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An Artist Awakened

By Tessa Perkins Deneault

Yvonne Chartrand first saw a dance performance when she was twenty-four years old. Now, she is the artistic director of V’ni Dansi, a Canadian dance company that teaches and performs Métis and contemporary dance.

Chartrand sees it as no coincidence that her artistic awakening happened in 1985, 100 years after Louis Riel’s prophetic declaration: “My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” Growing up in small-town Manitoba, she wasn’t exposed to the arts. It wasn’t until she was twenty-four years old that she saw her first dance performance, by Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. Soon after that, she went to a jazz and ballet class with a friend and was instantly hooked. Now, she is the artistic director of V’ni Dansi in Vancouver, the only Canadian company that teaches and performs Métis and contemporary dance. In March, she began working on her next solo, based on the Métis legend of the rougarou, a werewolf-like creature.

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Ce n’est pas un hasard pour Yvonne Chartrand que l’année de son éveil artistique, 1985, tombe 100 ans après la déclaration prophétique de Louis Riel : « Pendant 100 ans, mon peuple va dormir ; dans 100 ans, il se fera réveiller, par les artistes. » Ayant grandi dans un village au Manitoba, Chartrand n’a pas été exposée aux arts. Elle a vingt-quatre ans lorsqu’elle voit son premier spectacle de danse, présenté par les Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. Peu après, elle accompagne une amie à un cours de jazz et de ballet et elle a la piqure. Aujourd’hui, elle est directrice artistique de V’ni Dansi à Vancouver, la seule compagnie canadienne qui enseigne et présente la danse métis et contemporaine. En mars, elle commence à travailler sur son prochain solo, inspirée de la légende du rougarou, une créature entre loup et femme.

Chartrand / Photo by Gary Morin

 

Immigrant Lessons

Founded in 2016 by Kevin Fraser and initially co-directed by Alyssa Amarshi, Immigrant Lessons is composed of predominantly first- and second-generation immigrants.

Immigrant Lessons is a Vancouver-based collective working in international dance, fashion and art. The dancers combine street dance, experimental practice and contemporary ideology while exploring societal norms and intersections to give visibility to marginalized communities. “Our goal is to not only tell the stories that are very rarely heard, but to spark a deeper conversation on what it means to co-exist,” the collective said in an email.

The collective has been presented by Made In BC, The Dance Centre’s Discover Dance! Series and most recently by Fringe Manila in the Philippines. 

Currently, the group is creating their new work ORIGINS by combining dance theatre and visual media, exploring how the past reverberates into the present.

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Immigrant Lessons est un collectif vancouvérois oeuvrant en danse, mode et art internationaux. Fondé en 2016 par Kevin Fraser, les membres du collectif sont principalement des immigrants de première ou de seconde génération. Les danseurs combinent la danse de rue, les pratiques expérimentales et une idéologie contemporaine tout en explorant les normes et les intersections sociétales pour mettre en lumière les communautés marginalisées. Ils ont présenté leur travail à Made In BC, à Discover Dance! du Dance Centre et dernièrement au Fringe Manila aux Philippines. Actuellement, le groupe est en création pour ORIGINS. En alliant la danse théâtrale et les médias visuels, ils explorent la résonance du passé dans le présent.

Dance artists of Immigrant Lessons / Photo by Dave Rogers

 

Judgment-Free

By Deanna Paolantonio

How are educators teaching dance for all bodies? Deanna Paolantonio speaks with three dance educators about how they create judgment-free spaces and what teachers should consider when it comes to the body image of their students.

Six years ago, Paolantonio’s body was screaming for help. It wasn’t until the unquenchable thirst, constant hunger, dizziness, frequent urination and extreme fatigue started affecting her dancing that she went to the doctor. That’s when she received the message her body had been trying to relay: she had Type 1 diabetes. She then had to start wearing medical equipment that didn’t fit into her idealized image of a dancer’s body that she subscribed to at the time of her diagnosis. It wasn’t until she took a recreational heels dance class that she realized she had been too focused on what her body looked like, rather than what it could do. That class inspired her to start her own program called D-Dance, a workshop that fuses dance education with Type 1 diabetes. 

Paolantonio speaks with educators Laura Elliott of Fat Babes Dance, Harmanie Taylor of All Bodies Dance Project and Lisa Sandlos, a York University professor, about the importance of teaching dance for all types of bodies. The teachers discuss what inspired them to pursue their work, how they create a judgment-free space for their students and what teachers across Canada should consider when it comes to the body image of their students.

