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Shayenne / Photo by Levent Erutku
 

Sacred Rapport

By Collette Murray

As a Toronto-based dancer, teacher, choreographer and storyteller, Lua Shayenne is the founder and artistic director of Lua Shayenne Dance Company and Shayenne Productions.

Inspired by a neo-traditional style of African dance, her contemporary style is rooted in West African aesthetics from Guinea and Mali. Her aesthetic is non-traditional in that it does not involve a ceremony, as dance found within ethnic villages does. Shayenne’s master teachers shared with her what is permissible and accessible to share from those communities. She talks about how she came alive through her passion for dance. She was born in Ivory Coast and saw dance at Ivorian social gatherings and was given impromptu dance lessons from backup dancers who worked with her mother, a singer. Through her work, Shayenne unpacks ego and opens up to vulnerability. She also proudly unsubscribes to Western ideals of how to look and move as a dancer.

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Danseuse, enseignante, chorégraphe et conteuse basée à Toronto, Lua Shayenne est la directrice artistique fondatrice de Lua Shayenne Dance Company et Shayenne Productions. Elle s’inspire d’un style de danse néoafricain et son approche contemporaine puise l’esthétique de la Guinée et du Mali. Sa pratique n’est pas traditionnelle en ce qu’elle n’est pas liée à une cérémonie, comme l’est la danse qui se trouve dans les villages. Les maitres enseignants de Shayenne lui ont indiqué la part de leurs danses qui peut être partagée. L’artiste explique comment sa passion pour la danse lui a permis de s’épanouir. Née en Côte d’Ivoire, elle était témoin de la danse aux rencontres sociales ivoiriennes et a reçu des cours de danse impromptus des danseurs qui travaillaient avec sa mère, une chanteuse. Dans son travail, Shayenne déballe l’égo pour proposer la vulnérabilité. Elle est aussi fière de se détacher des idéaux occidentaux sur l’apparence et la façon de bouger des danseuses.

Shayenne / Photo by Levent Erutku

Dance artists of Borealis Soul / Photo by GBP Creative
 

Borealis Soul

Borealis Soul is Whitehorse-based hip hop company guided by honest expression. The artists use their experiences growing up in the Yukon as inspiration for the stories they tell.

“Through a northern lens, the questions we ask, the problems we raise and the answers we seek are universal,” the company said in an email. Their work explores themes of social injustice, mental health and climate change. 

Before the company was founded in 2013 by Andrea Simpson-Fowler, the current members trained together at Leaping Feats, a studio also founded by Simpson-Fowler. Borealis Soul was created so the dancers could keep training and working without having to move to a big city. The group also collaborates with local musicians and artists who specialize in timelapse, hand-drawn images, conceptual film and animation to create multidisciplinary productions. 

Borealis Soul performs in Les Soirées 100Lux 2020, presented by Tangente, April 23rd through 26th at Édifice Wilder – Espace Danse in Montréal.

Dance artists of Borealis Soul / Photo by GBP Creative

 

Inside the Art

By Carolyn Boll

Design plays a major role in bringing The Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables to the ballet world. Carolyn Boll spoke with the creators and design teams behind both shows about how visual storytellers bring stories to life onstage.

Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz, created in collaboration with Colorado Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, includes a design team tasked with sweeping the audience into the Technicolor dreamland. Elements include a projection of a tornado, an arch designed to portray different locations when lit differently, and a puppet that plays Toto. Ballet Jorgën’s 2019 production of Anne of Green Gables features a backdrop of a rolling, verdant PEI landscape. But Anne Shirley’s adventure is also told with the help of dancers in soft, nature-inspired colours transforming into different parts of the story, like the Cuthberts’ horse and buggy.

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Le design joue un rôle central dans les ballets Le Magicien d’Oz et Anne… la maison aux pignons verts. L’équipe de design du Magicien d’Oz de Septime Webre, créé en collaboration avec le Colorado Ballet, le Kansas City Ballet et le Royal Winnipeg Ballet, avait pour objectif d’emporter le public dans un monde onirique tout en couleur. On y retrouve une projection d’une tornade, une grande arche qui, sous différents éclairages, représente différents lieux et Toto le chien en marionnette. Dans Anne… la maison aux pignons verts réalisé par Ballet Jörgen 2019, la toile de fond présente les collines verdoyantes de l’Î.-P.-É. L’aventure d’Anne Shirley est contée en partie par les interprètes « esprits » qui animent l’histoire. Ils portent des couleurs tirées de la nature et se transforment pour devenir par exemple, le cheval et la calèche des Cuthberts ou un champ de marguerites.
 
