Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The soulful Andrea Nann: Dual Light October 19-21st

Andrea Nann is sending little voice memos over the course of the afternoon. I am too booked up to interview her in person...and Andrea, well "booked up" doesn't even describe her reality right now. She carves a few minutes at a time out of her technical rehearsals for her upcoming premiere, Dual Light, to answer a few questions I sent her in an email.

Below are Andrea's words and my reflections on them. I wish I could include all her beautiful answers (and those of her scenographic animator, James Kendal -- you'll have to go see the show to figure out what that is; it need only be said that James -- dance artist and technological building wizard-- is one of few people who could possibly take this role) but alas time and space are running out. Luckily we have light...

photo of Andrea Nann by Chris Randle


"The word has been with me since the first day in studio four years ago to explore and research a new piece. Two words actually. Light and dual. They were working words. I intended to have a wonderful new title, these were just abstract words." Andrea says.

But they stuck. They became essence and essential.

Andrea is looking at the spectrum of definitions of light: the electro-magnetic transmission that allows us to see, what illuminates the physical world, the ideas that spark in the brain, levity in humour, sensation of the body in relation to gravity, a quality of touch, sense of discovery.

She started research with exploring the idea of the dancers' electro-magnetic fields interacting, an image to charge what she calls the metaphoric body, an engine of creativity, spirit and the personal.

"It is very important to me, finding the images in the first step of a process. If I can activate the artists' imaginations, then we can tap into something on an experiential level. I start with universal, natural-based and organic images..."

Andrea uses this starting place to connect the artists to themselves through an image or idea larger than themselves, and by these explorations their bodies "unravel" as she puts its. They reveal what might be hidden, the blockages or vulnerabilities that exist.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


She is careful to create a safe place for this. The object is not to get artists weeping or working through their neuroses, rather to gently open, to trust so that new possibilities emerge in their movements, and then to build strength and stamina for more vulnerable performances that are supported and safe. By plugging them into their personal resonances, they respect and preserve all personal stories and that can build a bridge to the audience and their stories.

Dreamwalker Dance's tagline is "our bridge to the soul."

"Bridge-building is a core value of the company," Andrea says, "and for me in life."

She describes her youth as an experience, among other things, of a visible minority in an academic setting dominated by white males. She felt a lack of connection. And she felt motivated.

"The ways I make, create, share my work in community and theatrical contexts are informed by this. Not just a connection between A and B, but how it relations to translation, conversion, transformation."

A change happens as you go over that bridge.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


Dual Light marks a cycling back to what Andrea describes as Yin energy, and holding onto the elements of her first major multi-disciplinary work "The Gleaners" where music, visuals, poetry and dance intermingled.

"I'm going at these things with different values now, our art form, our considerations have evolved, but stem from that same place." she says. 

A big part of the process of Dual Light has been looking forward and backward through her life and seeing cycles and patterns, seeing things in oppositions and dualities. These tensions naturally play out on stage, creating strings of energy and vitality that drive the imaginations of both the performers and the audience.


Dual Light is collaborative to its core. Through a process in which dancers created their own movement, conceived, directed and shaped by Andrea, collaborators layer themselves into the content of the work. Collaboration in fact becomes part of the content. Andrea refers to a darker, more feminine energy, no doubt also influenced by her dramaturg Sarah Chase.

"One of the best dramaturgs in Canada." she says.

Sarah Chase is a whiz with words and movement, with wiring together song, live and recorded sound, text and singing and movement. With Andrea's sensitivity and curiously innate ability to see ancient light through contemporary lenses, I can only imagine this a magical partnership.

As Andrea speaks more about this collaborative process, her certainty and confidence is evident, all with the gentility and passion that she possesses on and off stage. With a work that is narrative, autobiographical, conversational and theoretical all at once, with multiple layers of technical and technological elements, her voice memos answering my questions are calm and sure.

The key to this apparent calmness may be in the gestation period of Dual Light. Begun over 4 years ago, it has been visited and revisited in small pockets of time since 2014, often with rehearsal processes occurring during solstices or equinoxes, coincidentally. 

