Wendy Bross Stuart accepted her GVPTA Career Achievement Award while playing the koto. (screenshot)
On June 29, the 38th annual Jessie Awards were celebrated virtually, with several Jewish community members among those being honoured.
The GVPTA [Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance] Career Achievement Award went to Wendy Bross Stuart, who gave her acceptance speech while playing the koto (a Japanese stringed instrument).
“Like most middle-class Jewish kids growing up in postwar New York City, I went to Broadway shows with my parents every few weeks,” she said. “I dreamed of conducting the pit orchestra and conducted many records in my living room on a regular basis.
“My first role was in Peter Pan – as Tinker Bell. I was 6 years old and three feet tall!
“I music-directed my first show – South Pacific – when I was 13, for a day camp in Tarrytown. I was given a script – no score – so I played it all by ear … in the preferred key for each of the teenage actors.
“Later, I went to a musical theatre training program in upstate New York, where I played scenes opposite a young man – named Stephen Schwartz.”
Bross Stuart did her graduate work in ethnomusicology, with a focus on Coast Salish music; research that was published, as was her later research on Northern Haida songs. She and her family lived in Japan for many years, where she continued studying traditional music for Japanese koto and shamisen, earning an advanced teaching licence.
“I’ve arranged and accompanied many Yiddish songs for voice and piano, producing four CDs with Claire Klein Osipov,” she said. “I’ve even arranged some Yiddish songs for koto and voice,” she added, noting “Yiddish was the language of my grandparents.”
“I love arranging and conducting choral music: 20 of my pieces have been published in the U.S. and Canada; most recently, an arrangement of my daughter Jessica’s composition,” she continued.
“For the last 15 years, we have co-produced and music-directed the annual Holocaust Commemorative Evening for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
“In theatre, I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. Where? At Theatre Under the Stars, the Arts Club, the Electric Company, Touchstone Theatre, Famous Artists, Blackbird Theatre, Snapshots Collective, Presentation House, the Chutzpah! Festival and 25 years at Perry Ehrlich’s Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!
“My husband Ron Stuart – anthropologist and filmmaker – has been with me on this journey. Our most recent collaboration is our film company: Cultural Odyssey Films. All eight of our most recent films were shot on location in South Africa over the last 10 years.
“Thank you very much for this special honour. I look forward to working with you in the near future!”
In the small theatre category, Itai Erdal and Amir Ofek won for outstanding lighting design and set design, respectively, for the Search Party’s production of The Father, while Warren Kimmel was part of the cast of Raincity Theatre’s Company, which won significant artistic achievement: outstanding innovative and immersive storytelling.
Nominees for this year’s awards included, in the large theatre category, Erdal for outstanding lighting of Savage Society’s Skyborn: A Land Reclamation Odyssey (presented by the Cultch) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg for outstanding choreography in Cipher, presented by Arts Club Theatre Company (in partnership with Vertigo Theatre); in the small theatre category, Stephen Aberle for outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role for his role in Slamming Door Artist Collective’s The Sea; and, for outstanding original script, Deborah Vogt for Big Sister, presented by Rapid Pitch Productions.
Amber Funk Barton presents VAST at the Dance Centre Nov. 22, as part of Dance in Vancouver. (photo by Chris Barton)
From Nov. 20 to 24, the Dance Centre presents the 12th biennial Dance in Vancouver. This year’s event was programmed by Dieter Jaenicke, director of the internationale tanzmesse nrw in Dusseldorf, Germany, and features the work of at least two Jewish community members, Amber Funk Barton and Noam Gagnon.
“What I find most impressive about dance in Vancouver is the fact that there are so many different identities of contemporary dance, connected to certain studios, companies, artists,” Jaenicke told the Independent. “It feels like the dance is spread out in the entire city, in very different and distant neighbourhoods, with the Dance Centre in the centre…. Trying to get familiar with dance in Vancouver, I felt like a collector of stories, stories about dance, stories about human beings…. That is why I chose the sentence of the Vancouver dancer and choreographer Amber Funk Barton as a kind of motto for this edition of Dance in Vancouver: ‘There are global stories in everything.’”
Barton, an award-winning choreographer, formed her company response. in 2008, but she will be performing the solo piece VAST, “an ode to the explorer that resides in all of us, the traveler and the dreamer who wonders what resides beyond the edge,” at DIV on Nov. 22. Noam Gagnon’s company, Vision Impure, will be presenting Pathways, which “explores the intricate push and pull of relationships impacted by urban living,” on Nov. 21. During DIV, there will also be performances by Raven Spirit Dance, Joshua Beamish/MOVETHECOMPANY and OURO Collective, with installations by Company 605 and Lee Su-Feh/battery opera, as well as discussions and other free events.
