Habitual Gestures

By Pia Lo
  • Meredith Kalaman / Photo by Curtis Stodgell
  • Meredith Kalaman / Photo by Curtis Stodgell
  • Meredith Kalaman / Photo by Curtis Stodgell
“I’m so glad we’re meeting now; otherwise, I’d be stuck in front of my computer all day!” Meredith Kalaman says happily, taking a break from writing a grant application. Like many Canadian artists who seek grant funding for their work, she is seldom away from the computer in the days before an application deadline.
A Vancouver-based dancer, choreographer and dance teacher, Kalaman has been pursuing dance professionally since graduating from the Ballet BC Mentor Program in 2005. In 2008, she choreographed her first piece, Operok, and presented it at Dances for a Small Stage 14. Last year, she received the Chrystal Dance Prize, which awarded her with funding to support the development of her first full-length work, a performance for three women entitled Femme Fatales that will premiere at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in May 2017.    
Kalaman describes herself as a dancer who “thrives on being part of new creative processes, where choreographers don’t necessarily know the trajectory of the work and are relying on dancers to be a part of discovering it.” With a laugh she adds, “I probably wouldn’t have done well in a rep company.” In her own choreography, she strives to take a similar approach, as with dancers Teghan Fedor and Kate Franklin, who have been part of Kalaman’s creative process for Femme Fatales. “The piece investigates gender identity,” she explains, “gender-based behaviour and how we are socialized to behave in certain ways. Teghan, Kate and I, we have our unique styles, but we are also very cohesive, and I think it’s because we each have very clear ideas of who we are as women. We had a two-week dance residency at Dance Victoria Studios this January, and I really appreciated how Teghan and Kate brought a lot of their own ideas.” 
Identity seems to be Kalaman’s muse. “I’m interested in the ‘isms’ of people, and what I mean by that is – what are your unconscious physical expressions? Habitual gestures like, [Kalaman slides her hand down her cheek and rubs her chin]. What’s the prompt for that?” She explored this in depth for the solo creation that she performed at TEDxVancouver in 2015. “I spent days observing people – on the bus, at the coffee shop – and questioning how our physical movement reveals who we are … I guess it comes from my ballet teacher John Ottmann, who used to say, ‘How are you plié-ing? How does the movement express your intention?’ “
“Growing up,” says Kalaman, “there were times when I was told that I couldn’t do something, that I didn’t have that ability, and at that young age you believe it.” She pauses, wrapping her fingers around her mug of tea and confides, “There were moments in my life when I was discouraged from pursuing dance.” Smiling slightly, she says, “I hope we can change that. I want to see a generation of dancers who have never been told they couldn’t.” Then, with a sense of conviction, Kalaman adds, “What I really want is for people to feel free, to be fully self-expressed, and that no one has to hold back who they truly are.”
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