Making a dance is a big investment, financially, temporally, energetically. Sometimes timelines for projects drag on simply because the money isn't there to make a production happen. But sometimes too, that is a boon for the project.

New stories emerge over four years, collaborators carry the ideas with them through the down time, little dormancies that awake later. As years pass you grow more comfortable with being yourself.

Andrea says, "The dancers are playing themselves, no transmitting, no interpreting something else. They have been invited to just be themselves."

And maybe in witnessing them, we will all be a little more at ease with being ourselves too.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

October 19-21st at 8pm
at Harbourfront Centre Theatre

More info:


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The gentle wisdom of photographer Melanie Gordon

Melanie Gordon is an old friend. A friend made through art. 
She has photographed many of my productions and I have collaborated with her on some of her art projects through photography. One time she built me an exquisite chandelier made almost entirely of branches for a strange and wonderful show I produced  with no stage lights only lamps. 

She also photographed my family – Dennes, Pablo and me – when Pablo was just 5 months old. That photo has hung somewhere in our various living quarters ever since and always will.

I have always admired her calm and thoughtful presence while she has shot my creative process, amazed at how she captures the moments I didn’t know existed in my choreography or in myself as a performer. Most startling is her ability to walk into a dress rehearsal, neither having seen the work before nor knowing much about its content, and to catch its essence.

This interview is long overdue, we sat down for this more than a year ago. But I release it now as a celebration of a tremendous talent and a heartful lady.

It goes without saying that all the photos in this article are by and courtesy of Melanie Gordon. This is the beautiful woman below...

LR: My blog is basically a place I try to interview and write about how artists make their work. I am always curious about the many ways and means artists get it all done. To start, what are you interested in artistically these days?

MG: What I’ve been really interested in lately is creative process and documenting the creative process. I’ve done that for many years – for dancers and artists of all different kinds. But I’ve started doing it for families now, documenting them playing and being creative together.

LR: Your “Imagination Sessions”. You’re offering families a safe place to engage in the creative process. And to document it is so beautiful. Those are the memories you want to hold onto…’remember when we painted that painting together and when we played in the woods.’

MG: Yes. What I’m really interested in giving children experiences and triggers for memories through photographs of being creative people. I don’t necessarily have research to back this up but looking at photos and hearing stories of me doing creative things in the past…it creates a string of memories that lead me back to who I am. I think a lot of adults forget that they are those people. 

LR: Yes.

MG: We all start out as creative people. It’s so natural for kids to be creative and to play. The Imagination Sessions give families the opportunity to play imaginatively and to connect through creativity and curiosity in nature or in their homes. Part of my purpose is to give children memories of their own creativity, but also to give parents a reminder of who they are. Photographs are powerful identity forgers. 

LR: It could be therapeutic in a way. I know expressive arts therapy has some of this as its basis, but how valuable it is to be photographed and captured playing, not performing, if you know what I mean. There is a tangible product to say “I was that, I did that” but it is purely for keepsake, for memory, not necessarily for an audience.

Your artistic processing of their artistic process.  And the imagination is so important to trigger compassion. 

MG: It opens your mind in ways you haven’t thought of before and you see things differently. 

Adults need to be reminded that children are naturally open and loving. And that we are always children inside. We just have to remember that part of ourselves. After having a child, I started to see the world through her eyes. My hope is that making honest and inspiring photographs of children as they play and discover and imagine can help us all see the world through the eyes of children. 

LR: I don’t see the world through my son’s eyes. Being his parent is really visceral for me. I feel his experiences in my body….Either way this is what we want for society: to see through someone’s else’s eyes, feel their experiences.

MG: Yes. Empathy. We want people not to be afraid to express their emotions. Art is so important for connecting people. Although sometimes words are the art, we don’t always need words to connect in an intimate, emotional way.

LR: It requires vulnerability. Something I consider a lot, the need for the artist to be vulnerable. Performative or not. It’s one of our greatest strengths as artists. But often the societal message is the opposite: vulnerability is weakness. 