About how he chose the program, Jaenicke said, “First, I tried to get an overview of what is happening in dance in Vancouver – I visited companies, studios; saw rehearsals, performances; talked to many artists from the dance field. I was impressed by the diversity, the different backgrounds, cultures, approaches to dance and about the high quality of dancers and choreographic creativity.
“The selection was very difficult due to the amount of very interesting and convincing proposals,” he said. “With the choices I had to make, I tried to follow the diversity which I found so impressive, to include established and emerging artists, include the different cultural and artistic backgrounds of the choreographers, include indigenous works, different styles and genres of contemporary dance. But, the most important criteria was, of course, the artistic quality. Although it is difficult to describe what is artistic quality, I believe it is something objective to be seen, to be discovered, to be chosen.”
Both VAST and Pathways saw their premières at the Vancouver International Dance Festival.
“I am so pleased and honoured to perform VAST as it originally premièred in 2018 – and in the same theatre – for Dance in Vancouver,” Barton told the Independent.
The creation of the work started in 2015. Surfing the internet, Barton came across the quote from Carl Sagan that is included in the description of VAST: “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”
“I was so struck by the poetic nature of the quote and found it so beautiful and comforting,” said Barton. “It made me start to think a lot about life, my life, and how everything and all of us in the universe are connected.
“That also got my imagination going and soon I realized I had an idea for my next work. I knew quite early on that this was supposed to be a solo and that I needed to perform it. I knew, as a choreographer and dance artist, that all the feelings and emotions and images I wanted to explore and express would have to come from my body and personal expression.
“I also knew, but was unclear at the start of the project, how to transform the performance space so that the audience could suspend belief and be transported with me into an otherworldly arena. My instincts told me I needed to work with a scenographer or set designer.”
Barton approached Andreas Kahre and they “started to have many discussions about universal space and The Little Prince.” She also brought her long-term collaborator and light designer, Mike Inwood, into the process.
“Together, our research began in the theatre, playing with objects and materials to create the surface of the moon and other environments relating to space and scale,” she said.
After that, “I knew it was time to go back and figure out how to create a journey through dance and movement, which then seemed like such a daunting task.
“By this time, I brought in another dear long-term collaborator of mine, music and sound designer Marc Stewart. He had the opportunity to have a glimpse and visit us while we were building environments in the theatre and, from there, he created a couple of 20-minute series of sound samples. Upon hearing one, I knew it was the direction I wanted to go and it helped me immensely to start creating a movement journey.
“Because the music at that point was a series of samples, the sound was constantly changing, which I thought was perfect,” said Barton. “As far as the loose narrative of the solo goes, I wanted to create the sense of waking up in a dream, being lost and, as in a dream, constantly dealing with new environments and surroundings out of my control.”
Along the way, the creative team engaged more support to both flesh out and edit down their ideas. They also had a two-week residency supported by Dance Victoria, which, said Barton, “was instrumental in finalizing the set and visual aesthetic of the production.” About a year later, they had a week residency at the Massey Theatre, which led to the première, in March 2018, at the Dance Centre, as a co-production with the Vancouver International Dance Festival.
On the response. website, VAST is described as “a singular expression of an individual’s choice to be by oneself, a meditation on our limitations as human beings and how, despite these limitations, we still desire to propel ourselves forward into unknown territory.”
“As human beings, there are times we assert our agency and choose to be ‘by oneself’; that night you wanted to stay in, the decision to leave a relationship, the choice to travel and/or explore alone. For me,” said Barton, “‘being alone’ can be similar, such as being alone with your thoughts and/or feelings, but then ‘being alone’ is that liminal space I think we’ve all experienced: feeling so small, as if you couldn’t possibly make a difference in the world. Feeling overwhelmed by how we want to, or should, live our life. Feeling lost as to what our purpose on this planet is. And then, hopefully, to choose to face our fears by ‘being alone’ and to overcome and/or embrace them.”
The story of the protagonist of VAST “starts with waking up in an environment and quickly realizing she has no control of the world around her,” said Barton. “At times, this is playful and full of wonder but, for the most part, it is terrifying. When I perform the work, I always imagine myself being trapped in a dream and being unable to wake up. And, of course, it is terrifying being in unknown territory alone.
“Being alone, traveling by yourself, exploring on your own – I believe these are the biggest gifts we can give ourselves because they ultimately bring us closer to meeting our true selves. There is a point, where we learn to stop fighting the rhythm of life and accept it, embrace it, realize that there is a force greater than us that is allowing our heart to beat and the conjunction of the planets. There are simply things we will never be able to understand and/or explain or have the answers to.”
