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On the Brink

Can collective action save Dancemakers, one of Canada's most influential contemporary dance companies?
By Dylan Schoenmakers

Dancemakers is one of the oldest dance organizations in Toronto, and the losses associated with its closure are so great that they inspired collective action from many unwilling to accept them as inevitable.

For 47 years, Dancemakers has been a foundational institution for contemporary dance in Toronto. In its current form, the company hosts multi-year artist residences, alongside presentations and other programming that supports artistic development. For decades previous, it functioned as one of the city’s most innovative performance-based dance companies.

Dancemakers and its history are, of course, not only of concern to its artistic leaders and collaborators but also to its wider dance community. This is true now more than ever as the organization is in the midst of another critical self-assessment, to consider its past and possible future. Last November, the organization’s board of directors announced the company’s closure in July 2021, after a final season of programming.

The company is one of the oldest dance organizations in Toronto, and the losses associated with its closure are multiple. It marks the loss of an institutional voice that shaped dance in the city, the loss of a gathering space and a dedicated hub for creation and research, the loss of hard-won organizational structures and financial resources that provide security and growth opportunities for Canada’s dance artists, the loss of rehearsal and performance spaces. Importantly, the closure has raised questions about the protection and stewardship of valued institutions that sustain dance artists in the country. These losses are so great that they inspired collective action from many unwilling to accept them as inevitable.

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Depuis 47 ans, Dancemakers est une institution fondatrice pour la danse contemporaine à Toronto. Dans sa forme actuelle, la compagnie tient des résidences d’artistes de plusieurs années, avec des présentations et une programmation connexe en soutien du développement artistique. Pendant les décennies précédentes, la compagnie était une des compagnies de danse à Toronto qui présentaient les spectacles les plus novateurs. Dancemakers et son histoire sont évidemment importantes pour non seulement la direction artistique et les collaborateurs, mais aussi le milieu de la danse au sens large. C’est vrai maintenant plus que jamais, alors que l’organisation se retrouve dans un processus d’autoévaluation critique, se retourne vers le passé et envisage les possibilités pour l’avenir. En novembre dernier, le conseil d’administration a annoncé la fermeture de la compagnie en juillet 2021, après une dernière saison de programmation. Une des plus vieilles institutions à Toronto, les pertes associées à la fermeture seraient multiples : la perte d’une voix institutionnelle qui a formé la danse à Toronto ; la perte d’un lieu de rassemblement et d’un pôle dédié à la recherche et à la création ; la perte de structures organisationnelles et de ressources financières durement gagnées qui offrent de la sécurité et des occasions de croissance pour les artistes de danse au Canada ; la perte d’espaces de répétition et de présentation. La fermeture soulève des questions sur la protection et l’intendance d’institutions importantes qui soutiennent les artistes de danse au pays. Ces pertes sont d’un tel ordre qu’elles ont inspiré une action collection de plusieurs personnes qui refusent de les accepter comme inévitables.

Company photo, 1982 / Photo by Andrew Oxenham 

 

The Definition of Sexy

Ruthe Ordare empowers Indigenous women to reclaim their sexuality through burlesque
By Robyn Grant-Moran

Ruthe Ordare demonstrates how burlesque can help cultivate strong, healthy communities and rematriate the sexuality of Indigenous women.

Burlesque is a joyous celebration of human sensuality and sexuality, but Ruthe Ordare of the Mohawk Nation is taking it further. She’s been demonstrating how burlesque can help cultivate strong, healthy communities and rematriate the sexuality of Indigenous women.

Ordare has been a mainstay on the burlesque scene for a decade. She is the artistic director of the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, which is scheduled for April and will be all-digital. She is also a founding member of Virago Nation – a collective of Indigenous artists founded in 2016 with a mission to “reclaim Indigenous sexuality from the toxic effects of colonization,” reads the collective’s website. “They will show that Indigenous women will not be confined to the colonial virgin-whore dichotomy.” 

