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Knights / Photo by Marlowe Porter
 

Travis Knights Wants His Own Table

In the midst of a social reckoning, the renowned Canadian tap dancer challenges audiences to ask themselves, "Who are we to each other?"
By Catherine Abes

Travis Knights’ commitment to fostering critical dialogues through dance is clear in his upcoming performance. In October, the renowned Canadian tap dancer will appear in New Monuments, which, in essence, asks: “Whose shoulders does so-called Canada stand on?” Co-produced by Canadian Stage and Luminato Festival Toronto, New Monuments seeks to interrogate Canada’s colonial history and how the country reckons with it. Streaming on CBC Gem on Oct. 15, the performance will also imagine a future world “where racist monuments no longer exist, and where IBPOC art and activism continue to seamlessly intersect,” according to a press release.

Knights says the story they’re telling is essential, and while he believes in the people he’s working with, he’s anxious to get the performance right. He feels the intent behind the project is genuine, but he’s also seen cultural institutions put out performances that feel like a “knee-jerk reaction” to show solidarity, a frantic effort to avoid getting cancelled.

He explains his concerns by referring to the phrase “Teamwork makes the dream work.” “Are we all dreaming about the same thing?” he asks. It’s a poignant question when activism these days toes the line between performance and performative, when centring an artist’s identity can be a slippery slope to tokenism. This is something Knights has experienced in the past and it disenchants him.

“My body is political and I have to be protective of how it’s portrayed,” he says. “I don’t want to be the Black hire. I don’t want to be included in your performative inclusion.” He’s also not looking for a seat at someone else’s table: “I want my own table.”

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Travis Knights s’engage à soutenir le dialogue critique par la danse, comme en témoigne sa dernière création. En octobre, le renommé danseur de claquettes canadien danse dans New Monuments, spectacle qui pose la question : sur les épaules de qui se tient le soi-disant Canada ? Une coproduction de la Canadian Stage et du festival Luminato, New Monuments s’interroge sérieusement sur l’histoire coloniale du Canada. En diffusion en continu sur la CBC Gem le 15 octobre, le spectacle imagine un monde futur où, selon le communiqué de presse, « il n’y a plus de monuments racistes, et l’art et l’activisme des personnes autochtones, noires et de couleur continuent à s’entrecouper aisément. » Knights affirme la nécessité du récit qu’il présente. Même s’il fait confiance à son équipe et que l’intention du projet est sincère, il est soucieux de bien faire les choses. Il est conscient que des institutions culturelles présentent des productions qui lui paraissent comme « une réaction automatique » pour faire preuve de solidarité, une tentative effrénée pour éviter l’annulation. Il partage la phrase « teamwork makes the dream work » (le travail d’équipe fait le travail de rêve). « Rêvons-nous tous à la même chose ? », demande-t-il. C’est une question bouleversante alors que l’activisme aujourd’hui joue sur la ligne entre performance et performatif, et lorsque l’identité de l’artiste placée au centre d’une œuvre peut déraper vers la mesure symbolique. Knights en a fait l’expérience par le passé et en demeure désenchanté. Il explique : « Mon corps est politique. Je dois me protéger dans la représentation. Je ne veux pas être l’embauche noire. Je ne veux pas participer à votre inclusion performative ». Il ne cherche pas non plus une place à la table de l’autre. « Je veux ma propre table », déclare-t-il.

Knights / Photo by Marlowe Porter

 
Syreeta Hector's Black Ballerina, livestreamed through Citadel LIVE / Photo by Andrew McCormack
 

Digital Uprising

Has the hotbed of virtual dance content created during COVID-19 changed how artists and audiences value mediated performance?
By Jillian Groening

Jillian Groening speaks with artists who are new to digital dance and artists who have been involved since before the pandemic.

In the absence of an in-person sphere, the digital realm has become saturated with dance content. Pre-COVID, many artists were already creating, networking and booking jobs thanks to their presence on social media, but the rupture of daily routine spurred by the pandemic created a hotbed for digital engagement. While many dance artists, audience members and dance critics eagerly await a return to in-person audiences, digital creation continues to offer emergent possibilities, particularly around accessibility and audience reach. So has this digital influx changed how artists and audiences value certain presentations of dance over others? Or is this uprising an indicator of a digital turn that is here to stay?