Towards the end of Barton’s solo, when she is “exhausted and feeling completely alone, there is a faint sound in the distance,” she said. “A message. A song. Something that connects with our molecules and convinces us to keep going. I think we have to be very quiet to get our ‘messages.’ For me, in the dance, when I receive my message, it is also completely submitting to the universe, accepting my fate, accepting my weaknesses and limitations, realizing I am no better or worse than anyone else…. My absolute final movement is inspired by the whirling dervishes of Turkey, who spin with one open palm towards the sky, the other palm facing downwards towards the ground in recognition of the soul’s connection to both heaven and earth. I can’t think of a more appropriate image for VAST to end with.”
VAST does not provide any answers to life’s questions, but, rather, said Barton, “I think of VAST as a moving meditation and I feel it is quite interactive for the audience with regards to how they interpret the journey of the protagonist.”
Of venturing into the unknown herself as a creative person, Barton said, “We all have the capacity to investigate change. But, of course, it is not easy and certainly not encouraged in our society. It’s scary so, sometimes, we need people to remind us to take that leap. I think artists play a very important part in our society, of not only inspiring their communities but also reminding them that we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings. I believe art is a confirmation of our humanity and, a lot of the time, it is art that encourages people to take that next step or to pursue their dreams.”
“Speaking as a creator,” Gagnon told the Independent, “the act of creating a new work is an act of courage. There is no guarantee that the images I initially picture in my mind and what I intend to evoke will reach the audience with the right attention to tension. What is required of me is the deepest awareness and careful attention to each and every aspect I can think of in order to find the perfect physicality, musicality and intention in the talented dance artists with whom I am working. That awareness of and attention to every aspect is what I was referring to when I described Pathways as being my ‘heart, soul and brain.’”
The Independent interviewed Gagnon prior to the première performances of Pathways at the Vancouver International Dance Festival this past March. (See jewishindependent.ca/dance-explores-our-relationships.) The JI asked him whether any elements of the work had changed since then.
“When the 10 incredibly generous and talented dance artists of Vision Impure return to rehearse one week before the Dance in Vancouver biennial begins, I will likely be making the few changes that I feel are most needed,” said Gagnon. “My first priority for the upcoming process is keeping my dance artists safe and ready to blow the roof off the theatre the night they perform Pathways. The work is mentally, physically and emotionally demanding and requires the same focus from the dance artists that I required of myself during creation. We have a tough job ahead of us because, with this kind of intense work, nothing can be taken for granted.”
Pathways has not been performed since the dance festival in March, but Gagnon would like more audiences to see it.
“Speaking for this generous cast of dance artists, they can hardly wait to be performing this beast of a work,” he said. “Like me, they are deeply aware that the effort and demands required to perform this work may seem impossible at times, but the result is this incredibly empowering, life-changing reward. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that the Dance in Vancouver biennial presentation will be productive.”
For tickets ($34/$25) to DIV, visit ticketstonight.ca or call 604-684-2787. For more information, visit thedancecentre.ca or call 604-606-6400.
ProArteDanza’s The 9th will première in Vancouver before heading home to Toronto. (photo by Alexander Antonijevic)
Ten years after its conception, ProArteDanza’s The 9th, a full-length contemporary dance performance, will have its world première in Vancouver at the Chutzpah! Festival Oct. 26-28.
“We were originally planning to première it in Toronto for November,” Roberto Campanella, co-artistic director of ProArteDanza, told the Independent in a phone interview. “We’re opening in Toronto Nov. 6, which is a week-and-a-half after Chutzpah! And then Mary-Louise [Albert] called and said, ‘How do you feel about bringing The 9th here?’ And I said, ‘Well, it would not be a bad idea for everybody involved to have that opportunity…. We love being at Chutzpah! We’ve been before, we have a longtime relationship with Mary-Louise.” (Albert is artistic managing director of Chutzpah!)
Campanella created The 9th with ProArteDanza co-artistic director Robert Glumbek in collaboration with the dancers. Inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and performed to the score, the show has four movements and is about 70 minutes long, with no intermission.
Each dance movement was created and mounted on its own: the first, then the third, the second and, finally, the fourth, which the company performed this past June in Trois-Rivières, Que., for the festival called Dansencore. Regarding the full-length work, Campanella said “it’s one thing to put on one movement at a time separately, and we’re realizing it’s a completely different beast because we have to also layer [each movement] with the concept of a wall or, in this case, the symbol of the Berlin Wall, so it’s taking almost a different life for me and for Robert…. And it’s only eight dancers and it’s going to be incredibly physical and athletic and intense, so we also have to distribute our dancers in a way that we don’t kill them in the first movement.”
