in an interview that “Land is a relationship based on the obligations we have to other people and the other-than-human relations that constitute the land itself.” This is mind-blowingly inspiring to me - it can be seen as a manifesto for choreography; and I am constantly trying to learn what it means, and how I can live and work with this in mind.

Lucy: That quote actually gives me chills. Strikes a deep chord with some of my own dance projects on the go right now...the  "other-than-human relations" are giving me a real sense of artistic purpose. What keeps you inspired?

Su-Feh: These days, I find myself more inspired by activists than by other artists. Though of course, this is by no means a condemnation of art. Intersectionality, inter-disciplinary work - all these things inspire me. And of course, the human body is the ultimate site of intersectional, inter-disciplinary discourse. And in this respect, I find the world of kink and BDSM - with its emphasis on protocols and negotiation, with its focus on human pleasure - to be quite rich with lessons on autonomy, self, and political awareness. 

Lucy: Could you tell me about one piece of choreography or performance that changed you and/or your approach to your own art work? Who was it, where, when, why did it move you?

Su-Feh: Last year, after years of wanting to, I went to a potlatch for the first time. It was a 2-day affair driven by Chief Bobby Jo of the Namgis in Alert Bay, BC. The potlatch itself was amazing. I felt very privileged to have been there. But the thing that really stuck with me was the day after the potlatch. 

I was privileged to have been invited to go on a boat with Chief Bobby Jo and some other people. Conceivably, we were to partake in a ceremony to throw copper coins to the whales - a ritual to ask for blessings from their ancestors. But it wasn’t whale season and the chances of seeing a whale were really slim. Yet we all went out anyway, riding on the charisma and generous spirit of Bobby Jo. 

In the end, we did not see any whales and no copper was thrown; yet everyone got off the boat later that day feeling like we had experienced something wondrous and special. And it was because of the Chief’s sense of presence - his availability to everyone there, his availability to what people could offer - their suggestions, their skills. I saw him BE with everyone in the most casual and gentlest of ways. I saw him invite people to share wisdom, songs and stories. His sense of timing, his clarity of purpose mixed with the uncertainty of nature, human nature - chaos, really. I saw him create a CEREMONY out of nothing, it seemed. And I decided that that was what I was going to aspire to as an artist: create ceremony. 

Be part of Su-Feh's ceremony at CanAsian Dance Festival 2015.

April 30 - May 2, 2015
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
231 Queens Quay West, Toronto

tickets: 416 973 4000 
or online:

photos by Lee Su-Feh by Yvonne Chew,  courtesy of the artist and CanAsian Dance Festival

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Collaborations: Bageshree Vaze in DanceWorks MainStage Series this week!

If you know Bageshree Vaze, you know these things (and if you don't know her, here's the short and sweet):

  • she is funny
  • she is multi-talented
  • she is ambitious
  • she is dedicated to dance in all its expanses 
  • she is a sparkling and inviting presence on stage

Following my line of interviews on collaborations this year, Bageshree answered a few of my questions about collaborative processes as they relate specifically to her inter-disciplinary projects, working with her husband and sources of inspiration.

h    LR: How did you come about gathering this particular cast of dancers? They are an interesting intersection of dance.
BV: I have worked over the years with dancers trained in various styles – in fact I have worked with very few professional-level Kathak and Indian classical dancers in group works. Whenever I am working on a piece, I look for dancers who are very physically-versatile, and able to interpret music and movements from cultural styles outside their normal ‘comfort zone,’ and so for the new group work ‘Paratopia,’ I auditioned dancers who were interested in working on a Kathak piece, but those who had an urban dance background. 

The reason I was looking for those trained in urban dance is that having done some training and past choreography with hiphop, I have found many intersections in two aesthetics, especially in the emphasis on rhythm. My idea was to approach the new work with a Kathak rhythmic base, but to utilize non-Kathak dancers and develop choreography outside the ‘normal’ boundaries of Kathak choreography. 

I am really happy with how diligently and sincerely these dancers (Danny McArthur, Daniel Gomez, and Samantha Schleese) have learned and honored Kathak aesthetics in such a short span of time, while still being adventurous and using their own technique to add to the choreography.

LR: Same question regarding the composers and animator for your project. What drew you to these people?
BV: I had previously worked with Phil Strong (composer) and Elysha Poirier (animator/multimedia artist) in the 2012 production ‘Damaru/Mudra,’ and again, it was an experience in which they were able to use their artistry in a great way to interpret an Indian aesthetic. 