MG: I feel like in kindergarten you are given this opportunity to play and be creative and follow your curiosity, and then bit by bit, school funnels you in. Your heart gets closed down, narrowed. The heart should be the main source for learning in school and the main launch pad for creativity.  

The irony is that business is craving creativity and innovation now, but we’ve taught this out of people.

LR: Taught that it’s not as worthy….There’s a disconnect for sure. I think we’re going through some growing pains…The industrial age is over and people are not letting go because it’s hard to change.  It’s challenging. It makes me think of Richard Florida’s writings on creativity as the new capital in the information age….

There’s something about having children as an artist…I’m not one of those who says you have to have a kid to have these break throughs or understandings, certainly not….but having a child in the school system has illuminated issues  I might not have noticed. Artist lie largely outside those more conventional and sometimes narrowing ways of working or educating and you feel that pinch when it starts happening to your kid through school.

My parents, for whatever reasons always insisted my sister and I had activities of physical exertion and artistic exertion.

MG: Using your complete person, your body, your heart your mind all together to communicate who you are …

I really love the focus on creative process because there isn’t the pressure to be good at anything, you are just exploring your creativity. This is one other peeve of mine in looking at the education system. A lot people seem to think of creativity or art as only visual art. In elementary school you’re not given a lot of opportunities outside visual art. For a lot of people if they are not technically skilled at that they are shut out. There are probably other ways they can explore creativity and feel accomplished and expressive. It’s a little too skill-oriented. It should be more about process

LR: There’s a new thinking around STEM education and that is STEAM. Inserting Art in there.  Education researchers have noted the value of creativity process, problem solving, creative thinking, imagination. Not just the old ideas that you get social skills or teamwork from doing drama or some other performance art.  

At my kid’s school there’s a great primary teacher Mr. Corbin who teaches drama/dance/interarts/music. I would ask Pablo “which class did you have with Mr. Corbin today? Was it music or drama….?” And he’d say “I don’t know.” Because the teacher mixed it all together. It was all so interrelated…

MG: And then they realize the connections and not have to compartmentalize themselves. I still feel like I have to resist compartmentalizing myself even in photography: oh I’m a family photographer, I’m a portrait photographer, I’m a creative process photographer….

But people want to know in bite-size pieces what you do and I understand the need for it. Still I find it hard to describe in such a bite.

LR: I was actually thinking about that when considering our meeting today. What I think is interesting about your work ….Other photographers might do headshots, landscape and have a different approach to each kind of photography….but… maybe because I know you…there’s something about your work that is the same no matter what kind of photography your doing. There is always action. Even when it’s a production shot from one of my shows. You catch the action.

Elke Schroeder and Sky Fairchild-Waller in rehearsal for Blue Ceiling dance's "dead reckoning"

MG: Yes I’m really interested in the in-between moments and the momentum in an idea. I’m also really interested in movement and capturing movement, time in a still image. Stillness within movement.

What’s always drawn me to photography was that you can capture time that you cannot see, but you feel it in the photograph. I used to use longer exposures to capture the movement of light in motion. I just love the idea that you are catching an experience that you can’t see.

LR: Exactly! You capture what you actually don’t see, if you were an audience member at the performance.  The less obvious moments. That’s what you do so well. Some of the best photos of my work are from my least favourite piece of choreography because you caught what I didn’t see.  Aspects of the movement or the feeling. I could see it through your lens. It was there, and that’s what I wanted but I couldn’t see through my choreographer’s lens.

Lucy Rupert and Caroline Niklas-Gordon in Blue Ceiling dance's Days of Mad Rabbits

MG: My lens has always been a lens for emotion. Photography for me is emotion plus light plus time.

LR: Ah, that’s beautiful.
MG:  That defines it for me.

LR: Emotion plus light plus time….maybe that’s the next level of understanding the fabric of the universe….

MG: It’s untapped. People have this incredible capacity for emotion but have been conditioned not to tap in to it but to control it. What about a world where we could give ourselves the gift of feeling what we feel? And feel what others are feeling?