Ten years ago, Dansencore commissioned Campanella and Glumbek to create the first movement. At the time, the festival was celebrating its 15th anniversary, as well as the establishment of Trois-Rivières, with Beethoven’s Ninth, said Campanella. “The idea was that there were different choreographers allocated for the four different movements … and we put the whole thing together probably in one day or two with the live orchestra and the live choir, so it was a mega-super-project. It all came together then.
“What we decided to do, with the permission, of course, of the festival, we said, ‘Can we present out first movement only for our company, ProArteDanza?’ We were granted permission and we presented just the movement itself as part of a mixed program the year after, or the same year, here in Toronto. Then we looked at each other, Robert and I, and said, ‘Why don’t we do a long version of it? Why don’t we continue? But let’s take our time. Why don’t we continue on the same path we’re doing, a movement at a time, we present it, we look at it and see what comes out of it?’
“And then, in 2010, I was in Berlin shooting a movie and I had a few days off,” continued Campanella. “I went to the Berlin Wall, which is essentially rubble, it’s just bricks, there isn’t much, but there are these audio-visual stations, where you can put headphones on and have a look at old footage of when they were building it; it’s pretty much the history of the wall. And there was one image that still, I would say, hit the spot, which was these two families on [opposite] sides of the wall waving at each other, probably they were related to each other … and the waving at each other was different from one side of the wall and the other. And then I thought, could it be that this [image] is actually our Ninth Symphony concept? So, I talked to Robert and I said, ‘Can we explore that and see where it goes?’ And that’s when the ball started rolling for us, but always maintaining the idea that we were not going to present the whole thing until we had all the four movements done and presented.”
The timing of The 9th’s completion comes with a few coincidences, said Campanella. Most notably, the final concert date, in Toronto, is Nov. 9 and, he said, “Nov. 9, 1989, is the actual day of the fall of the Berlin Wall,” so the show will occur exactly 30 years after the wall’s fall. He also noted that ProArteDanza’s show, which is called The 9th, ends on the ninth and that, at the 1989 celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Ninth Symphony.
For Campanella, the fall of the Berlin Wall is “about freedom, it’s about brotherhood, it’s about unity and diversity, celebrating all of that.”
In addition to the challenges of portraying these concepts, Campanella said it’s been fascinating to reimagine the movements that were created in the early years.
“We look at what we did 10 years ago and we cringe,” he said. When he and Glumbek watched videos of the piece, “you should have heard us, we were thinking, ‘Who choreographed that?’”
The pair have broken through many artistic walls since then in their respective careers, said Campanella, that they decided “this is not us anymore and so we are going to revisit it, reassess it, reevaluate what we’ve done and why.”
He pointed out that the original first movement was also created by a different cast. “There is only, I think, one [dancer] left who’s done everything. So, there are things that are born with a certain cast but there is a turnover of cast, [so] it will inevitably take a different direction naturally, as well as us being different now than 10 years ago.”
Part of what’s great about dance, he said, “is that you have the ability to remount things. A painting, once it’s done, it’s done. You’re going to hang it somewhere and you’ll look at it; it’s done, it’s over. For us, we have that ability to remount and re-look at it and say, ‘Who am I now that’s going to be in this current version of it?’ So, it’s been a very fascinating process.”
Campanella said, in creating The 9th, he and Glumbek “took our time because we really wanted to respect first and foremost the score of this magnificent piece of artwork,” referring to Beethoven’s composition.
In The 9th, more than one version of the symphony is used. Of those that were not chosen, Campanella said, “some of the versions are what we think are excruciatingly slow for us. Maybe they are amazing versions for musicians, for the experts, [but] they’re not conducive to the physical movement part of it.”
Artists of Ballet BC in a previous production of Bill. (photo by Cindi Wicklund)
Ballet BC’s 2019/20 season marks its 34th anniversary year, as the company continues to celebrate life as movement. The new season features a North American première, a Ballet BC première and the return of five renowned choreographers.
Reveling in the beauty of our humanity, the season opens with Program 1, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. It features the première of BUSK by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton and B.R.I.S.A. by Johan Inger. Inspired by the world of busking and set to an atmospheric score, Barton’s BUSK showcases her versatile and poignant choreography. Inger’s B.R.I.S.A., a probing and liberating piece exploring themes of awakening and change, returns to the stage by popular demand.
In Program 2, March 4-7, the company revisits the pleasure, pain and politics of young love with Romeo + Juliet by Medhi Walerski. In response to unprecedented demand and soldout performances for 2018’s world première of Romeo + Juliet in Vancouver, Ballet BC returns to this iconic story set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Crafted by Walerski, an original voice in international dance, it is an innovative and contemporary retelling of the full-length classic.