L’effeuillage est une joyeuse célébration de la sensualité et la sexualité, et Ruthe Ordare de la nation mohawk pousse la chose plus loin. Elle démontre comment l’effeuillage peut cultiver des communautés saines et fortes, et rétablir la matrilinéarité de la sexualité des femmes autochtones. Ordare est un pilier de la scène burlesque depuis une décennie. Elle est directrice artistique du Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, qui se tient entièrement en ligne en avril. Elle est aussi membre fondatrice de Virago Nation, un collectif d’artistes autochtones fondé en 2016. Selon leur site web, le groupe a pour mission de « récupérer la sexualité autochtone des effets toxiques de la colonisation. Nous montrerons que les femmes autochtones ne seront pas confinées à la dichotomie coloniale vierge/pute. »

Ordare / Photo by Bob Ayers, courtesy of the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival

 

Even Though No One Is Watching

Adrien Barrieau captures the performer/audience relationship when one half is removed
By Adrien Barrieau

Adrien J. Barrieau is a digital and film photographer living in Yellowknife. He is the founder of Through The Glass Photography and began collaborating with the Yellowknife dance community following his son’s interest in dance. 

The following photo shoot was organized in collaboration with Bella Dance Academy and took place at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. Observing the significant impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on performances, Barrieau became curious about the performer/audience relationship when one half is removed: “When performers dance even though no one is watching,” he says. 

“That dialogue [between performer and audience] is the crux of live performance, the spark that animates and elevates the experience to an almost spiritual level,” Barrieau says. The photo shoot was an attempt to understand and capture what happens in the absence of that dialogue – what Barrieau calls “live performance stripped bare.”  

The shoot took place in one marathon day in early December 2020. Working with Phoenix Smith, studio director at Bella Dance, Barrieau sent out a call for dancers and found an enthusiastic response. 

“Looking at the photos as a whole, I can see that there is not only a relationship between performer and audience but also between performer and the stage itself,” says Barrieau. “This project showcased more than just a dance troupe; it was a community that showed up that day.”

Adrien J. Barrieau est un photographe qui travaille et sur pellicule et en numérique. Il vit à Yellowknife où il fonde la compagnie Through the Glass. Il commence à collaborer avec la communauté de danse à Yellowknife lorsqu’on son fils s’intéresse à la danse. Cette séance de photo a été organisée en collaboration avec la Bella Dance Academy et s’est tenu au Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. En observant les impacts considérables de la COVID-19 sur les spectacles, Barrieau s’est intéressé à la relation entre l’interprète et le public en l’absence d’une des deux parties. « Quand les interprètes dansent même s’il n’y a personne pour les voir danser », explique-t-il. « Le dialogue entre interprète et public est au cœur du spectacle vivant, c’est l’étincelle qui anime et élève l’expérience à un niveau presque spirituel. » Les photos étaient une tentative de comprendre et de capter la danse en l’absence de ce dialogue, ce que Barrieau nomme « le spectacle mis à nu ». Toutes les photos ont été prises lors d’une séance marathon d’un jour en décembre 2020. En collaboration avec Phoenix Smith, directrice de l’académie de danse, il a lancé un appel aux interprètes en danse. La réponse était enthousiaste. « En regardant l’ensemble des photos, je note qu’il y a non seulement une relation entre l’interprète et le public, mais aussi l’interprète et la scène », constate le photographe. « Ce projet a mis en vedette plus qu’une troupe de danse ; c’est toute une communauté qui s’est présentée ce jour-là. »

Dancer: Marlies Houwing; Musician: Steven Grifith-Cochrane

 

Writing With A Sharp Pencil

On top of fraught politics, dance critics have to figure out how to fit into the fold during – and after – the pandemic
By Grace Wells-Smith

On top of the fraught politics associated with dance criticism, critics are facing another reckoning: how do you review a virtual show during the pandemic? Is it fair to review work converted to Zoom? Or should these shows be left out of the historical record?

The following conversation is between four critics about how dance criticism fits into the current fold. Jillian Groening is an artist and writer currently based in Winnipeg and former staff at The Dance Current; Kaija Pepper is the editor of Dance International in B.C. and the author of Falling into Flight: A Memoir of Life and Dance; Philip Szporer is a writer, filmmaker and lecturer in Montreal; Joshua Chong is a freelance performing arts critic in Toronto and writes for his blog, Ghost Light Reviews. 

