Student Reporter Project

Perspectives and Possibilities in Dance at University

By Isabelle Gagnon
  • Manuel Shink, Camille Lacelle-Wilsey and Eryn Tempest in 60x60 piece by Nien Tzu Weng / Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon
  • Ruedi Bettina Cheline in 60x60 piece by Reudi Narowski-Vesely / Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon
  • Bradley Eng and Luciana Lua in 60x60 piece by Luciana Lua / Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon
  • Mathilde Loslier-Pellerin in 60x60 piece by Mathilde Loslier-Pellerin / Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon
  • Charlotte Scout Heckel in 60x60 piece by Charlotte Scout Heckel / Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon

Dance: the art of movement. It can be a hobby, a passion, an entertainment or an awkward way to start a wedding. But studying dance at a university level, specifically at Concordia University’s Program for Contemporary Dance, is a whole new approach to this art form. Students at Concordia are given the opportunity to investigate what interests them in movement and are given different tools to develop the student’s way of thinking.

Below, three students share their perspectives on how specific experiences have provided unique learning opportunities.  Luciana Lua, a second-year student at Concordia, and Olivier Fluckiger, a fourth-year student, describe the program as being mostly choreography oriented: developing choreographic skills and enhancing the personal creative process. Guillaume Loslier-Pinard, a second-year student talking about his audition day, recalls, “[The teaching faculty] tr[ies] to understand you more as a human being.” He also mentioned how the teachers act as guides rather than instructors in relationship with the students. Lua shares her collaborative experience with a student from the electroacoustic department; Fluckiger talks about the opportunities of occupying other essential roles involved in a show; and Loslier-Pinard recounts the experience of having the three departments of performing arts work together.

Meeting of Minds: Dance and Music Students

Each semester, second and third-year dance students take part in an end-of-term performance, in which they present their own original choreography and also perform in each other’s work. For her most recent work, Wayward, Lua says “[…] I knew I wanted to collaborate with someone from the [electroacoustic] department” in which the students explore composition and sound design. That led her to meet Barry Richard Williams. Lua describes his initial surprise at how much artistic freedom she was giving him, and how excited this made him about the collaboration. Lua says: “For me, the creativity happens most when you’re given a lot of freedom.” She wanted him to put in his own artistry as well. It was only towards the end of the creation process that Lua gave her input on the final draft to make it performance ready. In this process, students have to develop their own thoughts and ideas, as Fluckiger describes, knowing that the result will be a public presentation at the end of the term. They receive guidance and advice from teachers and peers, but the students are treated as budding artists and, as artists, have the final word on how their work is presented and performed.

Behind the Curtains

In addition to experiencing the role of performer and choreographer, students at Concordia have the opportunity to be curators in different contexts such as Art Matters or Studio 7. The latter is a monthly public performance run by the dance department that features works from emerging artists. Fluckiger, one of the 2015-2016 curators, explains how this unconventional platform offers the opportunity to present works in progress and receive feedback and questions from the audience. Through such discussion, this context pushes the artists’ process further and stimulates new collaborations as well.

Fluckiger explains how going through these different roles provides a more complete understanding of what it means to put on a show. Being a choreographer offers one perspective, but being a curator or stage manager gives a global sense of what performance requires. At the end of their first year within the Contemporary Dance department, students present Spirale, a show in which, in addition to acting as choreographers and performers, the students take care of most aspects, namely the program, stage managing, posters and publicity. Fluckiger talks about how the technical side of performing arts needs to be further highlighted so creators understand the backstage work involved in a performance. Having the opportunity to be involved in performances in other ways such as curational work, lighting design and stage managing allows students to learn about the other side of the curtain.

Performing Arts Coming Together

Every year, theatre, dance and electroacoustic departments come together to create a show titled 60 x 60, which features sixty pieces, each sixty seconds in length. The process begins with students from the electroacoustic department creating sound scores. Afterwards, students from the dance and theatre departments receive a list of these pieces and choose a piece to which they will choreograph their own creation. Loslier-Pinard saw this show as an opportunity: “You get to test out your ideas. For example, [in] my piece, I wanted to try involving a large group of people. So I recruited twenty dancers and we made a piece inspired by landscape parts and Simone Forti’s huddle.” He also collaborated as a performer for both dance and theatre pieces by students from both departments and talked about how the focus is different in the rehearsals. He explained how dance overall appeared more abstract to him in comparison to a piece directed by a theatre student where he found the emphasis was more on intention and the character being transmitted to the audience. The limits between these two disciplines, in which the body occupies a major place, are often explored and they can be useful tools for any performer.

Different Spaces to Perform

Concordia offers unique opportunities to students to explore movement in atypical contexts such as in situ work – site-specific choreography that takes place in unconventional spaces around the city like galleries and parks.  Students also create dances for the camera, preparing choreographers to collaborate with creators who specialize in other art forms, including visual art and film. Currently underway, a collaboration project by the FOFA Gallery between visual arts students and dance students will result in an exhibition combining visual art and performance during the fall 2016 term. Art Matters, a student-run art festival, offers all undergraduate fine arts students the chance to perform, create, collaborate, curate and administrate in different venues. This gives students from different disciplines experience with running a fully professional performance and exhibition space.

A dance degree offers spaces and opportunities for artists who are interested in developing their personal ideas to explore creative process and to present work in performances and different contexts in which movement is used as an art form. University is a place where lots of minds – and bodies – meet together to create in a vibrant, exciting and energetic context, to make their very own ideas come to life. 

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