 

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En l’absence d’une sphère présentielle, le domaine numérique se voit saturé de contenu de danse. Avant la COVID-19, nombre d’artistes étaient déjà en création, en réseautage et en embauche en ligne grâce à leur présence dans les médias sociaux. La pandémie a provoqué une rupture dans nos routines quotidiennes et créé un terreau fertile pour l’engagement en ligne. Alors que plusieurs artistes, publics et critiques de danse attendent avec impatience un retour des spectacles en personne et en salle, la création numérique continue d’offrir des possibilités émergentes, particulièrement quant à l’accessibilité et à la portée du travail. Est-ce que le déferlement numérique change comment les artistes et les publics privilégient certaines présentations de danse plus que d’autres ? Est-ce l’effervescence en ligne indique que le virage numérique est là pour de bon ?

Syreeta Hector’s Black Ballerina, livestreamed through Citadel LIVE / Photo by Andrew McCormack

Larissa Healey, grass dancer, in front of the Chinatown gate (2020) / Photo by David Cooper
 

Heart of the City Festival: A Retrospective

Community-driven by the organizations and artists of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, this year's festival explores "Stories We Need to Hear"

Seeking to uplift and destigmatize Vancouver’s vibrant Downtown Eastside – commonly only known for homelessness, addiction and crime – the 18th annual Heart of the City Festival showcases the area’s artists and their stories.

Produced by Vancouver Moving Theatre, the festival was founded in 2004 by Savannah Walling, artistic director, and Terry Hunter, executive director. The festival hosts a plethora of artistic offerings including theatre, dance, music, history walks, readings and films across various locations throughout the area. This year, the festival runs Oct. 27 through Nov. 7 and includes more than 60 community partners. 

The festival’s goal is to feature and develop the artists of the low-income neighbourhood, who are often denied the same opportunities to participate in the arts as those in other communities throughout the country. Historically, the Downtown Eastside has been disproportionately affected by multiple social issues including homelessness and drug overdoses.

“We’ve also wanted to provide a kind of window into the community that’s honest and truthful to the larger community outside of us to help reduce some of the stigma that can get attached to an inner-city community,” says Walling. 

This photo essay features photos from the festival’s 18 years.

 

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Pour une dix-huitième édition, le festival annuel Heart of the City met en vedette des artistes et des récits du Downtown Eastside à Vancouver. Le festival veut soulever et déstigmatiser ce vibrant quartier, connu surtout pour ses problèmes d’itinérance, de drogues et de criminalité. Une production du Vancouver Moving Theatre, le festival a été fondé en 2004 par la directrice artistique Savannah Walling et le directeur général Terry Hunter. Heart of the City accueille une variété d’offrandes artistiques — théâtre, danse, musique, promenades historiques, lectures et cinéma — sur nombre de sites dans le quartier. Cette année, le festival se déroule du 27 octobre au 7 novembre et compte plus de soixante partenaires communautaires. L’objectif est de présenter les artistes du quartier défavorisé souvent exclus des occasions artistiques régulières. Historiquement, le Downtown Eastside souffre de façon disproportionnée de plusieurs problèmes sociaux. « Nous voulions ouvrir une porte sur une communauté avec honnêteté et lucidité pour aider à réduire la stigmatisation qui colle aux habitants du centre-ville », explique Walling. Cet article présente des photos des dix-huit années du festival.

Larissa Healey, grass dancer, in front of the Chinatown gate (2020) / Photo by David Cooper

Ormsby in Yangomacita (2016) / Photo by Christopher Cushman
 

Presenters, What Do You Expect?

The art of BIPOC artists is often expected to reflect the culture and ethnicity of the creator
By Robyn Grant-Moran

Robyn Grant-Moran speaks with Kevin A. Ormsby, artistic director of KasheDance, and Marjorie Chan and Regine Cadet, artistic director and managing director, respectively, of Theatre Passe Muraille.

During (and after) the summer of 2020, many Canadian arts institutions started public discourses about their involvement in systemic racism. The Stratford Festival admitted that they had contributed to complicity in unjust systems as well as upholding white supremacy. In January, the Canadian Opera Company selected Amplified Opera as its disruptor-in-residence. In May, the National Arts Centre released The Next Act, their three-year strategic plan to upend racist practices and hired Germaine Chazou-Essindi as director of diversity and inclusion, a newly minted position. Social media was flooded with solidarity statements and actions that would be taken.  

