Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dance TO Showcase Feature #3: COBA and Bakari I. Lindsay

For over 20 years COBA (Collective of Black Artists) has been passionately forging a path of "traditionally innovative dance and music" in Toronto and beyond. This quote is found on their website homepage, and I can't think of a better way to describe what they do. While engaging some traditional aspects of African dance aesthetics, their work always grabs hold of the now with vitality. No doubt this drive is spurred onwards by the current artistic leadership, co-founders Charmaine Headley and Bakari I. Lindsay. 

COBA is one of the companies to performing in the Dance TO Showcase  this fall and Bakari graciously and succinctly answered my questions with that same kind of energy you feel in COBA's work. 

Bakari I. Lindsay by Michael Chambers

LUCY: Why was COBA founded? How has that shifted over the years?

BAKARI: COBA was founded first and foremost to create a platform for the original founders, (Charmaine Headley, Junia Mason, Mosa (Kim) McNeilly and myself) for creation and performance. There was a lack of work that highlighted the Africanist aesthetic in movement and themes. In short no one was dancing our stories. I would not say the vision shifted but it grew to encompass giving a place for artists of African descent to develop and explore. 

LUCY: Can you tell me a bit about the work you'll be featuring in the showcase?

BAKARI: I will be performing a work entitled “Ancestral Calling”, it was actually selected by Vivine Scarlet from Dance Immersion [one of the partnering organizations making up Dance TO Showcase]. This work was a commission by the company with which I began my dancing career many years ago in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I posted the performance of it on Facebook and Claudia Moore saw it and asked that I perform it in Older and Reckless - Men Dancing. The work has become quite a favourite of audiences and also one of mine to perform. If marries the balance of technical virtuosity with story telling.

LUCY: What keeps you inspired as a dancer, as a creator?

BAKARI: Hmmmm, I would say the desire to continue to tell stories through movement about my histories and experiences.

LUCY: What do you think dance artists can do to improve the health of the Toronto dance community? I'm not saying it's  ailing, but there are always ways we can grow and improve!

BAKARI: Actually, I do feel the Canada Dance scene is ailing. While there is lots going on, in my opinion its not very exciting. We need more dance related things to look forward to: festivals, conferences where we can come together and interact with each other. I feel we are all being stifled to the point of myopic visions.

photo by David Hou

LUCY: What is your dream for COBA?

BAKARI: To survive long after I am gone, with an inspired vision to carry on.

LUCY: Can you tell me about a performance you’ve seen that was a game changer — artistically or personally? Something you were in the audience for, rather than performing in. Who was it, when, where, why was it impactful?

BAKARI: It was Vincent Mantsoe’s first performance in Canada, it was the first time I had experienced a solo concert and was totally blown away by the strength and power both physical and spiritual. I was in awe that one human being could possess such power.

See Bakari in action with COBA's Ancestral Calling
Wednesday Sept. 30th at 2:15pm at Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Free admission for professional Toronto dance artists. 

more about COBA:

for full Showcase schedule visit:!showcase-performances/czy5

more about Dance TO Showcase:

photos courtesy of COBA

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dance TO Showcase Feature #2: Emily Cheung of Little Pear Garden Collective

I had the pleasure of being part of a Little Pear Garden Collective show, Four Beauties, in 2010. It was an ambitious project exploring the epic four beauties of Chinese legends, each beauty choreographed by a different creative mind with very different ends. I danced a solo by William Yong using paper and bowls and paint, nestled between traditional dance works, poetic narrative and another contemporary dance work. With Emily Cheung fairly new -- at that point-- to artistic directorship of LPGC, it was clear that she had an expansive and inclusive vision for the company. It was also clear that she is one of the sweetest people you can imagine. 

(I use superlatives a lot in these interviews, but our community is full of some truly great people and it is worth saying.)

Little Pear Garden Collective is one of the showcase performance companies in the Dance TO Showcase programming Sept 28-Oct 1, 2015. 
photo of Emily Cheung courtesy of LPGC

I interviewed Emily via email as she, like so many, is gearing up for a lot of activity at the beginning of this season. 
LUCY: Why was Little Pear Garden Collective founded? How do you think that has shifted under your leadership?

EMILY: Little Pear Garden Collective was founded to increase awareness of Chinese dance scene in Canada.  Little Pear Garden Collective started with Peking Opera and progressed to dance as a new vision for the company. We produce dance drama works unique to Canadian audiences. Our works contains both essence of Chinese mythical and contemporary elements, the best of both worlds.

photo of Lucy Rupert in LPGC work by William Yong

LUCY: What keeps you inspired as a dancer, as a creator?

EMILY: I am inspired by movement that feels. Music that holds to our memories. As a creator, I am inspired by the story I choose to tell. I look into character development, the movement that signifies the character's situation. Dance, the universal language that talks about love, hate, abandonment, betrayal, loyalty....etc. 

photo of LPGC's Venom of Love courtesy of LPGC

LUCY: Can you tell me a bit about the work you'll be showcasing this fall?

EMILY: "Venom of Love" is a dance work based on mythical legend in China, told in a stylized dance form and through the eyes of creepy and animalistic demons rather from human perspective. Two people in different worlds fell in love and took a risk to be together through sacrifice, punishment and abandonment.  In Act 2 demons encounter a human scholar. White Snake falls in love with him but, Green Snake (her best friend) and Monkey try to stop her.  

photo of LPGC's Venom of Love courtesy of LPGC

LUCY: What do you think dance artists can do to improve the health of the Toronto dance community? Not that it’s ailing, just wondering how different artists like yourself envision it getting better and better.

