I had the great pleasure of watching a world premiere dance performance last night. (Check out the Arts East review) Premieres are fun as you never know what you”re in store for; choreographer Tedd Robinson summed it up well in a pre-show chat when he discussed the nature of (contemporary) dance and that it is for people who appreciate adventure.

Well, adventure is to be had in Tedd”s latest work on Mocean Dance, just as it is in Claudia Moore and Dan Wild”s performance of Robinson and James Kudelka”s choreography that opens the program. For the record: I like adventure and will define it as a voyage of discovery (that does not necessarily imply travel) where our senses are treated to unknown (and unsuspected) information. All that is required of us is to go along for the ride and be receptive along the way. We may not know where we”re going but we should recognise that we”ve arrived (and perhaps even by which path).

Claudia Moore”s Dances in a Small Room – comprised of Robinson”s lone some and Kudelka”s Half an hour of Our Time – is an intimate study on inhabiting space that simply reminds me that sometimes the answers are right in front of our noses. I am reminded of a wonderful article roulette in a recent edition of Psychology Today titled To Dance is a Radical Act. In it, author Kimerer LaMothe writes: …”Humans are not rational minds dwelling in bodily containers. We are bodies. We are bodily selves whose movements are making us able to think and feel and act at all. And if we are to achieve a just and sustainable world, then we must make sure that our processes of getting there honor the wisdom and agency present in the movement of our bodily selves. To dance is a radical act because dancing reminds us that the bodily movements we make make us who we are.”

Ah ha moment! Those dancers looking like they”re depicting the ups, downs, swerves, and collisions of coupledom are pseudo-didactically doing just that! There”s no need to look further, we need simply remember that our bodily movements reveal enormous amounts of information that we may think/feel is otherwise bottled up inside our individual heads. Moore, and partner Dan Wilde, exist within a 5m X 5m square of light – their small room – and we the audience are drawn into their slipstream of time. I had that uncanny feeling of dreaming and hovering above myself looking down… almost as if witnessing a stop motion rush of life surrounded by frozen time. Simple. Haunting. Aching.

Moore”s white square of floor is transformed into white canvas squares as Robinson”s work on Mocean Dance, Canvas 5 X 5, begins the second half. I am still pondering how Robinson so exquisitely crept under my skin and crafted such a worthy and surprising adventure. Paraphrasing one audience member”s comment, this was an exceptional piece of Celtic Japanese mystic performance! Robinson harnesses Mocean”s energy and joyful spirit and thoroughly infuses it with a sense of nostalgia, heritage, and play. There IS something mystical about this work that I am still struggling to put my finger on… those blank canvasses are sooo rich in metaphor and the dancers” wonderful sense of play sooo familiar… Robinson demonstrates why he is increasingly recognised as one of Canada”s most unique choreographic voices.

Suffice to say I am looking forward to a second viewing tonight.

Yesterday marked a momentous occasion in Nova Scotia, as two pieces of legislation were tabled by Darrell Dexter”s New Democrats, the first to establish Arts Nova Scotia, a new arm”s length arts council, and the second to formalise the structure and mandate of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council, an advisory body that will lead the development of a provincial culture strategy.

Minister Wilson
Ron Bourgeois, Pam Birdsall (MLA), Minister Wilson, Leah Hamilton, myself, Chris Shore

As part of the committee charged with the responsibility of developing the terms of reference for Arts Nova Scotia, the past several months have been an extremely exciting period that I feel privileged to have participated in (A copy of the Arts Nova Transition Committee Report can be found here). Pam Birdsall, MLA for Lunenburg, chaired a committee composed of Leah Hamilton, Chris Shore, and myself, and lead our meetings in a fashion that was wonderfully collaborative and open to very frank discussion. As a relative newcomer to the province, it was amazing to witness the collective wealth of knowledge of this province”s cultural history embodied by this group. We spent a fair bit of time discussing “arm”s length”, looking at existing models, and brainstorming how to apply best practices to our region. Given the, some would say brutal, demise of the previous casino australia online council, we were particularly concerned with creating a body that had teeth and that the arts and culture community could trust to represent their interests. The “teeth” part of the equation relates to budget: the old council was perpetually under-resourced and thus lacked the ability to be truly effective. “Trust” is another story and brings us back to the question of arm”s length. Given that any and all arts funding agencies are ultimately accountable to some political master the question becomes: what length of arm would be acceptable?

