New York/Toronto Project at Toronto Dance Theatre: Joanna Kotze

Photo of Joanna Kotze courtesy of

It is almost a cliche now to comment on how intelligent and articulate a dance artist may be. Still, this interview is an immense pleasure to post -- virtually unedited  -- this interview with the hyper-articulate, both in body and in words, Joanna Kotze, one of the two New York-based choreographers involved in Toronto Dance Theatre's New York/Toronto Project this month.

Thank you Joanna!

LR: How did the commission with TDT come about for you?

JK: I got an email from Christopher in March 2014 saying that he was in New York and wondered if I might be available to meet for a coffee. He had heard about me via some common New York friends and told me about the desire to have a New York/Toronto exchange. I was immediately excited about working with him and the company and also to know he was inviting Jeanine Durning to do the project. 

I thought it would be wonderful to share the experience with her since I am a huge fan of her as a person and an artist. It was the next year that Christopher and I solidified the plans for me to come and he told me more about the company and the dancers. His vision for the company and the way he is continually introducing them to new ways of working is truly admirable. This reflects in the openness of the dancers and their work ethic.

LR: How do you approach a commission or this commission versus the work you make for yourself or your company?

JK: A commission is a way for me to work on what is important to me at the time but under different circumstances and conditions than the work with my New York collaborators. It is a shorter time, it is with people I do not have a history with, and I usually have much more support administratively and technically. 

It is fun and challenging to work in different contexts and under various time constraints. In many ways it is the same as beginning my other work as I usually start with very little until I am in the room with the people I am creating on and with. 

I want to work site-specifically, in the fullest and most personal sense of that term. But with a shorter time frame for these commissions, I arrive with a few ways in—a visual image or set of directions— to get to know the new group quickly. Also, when it is a commission, I often have the chance to work with a larger group of dancers, and that is an exciting challenge. 

LR: Speaking of site-specific choreography, many of your works have non-conventional audience arrangements — is this part of the plan for the TDT piece? 

JK: One of the first things I do when I get a commission is ask for photos and plans of the space where the piece will be performed. If there are options with the seating/audience arrangement, I like to entertain those options. Often for commissions, the venue is a more traditional set up and there is no option to change this arrangement. But, there are always ways to play with it, like having parts of the dance infiltrate the audience space or shaping the space in a way that the audience may not expect. 

I think placing an audience in a non-conventional arrangement gives them a different way into the space, the work, the dancers. It is not always what the work requires but when you are placed more inside the work, there is a different commitment to the viewing of it, a different sense of being a part of it. I like this intimacy and engagement with the viewer.

With TDT, the seating was a set arrangement but there are always ways to play!

LR: You have a B.A. in Architecture, how does that aspect of you inform your creative process or vision?

JK: Relationship to architecture is just a part of me - architecture of the body, of space, of bodies in space. I came from a mostly ballet background and then was studying architecture at the same time I was studying contemporary dance. They are one in the same to me, in a way. Both choreography and architecture speak to the relationship to the human body and how, ultimately that engages us, makes us feel a part of or disconnected from something. 

I am fascinated by the facility of the body, its unique potential for each person and that often is shaped by their architecture and their relationship to that architecture. And since, as a viewer, we see everything in relationship to everything else…the space around the body is always in connection to it. I also work a lot with the relationship of humanness to form which for me is architecture.

LR: How does your approach differ between making work on other bodies and making work that you yourself will perform?  

JK: I have a very physical connection to my work so I usually start with my body involved in either case. But when I am not going to be in the work I get the chance to remove myself and become the outside eye sooner. 

Although my physicality may stay a part of the exchange, I am much more interested in what the dancers take on physically and performatively so that they gain a sense of ownership. I find it challenging to not feel the work from the inside but I am also able to see it in a different way when I am not so physically attached. 

See Joanna's work in the New York/Toronto Project opening this Thursday at the Winchester Street Theatre.


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