The season closes May 7-9 with the return of two of the most influential artists in international dance today, both of whom are from Israel. Ballet BC will be the first North American company to perform Hora by Ohad Naharin, following the success of the audience favourite Minus 16 in previous seaons. Program 3’s dynamic lineup features the much-anticipated return of Bill by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.
For the holidays in December, Ballet BC presents Alberta Ballet’s retelling of holiday classic The Nutcracker. With choreography by Edmund Stripe, sets and costumes designed by Emmy Award-winning designer Zack Brown, and Tchaikovsky’s musical score played live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, this extravagant production is set in turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia. Reflecting an era noted for its opulent grandeur, this show, which runs Dec. 28-30, displays more than a million dollars in sets and costumes.
“In 2019/20, we are excited to continue a dialogue about dance and its power to transform and connect us in ways that echo across time, place and culture. Today, more than ever, we need channels of expression that examine society and our place in it,” said Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar. “Dance can move people to feel and interpret life in new and meaningful ways. This season we are eager to delve deeper into a dance with each of you.”
All performances are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at balletbc.com.
The cast of Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project. (photo by Wendy D. Photography)
Among the more than 20 choreographers and companies from across Canada, Brazil and Korea that are participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival are local Jewish community members Alexandra Clancy (Soleful Dance Company) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance).
Soleful Dance Company’s Where the Music Begins will take place July 12, 8:15 p.m., in the Firehall Arts Centre courtyard, and Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project (working title) is part of Edge 5 July 11, 9 p.m., and July 13, 7 p.m., at the Firehall. DOTE runs July 4-13. Click here to watch the festival trailer on YouTube.
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Where the Music Begins, created by Clancy and composer and musician Mike W.T. Allen, was commissioned by Dances for a Small Stage for its Summer Series.
“Mike and I had played music together but never officially constructed any works for stage,” Clancy told the Independent. “Throughout the rehearsal process, there would be a back and forth of ideas; sometimes I would have a rhythmical phrase of tap dance and Mike would then create a melody over top, and sometimes Mike would compose a phrase of the melody and I would choreograph specifically to that part of the tune. After some give and take between our prospective instruments and ideas, we solidified a melody and then decided upon the structure of the tune. Some of the tune is improvised, some is a conversation, and some is very set and predetermined. We both enjoyed the collaborative process and found a harmonious way to create music and dance together.”
Clancy grew up in Vancouver and has always been involved with the Jewish community. “I was raised Jewish; attending Hebrew school on Sundays, becoming bat mitzvah, and participating in holidays and traditions,” she said. “After going on Birthright a few summers ago, I was re-inspired by the beauty of the culture and have tried to stay more engaged in the community by attending Axis events and other social gatherings, as well as going to synagogue when I can. I am grateful for the support and familial kindness that I have received from the community, consistently reminding and encouraging me that I am capable of whatever I put my all into.”
And she has put her all into a lot, having trained in all genres of dance, studying at Danzmode and the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She was a member of Tap Co., a pre-professional youth tap dance company, and has trained and performed across North America.
“After graduating, I lived in Austin, Tex., and was a member of Tapestry Dance Company in its 25th season,” said Clancy. “I then moved back to Vancouver and have been performing and teaching ever since. This past year, I taught at the Arts Connection, Dance Co., and the Pulse, sharing my love and passion for tap dance and educating the next generation of talented dancers.
“As recital season comes to an end, I am currently in a creative residency with Dances for a Small Stage, where we are developing works for our Summer Series and exploring digital literacy in dance. As well as preparing for DOTE, I am also in the studio rehearsing and creating for our upcoming performance at Jacob’s Pillow later this summer. In the fall, I will be moving to Calgary to attend the training program at Decidedly Jazz Dance Company.
“My goal,” she said, “is to broaden my toolbox to assist in expressing myself and telling stories through dance. This upcoming year, I hope to continue to collaborate and create through Small Stage, develop more new works with Soleful Dance Co., film a concept video, and share dance through as much teaching and performing as possible.”
Jacob’s Pillow is located in western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. Clancy auditioned for and then attended the inaugural tap dance program at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010 and returned two years later (again with an audition) for a second summer of learning and dancing. “My time at the Pillow was the most influential training thus far in my life and it has always been a dream of mine to perform my own work at the Pillow,” she said.
That dream will become a reality this summer.
“Jeffrey Dawson and I co-choreographed a piece for an online competition Jacob’s Pillow was running this year, and we were lucky enough to be chosen as Top 6 and then voted Top 3, meaning we will get to perform our work live at the Inside/Out stage on Aug. 17,” said Clancy.
