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Hard Art

Unpacking Contemporary Performance
By Philip Szporer, Janet Smith

Today’s dance practice is hugely varied – it takes inspiration from other arts, plays with developments in science and technology, embodies modes of existence that are mundane and pushes through complex philosophical and cultural thinking that is happening today. Making sense of these variable practices can be bewildering for anyone, but what do critics do when faced with unwieldy presentations? Smith and Szporer attempt a few answers, providing different ways of thinking about and experiencing contemporary performance.

In an era of extreme interdisciplinarity in the arts, what is singular about dance? In this two-part feature article, Vancouver’s Janet Smith and Montréal’s Philip Szporer draw the contours of contemporary dance, offering entry points into a set of practices that inform many of today’s most dynamic performers. While some of their selected dance works might be considered unwieldy – operating way beyond the limits of narrative comprehension – Smith and Szporer suggest a number of contexts for these varied practices. These articles highlight the way that performance should be allowed to work on its audiences, activating multiple registers through which experience can be apprehended such as feeling, intuition, attention and sensation.


En cette ère d’interdisciplinarité extrême en arts, en quoi la danse se distingue-t-elle ? Dans cet article de fond bipartite, Janet Smith de Vancouver et Philip Szporer de Montréal tracent les contours de la danse contemporaine, et offrent des clés pour considérer un ensemble de pratiques qui informent bien des artistes les plus dynamiques aujourd’hui. Si certaines des pièces envisagées peuvent être jugées indomptables parce qu’elles opèrent au-delà d’une lecture narrative, Smith et Szporer proposent nombre de contextes pour ces pratiques variées. Les textes soulignent comment le spectacle opère sur le spectateur ; l’événement active plusieurs registres comme l’émotion, l’intuition, l’attention et la sensation pour que les participants accèdent à une expérience.

Ziyian Kwan / Photo by Chris Randle



The Migrant Bodies Project

Protocol, Practice, Place

Over the past few years, dance artists from Montréal, Vancouver, Italy, France and Croatia were invited to become migrant bodies – occupying an international, moving residency which took migration as its central subject. Working with artists in other fields and local communities, participants Ginelle Chagnon, Lee Su-Feh and Alessandro Sciarroni discuss the Migrant Bodies Project as it wraps up.

Migrant Bodies is a two-year research project created through a partnership between The Dance Centre (Vancouver), Circuit-Est centre chorégraphique (Montréal), Comune di Bassano del Grappa (Bassano, Italy), The Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance (Zagreb, Croatia), and La Briqueterie – Centre de développement chorégraphique du Val-de-Marne (Val-de-Marne, France). Migrant Bodies aims to use artistic and cultural tools to open up a civil reflection on migration in European and Canadian societies. Under the guidance of Ginelle Chagnon, the dance artists travelled to each host city to undertake residencies, take part in workshops and to develop their research in collaboration with the selected writers and filmmakers. In this piece, introduced and compiled by writer-participant Alexa Mardon, Lee Su-Feh, Ginelle Chagnon and Alexandro Sciarroni discuss the project.


Migrant Bodies est un projet de recherche de deux ans créer en partenariat par The Dance Centre (Vancouver), Circuit-Est centre chorégraphique (Montréal), Comune di Bassano del Grappa (Bassano, Italy), le Croatian Institute for Movement and Dance (Zagreb, Croatie) et La Briqueterie – Centre de développement chorégraphique du Val-de-Marne (Val-de-Marne, France). Le projet vise à mettre à contribution des outils artistiques et culturels pour ouvrir une réflexion civile sur la migration dans les sociétés européennes et canadiennes. Accompagnés par Ginelle Chagnon, les artistes se rendent ensemble dans chaque ville hôte pour des résidences, des ateliers, et du temps de recherche en collaboration avec des vidéastes et des rédacteurs invités. Dans l’article ci-dessus, présenté et compilé par la rédactrice participante Alexa Mardon, Lee Su-Feh, Ginelle Chagnon et Alexandro Sciarroni discutent du projet.

Migrant Bodies project in Comune di Bassano del Grappa studio, Italy


Kevin Ormsby’s Cachet

By Deirdre Kelly

Since the 1990s Kevin Ormsby has been making waves on the dance scene in Canada and abroad. Fostering a mixed style that blends various diasporic, national and western dance forms, Ormsby founded his company Kashe Dance five years ago. He has been rewarded for his efforts with numerous awards and recognized as a savvy businessman and choreographer by his peers.