I had heard Phil’s music for other dance works and after speaking with him after a performance, I was interested in working with him. I commissioned Phil last year to compose the music for my choreography ‘In My (Dis)Place,’ and it became an extremely collaborative process in which my own approach to choreography and composition was altered and shaped. He uses live sound very effectively to play around with the sounds of Kathak footwork and rhythmic language. 

I was introduced to Elysha Poirier by Andrea Nann, and I had a great time working with Elysha in the past. She is great at translating what’s in my head into a visual reality, but she also comes up with very innovative and creative ideas. Each collaboration is an opportunity to learn and push myself to a different place, and I’ve been very lucky to work with these incredible artists. 

LR: You often collaborate with your musician/composer husband, Vineet.  I know live music is so integral to much of Indian dance and partnerships and chemistry are really important. Is it ever challenging working with your husband? 

BV: In the case of Kathak, the choreography is based on the language of the tabla drums. How good your tabla player is will determine your level of artistry as a Kathak dancer. In terms of working with Vineet, I have learned so much from him in terms of rhythm, and every time we practise together, I continue to learn more about the drums and the vastness of tabla language, but he has also developed compositions from interacting with Kathak dance. 

I try not to bring anything from our homelife into the studio, but we are also really lucky to have similar interests outside of music and dance (such as our interest in watching tennis and the kinds of movies we watch, which don’t include Bollywood!). I can’t imagine being in a relationship with someone who wasn’t as connected to what I do artistically.

LR: Do you have a different approach or process between creating a traditional/classical work and a contemporary work? 

BV: This question of classical vs. contemporary is one that I’ve been tackling a lot over the past few years, but I’ve now come to terms with the philosophy that there really is no distinction between the two in terms of Kathak dance creation. People think of Kathak and Indian classical dance as being traditional, but they are products of the 20th century, and in Kathak, the task is to create and re-interpret new rhythmic language on a daily level. It’s not about simply practicing repertoire pieces – while that is important for one’s learning process -- a Kathak dance artist and a tabla player are supposed to constantly create new work while adhering to underlying principles of rhythm. 

When I think of dance creation, I start from my Indian aesthetic, but I like to conceive of new works in a very general sense, in that I choose to do projects based on what I’m interested in at the moment, and work with people who inspire me, regardless of their cultural background. So I don’t really see any work that I do as not being contemporary, even if I’m working within an Indian classical aesthetic. 

LR: I love the idea of creating and reinterpreting on a daily basis -- This is what we do, but we don't always phrase it with such good words -- it's about "better", "more", "stronger", "faster". "Creating" and "reinterpreting" give more artistic ownership over the process, more possibility for being inspired. Which leads to my next question: what inspires you to keep dancing and creating?
BV: Dance and music are my daily realities, I don’t really have a life outside of that. I do have two children, but it’s impossible for me to not think about dance, music and new ideas. Maybe that will all end suddenly, but until then....I often think it would be nice to not think so much, but I can’t really imagine what that would be like. 

LR: This is a question I’m asking everyone I interview this season: could you tell me about a performance (dance or otherwise) that you witnessed that really impacted how you want to be making art and performing? who was it, when, where, why? 
BV: I went to Las Vegas with my husband to celebrate our tenth anniversary and we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson tribute, One. While I’ve always loved his music and dancing, seeing them come to life in such a spectacular fashion made me realize what an incredible impact he had on music and dance history. I was really thrilled just to listen to his music and see his dancing hologram, and it made me marvel at how someone could still move people while not being alive – that’s the lasting power of art, and it’s an inspiration to create work with that kind of lasting value. 

See her in action this week:

Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Thurs. Apr 23 thru Sat. Apr. 25, 8pm
Bageshree Vaze (Toronto)

Choreographer: Bageshree Vaze
Performers: Daniel Gomez, Danny McArthur, Samantha Schleese, Bageshree Vaze and special guest Kathak dance star Anuj Mishra
Composers: Phil Strong, Vineet Vyas, KillaBeatz
Video/animation: Elysha Poirier
Lighting Designer: Roelef Peter Snippe


or call 416 973 4000 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Collaborations: Louis Laberge-Cote and Michael Caldwell in Dance Matters new residency

One of the most exciting occurrences throughout my interviews on the theme of collaborations is when there are two creators and I can ask them the exact same questions and have them answer these questions without knowing what each other will say.  And truly delightful: when the co-creators are a married couple.