In addition to choreographing and teaching, Clancy established Soleful Dance last spring. She and some other dancers “felt we needed a name and a clear avenue to share the work we had started developing. Based in Vancouver, this company is a platform to express ourselves and tell stories through the music of tap and the movement of dance.
“Although under my direction,” she said, “Soleful Dance Company is rooted in collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to make audiences feel something. All of the members of the company’s primary focus is tap dance; however, everyone brings a versatile background to the creative process, spanning from contemporary dance, to acting, to playing music and more. We hope to continue to grow and create more works to share with audiences in the near future.”
Clancy described tap dance as “a magical art form that allows one to not only express through movement but connect and emote through sound.
“This traditional American art form has a rich and complex history that is intertwined deeply with jazz music and culture,” she explained. “There is a sense of community that I have always appreciated about tap dance, and I feel a great amount of respect and gratitude that I get to perform and participate in its culture. It just feels good to get to move your body and dance and then, on top of that, creating and connecting with music opens endless doors of expression.”
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The Body Project is a new interdisciplinary performance created from interviews, symposiums and roundtables.
“I started research on and around the theme of ‘female body image’ about a year ago,” Friedenberg told the Independent. “Part of our research/creation process has been interviewing female-identifying and non-binary people (many dancers and actors). To date, 35 people have generously participated.
“In the studio, I have been mining my own complicated and unhealthy relationship with my body as a dancer in a female body with the help of my amazing collaborators/performers. The process so far has involved exploring how the forms of stand-up comedy and dance can express this difficult, and often absurd, story of struggling with body image that many of us share.”
The performers – Bevin Poole, Caroline Liffmann, Kate Franklin and Kim Stevenson – came into the process shortly after Friedenberg began her exploration of the topic.
“We are working very closely with intimate and difficult material so, although I am leading the process, it is essential that all the voices/bodies in the room are present in the work. For example, there is a section choreographed by Kim Stevenson – much of the gestural language has been created through our own gestures as we’ve spoken about our personal experiences with body image.”
About the creative process, Friedenberg said, “These are very busy people, so we have had times when we are all in the studio and other times when it’s just me and one collaborator. Making room for people’s lives and demands, including parenting and caring for parents, is an important part of our feminist practice.
“Justine A. Chambers is our dramaturge/outside eye and Michelle Olson will be involved in the project as a consultant and possibly a performer in the next phase of development.”
As professional dancers, the performers/creators have shared some common struggles and coping mechanisms regarding body image.
“The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of the ‘dancer body’ has been difficult and complex for all of us,” said Friedenberg. “There’s the pressure to be very thin, small, more muscular, or less muscular. Pressure to fit an oppressive ideal of beauty. We each have found ways to navigate these limiting ideas. Sometimes we have had to remove ourselves from certain arenas in order to survive. Sometimes we have found power in defying the stereotypes of what a dancer should look like to the euro-centric patriarchal gaze. But I keep coming back to the effort and energy required to bare these expectations and what we can transform with that energy instead.”
She added, “It must be noted that the many voices, words, time and contributions from the people we have interviewed are alive in the work through our bodies and presence. Their names will be listed on our website. Although the work, at this early stage, is a version of my story, it is also very much a result of being together in conversation about body image, in a circle, speaking, listening, moving, supporting and sharing with many powerful female-identifying/non-binary people – ‘the personal is political.’”
Dancers Jeremy O’Neill, Ted Littlemore and Kate Franklin. (photo by Idan Cohen)
Last May, Idan Cohen introduced local audiences to his reimagining of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. He will share more of this ongoing work in EDAM dance company’s Spring Choreographic Series, in which he is a guest artist, along with Jennifer McLeish-Lewis.
In six performances between April 10 and 20 at EDAM’s home at the Western Front on East 8th Avenue, Cohen and McLeish-Lewis will present new work, while EDAM, under artist director Peter Bingham, will present a directed improvisation.
“I was introduced to Peter and the EDAM family through Linda Blankstein, who I met through the DanceLab residency I took part in last May at the Dance Centre,” Cohen wrote the Independent in an email from London’s Heathrow Airport, as he waited for his flight back to Vancouver. “Among the many other roles through which Linda supports Vancouver’s arts community, she is on the board of EDAM, and was kind enough to introduce my work to Peter.
“The space and people at EDAM were very welcoming,” said Cohen, who is artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance. “Peter invited me and the performers to take his daily morning classes, and offered this wonderful opportunity for me, Ne. Sans and the artists collaborating on this piece – musicians/dancers Jeremy O’Neill, Ted Littlemore and Kate Franklin.”