LR: I was talking with a Gestalt therapist a few weeks ago, and she was talking about allowing kids to have their tantrums. When they are feeling so much emotion, to just push the furniture aside and say “Go ahead, let it out.” When we tell them to stop their emotions or tell ourselves to, we create a dam on the waves of our emotions and eventually the pressure of those waves building up will break the dam and be more dangerous and messy.  She said usually kids wind up being upset for a much shorter time if you let them have their tantrums.  So probably that world you’re describing would ultimately be calmer. 

MG: More grounded.

LR: Yes. You’d be allowed to ride those waves of emotion and get off the ride easily when the wave dwindles.

Have you always felt fairly confident and sure of your vision as a photographer?

MG: You know, I’ve always felt confident in my identity as an artist. My vision as a photographer? That’s where art and business get a little intertwined for me. My vision as an artist is very clear.  It is to help people connect through art and to help people explore their creativity and see the beauty in the world. That’s why I do what I do. 

With the family photography my mission is to help children be seen and heard and empower them to trust their voice and vision.  Letting them be creative and making images of them doing that so they can see themselves as art, they can see the beauty in themselves. They become more valued when we can make art about them, when they are more represented in the world.

LR:  The art is an extension of themselves. It could hang anywhere and still be art and still be beautiful and has value because of them.

MG: Yes and it’s not something they’ve done or achieved, but their quality that makes it valuable.

LR: Not the winning goal in a soccer game. But something that frees them from quantifying their accomplishments, in a way.

MG: It’s funny because I’m a photographer and I’ve taken a million pictures of my daughter, but the ones I have up at home are more fine art. They are more about her soul than how she looked at 3 or 2 or whatever. She’s a timeless being in them. It’s really important to me to do that. To give her identity more dimension than just what she looks like. She’s more than just her body.

LR: When I think back on the most memorable photos from childhood, I immediately think of one of my sister, my dad and me sitting in a field at Point Pelee National Park. The whole story comes back. My sister and I are doing homework because we were taken out of school to go to Point Pelee, our cat is out of frame but was there, because she would walk through the woods on a leash. My dad is staring at the sky,hawk watching in the clear blue with his friend Ross. My mom must have taken the picture. The whole thing comes back.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Rupert

MG: The story of that moment in your life.

LR: And what do you think about all the instant, smartphone photography? Our kids are so used to having all their moments caught on smart phones. For me, it’s fun. I take a bunch and delete later. The fun is the process of taking the picture, the act, not the image. 

MG: Smart phone photography can be mindful. People taking time to consider what moments to capture.

LR: That’s an interesting way to look it, that it can be an act of mindfulness. 

MG:  Finding those bits of beauty in between the other things that may not be so beautiful. Or finding beauty in those things.

LR:  Are the Imagination Sessions your primary focus, not just as business but creatively?

MG: Yes. I’m most interested in photographing children and dancers, or performing artists. I’m curious about how creativity moves through us. I’ve also been doing this project ‘The becoming of dance”…I’m interested in the imperfection in the creative process. In capturing the making of it and not the performing of it. Capturing the messiness. I love working with dancers but it is hard to make a living at it. That’s more of a personal process along side photographing families.

So I feel like the Imagination Sessions are a merging of everything I’m interested in: creativity, art, childhood, families, telling stories, photography. 

LR: As you’ve been speaking, what I know of you, it feels like it’s all coming together. Not hierarchical, rather than moving higher in your art, it’s going deeper.

MG: Having experienced being a mother, I feel like photographing that love within families is so meaningful, to me and to the families I photograph. 

LR: Something particularly special about you is that you don’t go for the big obvious movements in your image creation. In dance photography you don’t necessarily go for the static image, the big kick or suspended jump…Do you have a sense of why you’re good at it?

MG: I’m working on being more mindful and being more present in the everyday moments and appreciating them. I feel like the everyday and the in-between moments tell more about the person and the story than the big kicks or rites of passage because they are more vulnerable moments. I connect with that vulnerability I guess. 