Spreading his wings over the dance scene, Kevin Ormsby has moved from a background in classical and modern dance training in his native Jamaica to embracing new hybrid forms of movement, including, ironically, Afro-Caribbean dance, which he discovered only after moving to Canada in 1992. While a high school student, Ormsby worked at a professional dancer with Ballet Creole in Toronto. Eventually migrating to the United States, Orsmby danced with Garth Fagan Dance for five years where he toured to Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In 2009 Ormsby formed KasheDance, a company founded on “contemporary dance hinging on the traditions of modern dance, ballet and dances of the Diaspora.” Emerging as a cultural leader and an activist for dance, Orsmby has established himself at all levels of the community – as choreographer, dancer, artistic director, thoughtfully engaging with ideas about presentation and process along the way.


Kevin Ormsby déploie ses ailes dans le milieu de la danse. Il commence sa formation en danse classique et moderne dans sa Jamaïque native, et c’est seulement après qu’il déménage au Canada en 1992 qu’il découvre de nouvelles formes hybrides de mouvement y compris, ironiquement, la danse afro-cubaine. Alors qu’il est étudiant à l’école secondaire, Ormsby travaille comme danseur professionnel avec Ballet Créole à Toronto. Il migre éventuellement aux États-Unis pour rejoindre la compagnie Garth Fagan Dance pendant cinq ans, tournant en Allemagne, en France et au Royaume-Uni. En 2009, Ormsby fonde KasheDance sur une base de « danse contemporaine qui puise les traditions de la danse moderne, du ballet et des danses de la diaspora ». L’artiste émerge comme leader et défendeur pour la danse, établi à tous les niveaux de la communauté en tant que chorégraphe, danseur et directeur artistique. Son cheminement est empreint d’une réflexion soigneuse sur la présentation et le processus.

Kevin Ormsby / Photo courtesy of Ormsby 


Capturing the Moment

with Michael Slobodian

Dance photographer Michael Slobodian’s career has spanned more than three decades in which time he has worked with many renowned companies across Canada. While we’ve printed a great many of his images in our pages over the years, they’ve typically appeared in stories about the companies and dancers. We thought it was time to focus on his repertoire in its own right.

If you don’t know Michael Slobodian by name, you know his iconic photographs of renowned companies like Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Ballet BC, Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault and RUBBERBANDance.  Slobodian began photographing dance when, in the late 1970s, Les Grands’s official photographer, Ian Westbury, took him under his wing, developing Slobodian’s already natural awareness of timing and musicality. After stints working in industrial, commercial and fashion photography, he reconnected with some of his old friends from Les Grands (David Lahay, Vincent Warren) and met dancer and choreographer Gioconda Barbuto, who would become his muse and partner. By the mid-1980s, Jean-Pierre Perreault was encouraging Slobodian to continue his photographic work, inviting him to shoot the company, and in the early 1990s, choreographer Nacho Duato began bringing Slobodian to Spain to photograph the Compañía Nacional de Danza, a relationship that continued each year until 2005. In 2010, the artistic director of Ballet BC, Emily Molnar, invited Slobodian to help develop the look of the company, creating new imagery better suited to its contemporary ethos. Slobodian is humble and reverential toward dance, citing the instrumental role that Barbuto has played in critiquing his work and helping him become more attentive to dance and dancers’ sensibilities. Slobodian weathered the switch from film to digital, but admits that “the old way of thinking is still there,” which requires waiting for the right moment to get the one image that encapsulates a work. “It’s not always the grand jeté,” he admits, “sometimes it is quiet.” While Slobodian is seeking publishers for a book-length collection of his photographs, we’re happy to focus on his tremendous oeuvre; a distinguished contribution to dance and to the practice of photography in Canada.


Si vous ne connaissez pas Michael Slobodian de nom, vous avez déjà vu ses photographies emblématiques de compagnies reconnues comme Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Ballet BC, la Fondation Jean-Pierre Perreault et RUBBERBANDance. Il commence à prendre la danse en photo à la fin des années 1970 quand le photographe attitré des Grands Ballets, Ian Westbury, le prend sous son aile et l’aide à développer sa sensibilité naturelle pour capter un moment en mouvement et sa musicalité. Après des périodes de travail en photographie industrielle, commerciale et de mode, il reprend contact avec des amis des Grands Ballets (David Lahay et Vincent Warren) et rencontre la danseuse et chorégraphe Gioconda Barbuto, qui devient sa muse et sa conjointe. Au milieu des années 1980, Jean-Pierre Perrault encourage Slobodian à continuer son travail photographique et l’invite à prendre la compagnie en photo. Au début des années 1990, le chorégraphe Nacho Duato commence à l’inviter en Espagne pour photographier la Compañía Nacional de Danza. Il y est retourné chaque année jusqu’en 2005. En 2010, la directrice artistique de Ballet BC, Emily Molnar, invite le photographe à aider à développer le look de la compagnie, à créer une image liée à son éthos contemporain. Il est humble et révérenciel lorsqu’il parle de danse. Barbuto, souligne-t-il, a joué un rôle primordial comme critique de son travail et aussi en l’aidant à être à l’écoute des danseurs et de leur sensibilité. Slobodian a survécu à la transition numérique, mais admet que « la vieille école de pensée est toujours là », qui exige d’attendre au bon moment pour prendre une image qui capte un travail. Pendant qu’il est à la recherche d’un éditeur pour publier une collection de ses photographies en livre, on est heureux de se pencher sur son œuvre considérable : une contribution distinguée à la danse et à la pratique photographique au Canada. 