These statements were part of the racial reckoning in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the consensus was clear: we do not see enough BIPOC artists onstage, in rehearsal halls or in executive offices. It seemed like more space was cracking open for these artists. 

But what expectations are placed on the artists filling these spaces? The art of BIPOC artists is often expected to reflect the culture and ethnicity of the creator who is making it. Instead of being everything that they are, artists are often thrust into the position of the spokesperson or the activist. I spoke with Kevin A. Ormsby about how these expectations (sometimes implemented by presenters and funders) impact artists and how some small ripples could make great waves.

 

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Pendant (et après) l’été 2020, nombre d’organismes canadiens en art ont fait état de leur participation au racisme systémique. Le festival de Stratford a admis publiquement qu’ils ont été complices de systèmes injustes et du maintien de la suprématie blanche. En janvier, la Canadian Opera Company a sélectionné Amplified Opera comme « perturbateur-en-résidence ». En mai, le Centre national des Arts a lancé Le prochain acte, leur plan stratégique de trois ans pour bouleverser les pratiques racistes, et a engagé Germaine Chazou-Essindi dans le tout nouveau poste de directrice de la diversité et inclusion. Des déclarations et des actions solidaires ont inondé les médias sociaux. Elles s’inscrivaient dans une conscientisation et une prise en main en réaction aux meurtres de George Floyd et Breonna Taylor, entre autres, et aux soulèvements populaires qui s’ensuivirent. Il y a eu consensus : nous ne voyons pas assez d’artistes racisé·es sur scène, en répétition, et dans les postes de direction. Il semblait qu’un espace s’ouvrait pour ces personnes. Mais quelles sont les attentes envers les artistes qui ont répondu à l’appel ? On s’attend souvent à ce que l’art des personnes racisées reflète la culture ou l’ethnicité de l’artiste qui crée. Plutôt que d’être considérées comme personne entière et complexe, l’artiste racisé·e est souvent collé·e dans la position de porte-parole ou d’activiste. J’ai parlé à Kevin A. Ormsby de ces attentes (parfois instaurées par des diffuseurs et des subventionnaires), de leur impact sur les artistes et comment certains remous pourraient provoquer de grandes vagues.

Ormsby in Yangomacita (2016) / Photo by Christopher Cushman

Departments

Wells-Smith / Photo by Jonathan Elliott

Editorial

By Grace Wells-Smith

“There is a maxi ford you do where instead of the pick up, you end up sliding forward on your toes. Does that ring any bells? I remember trying to do it with you but I can’t figure it out!” 

“DropL shuffle tiptopRthenL (that’s when the slide happens) and RthenL then step R.” 

That’s a (digital) conversation from 2016 between me and my former dance teacher Miss Pam. I was a dance teacher myself at the time and I had gone to her desperately trying to remember a fancy step we were working on when I was a teenager. When writing this, I scrolled through our chat and realized how much we keep in touch. I’ve sent her messages like the ones above, stories of personal success and videos of when my own students succeeded.

I’ve had several dance teachers throughout my dance education, but Miss Pam was one of two who was there the longest. The other one was Miss Marie who owned The School of Dance in Newfoundland, where I met Miss Pam. Miss Marie was tough, the kind of tough you want. The kind of toughness that’s full of belief and love. She also gets those messages when I’m feeling particularly proud. Without Miss Marie and Miss Pam, it’s likely I never would have never ended up as the editor of this magazine. 

I think every time we put out a call for pitches, we get emails from dancers who feel the same as me and want to write about the dance teachers who inspired them. So in this issue, we included the column “To Our Teachers,” in which three dance artists write about those educators that stick with us forever. If you would like to write one of these letters, email me at grace@thedancecurrent.com.

Travis Knights, this issue’s featured artist, also talks about the importance of a former teacher. The prolific tap dancer was introduced to dance through Ethel Bruneau — Montreal’s queen of tap. Beyond the steps, Bruneau highlighted the importance of history. “It was unacceptable for [Bruneau] for any of her students not to know the names Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, Henry LeTang, Jeni LeGon, Jimmy Slyde and Bunny Briggs,” Knights explains in the profile, written by Catherine Abes. 

Our photo essay is also steeped in history. We decided to take a retrospective look at the Heart of the City Festival in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This area of British Columbia is often associated with homelessness, crime and addiction, but this festival shows that it’s so much more. This year marks the festival’s 18th production and highlights the region’s artists and organizations. 