Dance artists of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in The Wizard of Oz / Photo by Daniel Crump
 

Celebrating Merce

By Erin Joelle McCurdy, Jia Yi (Judy) Luo, Rachel Silver Maddock, Selma Odom

To celebrate Merce Cunningham’s 100th birthday in 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust organized the Cunningham Centennial celebrations.

Although the trust is based in New York, the world-wide dance community celebrated. Erin Joelle McCurdy, Jia Yi (Judy) Luo, Rachel Silver Maddock and Selma Odom explore Cunningham’s legacy in a Canadian context and how his influence and aesthetic has lived on in noticeable and not so visible ways. MccUrdy writes about a special performance held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in November, 2019. She offers insight into the works and into the mind that created them. Luo writes about what it was like to dance in that performance and how she learned to rethink what failure means. Also part of the celebrations was a three-day workshop exploring DanceForms, an animation software developed at Simon Fraser University. Maddock writes about the workshop and the software that was used extensively by Cunningham in the later stages of his career. Finally, Odom illustrates the historical interplay between dance in the United States and Canada, tracing lines of influence surrounding Cunningham. 

Read Selma Odom’s Q&A with Dylan Crossman here.

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En 2019, le Merce Cunningham Trust a organisé des célébrations de centenaire à l’occasion du 100e anniversaire de naissance de l’artiste. Bien que la fondation se trouve à New York, la communauté mondiale de danse était de la partie. Erin Joelle McCurdy, Jia Yi (Judy) Luo, Rachel Silver Maddock et Selma Odom explorent le legs de Cunningham au Canada dans les traces visibles et moins visibles de son influence et son esthétique. McCurdy décrit un spectacle à l’Art Gallery of Ontario en novembre 2019, offrant sa perspective sur le travail et l’esprit de création qui l’anime. Luo partage son expérience d’interprète dans la création et comment elle a appris à repenser l’échec. Parmi les célébrations, il y a aussi eu un atelier de trois jours à l’Université Simon Fraser sur le logiciel d’animation DanceForms, lui-même créé à cette université. Maddock présente l’atelier et le logiciel qui est devenu un outil de création important pour Cunningham vers la fin de sa carrière. Finalement, Odom illustre l’interconnexion historique de la danse aux États-Unis et au Canada en relevant les lignes d’influences autour de Cunningham.

Ryerson dance students in AGO Live: 100 Years of Merce Cunningham / Photo by Marlowe Porter

 

Talking about Whacking/Waacking with Ashley "Colours" Perez

By Emma Doran

Ashley Perez is co-artistic director of Mix Mix Dance Collective and creator of Class with Colours, created to share the essence of Whacking – the glam, sass and punk – with people of all backgrounds.

With Mix Mix Dance Collective, she has co-created two full-length works and represented Canada at the 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie in Abidjan. She was a co-recipient of a 2018 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance, Ensemble in the Dance Division for Floor’d presented by Holla Jazz in 2018 and has since made works that allowed her to travel and perform in places such as New York, London and Paris. 

The Dance Current’s executive editor spoke with Perez about her practice. The conversation was the precursor to a panel on Whacking/Waacking – a partnership between the Festival of Original Theatre and The Dance Current.

Perez / Photo by Sam So

Departments

Editorial

By Emma Doran

How does moving a specific way animate a larger cultural moment and endure in public imagination?

The most persistent names in modern dance – Duncan, Dunham, Graham, Limón, Ailey, Cunningham, Horton (among others) – are recognizable in large part because they have established systems of pedagogy. They have technique on their side. Although there are no Canadian names in this list, the ways these movement systems have motivated contemporary dance and dancers in Canada weaves a complex web of relationships and influence.

This year has been an especially big one for Merce Cunningham: 2019 was the 100th anniversary of his birth. To honour his centennial, the Cunningham Trust collaborated with institutions across the world. In our “Special Feature,” Selma Odom, Erin McCurdy and Rachel Silver Maddock report on and contextualize some of these celebrations in Toronto and Vancouver. In doing so, they explore Cunningham’s legacy in a Canadian context and how his influence and aesthetic has lived on in noticeable and not so visible ways.

In a similar vein, this issue features an interview with Whacker Ashley Perez, who speaks to how this form, which originated within Queer communities in Los Angeles, has been co-opted. Perez talks about how the Whacking/Waacking community in Toronto works to honour the originators of this once underground form – a form now popularized and monetized in increasingly complex ways. This interview corresponds to a panel that The Dance Current is presenting at this year’s Festival of Original Theatre.