The word that comes to mind is hope. Hope that in the in-between, the just-after or just-before there’s hope that something good is going to happen and I can see that. I’m a hopeful person and I always feel like something good is going to happen. 

Capturing that energy is more real to me, but maybe it’s the ambivalence [of those moments] too. I’m also a super indecisive person and I can see both sides of everything. 

I get stressed in my own life when a lot of plans have been put into place for one big thing to happen. Everything is leading to that big thing and what if that big thing doesn’t happen how I want it to happen? Or what if I don’t feel well? Or.... As a kid I used to feel sick at birthday parties because there was so much energy. I connect better to what’s between big moments, there’s more space to breathe and grow.

LR: It makes me think of how choreographer Doris Humphreys described dance: the arc between two deaths. It was an approach to technique to swing and catch, suspend and release, but also the metaphor that dance is what is between two fixed points not the fixed points themselves. This is what now really is.

MG: That really resonates.

LR: I think this is a wonderful place to stop. With the idea of hope and that something good is going to happen.

Melanie will be doing a day of Mini Imagination Sessions in October to raise money for PINE Project’s Bursary fund. Join her email list to get the details.

Melanie will also donate $50 from every full Imagination Session to Stretch.Heal.Grow, a yoga and meditation retreat for young women affected by breast cancer.

You can see Melanie’s work here:

And contact her here:

Monday, October 9, 2017

Talking about shifting, opening and challenging with Brandy Leary on Contemporaneity 1.0

Below is an interview with the indefatigable Brandy Leary.  Just read it. It's a good conversation...

LR: So Contemporaneity…. I love the word, it has a kind of inclusivity within it. It makes me think of something that I believe Bill T. Jones -- although it may have been someone else -- said about the definition of “contemporary dance” that it’s not a technique, style or aesthetic but a way of approaching art making, and that it encompasses a broad world view, an understanding and curiosity about many things from many places. You are looking at a particular kind of inclusion with this presenting series. How did this curatorial view and Contemporaneity come to be?

BL: Part of the thinking around Contemporaneity emerged from Ananadam Dance Theatre's Body Brake series, which we produce in partnership with Theatre Passe Muraille.  I collaborate with a number of performance communities in Toronto through my own work and that of Anandam Dance, and they break down into three distinct categories; Indian dance, contemporary circus and dance practices descended from Contemporary Euro/white North American traditions.   

Because of this exchange, new relationships and curiosities spiralled out to other incredible practices and artists; jazz, tap, urban, burlesque, bondage and performance art, poetry - forms originating in different aesthetic and cultural viewpoints, the political body, the ritual body, body as a form of resistance.  In curating Body Brake I was interested in dissonance; can we hold more, can we be with the dancing body in many different ways, can we dive deeper than a form to offer what is operating underneath, to what is being transmitted between performers and audiences.  Can we also unsettle theatre spaces; push past the cultural architectures of our infrastructure that were built in a certain time to stream performance through an essentially dominant way of relating to performance; in variations of a proscenium relationship. 

Contemporaneity developed in collaboration with the series Co-curator Soraya Peerbaye.  Candid discussions about power in our field, about the bodies and histories in that structure and the kind of implicit and explicit implication that the “contemporary” in dance belonged to Euro/North American concert style dance practices and that the rest of the work gets referred to as “other”, “ethnic”, “culturally diverse”.  

Discussions of looking at state, ritual, pourous audience relationships, different spatial organizations for performances, various levels of participation and duration as places of research that unfold in multiple ways from different practices were of great interest to us.  Essentially, we are asking: how can we hold more curiosity about the dancing body in the world at this moment, particularly in this raw and tender moment of unsettledness.   

LR: You have already spoken a little about this, but how does this series align with Anandam Dance’s creative projects?

BL: Anandam works in a various scopes and scales; large 75-person cast in 12-hour long pieces, smaller works that seek to unsettle theatrical spaces and most practiced audience performer customs, a committed interest to different sensations of time and slowing down and a push against dance as an ephemeral experience. 