After much pro”ing and con”ing, all the while looking through the lens of today”s fiscal reality, we have what I feel is a pretty decent length of arm: Arts Nova Scotia will be governed by an independent board of directors who will have authority to hire an Executive Director, with the Chair of the Board reporting to the Minister of Communities Culture and Heritage. The offices will be housed within the space currently housing the Department of Communities Culture and Heritage and staff will be shared between the two. While this is not the ideal scenario some would have, it does, in my opinion, represent a resourceful solution to creating a new entity while continuing to get $$ into the hands of artists and arts organisations.

The run up to yesterday”s announcement was fast, with legislation being quickly produced in time to be tabled in the legislature before the holiday break. What this means is that ArtsNS could and should be a reality in the government”s next fiscal year! Rejoice Nova Scotia!

Finally, I am compelled to mention that Deputy Minister Laura Lee Langley and her staff moved mountains to make this happen so quickly and were incredibly accommodating, supportive, and collaborative throughout the whole process. While this legislation is but a first step towards the future, it bodes well that the people involved are firmly committed to making this happen.

Check out the Art Attack in the Coast

Cycling in to work this morning I was trying to remember the first time I saw O Vertigo founder Ginette Laurin”s choreography. After much wrestling into the murky depths of my grey matter I am convinced the answer goes back to 1988 when I was studying dance at Simon Fraser University and saw Full House (at the Cultch or the Firehall!!??). Curious to refresh those synapses, I googled Laurin Full House and, if I may digress, two sites of interest popped up: The first was connected to the Government of Saskatchewan”s Grade 6 Arts Education curriculum – Model Unit for Teaching Dance, Lesson 4: Looking at a Choreographer”s work. Holy…! Kids in Saskatchewan are studying Ginette Laurin”s 1987 work Full House! That is SO cool! Here is an excerpt: Explain that sometimes choreographers observe movements seen in daily life and change or abstract the movements for their dances. Discuss what abstraction means to students. Show examples or have students think of examples best online casino bonus they have seen in visual art or cartoons. Discuss ways every-day movements could be abstracted (for example, by modifying the elements of dance). Make connections between abstracted every-day or environmental movements and movements seen in the dances of various cultures. For example, the grass dance is inspired by the movement of prairie grass.

The second site was for a series of dance films by Moze Mossanen – The Dancemakers. There”s a short promo clip that contains a great excerpt of Ginette Laurin dancing back in the 80″s (check out the duet about a minute or two in). Wow! I”m assuming the choreography is hers (it shows the partnering that has largely come to symbolise her work) and is really interesting to see in context of other work being made at that time.

I don”t pretend to be a dance historian, but the “80”s were a heady time for dance in Montreal: Jean-Pierre Perreault, Édouard Lock, Marie Chouinard, Paul-André Fortier, and Ginette Laurin were at the forefront of a movement revolution that was defining Montreal as THE global dance capital. Interesting looking at those names and imagining their individual styles… What I witnessed in 1988 was a full speed charge of gloriously muscular bodies engaged in wild duets where push and pull were fueled by big energy. Lyrical? Yes, but these bodies were not so much about technical prowess as they were about resilient strength and physical passion. For me, as a young student, O Vertigo was unlike anything I had seen up until then – bold, unabashed, and a little in your face – and was one of the reasons I moved to Montreal a year later.

Over the years, Ginette Laurin has mastered the art of framing her dance within visual surroundings that heighten the themes she addresses. This is perhaps best illustrated by La Chambre Blanche”s superb decor, but truly every one of her works contains visual elements that lend a distinct tone, and Onde de choc is no different: it”s sound and light boxes permit an unprecedented interactivity that are splendid to witness.

Twenty-five years and counting – Halifax is finally going to get a taste of O Vertigo!

A quick tour around Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux’s website (Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie) reveals a pair of artists who know no bounds. While a good chunk of their individual and collective experience includes an abundance of works made for the stage, it also includes a number of projects others would only dream of. You know, the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” kind of musings born from good drink and spirited company. Wouldn’t it be cool if we took over a town in the middle of the prairies and invited a who’s who collection of artists to come and make work and got all the townspeople to be involved and then did a performance in Grasslands National Park? How about:  Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a play list of Sun Ra songs, assembled a kick ass ensemble of dancers from across Canada, and then invited the Arkestra to come and play live us? Ya, we could even go on tour with them!!

