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