Over the years our work has become explicitly more nuanced in its politics and analysis. My artistic curiosities are concerned with entanglements of bodies and landscapes and power.  I investigate, processes of colonial contact/settlement, climate disruption, exploitative and extractive economic systems, , the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples, as inter-related actions that have re-shaped who we are and how we live. 

Currently I am working with the concept of “Great Grief”, a term proposed by Norwegian eco-scientist Per Epsen Stoknes. This “Great Grief” refers to the paradoxical experience of living with disappearance, knowing that we ourselves are part of this process. We are collectively, but differently, mourning and reconciling our histories, our present and potential. In this period I am curious about the ways we can soften and open.  These elements are threaded through Contemporaneity, as we connect and expand in dialogue and community.

LR: I was just talking with Michael Caldwell a couple of weeks ago and we had a lengthy chat about how working with you through Anandam Dance processes and performances organically shifted and grew our thoughts on performance. I noticed after working with you that, without trying or planning to, my way of conceiving my own work, staging it in particular, had changed, I just saw new ways of putting it all together that served the work and its potential audiences better and more imaginatively…..I’m rambling but perhaps I’ll get to the heart of it if i keep going….I think it was your talent for framing a performance for its witnesses and participants that seeded in me and helped me evolve. Do you have a sense of where you talent for this “framing” came from? because i think that is what is happening with Contemporaneity too, through curation rather than staging….

BL: For me the framing comes from growing up artistically outside the practices of Euro/North American dance structures and institutions. My 20-30’s (and still to the present day)  were spent living in India, learning dance (Chhau), and martial arts (Kalari), and witnessing vast amounts of performance that I was totally unfamiliar with.  At the age of 21 I saw rituals where the performers went into trance, channeled deities and ancestral spirits, predicted the future, walked on fire. Durational performances, often in a found or made site where the lines between pedestrian and ritual states were woven together, moving between these thresholds with ease.  It was deeply impactful for me to see that the body and performance held much more capacity than I had ever seen or imagined.   

I saw a huge amount of traditional works as well as contemporary ones.  As I witnessed, I did not do a translation or try to parallel the experiences to what might be familiar, I stayed in the sensation of being there, being with what I didn’t know, tracking how my body responded to the different sounds, movements, energies, scents; feeling the process of transmission in the thickening space between the performers and myself in the audience.  

It was through these experiences I understood that being with art, with performance, is a creative act.  It is a creative practice, and at the base of it is curiosity. If we examine curiosity as a skill, as something that can be practiced, expanded and exercised then we have the potential to open further into more nuanced possibilities in our experiences of performance and the multiple ways we can respond and make meaning through them.  

This experience molded much of my artistic interests; the radicality and potential of the dancing body, curiosity as a skill for creation, curation, and witnessing; working with both these elements to open larger spheres of consideration, discourse and analysis that can come from more than a single cultural lens in the field. 

LR: What is your favourite aspect of curating/presenting? 

BL: For Contemporaneity, the shared curatorial model between Soraya and myself feels vital, generous and generative.  It is a challenging project for the sector we know.  It asks for a lot of reflection from institutions that are opening to different ways of thinking, doing, making and decoding meaning through the dancing body, and that is exciting.  It is asking the sector to have different aesthetic of care as it unfolds.  It asks us to hold what we don’t know and what we may want to unknow. It is supporting different critics, discourses and conversations.  It is asking for alternative power structures by centering a different dialogue and asking for listening in the process.  It is touching all the tender places, the hard places, the resistant places and this feels necessary. Esie Mensah, Mafa Makhubalo and Diana Lopez are our first supported artists and they are brilliant; intelligent, skilled, political and nuanced in every way. It is an honour to collaborate with them.