The part of Orfeo ed Euridice that Cohen will showcase next week is called Trionfi Amore (in English, The Triumph of Love).
“In Greek mythology, Orpheus [Orfeo, in Greek] was a musician and a poet who had the ability to enchant all living creatures through his musical gift, and could even stop the waves of the ocean from rolling,” explained Cohen. “In an attempt to bring his newly married wife Eurydice back to life from the dead, Orfeo persuades the guardians of the underworld to allow him entry to their kingdom.
“Trionfi Amore deconstructs the key elements and motives of the story and puts it into a contemporary context. We integrate dance with a bit of live music in a piece that speaks of love, and of the power of music and art to move, entertain and touch us. We also look at the power of art to manipulate, exploring the ways in which different aspects of love can be transformed into the act of performance. I am focusing on the ‘love story’ part of the mythological tale, recreating its themes through the intimacy and fragility of the body.”
“I could not let it go on without being there to see the outcome,” Adi Salant told the Independent in a phone interview from Israel about the new work she is creating with Ballet BC. The piece will have its première Feb. 28-March 2 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Salant was in Vancouver last August to work with the company and she was scheduled to return here earlier this week to help prepare for the performances.
“The [creative] process was split into two periods,” she explained, “and I was there for three weeks [in the summer], building the major part of the piece. Now I’m coming, it’s more the last adjustments, refining, rethinking, being open to the suggestions that will happen, but most of it is ready and they are working on it now, preparing it for my arrival. I’m very excited to meet them and meet the piece again because it’s been awhile.”
Salant knows Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar from the world of dance in general, but the two really connected just over two years ago, when Salant was invited to be one of the choreographers taking part in the inaugural Creative Gesture, a residency program led by Molnar and program head Stephen Laks at the Banff Centre. For the program, Salant had to create a short piece for the young dancers, who attended the residency from several countries, “to see how it is to work professionally.”
“I really enjoyed the energy there and the way I worked with the dancers. And she [Molnar] believed in me and gave me the opportunity to come and work with her company.”
Creating something in two time periods is interesting, said Salant. “It gives you time to reflect and to visit it with videos, or in my mind or afterthoughts of what happened. Even though I’m not there [in Vancouver], it’s like I stayed with the dancers. I got to know them.”
The limited amount of time made the work more intense, she said, “because both the dancers and I know, OK, we have now three weeks. There’s engagement and we’re just going for it.”
The piece involves many dancers. “I knew I wanted a feeling of a big group,” said Salant. “I think there will be 17 people, if I’m not mistaken. I fell in love with all of them and we want to use everybody…. I enjoyed so much and appreciated so much the energy and open hearts, and diving in with me to the unknown.”
In considering the piece about to be performed, as well as her previous works, Salant said, “I am just so fascinated by life – the everyday kind of life and the demands of life and the struggles. Some people, they create from what they dream about; I’m more about what I’m experiencing every day, so that’s the energy [of the new piece]. It’s about how, in life, you can plan and plan, but you can meet someone … if it’s a job interview or, for our profession, if it’s an audition, so he chooses, yes you are in, no you are out, and how [that concept] applies to the rest of your life. Or where you’re born … if you’re born into this kind of society or this kind of place, it’s also affecting you…. You can aim, but, in the end, we divide: you go there, you go there, you yes, you no, you up, you stay there, you down.”
Salant has been dancing since she was a young girl. “I started to dance in Bat-Dor dance group in Tel Aviv when I was 6…. When I graduated high school, I went for an audition … and, lucky for me, I was the one that got the yes.”
After two years at Batsheva Dance Company, she was invited to join the main company, with which she danced for five years. “Then I left, but I stayed in a very close relationship professionally with Ohad Naharin [then-artistic director of Batsheva], staging his works all over the world … and setting his repertoire for different companies – this is actually where I met Stephen, who I mentioned before. He was dancing in Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It’s very nice and very exciting for me to look back and to realize, on this journey, I have met so many people.”
Members of her generation of dancers are now leading companies, choreographing and teaching, she said. “It’s really nice to see, and I enjoy very good and close relationships with my colleagues and we continue to share our passion in that way.”
Salant returned to Batsheva in 2009, but, she said, “this time, Ohad invited me as the co-artistic director.” She held that position until October 2017, when she struck out on her own.
“It’s part of my journey – all the tools that I collected until now and the experiences, and having actually more time now that I’m not directing a very busy company and dealing with the schedule of the company,” she said. “Now I have my schedule, and [am] owning my time in a way. I put the focus on choreographing and teaching workshops around the globe.”