I don’t know where they get their ideas, but what ideas they get. The Grasslands Project (Where Heaven Meets Earth) happened in 2004 (and the Gros Morne Project in 2006), and Hymn to the Universe has been touring on and off with the Sun Ra Arkestra since 2008. Around that same time, Coleman and Lemieux invited James Kudelka to be the company’s resident choreographer (why not ask one of North America’s most celebrated ballet choreographers to join the fun?) and secured the rights to remount three classic works from his repertoire. Dream big or go home, right!?

From Grasslands to Gros Morne to music halls with the Arkestra to… a balletic evening full of glorious pas de deux, sweeping gowns, and amazing dancers in full flight underneath the limelight. Wow, talk about extremes, but it seems that this is where Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie thrive. While this diverse repertoire accurately encapsulates their artistic interests, performing classically derived work is by no means unusual; ie. they are as comfortable on stage as they are in site-specific situations, perhaps thanks in large part to the “compagnie” part of the bargain.While Bill and Laurence are the artistic motors, each project involves a select group of collaborators whose talents and experience are suited for the project. For a project such as In Paradisum, dancers of exquisite technical calibre need to be engaged (as Kudelka’s work is notoriously challenging). There’s nothing like the right person(elle) for the job, and Bill and Laurence seem to have an endless list of stellar collaborators to bring on board.

Given their track record for pulling off feats of magic in the most unlikely of circumstances, I am sure In Paradisum is going to be a memorable evening of beautiful dance. Don’t miss it: Nov 18 at 8PM in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium

Years ago when I was paying the bills working as a theatre technician I remember a TD saying something like: “90% of the audience has no idea we change the lights between shows”. While I won’t speculate on the accuracy of this statement, I think we can agree with its point: the audience pays to see the talent on stage, not the behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears of the tech crew.

As the crew is working full speed right now, preparing for BJM’s World Premiere of Fuel tomorrow night (Nov 2), I thought I would give a big shout out to all the behind the scenes heroes whose modus operandi is truly: The show must go on!

First thing – every theatre is different, possessing its own stage dimensions, sight lines, technical equipment inventory, etc. One of a company TD’s (technical director) primary jobs is to make any show look more or less the same in every theatre it visits. When theatre specifications are similar this involves pretty basic application of available resources. However, when there are substantial differences the TD and their crew have to work magic. The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium is a grand old dame of a hall that has its fair share of particularities: the stage is asymmetrical and relatively shallow for starters, and the number of overhead (light) hanging positions has frustrated more than one visiting company… Suffice to say, this venue challenges pretty well every dance company that finds itself on its surfaces. I visited this morning and pros and cons were being weighed, solutions were being found, the show must go on.

People were pretty excited by the high jump pits that I delivered. That took some searching… What on earth does a contemporary ballet company need with a pair of high jump pits? A big shout out to LeMarchant/St. Thomas and Westmount Elementary for lending us theirs…

I guess we’ll see tomorrow how it all comes together. Just remember when you’re watching those beautiful dancers: A dedicated crew of technicians worked tirelessly to pull this show together. I applaud their efforts along with the performers.

I had a great visit to Calgary this past week to take part in my very first Fluid Festival. Wow! Great fun in a city that is going through dramatic changes – this classic boom/bust city is booming right now! They’ve just been named Canada’s Cultural Capital for 2012 and there seems to be a steady stream of cultural activity and investment. Fluid is growing rapidly and I give a great big tip o’ the hat to AD/programmer Nicole Mion for her wonderful vision and stout community building skills. Her festival has regularly included international stars as well as a stellar round up of local/regional artists.

Cayetano Soto's Fuel

Aside from seeing a bunch of shows, I also took part in Fluent, a dialogue about the change and growth our industry is going through. Ah growth… Communities change as a whole quite slowly but for individual organisations it can be quite rapid. Take for example les Ballets Jazz de Montréal: founded in 1972 by Geneviève Salbaing, Eva von Gencsy and Eddy Toussaint, the company’s early direction defined it as a force to be reckoned with in the classic jazz genre, ie. a blend of “traditional ballet technique with loose-hipped, more percussive and syncopated movement at times reminiscent of American show-dancing”. Enter Louis Robitaille as the new Artistic Director in 1998 and a whole sea-change began to take place. The overtly populist roots were trimmed and a whole new era of choreographers were ushered in to redefine the company. Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal became BJM Danse and the re-branding began. BJM is now recognised as a contemporary ballet company with highly skilled dancers (that can still do the “loose-hipped” thing when called upon).

Fuel duet

I haven’t personally seen their latest creation, Fuel by Cayetano Soto, but the word I heard from some peers in Calgary who were invited to an avant-premiere performance is that it is HOT! And Halifax gets the World Premiere!