As Brandy said, there are many aspects of this series, check out any and all it, you will be  glad you did.

photo of Mafa Makhubalo courtesy of Anandam Dance

Performance dates:
Thursday October 12th, 7:30 pm
Friday October 13th, 7:30 pm
Saturday October 14th, 7:30 pm
at Dancemakers Centre for Creation

$25 Artists | Arts workers | Students | Seniors
Visit or purchase at the door.
PWYC/accessible tickets available if needed; no questions asked. Please contact to request.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Michael Caldwell: A Factory of Humanity

Last week I had a great conversation with Michael Caldwell, a conversation that encompassed photo-bombing others' selfies to the mouldy memories that remain in dance studios connected to our student years, sci fi to American politics. But most importantly we talked about his upcoming show Factory, happening September 20-23rd at the Citadel (details at the end).
Michael Caldwell 

LR: So…I don’t really know anything about your upcoming show other than it’s happening. That’s kind of a fun place to start….

MC: Like most pieces we do, it started years ago. The trip I took in 2010 to Vietnam was the start. I made a choice to really document the experience through writing, photography, video. That turned into my solo at dance:made in Canada in 2011. But I had so much more stuff. I was alone in this country, I could’ve got sick, I could’ve died. I wanted to investigate that isolation and loneliness.

At face level Factory is about the complexities of human interaction. Beyond that  it’s about well, how you and I could get into an argument about the quality of this recording for example. But that argument is influenced by so many other factors: our commutes, what we ate this morning, something that happened when I was five that reminds me of this. And we’re not aware of it while the situation gets intense and out of control very quickly.

On a personal level we understand how that can happen, but on the macro level people with power make big decisions…

LR: Coming to it with those same influences, they may not be aware of as they make decisions.

MC: Exactly. The title Factory references an assembly line. And in our interactions are like an assembly line; we keep understanding and learning but at the same time these patterns keep recurring, in slightly different ways but the same thing.

LR: Evolution takes millions of years.

MC: In order to move forward together we have to figure out our shit.

LR: I just listened to an interview with Glen Beck [former Fox news super right-wing political commentator] who is now apologizing for how 8-10 years ago he stoked some of the fires and caused some of the polarization of American people. He was saying how those who feared Obama should be empathetic to those who fear Trump now. It’s the same fear in a different form. The only way to move through this is to work together. We don’t have to agree but we have to work together.

MC: In the piece what you see is the microcosm, but the bigger idea has grown from it. I overlaid an arbitrary idea onto how we created the movement: you dancer 1 do this to dancer 2 and dancer 2 do something to dancer 3 all the way around back to dancer 1. What you do will get back to you.

LR: Ah, a sort of assembly line.

MC: And Factory is also now turning into the idea of factory as your community and then the question is what do we want to pump out of it? What do we want to make in response to climate change? What do we as Toronto want to do about Black Lives Matter? It’s a collective movement of acting together and by doing it together we can sort things out. In opposition to a leader like Trump who is functions in isolation.

LR: The word factory could have a slightly negative connotation to it: automation and remove from humanity….but I like the expression you used “what do we want to pump out of it”. The word pump makes me think of the heart,  a mini-factory in each of us. Human beings are the factories and you are pumping something that is directly human.

MC: I’ve been talking about a lot about technology and humans with a friend of mine who works at a high level in a technology company. He said there is no doubt that humans and technology will be totally integrated. That fact has created two camps. There are a lot of people who say let’s return to nature and the body and the environment and the other option is let’s innovate and go go go. And he says if we don’t look at this integration as a  positive now and start thinking about what this will be and making solutions together,  then when we get there [to the total integration] it’ll be a gong show.

LR: Technology and innovation are not inherently evil. It’s how it gets used, it’s the corporate ownership that calls ethics into question.

I’ve been reading a lot of sci fi lately and I understand the social function of it – to criticize society and warn “if we don’t get our shit together, this is going to happen!” But I long for a sci fi story in which something goes wrong and we fix it.

MC: Have you seen the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster? Carl Sagan wrote the novel it was based on.

LR: Yeah I went to see it right after my dad died. I actually saw it in that theatre across the street there!

MC: That would’ve been intense….But it had a more positive view on the future.