This month Dance Matters hosts its first residency week leading up to performances April 18 and 19th (see bottom of interview for details!) and that first residency was given to the couple-dynamo of Louis Laberge-Cote and Michael Caldwell.  Exquisite dancers on their own or together, and each a creator is his own right, this is the first project they are co-creating.
Michael Caldwell and Louis Laberge-Cote

I am driven to write these articles and interviews by an insatiable curiosity about how artists create and shape their craft, whatever their discipline and their role within that discipline. So I sent four questions to Louis and Michael, they replied to me separately and below are their synchronized answers about art and partnership.

LR: Collaborating as a married couple!!! How do you negotiate this? Does your work come home with you? What is the creative process like with the two of you creating?

LLC: We worked together in different formats several times already. I choreographed on Michael, Michael choreographed on me, we both danced together for other choreographers, we have been each other’s outside eyes, … So creating a new work together, even though it is our first time, doesn’t feel that unknown. We are pretty good at relaying leadership and we both respect each other’s decisions, so… so far, it’s been going pretty smoothly. But of course, creating a new work collaboratively always brings up some tension, and the lines between work and personal life get blurry very quickly when you are doing this with your life partner. But we are aware of this, so we take it task by task and we make sure it never gets too heavy in the studio. And both seem to be pretty good at leaving everything behind once we leave the studio, which is also very helpful.

Louis Laberge-Cote

MC: We work very well together, and we are very aware of our personal dynamic in a public space, like the dance studio.  Our work normally does not come home with us, but with the inclusion of a film in our new work for Dance Matters, much of our evening hours are spent on the computer.  We also have some 'scenes' with full dialogue, so we run our lines at home to maximize our in-studio time.

For me, we've really stripped away the 'preciousness' in the work, and we've found a way to not attach to quickly to an idea, or edit ourselves prematurely.  That's difficult when you're both dancing and choreographing.  We're letting the piece unfold in a really lovely, organic way.

LR: What are you trying to accomplish with this Dance Matters’ residency? What does a residency like this mean for you/the work?

LLC: Since it is our first time creating together, the residency became mostly about that. We are mostly trying to figure out how to collaborate on that level and see if this is something we may want to pursue more in the future. We are so grateful that Dance Matters has giving the time and space to explore in that capacity and present our work in a proper theatrical setting.

MC: We're working on a lot of film and text for this piece... because we have the time and space.  Working in the performance space for this extended amount of time really allows us to dream a bit bigger than usual, and really go for the crazy ideas that we did not think were possible.  It's also really a chance for the two of us to take a risk, and explore our collaboration as co-choreographers.  We can test the proverbial waters of this particular kind of working relationship.

Michael Caldwell
LR: You mentioned that you are incorporating humorous parts of your relationship into the work — humour is difficult — how do you approach making a humorous work?

LLC: Humour is a huge component of our relationship. It is probably one of, if not the biggest foundation of our relationship. In makes sense that humour found its way quickly into the work as soon as we initiated the process. It was also a nice contrast for us, since the duet I created for d:mic in 2013 focused on a heavier aspect of our past. That said, yes, humour is very challenging. It is a very fine line between success and disaster. So we’ll see how the process evolves and, who knows, we may decide to go in a different direction if we feel like the comedic elements are not strong enough. We’ll see…

MC: I think we try to make the humour as true as possible to what we experience... so that the dance, the lines, the film - it's all still funny to us, every time we read, see, or do it.  It's also about finding what is essential about the funny bits, and in a lot of ways finding the gravitas and the hidden meaning behind the laughs.  We are definitely poking fun and making tiny jabs at different ideas and issues, that are personal, political, and global.  Comedy is not a popular idea in contemporary dance these days, but there is a wealth of potential in it.

LR: Your past work together at d:mic 2013 was autobiographical — how vulnerable do you feel in putting true personal experiences so evidently on the stage? I am definitely of the mind that everything we do is somewhat autobiographical, but to take your own story directly and be the creator and interpreter of that story.....can you speak a bit about how you approach this?

Michael Caldwell and Louis Laberge-Cote in Laberge-Cote's work 
dance: made in Canada/fait au Canada Festival 2013

LLC: I agree with you that everything we create is somewhat autobiographical. But autobiographical works are also always about something greater than your own experiences. Something very interesting about this particular duet is that I initiated the process while I lived in Germany, without Michael. 