Il y a six ans, le corps de Deanna Paolantonio lui envoyait des signaux d’alarme. Ce n’est pas avant que sa soif intarissable, sa faim constante, ses étourdissements, ses urines fréquentes et son extrême fatigue nuisent à sa danse qu’elle a consulté un médecin. Elle a alors appris que ses symptômes étaient des manifestations du diabète de type 1. Elle devait maintenant porter des équipements médicaux qui ne se conformaient pas à l’image idéalisée du corps d’une danseuse qu’elle cultivait à l’époque du diagnostic. Mais quand elle a pris une classe de danse récréative, elle s’est rendu compte qu’elle s’était attardée à l’apparence du corps dansant plutôt qu’à sa capacité. Cela l’a inspirée à lancer son propre programme appelé D-Danse, un atelier qui conjugue l’enseignement de la danse et le diabète de type 1. Paolantonio s’entretient avec Laura Elliott de Fat Babes Dance, Harmanie Taylor du All Bodies Dance Project et Lisa Sandlos, une professeure à l’Université York, sur l’importance d’enseigner la danse pour tous les types de corps. Les enseignantes partagent leurs inspirations pour leurs projets, et leurs stratégies pour créer des espaces accueillants et sécuritaires pour leurs élèves. Elles soulèvent des considérations pour tous les professeurs de danse quant à l’image du corps.

Rose in Vines Art Festival / Photo by Sheng Ho and Shanna Venor

 

Dancing on a Fine Line

By Esie Mensah

Does hype choreography cloud cultural appropriation? Esie Mensah writes about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.

“This is a fine line often danced around in our industry. It’s an elephant in the room that goes unnoticed because it makes people feel personally, socially, politically or artistically awkward. I will name it for you: cultural appropriation. Many people reside in a space where they feel persuaded by “inspiration” that often goes unquestioned, an inspiration that toes the line between appropriation and appreciation. So, I ask: how do we manoeuvre this inspiration to ensure we aren’t disrespecting people on our way to fame?”

Mensah / Photo by XVXY Photography

Departments

Editorial

By Grace Wells-Smith

I’m writing to you from my kitchen, surrounded by red walls, a big bay window, two hanging philodendrons and a whiny black cat. Usually on a Wednesday afternoon, I’d be in The Dance Current’s office in downtown Toronto, surrounded by my colleagues. But we’ve been working remotely for nearly two weeks (I’m writing this on March 25th) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the only living beings I’ve seen (outside of a computer screen) for the past two weeks are my partner and that same whiny cat. 

Physical distancing is so unusual for dance artists. The industry that usually depends on coming together has been shifting online. I’m sure you’ve noticed, and maybe participated in, the livestreamed shows and digital classes. But not all performances or events have been able to move online. 

We spoke with dance artists whose shows have been postponed about their thoughts on the dance community and COVID-19 to replace our event previews section. Their reflections are thoughtful and point to the resiliency and fluidity of dance. Although we aim to bring you coverage about the current pandemic, especially on thedancecurrent.com, we are also including stories that I hope can spark other conversations, if you find yourself needing a break. 

Our feature, written by Deanna Paolantonio, looks at how dance educators are teaching dance for all types of bodies. She speaks about her own experience with Type 1 diabetes and how that affected her body image as a dance student. She also speaks with three other teachers about how they deal with the issue of body image in class. 

Our feature profile, written by Tessa Perkins Deneault, follows Yvonne Chartrand of V’ni Dansi in Vancouver, a dance company in Canada that teaches and performs traditional Métis and contemporary dance. Our photo essay features Immigrant Lessons, a collective based in Vancouver composed of predominantly first- and second-generation immigrants. Finally, Esie Mensah thoughtfully writes about the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. 

I can only imagine where I will be when you finally read this; I may still be in my kitchen or (hopefully) back in office. In these uncertain times, I hope you can find some inspiration in the following pages.

Movers

The Science of Silks
By Ainsley Hawthorn

Tanya Burka

With a career that has spanned four continents, Burka has performed in shows by Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize, Cirque Alfonse and many others, but she didn’t always imagine herself under the big top. By the time she graduated MIT with a bachelor of science in nuclear engineering, she was determined to give circus a try. She didn’t leave her physics and engineering background entirely behind; instead, she says she uses her knowledge of concepts like centripetal force, momentum and vector lines to plan her acrobatic tricks.

Burka / Photo by Michael Doucett

Movers

A Catalyst for Connection
By Saad Rajper

Emily Solstice Tait

Tait describes herself as a connector. Whether it’s to the theatre community or to Indigenous contemporary dancers outside of her hometown, Winnipeg, she believes connecting means supporting the work of others.