LR: Yes. Carl Sagan was pretty special. In kids’ sci fi they put the hope in the hands of children, characters who run with the positive idea towards the next horizon. We should put it in the 40 year-olds’ hands too. There’s a lot of vital energy in 50, 60, 70 year old now, energy they could put into the problems. Cross-generational work. We’ve got to work together, like you’re saying.

MC:  It’s all about how we relate and live together. We live together everyday but we just don’t think about the systems that support us. The streetcar tracks, the bike lane, the pipes that carry water to wash my hands. They all connect us to each other so we can function. They are there everyday and all the time, connecting  us.

LR:  Back to Factory more specifically….What about the design elements?

MC: When I went to Vietnam  back in 2010, people thought I was from every Asian country possible and then some people just knew I was from Canada.  There were subtle clues in how I was dressed.

The costuming for Factory is like that too. All neutral colours with hints at character: “Oh that guy is kind of hip, she’s edgy and she’s conservative.” I wanted to have some element of an era or style.

LR: Not explicit.

MC: No, to hint at another layer of the relationship when the dancers are together. It’s subtle enough that it’s not the total reading of the work, but a layer.

LR: It’s great that you are doing something  with this big a team. Have you done anything this big before?

MC: No. It’s great to have a group. But really five is as much as the Citadel can hold.

LR:  It’s funny how five can still seem like a small group but six becomes a big group.
And what about Phil Strong, the composer?

MC: He is live mixing in sound and space.

LR: What’s it like? What are Phil’s parameters?

MC:  His play is how he rides the performers differences from day to day. Maybe one day a dancer is a little slower or a little more agitated in their interpretation. He makes choices to adapt his sound structure.

LR: He must love that. Making the sound based on set ideas but integrated with the energy of any given moment.

MC: He does

LR: What he does creates another creature. All these creatures coming together, working together to pump something out of the factory.

MC: The audience is on two sides so the audience is IN something. The risers are just a little higher than the performers space. To offer that point of view that we’re in it and we’re watching it together, but we are separate, watching it from afar but very close.

LR: Just those few inches difference in level.

MC: Seeing each other across the performance….

LR: I love the multiple physical perspectives on performance. It reinforces that there’s no one right way to see the work.

MC: The proscenium theatre is great because we can abandon the idea that it’s about us at all, as an audience. The energy is focused forward, we know we’re not being watched….but then this [audience on two sides] is a good experience too, that you are part of it. Everyone is part of the complication and the complexity. You’re being watched, you can’t check out. Well you can, but someone will see you checking out. You are part of the image.

LR: Part of what someone else is seeing.

MC:  Yes and part of that is seeing someone not taking action when something violent might be happening. Or someone might be moving in response to the action.

I call it a dioramic view. You’re not in the action. I want that to be clear. There’s enough separation that you can just watch. You are close but just that little bit of elevation for the audience creates space.

LR: I think that’s an interesting delicacy to find. How thin can that fourth wall, that separation be and still keep the magic? The otherworld-ness, even when it is very recognizable whispers “that’s not me out there but it’s a reflection of me”.

MC: A lot of what I’m doing artistically now -- my performative, choreographic, presenting, curatorial work -- are working in tandem and are related. They are merging into one overarching idea: site responsiveness.

How we respond to the physical make-up and structure of where we are making our work, the history of the site, the community around it. Curatorially, I’m interested in programming the works of artists and companies who think about site. My interests are going towards companies and artists who are looking at all the things going into the space in order to create the whole vision.

LR: That’s something I’m very interested in too, it kind of grew organically over my last few pieces but I’d like to learn how to see and cultivate that more consciously. While creating my last work Animal Vegetable Mineral and because of it’s content,  I started to feel theatrical spaces of all sorts are like ecosystems.

There’s always so much to talk about, I am infinitely curious about how people make stuff.  People are doing fascinating things, always. Like this, like Factory. I am sorry I am out of town for it, but I hope it is a great success. Give my best to all your dancers and collaborators.

September 20-23, 2018 at 8pm
The Citadel; Ross Centre for Dance
304 Parliament Street
Toronto ON M5A 2Z6


photos by Zhenya Cerneacov