The first version of the work (which was much shorter) was choreographed on two other dancers, Mami Hata and Luis Eduardo Sayago. I picked these two dancers months before we got into the studio. At that time, they were both respectively in happy and functional relationships. When we started the process, both their relationships were going through some major challenges, so the three of us really connected with the sense of loss I was trying to capture and embody. 

So right from the beginning, the duet, even though it was still autobiographical, became about something much greater than my relationship with Michael. Mami and Luis’ stories were also embedded into the original material. So finishing and performing the work with Michael years later was very interesting, in the sense that the piece was about us, but also not. In several ways, it helped to know we weren’t alone in there, which allowed us to feel vulnerable with more perspective and distance.

MC: Louis' choreography from the 2013 festival was very intense... and created during our time apart, in different countries.  This work for Dance Matters is quite literally, the exact opposite.  We've been together for nearly seven years, and have spent this entire process together, in studio and at home.  This work is light and humorous.  It just felt so natural to make a piece like this, because so much of our personal relationship is spent in laughter.  I've never been one to hide in character or story - I always find ways to infuse my own personal experience into my performance.  

There's always an autobiographical edge to my work.  For me, the choreographic question is, 'how can I make my experience relate to your experience' and by extension, 'what does it say about our shared space together - for this moment and in the future."

Come see the dynamic duo in action.

Dance Matters SERIES 3 - From the Fryin’ Pan

This series features new dance works that are energetic, fiery, fresh and spontaneous.  

The venue is intimate and casual, with a focus on celebrating the dance medium with its audience. 
*Suitable for all ages.

Saturday April 18th @ 8pm & Sunday April 19th @ 4pm
Scotiabank Studio Theatre 
6 Noble Street (Pia Bouman School)

a new work by Louis Laberge-Côté & Michael Caldwell  as part of the Dance Matters commission and residency program,
and work by Sébastien Provencher & Stephanie Fromentin and Anastasia Shivrina & Jessie Garon of Vazari Dance Projects 

$18/adult, $14/senior, student, artist, CADA
A limited number of PWYC tickets at the door available Sunday
tickets online:

Cash only for tickets purchased at the door
Box office opens 40min prior to show time!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Do You Know?....Christine Wright: Magical thinking in daily technique class

I am in dance class, lying on the floor, eyes closed, listening intently. An image is offered to me: my body as a glass of water with sand swirling and settling to the bottom, imbuing me with clarity. The teacher says,

"This is your self. Not the self you put on for the world. Not the self you think you should be. This is the real you."

This is a ballet class.

The teacher is Christine Wright.

Christine has been teaching in Toronto for over a decade through Toronto Dance Theatre, School of Toronto Dance Theatre and Peggy Baker's Summer Intensive. Last summer she  relocated from New York City to Toronto, giving local dancers of all sorts a chance to experience her insightful and unique classes on an ongoing basis.

I have been a diehard fan of Christine's classes since the early 2000s. In my first class with her as I lay on the ground -- the usual beginning to her ballet classes, which takes dancers through images intended on functionally connecting body and self --  I was terrified that I wasn't doing it right and once on my feet, panicked that all my flaws were glaring. It took me a few classes with Christine to realize there was no 'doing it right'. The form is the form but it is not the goal. We are moving through technique, aiming for something else.

These are not choreography-heavy classes, instead exercises are focused on simple, full movements and transitions that allow you to feel how your energy works in motion, how you connect your movement to music, which is always live, and with some amazingly creative Toronto pianist-accompanists.

As a strong dancer who instinctually muscled her way through dance classes, Christine found more power and possibility in her dancing when she focused on moving her energy rather than her muscles. Her teaching style reflects this epiphany, developing dancers' individual sensations of energy to create more satisfying and efficient movement. 

Christine lived in New York City for 40 years, dancing with Lar Lubovitch's company for over 10 years as well as Eglevsky Ballet, Zvi Gotheiner, Ohad Naharin, Kazuko Hirabyashi and Elisa Monte among others.

photo of Nancy Colahan and Christine Wright in work by Lar Lubovitch

Christine graciously sat down with me to answer some questions about her distinct teaching approach. We met at the beautiful National Ballet School facilities, where Peggy Baker is a resident artist. Peggy, who danced in Lar Lubovitch's company with Christine, has brought her here under the auspices of Peggy Baker Dance Projects and is offering daily classes for Toronto-area dancers in the light, airy National Ballet School studios.

I was curious to ask Christine about her transition from New York to Toronto.

"I needed to leave New York. The city has changed since I moved there 40 years ago. It has become stressful and expensive. I'd been coming to Toronto for 14 years and really liked the city. Peggy has been trying to get me to move here for years."