Dario Dinuzzi



Responding to Challenging Works
By Kate Morris

In February, I sent the following email to contributors Janet Smith and Philip Szporer: “Pitched around ideas of process, formal proposition and chance, I would like you to consider works that I’m calling “hard art.” Such works are hard because they are unapologetically challenging. They are often mute as to their intentions and can be disorienting. They are also hard because they might leave you feeling a bit cold; their mode of address sometimes cerebral and detached. They are hard because they make demands on their audience, often purposefully lacking a safe or comfortable means of access. What do you do when encountering “hard art”? How do you make sense of it?” Our two-part feature article “Hard Art” began with these propositions, which invited two established arts critics to explore such questions from their particular viewing histories. The articles form a powerful picture of contemporary practice in two major Canadian cities, drawing the contours of the major tendencies and axes of inquiry being explored by a number of dance artists today. They also draw out possible histories and creative contexts for these practices as well as providing, in their own ways, examples of how one might think about, intuit, sense and approach hard art and challenging performance. 

In this issue, we also spotlight Montréal-based dance photographer Michael Slobodian whose oeuvre deserves to be recognized in its own right for its contributions to dance and to figural photography. Deirdre Kelly contributes an important profile of Toronto-based choreographer and activist Kevin Ormsby, while Canadian dance artists Lee Su-Feh and Ginelle Chagnon, with Italian dancer Alessandro Sciarroni, discuss the international dimension of the Migrant Bodies Project.

dc.editor@thedancecurrent.com | Follow me on Twitter at @TDC_editor

Emerging Views

Alyssa Martin
By Christina Strynatka

Born in Orléans, Ont., Alyssa Martin moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson University to study dance. It was there that an injury caused her to discover her passion for choreography, leading to the founding of Rock Bottom Movement in 2012 before she graduated. The company, which began by busking in parks, produces works that examine the relationship between human personality and its foibles, with the belief there’s always room for laughter. 

Alyssa Martin / Photo by Hannah Belvedere

Making Waves

By Sarah Douglas

Harmonizing two sources of inspiration, texture and intention, the artistic directors of Montréal-based Parts+Labour_Danse, Emily Gualtieri and David Albert-Toth, offer Canadian audiences daring, deliberate and full-bodied contemporary dance performance. 

Emily Gualtieri and David Albert-Toth / Photo by Amy Lange


Louise Bédard
By Molly Johnson

Montréal’s Louise Bédard Danse celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2015. Founder Louise Bédard made her mark dancing for Jean-Pierre Perreault and other Montréal legends, before turning her attention to creation. Under her company banner, Bédard has choreographed upwards of twenty works, toured internationally and received major accolades for her distinct vision and singular body of work.

Louise Bédard / Photo by Angelo Barsetti

Studio Now

Flamenco Dance School : Maria Osende
By Munju Monique Ravindra

“Flamenco is a way of life. Flamenco is for everyone.” These words scroll across Maria Osende’s website, and it’s clear from a visit to her studio in Halifax that she, and her students, believe it. The students keep coming back because they like Osende … and because they’ve fallen for flamenco. 

Dancers of the School in Lockport, Nova Scotia / Photo by Cheryl Graul

What’s In Your Dancebag?

Flamenco Dance School Student Linda Palmer

Healthy Dancer: Training & Conditioning

Yoga and Dance
By Dr. Blessyl Buan

Dancers might assume that yoga is easy. As practices, they share requirements for flexibility, balance and strength. After all, many former dancers have forged a path out of the dance studio and into careers in the yoga studio. By practising with the right instructors, dancers will understand that the discipline for proper alignment in dance also applies to yoga. Alignment in yoga is different, but is necessary to perform safely and freely. Yoga also provides a reconnection of breath and body that can enhance dance performance.

Elizabeth Vecchio / Photo courtesy of Blessyl Buan

Healthy Dancer: Nutrition

Spring Vegetables And Why You Need Them
By Sarah Maughan

The Goods

Dance Music: Songs for Slow Motion by Joshua Van Tassel

Confluences - On the Screen

Danser! presented by the Québec arts TV channel, Ici ARTV
By Marie France Forcier

Check it Out

Platforms for discovering new music

Feats and Fêtes

Les 7 doigts de la main named 2014 Artists for Peace
By Marie France Forcier

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