Rather than being the ascending authority outside of the dance industry, these critics want their work to generate discussion. And like a review, this conversation is just the opinions of four people. 

En plus des questions politiques épineuses que soulève la critique en danse, une autre complexité s’ajoute à la tâche des critiques aujourd’hui : comment faire la critique d’un spectacle virtuel pendant une pandémie ? Est-ce juste de critiquer un spectacle converti à Zoom ? Ces spectacles devraient-ils être omis de l’histoire ? Ce texte propose une discussion entre quatre critiques sur la place de la critique en danse dans le contexte actuel. Jillian Groening est une artiste et écrivaine basée à Winnipeg et ancienne employée du Dance Current ; Kaija Pepper est éditrice du Dance International en C.-B. et autrice de Falling into Flight: A Memoir of Life and Dance; Philip Szporer est auteur, cinéaste et professeur à Montréal ; Joshua Chong est critique pigiste en arts vivants à Toronto, et écrit pour son blogue Ghost Light Reviews. Plutôt que de se positionner comme autorité ascendante sur le milieu de la danse, ces critiques souhaitent que leurs écrits génèrent des discussions. Et comme une critique, cette conversation n’est que l’opinion de quatre personnes. 

Illustration by Miranda Maslany

Departments

Editorial

By Grace Wells-Smith

I just counted, and it’s been 344 days since I’ve been to a theatre. The show was Mirvish’s Come From Away on March 12th, 2020. I was excited because it was my first time seeing the show, and as a Newfoundlander, I felt a bit bad about it. I went with my guy, Jon. 

By then, the coronavirus fog was rolling in, but we packed into the theatre anyway. I was immediately overwhelmed; I’ve never seen a show like Come From Away. It was so tight, with some of the most innovative direction I’ve seen. I could also pick out the other islander’s around me. It was easy – they were the loudest and the happiest. 

When the cast broke out the song Heave Away during a rowdy bar scene, complete with a screech-in ceremony (one of the happiest parts of the show), I ugly cried. Like ugly. The show brought me home and put me in the company of Newfoundlanders. That’s pretty significant. I left the theatre with the weight of that experience filling me with – God, this is cheesy – so much life. That’s the point of live theatre, I think. The next morning, I woke up sick as a dog and haven’t been to a theatre, or to The Dance Current’s office, since.

This is the first time I’ve really thought about the importance of that night. Now, I want to hear your stories. When was the last time you were inside a theatre? Email me at grace@thedancecurrent.com and tell me everything, please. 

The spring issue is also significant for me; it marks a year of issues for me as managing editor. I’ve been asked if it’s been difficult to find stories during a pandemic about an art form that so depends on gathering. Short answer: it hasn’t. We report on the humans within the art form and they haven’t gone anywhere. That’s what will keep pushing us – bringing you the most timely version of The Dance Current that we can. So what are you about to plunge into? 

“On the Brink” is about the imminent Dancemakers closure. In November 2020, the board of directors announced that one of the most influential contemporary dance companies in Canada will be shutting down in July. But a group of artists has decided they can try to stop that from happening. Dylan Schoenmakers outlines not just this fight but the legacy that the fight is trying to save. 

Our cover story, “The Definition of Sexy” by Robyn Grant-Moran, is about Ruthe Ordare, a Mohawk burlesque dancer. She is working to rematriate the sexuality of Indigenous women, what she describes as “cloaked in danger.” Ordare is a co-founder of the troupe Virago Nation and the artistic director of the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival, which is scheduled for April. 

Also scheduled for April is a series that The Dance Current is presenting in partnership with Turn Out Radio. “Dance Criticism: Perceptions, challenges and the future” is a three-part project spurred by the ongoing conversations around theatre criticism. This issue includes my conversation with four dance critics — Kaija Pepper, Philip Szporer, Jillian Groening and Joshua Chong — who offer their thoughts on how their work fits into the art form. On April 14th, you’ll get to hear from the dance artists on Turn Out Radio (CIUT 89.5 FM). Then on April 15th, we will be hosting an online panel with critics and artists.Be sure to sign up; it’s going to be a rich conversation.

