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Research and Development

Catching up with Sasha Ivanochko By Sasha Ivanochko, Lee Slinger
  • Sasha Ivanochko / Photo by Brianna Lombardo
  • Sasha Ivanochko and Brendan Wyatt in Speak, Love (2013) by Ivanochko / Photo by Leif Norman
  • Ivanochko teaching students of the University of Calgary / Photo by Wojciech Mochniej
For the July/August issue, The Dance Current caught up with Sasha Ivanochko, seven years after Michael Crabb’s review of her 2008 solo performance, The Future Memory Heartbreak Junction, was included in the 2009 Summer Annual. She told us about the role of that work in her subsequent professional development and her fascinating current projects.
 
Looking back, how do you see The Future Memory Heartbreak Junction now? And how do you see yourself as having evolved since then?
The Future Memory Heartbreak Junction (FMHJ) marked a change of direction within my practice, in my way of working. Before FMHJ, I was working with strictly movement-based creation strategies, and my pieces displayed the typical values normally associated with Western concert dance. For the solo, I shifted to a process that incorporated my background in music, an examination of the relationship of the psychic and emotional body to my idiosyncratic kinetic patterns, and assembled texts. Since then, I’ve experimented a lot with this blend of things. I’ve worked with/on other performers to understand how this blend can be translated onto their bodies/beings, and what the meaning of that is. I’ve also collaborated very closely with musicians and rehearsal directors to push my process to the point where the blend has become a thing unto itself. I don’t know if that is evolution or a matter of me becoming more me. At any rate, the shift in practice triggered a shift in the way I think about what I’m doing, what I’m creating and how it sits in the world. What its purpose is. I’ve become more self-reflexive and my agenda is more socially conscious than in the past.
 
In a certain way, my work is transparent. Looking back at the solo from where I am now, I’m drawn to my performance and the structure of the work, but I can see a lot of personal sadness and frustration released into the vocabulary. I don’t have any need to revisit the work at this point. However, I have used the solo for pedagogical purposes. FMHJ provides a number of unique physical and performance challenges that are useful for emerging artists to pass through in developing their interpretive skills.
 
You recently returned to school for a master’s degree. What prompted that decision and what will your research address? How do you find returning to a school environment?
I’m an Interdisciplinary Studies MFA candidate at Simon Fraser University. I went back to school to serve a few needs. Artistically, I was feeling constrained by the market context and increasingly demoralized navigating the systems which both feed and descend from it. The fact is, funding bodies are entwined with the market. To save and protect my practice (and I’m not being dramatic), I needed a place to be, even for a short time, where I felt my work would be considered at face value. And I get this at the university, and various kinds of support too. I also wanted to professionally develop in an environment that could encompass the interdisciplinary nature of my practice and specialized interests. Finally, an MFA is the standard degree required for a university teaching position. Long term, alongside my creative practice, I’d like to be teaching in a university or directing a conservatory.
 
My studio research considers ways of choreographing the audience gaze. I am laying this physical research alongside feminist interpretations of the Lacanian theory of identity development.
Returning to a school environment required me to let go of the ways I had been thinking about my work that I had developed in the marketplace, and to develop the theoretical aspects of my practice. I’ve had to figure out how to manage my time for all the required and self-directed reading. For example, one of the first texts I had to chew through for a seminar course was something by Jacques Rancière. I spent a half hour trying to decipher the first sentence! While aspects of some of the studio courses have felt elementary to me, there is space within the program to set one’s own bar and course, and I’m good at that. I’m taking what I need from the environment and I like my cohort. I hope that my presence in the school is a good one in return.
 
What other projects are you currently working on?
Yes. I’m remounting a duet I co-created with musician Aaron Lumley in 2012 for some Western Canadian performances this fall. I have a new solo for Brianna Lombardo going up in the 2017/2018 season. For this project, we’ve been working with Jacob Niedzwiecki on ways to translate the work in-time, for an online audience. I’m trying to organize future presentations for my thesis project. I will be returning to a commission I started a number of years ago for Fabien Piché and Eve Rousseau-Cyr. Other colleagues are waiting on their own grants to commission me for a new project …
 
You are also a sought-after teacher and workshop leader. Could you tell us about your pedagogical projects?
I’m on faculty at École de danse contemporaine de Montréal and have had a long-term relationship with The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. On a few occasions, my choreography has been incorporated into courses at the University of Calgary and Ottawa’s School of Dance. I was the guest artist in residence at the University of Calgary in 2014, and I’ve taught at many other conservatories and universities across Canada, in Japan and in the Dominican Republic.
 
I’m a dedicated pedagogue and I believe in the work as a way to look at ethics and to address current social and political themes alongside the art. One can’t separate art practice from everything else that is going on in the world-that creates huge intellectual gaps for the students, and can limit what they can do in the world and in their art. I tend to bond deeply with a lot of the cohorts I work with, and a number of young dancers approach me with mentorship projects after they graduate. I’m always so flattered when this happens, as the learning process is exciting but also humbling; it’s about gathering information and acquiring skills, but also about letting go of self-limiting perceptions. It’s a delicate, sometimes very awkward and vulnerable time for the learner. Teaching and mentoring demands the ability to observe and respond to the other accurately, a great deal of self-control, honesty, compassion and to keep one’s knowledge and methods current. A sense of humour helps too. Anything less is at best passing along information, and that really does little to feed and strengthen the professional milieu of the future.

 

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