Radically intelligent: Emma Kerson on the upcoming Blue Valentine

They are funny, smart, rebellious in the most endearing way. They are Common People and they are bringing you what is bound to be a smart, rebellious and quirky double bill production next week at the Citadel. Blue Valentine throws Emma Kerson and Andrew Hartley into two commissioned duets, one by Simon Renaud, the other by Tedd Robinson presented as part of Coleman Lemieux Compagnie's Bright Lights series February 15-18th.

Andrew Hartley and Emma Kerson

LR: I know you and Andrew have known each other since you were students at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, but were you drawn to work together then? What makes you want or need to work together?

EK: It’s true, we met over eight years ago, and I can actually remember us becoming friends on the first day of school.  We collaborated a lot in things like the student run coffee houses where you can really try out wacky ideas and experiment.  Our sense of humour really brought us together to dream up some crazy works and actually put a few of them on stage.  When we left school, the comedy that was our lives manifested into an ongoing saga that was the creation of our semi-autobiographical piece, The Waiters: The Process Revealed: A Tragi/Danci-Comedy.

LR: As "Common People" what are your aims? What kind of work do you want to be part of?

EK: After school we continued creating and performing works with each other, but we started thinking about commissions as a way to stretch ourselves artistically and push beyond what was familiar to us.  What was clear was that we both had no desire to follow trends in dance and make choices based on what might be seen as cool.  We knew we wanted to give absolute value to pure and honest voices, and to highlight our common humanity.
LR: How did Simon’s creation for you come to be? What made you choose him?

EK: We both knew Simon personally, and artistically as an incredibly articulate and driven emerging choreographer.  His work is visual, physically rigorous, and unique.  We were both excited about the possibility of stepping into his world.  We knew it would be a departure for us artistically.  We had full trust and respect for Simon’s vision and he didn’t disappoint!  The work pushes time and is extremely fulfilling to experience from the inside and hopefully the outside as well.

LR: What shape has the creative process for Blue Valentine taken? When did you start working, how have you worked?

EK: So we commissioned Simon back in 2014.  We worked intensively for a few weeks in November and December and held a showing for his work l’inanité des bibelots / love would only slow me down.  We knew we wanted the work to sit on a program with a companion piece.  This opened so many possibilities and ideas.  We had never done any of this before, so the potential and amount of directions to go in was overwhelming. 

Simon’s been choreographing under the mentorship of Tedd Robinson for the better part of a decade.  As emerging artists, we’re influenced by our mentors.  We asked Tedd to create a piece in response to Simon’s work, as a way of bringing this conversation full circle.  In December of 2015 we ended up travelling to Centre Q for two weeks to create his response, Songs and Tarps, with composer Charles Quevillon.

Since then we’ve worked in pockets throughout the year.  Simon and our new composer, Ida Toninato, came up in November.  It had been two whole years since we touched the work.  Andrew and I have both changed considerably as people since its first creation process, and Simon was keen to explore who we are in our own skin now and who he has been developing into as a choreographer.  The piece has shifted considerably, but its essence is still very much there.  It’s in a way a living, breathing reflection of pieces of who we are.

Tedd’s here visiting as well right now, and it’s great to have this time to re-explore the work a year after its creation.  We’re finding the work’s strength not only as a piece in conversation with Simon’s, but as a work on its own.  We’ve also been extremely fortunate to have Susie Burpee and Dan Wild in the studio with us as our rehearsal directors.  They’re both endless wells of information and ideas, and they’ve been incredible at guiding interpretation and finding the depths of the works. 

Common People photo by Omer Yukseker

And now the show’s next week!  It’s been such a long process to get here, but it’ll be over so quickly!

LR: You and Andrew are both fascinating artists, and radically intelligent people; I'm curious to know what you hope for over the course of your career? What kinds of things do you want to be doing — either in performance or otherwise…I guess I’m asking what are your dreams, your plans?

This is so hard to say.  I am a very different person from when I started this process three years ago.  My values are clearer, my ambitions are new, and a lot of this is from what I’ve learned in and out of the studio over these three years.  

So I don’t have a set long-term dream, because I hope that if I continue to expand both personally and artistically, that my current self wouldn’t be able to fathom what I will be dreaming of ten years from now.  

What I definitely do hope to do is to seek out and surround myself with people and artists that I really respect, am in awe of, can learn from, and can collaborate with.  Dance is one endless puzzle for me as an interpreter and creator, and I feel really lucky to be part of the fabric of our community.

Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s Bright Nights
Presents the World Premiere of
The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance
February 15-18, 2017
All performances at 8PM
Tickets: $20 Artists, Students, Seniors / $25 General Admission


all photos by Omer Yukseker, courtesy of Common People
design image by mssngr.com


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