And how did Christine transition from performing to teaching?

Going through a divorce and quitting performing created a time of change and challenge. 

"I had done some teaching with Lar, so I started with the idea I would teach until something else happened. I loved it. I didn't think I would always do it but I fell in love. 

"Originally I wanted to be a ballet dancer because, growing up, I never saw modern dance. Then in New York I was exposed to contemporary dance...but I always trained in ballet. It has taught me so much. And to do Lar's work you need fairly strong ballet background -- the lines, the finesse of technique."

photo of Doug Varone, Christine Wright and Nancy Colahan in work by Lar Lubovitch

In Christine's classes ballet is a consistent structure through which dancers can experience themselves in all the minute and wonderful differences we are each day.  Where contemporary classes can vary widely in form and content, ballet is fairly predictable, making the changes and sensations more easily and deeply felt. The approach is applicable to dancers of any discipline, so long as they feel comfortable with ballet vocabulary, or comfortable with not knowing the vocabulary and plunging in anyway.

"The sensation of form is more consistent in ballet [than in contemporary dance], so you can develop the ground underneath you. If you can't move you can't affect change. If you can move but you don't know what you're doing you can't go anywhere either."

The unusual way of starting a ballet class, lying on the floor, is not simply a variation on savasana pose from yoga. 

"People have a glut of information in their conceptual minds these days. In order to experience imagination, intuition, energy, emotion and motion, you have to be in your body." 

Christine leads dancers lying on the floor through images of systems inside the body, scanning the paths of energy, relieving the brain of its to-do lists and achievement-driven goals. Her words about tapping into your true self are not hollow aphorisms. The guided imagery stir up energy and warmth and sensitivity.

"Bill T. Jones said 'Our imaginations should exceed our language.' This is what the beginning of class is about." she explains.

The next step of Christine's classes are a series of image-based exercises targeting small muscles and movements that sometimes get overlooked in our pursuit of range and expanse in our dancing.

"I started including these exercises because I would see things in class that were too complicated to be addressed in the complexity of class itself. They deal with technical issues in a way that gets dancers to think physically and imaginatively."

Have there been breakthroughs in the course of her career as a teacher?

"My big breakthrough was when I realized what I was doing something wrong. I was enamoured with anatomy and was giving too much information. I saw a dancer going across the floor in my class doing one correct thing after another and I thought 'I have destroyed her'."

The coordination was right, but the art was missing.

She reevaluated her approach to teaching, looking to images and sensations that alleviate tension and free the body, allowing dancers to be more themselves inside the movement. These ideas create dance that is more compelling and expressive.

"Images are more effective than anatomical information." Christine tries to help people to tap into their own magical thinking. "Dancers who are unique are so because their mentality is unique, not their physique. There is something else going on."

When I asked Christine my question of the season: who or what was a transformational performance for her as an audience member, her answer is not surprising in light of her previous statement. 

"I am not so much changed by a work but by particular dancers -- people who have inspired me or had qualities I wanted, or reminded why I had to dance."

A few of them: Violette Verdy, Mariko Sanjo, Gary Chryst, Soledad Bario, Shantala Shivalingappa.

Christine's classes have been transformational for me in the last 8 months. I can't make it every day, but often enough to feel reconnected and more like myself than I've felt in a dance class in many years. The last time I really felt this way was a brief time, also in one of Christine's classes, back in 2009. I was 6 or 7 months pregnant and I felt myself soaring through big jumps like a gazelle, a pregnant gazelle but a gazelle nonetheless. 

"What interests me most is connecting people to a very personal experience of themselves. I'm not trying to make dancers adhere to a form. I hope they can learn to use the form in order to express themselves on a personal level."

Magical thinking.

Take your first class with Christine for $10!

2015 Session: Monday – Friday *
Class time: 10:00 AM – 12noon
Wednesday's class is “Fundamentals.” 
for more information on Fundamentals visit:
Warm up and Registration: 9:30 AM
Single Class: $14 (includes HST)
New Students: $10 introductory class only until April 30
Location: Canada’s National Ballet School,
400 Jarvis Street 
excluding statutory holidays
Pre-registration is not required. All classes are open for drop-ins. Class fees can be paid in cash or by cheque in studio, prior to the class start time.

photos of Christine Wright teaching courtesy of Peggy Baker Dance Projects, photos by Francisco Gransiano.
photos of Christine Wright with Doug Varone and Nancy Colahan from Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.