Wells-Smith / Photo by Jonathan Elliott

Profile

Can Everything Just End?
By Stephen Low

Martin Faucher’s final year as artistic director of Festival TransAmériques.

Foucher reflects on the themes of the 2020 shows that were not to be. Cancelling a festival mere months before opening is difficult enough for any artistic director, but this turn of events was particularly upsetting for Faucher. The 2020 festival was his second-last as artistic director. Only in retrospect, after everything did end in a way mid-March last year, can Faucher assess how presciently relevant that 2020 festival really was.

Faucher / Photo by Maude Chauvin

Check it Out

CoLABenDirect
By Anne Dion

This new video app allows for more control while digitally collaborating.

In April, Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada will soft-launch CoLABenDirect, an online platform that allows artists to co-create through video in real time, but with more advanced interactions. The app arose from a desire to free independent artists and small to mid-sized companies from their dependence on travel funding.

Dance artists Stephanie Audet and Eldiyar Daniyarov with Igor Dobrovolskiy, artistic director of Atlantic Ballet Theatre / Photo courtesy of the ballet

Short Stories

The Career Chronicles
By Emily Pettet

Dance artists find unique ways to boost their income.

The financial realities of working in dance mean that artists often need to find other work to boost their income. Luckily, the skills that dance artists possess are transferable to other fields, sometimes in surprising ways.

Pereira / Photo by Karolina Kuras

Body

Hard Landings
By Surabhi Veitch

Decrease the risk of injury while dancing on concrete.

As spring weather arrives, and access to studios is limited, you may be eager to head outside for training. Whether you’re practising jumps or doing a photo shoot, dancing on concrete requires many levels of consideration in order to minimize injury.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Tips

Leap [Digitally] Forward
By Laura Murray, Brian Paterson

Social media marketing for dance artists.

While we wait for the pandemic to pass, there are countless at-home opportunities for dance artists to step up their marketing game.

Health

Just What the Therapist Ordered
By Gina Fernandez

By accident, I discovered how Bollywood and bhangra dance can help manage Parkinson’s disease.

Research shows that moderate to high-intensity exercise is the best treatment for Parkinson’s. But most clinical research on dance focuses on western styles like ballroom or contemporary. Fernandez, however, believe these forms of treatment can be quite serious and don’t evoke the same kind of fun or energy as Bollywood and bhangra.

Fernandez / Photo courtesy of Fernandez

First Person

Living in the Movement
By Sandra Lamouche

My relationship with hoop dance.

Movement and dance not only define my physical being on Earth but also act as a connection to my ancestors and future ancestors. I adopted the phrase “Live in the movement” as a mantra for myself as a Nehiyaw Iskwew dancer, encompassing the complexity of life as movement and the view of time from a circular, Indigenous perspective, connecting life past, present and future.

Lamouche / Photo by Define Yourself Photography

Poetry

the value of our form
By Elizabeth Emond-Stevenson

it is about shapes and also bigger than shapes.

it disappears and it has lasted for time eternal.

it starves us but it feeds us.

it brings us together 

it is an empty space that we fill with ideas

it is bodies and experiential knowledge

it shifts and we are shape-shifters

if it imposes 

if it shrinks you

belittles you

tells you 

you do not belong

that isn’t it

that is something else 

you are more than a shape

you are here and enduring

you are nourished

you are whole

you take up space

you are knowing 

you move

Painting by Jessie Huggett

Poetry

my body remembers
By Alex Mah

my body remembers 

gravity 

pain 

flux 

elation 

fragility 

growth 

retraction 

being held 

carried 

strong 

helpless 

soft 

breathing 

beating 

warming 

sweating 

it is brittle 

buoyant 

porous 

alive 

dying 

grieving 

spacious 

spatial 

mortal 

i can only hope

Photo by Kira auf der Heide / Courtesy of Unsplash

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