EMILY: There needs to be more presenters aiming to showcase Canadian high-calibre programming. I don't mean big successful dance companies, but companies that have potential.  There needs to be increase of various dance styles that signify the uniqueness of Canadian dance scene. More workshops/ masterclasses in a wide range of dance styles to push dancers.
photo of LPGC's Venom of Love courtesy of LPGC

LUCY: What is your dream project for LPGC?

EMILY: After 71 shows in B.C. last year, we are ready to tour within and outside of Canada. 

LUCY: can you tell me about a performance you’ve seen that was a game changer — artistically or personally? Something you were in the audience for, rather than performing in. Who was it, when, where, why was it impactful?

EMILY: I have seen many that were impactful.  Artists like Marie Chouinard, Maurice Bejart and Pina Bausch.

You can see Little Pear Garden Collective marry the classical and contemporary in an excerpt of Venom of Love at the Dance TO Showcase
Tuesday September 29 at 4:45pm
Fleck Dance Theatre

this is a FREE event for professional Toronto dance artists of all shapes, sizes and disciplines
Reserve your spot

For the complete showcase schedule:

And more about Dance TO Showcase:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dance TO Showcase Feature #1: The Effervescent Lua Shayenne

Dance TO Showcase is a group of six Toronto presenters who wanted to create events, performances and chances for Toronto dance artists to come together during an exceedingly exciting and busy time Sept 28-Oct 3, 2015. In the flurry of national and international activity through a new festival, conferences and auxiliary events,  the Dance TO Showcase wants to celebrate the dance talent that's right here in Toronto.

You may have seen our first interviewee's company recently in Dusk Dances: Lua Shayenne's work is bright, optimistic, engaging and unwavering....just like Lua. In the spirit of the Dance TO Showcase purpose, I asked her some questions about inspiration, staying inspired, how we can grow artistically and professionally and most importantly about the art itself. I tried to replicate these questions for all the interviewees to follow, as a way for us to compile and compound our ideas and dreams.

I thank Lua deeply for being the first to plunge in.

Lucy: What inspired you to start your own company and make your own work?

LUA: It was a natural evolution into creation. There wasn’t an outlet to do the kind of work I wanted so I decided to be my own incubator. I started two collectives with other dancers in the city and then finally went solo when I was clear about which path I wanted to pursue and what my mandate was.

Lucy: What is your background in dance/theatre or training? What do you consider the significant milestones, touchstones or people for you along the way?

LUA:  went to Randolph Academy to the Performing Arts - a musical theatre focused program (dance, theatre, singing) - and did my apprenticeship at COBA. The rest of my training has occurred as professional development in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Africa and France.

Touchstones include studying with South African choreographer/dancer Vincent Mantsoe in France and being part Crossings #3 in South Africa where I had the amazing opportunity to work with dancers from all over the world.

Lucy: Can you tell me a bit about what you’ll be showcasing in Dance TO Showcase?

LUA: I will be presenting an excerpt of Woman’s Whisper | Murmure de Femme.

Woman’s Whisper is an ode to femininity. The piece highlights the different facets of the feminine spirit in relationship to Mother Earth. In many traditional African cultures human beings were partially molded out of clay. The Earth was revered and personalized as Mother/Provider of sustenance. Asase Efua is her name among the Fanti (my ancestry on my mother’s side - Ghana,West Africa). Any offence against Her could lead to fatal consequences. 

My interest lies in our current relationship to Earth as Nurturer, Guide, Provider and the effect of our increasing disconnection to Her/It. The piece flows between the human, the elemental and the ethereal and lets the audience derive its own interpretation.

The score is live drumming. The movement vocabulary is based in traditional West African dance (Guinea specifically) but set outside of its usual traditional cultural context, ie Yankadi is a courting dance performed as such. I am pushing the boundaries of tradition with my need to create original and current content.

Lucy: What do you enjoy most about taking part in Dusk Dances or other outdoor, site specific situations?

LUA: I like taking on the challenge of adapting to the environment in which a piece is going to be performed while staying true to its emotional arch or journey and keeping the strong physicality I demand.

Lucy: What do you think dance artists can do to improve the health of the Toronto dance community? I'm not saying it’s ailing necessarily, but how can we get better and even better?

LUA: I think there needs to be a greater openness to and a better understanding of culturally diverse forms of dance in this city, whether in their traditional or contemporary forms. The scene is very much Eurocentric and places ballet or contemporary on a higher pedestal. 

Even reviewers or critics aren’t familiar with culturally diverse forms of dance and don’t represent that diversity. This is reflected in all dance programs. There is no dance program in this city that offers any culturally diverse dance. It’s always ballet, jazz, contemporary - Eurocentric for the most part, tap and hip-hop.

Perhaps we can learn from the dance programs in the US.

The presence of solely 2 dance presenters in the city is not healthy either. It leaves companies, dancers with the only option to self-present. Theatre rental prices are definitely not artist-friendly either.

Lucy: Can you tell me about one performance that was game-changing — personally or artistically — for you? I mean specifically a work that you were an audience for, rather than performing in…who was it? where, when, why was it so impactful.

LUA: I love Hofesh Shechter Company’s work. I was also truly inspired by Kahawi’s Susuriwka – willow bridge and William Wong’s VOX:LUMEN.

Come see Lua's ideas in motion
Tuesday September 29th 12:45 pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
free admission for professional dance artists

Full showcase schedule here:!showcase-performances/c1k8z
More info on Dance To Showcase events:

all photos courtesy of the artist.