For a deep look into the future, Jillian Groening writes about whether the pandemic has changed how we value certain presentations of dance over others. During the pandemic, the digital realm was filled with dance, so much so that several organizations and funding bodies started putting money towards these projects. While artists and audiences are looking forward to getting back into the theatre (some of you may already be there), it can’t be ignored that the importance placed on digital dance during the pandemic has been great for accessibility and audience numbers. Groening talks with several artists about their thoughts on digital dance and live theatre, and whether this digital uprising is here to stay. 

To finish off, we have exciting news: for our Winter 2022 issue, we have a guest editor. Amy Hull is a graduate of the MA dance program at York University, and her research interests include Indigenous representation in theatrical dance, death and dying studies and critical race studies. The guest editor program is one we’ve wanted to launch for years, so be sure to subscribe to get early access. Hull will surely bring you a thoughtful, compelling and timely issue to ring in the new year.

Wells-Smith / Photo by Jonathan Elliott

Scotiabank Dance Centre / Photo by Ivan Hunter

News

Scotiabank Dance Centre Celebrates 20 Years of Community Impact
By Anne Dion

The landmark Vancouver building houses hundreds of classes, rehearsals and events each year.

Home to a theatre and six dance studios, the Scotiabank Dance Centre opened its doors in downtown Vancouver in 2001, an event that will be remembered with a special edition of the annual Open House on Oct. 2. 

Scotiabank Dance Centre / Photo by Ivan Hunter

 
Rukus in the early 2000s / Photo by Sean Getti

Historical Moments

Breaking Glass Ceilings
By Kj Dowdie

The legacy of Canadian after-school hip-hop clubs.

In 1996, a small group of Black teen staff at the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club began an after-school dance program to keep local students busy and out of trouble. What seemed like a simple extracurricular club soon had a huge impact on the development of Canada’s commercial dance industry. 

Rukus in the early 2000s / Photo by Sean Getti

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

First Person

In the Throes of Wild Abandonment
By Roxy Menzies

If we no longer believe in the notion of suffering for our art, does that make us lesser artists?

Despite the advancement of dance science, unions and education, we still hold on to the idea that we must suffer for our art. 

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

 
Leon / Photo by Mahrie Boyle (Create Flow Photos)

Short Stories

The Career Chronicles Part 3
By Emily Pettet

Dance artists find unique ways to boost their income.

Continuing from the spring and summer issues, “The Career Chronicles” features dance artists who vigorously pursue parallel careers and delves into how their multi-faceted lives breed inspiration. This time, Pettet speaks to Liisa Smith, Lilia Leon and Neetika Sharma. 

Leon / Photo by Mahrie Boyle (Create Flow Photos)

 
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Body

Back To School
By Geneviève Renaud, Dinah Hampson

With great space comes great responsibility. Here are five strategies to avoid injury when returning to training.

Many dancers are returning to the studio following a 12 to 18-month hiatus of studio training, and while a studio offers possibilities beyond our living rooms, returning to traditional training can also pose increased risk of injury. 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

 
Latta / Photo courtesy of Latta

Tips

A Playful Life
By Kara Latta

Feeling anxious about going back to work? Try finger painting, face painting and jumping in puddles.

As many dancers are facing a great deal of anxiety about returning to work after more than a year stuck at home, here are some ideas to add more play to your day to help manage the transition with more lightness.

Latta / Photo courtesy of Latta

 
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

First Person

Reforming a Broken Relationship
By Kristen Lawson

After a series of injuries, Pilates helped me transition from feeling defeated to reconciling with my body.

Looking for relief after an injury from a car collision, I started doing reformer Pilates. More than a year after the crash, I started to have moments when I didn’t feel any pain. Before that, it had been a choice of feeling more pain while dancing or less pain while sitting still. The possibility of no pain at all changed everything.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

 
Kosisochukwu Eze / Photo courtesy of de la Cruz

Letters

To Our Teachers
By Christina de la Cruz, Samyuktha Punthambekar, Patricia Allison

We asked you to write about your inspirational educators.

Students share their gratitude for the remarkable mentors that stand out in their dance careers.

Kosisochukwu Eze / Photo courtesy of de la Cruz

 

Drawing by sarah koekkoek

Poetry

Cone Vision
By sarah koekkoek

place a sphere around your face

connected to another face

in silence, stare

breathe

have a conversation

giggle

feel the vibrations

notice,

when do we intersect?

Drawing by sarah koekkoek

 
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