More great news, the company has added Locked Up Laura to the program. I’ve been going back and forth with the company on program details and this duet by Anna Lopez Ochoa is divine fun. November 2 promises to be great fun for the world of dance in Halifax.

Two seasons ago Live Art hosted BJM Danse, who performed a pair of works by Aszure Barton, a Canadian who’s been making waves in the Big Apple. Barton’s work on BJM (Les Chambres des Jacques and Jack In A Box) were full of quirky physicality and technically challenging dance, qualities she had time to explore during her term as artist-in-residence with the company. Kudos go to Artistic Director Louis Robitaille, who has, since 1998, brought in a steady stream of ascending stars on the international dance scene: Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot), Rodrigo Pederneiras (Grupo Corpo), Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Mauro Bigonzetti…

Commissioning works is risky business: you don’t know what you’re going to get yet you have to be fully invested. Robitaille must have a crystal ball cuz he has an uncanny ability to find choreographers who will bring out the best in his dancers. He has steadfastly been leading a re-branding exercise for BJM, and now has his company well-positioned as a contemporary ballet company with a flair for lyrical, muscular works that are well-crafted, beautifully performed, and wildly entertaining.

Enter Cayetano Soto… This young Spaniard is creating gorgeously physical work full of intricate partnering, big lifts, and striking staging. Last year he created Zero In On, a short but exquisite duet. Word has it that M. Robitaille was so happy with the work that he invited Soto back to create a larger piece for the full company. Fuel is the resulting work and Halifax audiences will be among the very first to see the work performed. The World Premiere is Nov 2 in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. First Halifax, then the world!

Deborah Dunn kicked off Live Art Dance’s 29th season last night with an inspired solo performance of her work, Four Quartets. Using T.S. Elliot’s suite of poems by the same name as a departure point, Dunn guides the audience on a wonderful journey into time present. Like the still point in a turning world… I’ve often referred to dance as the most ephemeral of art forms. It has to be seen live (unless it has been expertly translated to film/video) and when it’s over it becomes the property of memory… Elliot’s Four Quartets contains numerous references to dance… I wonder if he was a fan.

There’s a great review in ArtsEast today. Check it out here!

My apologies for not posting with any regularity… I’d lay the blame on the summer doldrums but my posting record clearly lacked any regularity prior to summer… No excuses. As September comes to a close I pledge – yes, pledge! – to be a more constant correspondent and bravely trumpet the voice of dance! Let the long silence end… Vivre la danse libre!

My grrl and I enjoying the last days of summer

After a great summer full of family and friends visiting Canada’s Atlantic playground (for those of you who aren’t from here, that’s the slogan on our license plates) we are in the trenches preparing to open our season with Deborah Dunn’s remarkable solo, Four Quartets. I’ve been a fan of Deborah’s work for a number of years: her choreographic craft is impeccable and she always infuses her work with a sense of delightful humour and gorgeous costume details, often with a period bent. This comes as no surprise – her bio clearly indicates an interest in historical inquiry – but it is the way she juxtaposes images from past and present that is so fascinating. She has a wonderful sense of play that directs the audience down very specific paths before arriving at unexpected destinations. Her Elegant Heathens was very effective doing this: clothing her characters in regal garb before unraveling them to depict the banal relationship drama at the very heart of so much coupling.

It’s been a while since I saw Four Quartets but it struck me as a wonderful achievement by this talented artist. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s wonderful suite of poems by the same name (written in the few years leading up and into WWII), the poetry can perhaps be succinctly described as dealing with notions of humanity’s existence within the cycle of time.

Deborah Dunn in Four Quartets Photo: Chris Randle

Eliot suggests that time present, not past or future, are what really matters, and Dunn wonderfully connects this theme with dance (arguably the most ephemeral of art forms). The narration in Dunn’s performance is by the late Sir Alec Guinness and provides an incredible environment for the dancer’s movement, particularly in Burnt Norton where the garden is brought to fluttering life.

It’s rare that Live Art presents solo work, but this is work that must be seen. The show runs at the Sir James Dunn Theatre Sept 29 – Oct 1 at 8PM. For those who wish to gain some additional perspective into the work, join us for our first Live Art Chat of the year at 7PM Sept. 29 in Room 401 of the Dalhousie Arts Centre when professor Elizabeth Edwards (King’s College) will deliver a short talk on the central themes in Eliot’s writing.

Photo: Chris Randle

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