Tait / Photo by Miguel Fortier

The List

Tania Lemos and Vishal Malpuria

What inspires Tania Lemos and Vishal Malpuria?

Lemos and Malpuria are the artistic directors of Sparq Productions, a Calgary-based Bollywood entertainment company that produces live events and choreographs music videos, among other things. The artists have a collective thirty years of experience in the Bollywood film industry and hold the 2015 South Asian Excellence Award for Cultural Icon. The two have worked with the Oscar and Golden Globe winner A. R. Rahman, composer for Slumdog Millionaire, have opened for Michael Jackson and were chosen to put forward a team for the 2005 Alberta Centennial celebrations in Edmonton. Since Malpuria received a heart transplant in 2015, the company’s events have supported the Canadian Transplant Association. 

Lemos and Malpuria / Photo courtesy of Sparq Productions

Check it Out

Dancing After TEN
By Anne Dion

A graphic memoir by Vivian Chong

Dancing After TEN describes Chong’s path to artistic expression after a diagnosis that changed her life forever. The graphic memoir will be released on May 19th. Chong’s corresponding dance-theatre piece, Dancing with the Universe, was scheduled to premiere at the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto on April 9th but was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dancing After TEN cover / Illustrated by Webber

Inspire

Longest Love
By Leah Borts-Kuperman

Lorna Geddes

Geddes, principal character artist with The National Ballet of Canada, is retiring after sixty years – the longest tenure at the company to date. Geddes says her favourite roles onstage are those in the motherly category, like Giselle’s mother or Juliet’s nurse. Her love story with The National Ballet of Canada is her longest one but not by much. She met her husband of five decades, Hazaros Surmeyan, who is also a principal character artist with the company, in 1966, seven years into her time with the company. The couple is retiring together.

Geddes in Serenade (1964) / Photo by Ken Bell

Practice

Wendy Darling Learns to Fly
By Carolyn Boll

Allen and Karen Kaeja elevate Stratford’s Wendy & Peter Pan

On May 27th, Wendy & Peter Pan was scheduled to take flight at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. The show has now been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but helping it get off the ground was Allen and Karen Kaeja, artistic directors of Toronto-based Kaeja d’Dance. Their Elevations technique is rooted in contact improvisation and the Kaejas say it “relies on the architectural structure of two bodies interacting” and is “complemented by gravity, momentum, propulsion, breath and flow.”

Allen and Karen Kaeja / Photo by Zhenya Cerneacov

Body

The Highs (and Lows) of Dancing in Heels
By Erika Mayall

Standing in high heels shifts your centre of gravity and affects your posture, even before you start dancing. This shift can cause an increase in the curve of the low back and forward tilt of the pelvis, leading to more tightness in the hip flexors and the hamstrings. Dancing in heels also poses an increased risk of foot and ankle injuries. It’s not all doom and gloom though. With some careful preparation, it’s possible to minimize injury risk.

Matthew “Snoopy” Cuff / Photo by David Choi

Backstage

Perfect Timing
By Anne Dion

Mastering the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo

Since its first performance in 1979, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo has become a complex multidisciplinary annual event on a gigantic scale. What started as a two-day festivity is now a weeklong affair featuring dancers, acrobats, military displays, bagpipes, drums and large choirs. This year’s show was originally scheduled for the end of June at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, overseeing the workings of such a mammoth space takes extraordinary precision and the coordinated efforts of two arena masters and four assistants. 

Coleen McJannet has been one of the arena masters since 2014; she knows the workings of the tattoo as well as anyone. It’s up to her team to maintain two ecosystems: on and offstage. This means working from a draft production directive she receives from the tattoo director then outlining a plan that she tweaks during rehearsals. McJannet times everything with a stopwatch, records each detail and makes a cue sheet for her team to follow during every performance.

During the performance, the arena masters’ main concern is safety. The most elaborate scenes are the opening, the end of Act 1 and the show’s finale, in which the movements of more than 300 people have to be overseen by a six-person team. The two arena masters position themselves at both ends of the backstage while the four set assistants each man a curtain. “All exits and entrances are in the dark,” McJannet explains, “so I have to ensure that everyone can get on and off safely.” 

Ensuring a production’s polished run involves effort that the audience doesn’t see, especially in a show with over 300 performers. As immense as the festival may seem to its audience, the stage is only one part of the fun. 

In their cancellation announcement, the production team says they look forward to “a triumphant return” in 2021.

Artists of Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo / Photo courtesy of Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo

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