I think you’ll enjoy the profile on Lua Shayenne, in which writer Collette Murray traces Shayenne’s life from Ivory Coast, to Italy, to Toronto, where she settled in the early 2000s. Shayenne, who had studied ballet and contemporary dance before her arrival in Canada, began to take an interest in dance from Guinea and Mali once she was in Toronto. She speaks to the impacts of migration on her life and artistry.

Other pieces in the issue includes photo documentation of the Whitehorse-based group Borealis Soul and a feature on the role of collaboration in art direction on two major ballet productions – The Wizard of Oz and Anne of Green Gables.

As a final note, I will be taking a leave from my role as editor. In the next issue, you will be in the capable hands of the incoming managing editor, Grace Wells-Smith. You will recognize Grace’s name from her past with the magazine, most recently as assistant editor and staff writer.

All my best in the interim.

Movers

At the roots
By Joelle Jobin

Maribeth Tabanera

Outside of choreography, Tabanera is a national freestyle battler. As one of the few women of colour in the Winnipeg “battling” scene, she uses her experience to advocate for more diversity in the dance community and the education system. 

Tabanera in the music video Don’t Slip presented by Synonym Art Consultation and Studio 393 / Photo by Calvin Lee Joseph

Movers

Exploring tension and friction
By Nicole Decsey

Shion Skye Carter

As part of the creation process for her new solo Residuals (住み・墨), Carter is on a journey to reconnect with her Japanese heritage. Carter, a Vancouver-based dance artist who recently graduated with a BFA in dance from Simon Fraser University, immigrated to Canada when she was six years old. She now explores tension in her body and the friction she feels towards the traditional and conformist society she observed when she was younger. 

Carter / Photo by Lula-Belle Jedynak

The List

Sabina Perry

What inspires Sabina Perry?

Perry is a Toronto-born dancer and choreographer based in Cologne, Germany. After graduating from The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and Codarts Rotterdam, she joined De Meekers Uitgesproken Dans and toured Holland, Germany and Belgium. In 2009 she co-founded Cologne MD Kollektiv, which empowers dancers to invite choreographers to create for them. Perry has been choreographing since 2009, creating work independently in Canada with her producing partner, Molly Johnson, and all over Europe. Since 2014 she has worked as a movement coach for actors in Schauspiel houses in Köln, Leipzig, Basel, Munich and Vienna. She has been mom to Lennard since 2019. 

Perry in her work Funny Girl / Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

Check It Out

Illustrating Consent
By Kendra Guidolin

A graphic story by Regroupement québécois de la danse

Part of what working towards establishing health and safety for dancers means grappling with what they need to be emotionally and physically taken care of and breaking the code of silence when abuse or harassment occurs. The Regroupement québécois de la danse, with illustrator Sarah Arnal, has put this all into perspective in the graphic story Dancing doesn’t mean putting up with everything, insisting that indeed dancing does not mean putting up with physical manipulation without consent, giving up one’s bodily autonomy nor being gaslit. 

Practice

Cultivating Creativity
By Nicole Decsey

Considering the rehearsal space

Years of training and conditioning are supposed to produce skilled dancers. Meanwhile, between a dancer’s pre-professional and professional years, it’s not just skill that’s honed. Dancers must also learn how to cultivate working relationships with their fellow collaborators in the rehearsal space. Skill and talent can only take you so far in the rehearsal room: it’s also imperative to build trust and demonstrate clarity in communication.

But what kind of rehearsal atmosphere do training programs prepare young artists for? How do artists learn to navigate the shifting values and often hierarchical structure of each independent rehearsal atmosphere? To better understand these fluid work environments, Nicole Decsey spoke with some established and experienced dance artists. 

David Norsworthy / Photo by Scott Norsworthy 

Backstage

Not about the steps
By Grace Wells-Smith

Four Old Legs, by James Kudelka, opens at The Citadel in Toronto on April 11th.

Evelyn Hart, former principal dancer of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, says the contemporary duet feels like coming home. The work tells the story of long-term love, and Hart and her dance partner, Zhenya Cerneacov of Throwdown Collective, perform a series of fifteen vignettes through which the arc of their relationship unfolds.

Hart describes the movement as simple and pure but with a complexity to it. “It’s movement that serves the purpose … the purpose of telling the story,” she explains. Even though the movement is different than the classical ballet Hart is known for, she says it doesn’t actually feel that separate. She mentioned she doesn’t have to worry about things like dancing on pointe and classical ballet technique. “We are still trying to point our feet and stretch our legs a little, [but] the focus is really about how you embody that emotional scenario,” she reflects. 

And for Hart, whether she’s in pointe shoes or not, storytelling has always been her goal. “It’s not really about the steps; it always has been about being able to connect and communicate with people.”

Hart and Cerneacov in Kudelka’s Four Old Legs / Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

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