Salant said she has created a motto of sorts for work, “Adi – Life is Moving,” “because I really enjoy meeting with people and, [while] it’s true that I’m coming to teach dance to them, I really connect it to life, and their life and how their emotions and, again, like I said about my work, this piece, it’s the same when I’m teaching or when I’m working now with the dancers of Ballet BC. Yes, I’m giving them the movements but I’m all the time connecting it to life, to the everyday behaviour. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Salant teaches in various places around the world. This April, for example, she will be in Los Angeles for a week. “It’s called the Gypsy Project…. It’s the second time that I am involved there,” she said. “I’m looking forward to go, and to share and to learn and to deepen my knowledge and understanding.”
Salant reiterated her appreciation for Molnar. “As I said, I left my job as the co-artistic director and it’s, of course, a demanding job and you’re recognized with this position and with this place…. When I left and wanted to now continue to choreograph, because I did choreograph before, but I put it on hold because it was too intensive with the company life and, of course, I have three kids, something had to wait … Emily really was the first to open her door and believe fully. It’s not something that you see so often, that you feel that someone believes in you and takes a chance and appreciates who you are, knows your strengths and believes in your strength, no matter your title.”
Salant has enjoyed working with Ballet BC. “I had an amazing meeting with the dancers,” she said. “They inspired me and moved me a lot, so I really can’t wait to come back on Monday [Feb. 11], even though I miss my family. I have to leave three kids behind, and that’s the hardest part, but I’m happy that we can share again our time together and bring it on stage and to the audience what we did.”
Salant and her husband, Jesper Thirup Hansen, have two daughters, 10 and 8, and a 5-and-a-half-year-old son. Thirup Hansen is a physiotherapist. “I met him in Batsheva, he was a dancer, he is Danish,” said Salant. “Actually, they joined me in the summer in Vancouver; the whole family came. They had such a great time. I came to their place from work, and they told me all the fabulous things they did that day.”
Allen and Karen Kaeja perform their latest lifeDUETS series March 9-11, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival. (photo by Zhenya Cerneacov)
As a dancer, how do you tell the story of a couple’s life together that has deep roots but is continually evolving? The Kaejas decided to commission two different pieces from two different choreographers. The result is the latest in their lifeDUETS series, which comprises a structured piece that is more or less consistent in every performance, and another that constantly changes.
Allen and Karen Kaeja established Kaeja d’Dance in 1991. The Toronto-based couple commissioned three duets about 20 years ago, and the newest two were commissioned in 2015 for their 25th anniversary. It is this anniversary pair – one by Tedd Robinson, the other by Benjamin Kamino – that the Kaejas will share at Roundhouse Performance Centre March 9-11, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, which runs March 1-25 at various local venues.
“We’ve always performed together, but improvised, and I suggested this idea of commissioning choreographers,” said Karen in an interview with the Independent over speakerphone.
“We commissioned Claudia Moore … Peter Bingham from out west, and then we did our own lifeDUET, and commissioned Marie-Josée Chartier. Those years of commissioning ended in 2001,” said Allen.
Variations of that program toured throughout Canada, the United States and many other parts of the world. “And then,” said Karen, “for our 25th anniversary, that’s where I thought we should really reinstitute the lifeDUETS and commission more people. At that time, Allen was performing less, so it took a little bit of nudging and, together, we decided on bringing someone into the fold who was highly experienced and created pieces on so many Canadians, which is Tedd, and then someone who was up-and-coming who was in the realm of experimentation.”
“And that was Benjamin Kamino,” said Allen. “And so, two opposites of the spectrum.”
The two pieces were collaborative works. “We created together with both of them, so both choreographers say in their program notes, created with and performed by us,” explained Allen. “They were both created for our 25th anniversary, as Karen was saying, and Tedd’s is called 25 to 1. He talked to a very dear friend of his, Peter Boneham, about, what am I going to do with these two guys?” The semi-joking response, said Allen, was to put the couple in a tent having sex (though less delicately phrased).
“But then, of course, the whole thing began to evolve, and became this really gorgeous duet. And what was beautiful about that was that neither of them knew that Karen and I, in our dating years, would do wilderness camping up in Algonquin, in Temagami; we’d go out for 10 days to two weeks at a time. We loved wilderness camping, so it really resonated at home with us, but they didn’t have any idea.”
As for the idea that sparked Kamino’s piece, Karen said, “I think his vision came from the concept of ‘becoming’ each other, and that was the initial seed. Because we have this history of all these years, instead of having us do what people know us to do, which is a lot of partnering and so on, he would create a work where we almost never touched each other, where we would become each other to different degrees to a scored creation, because we knew each other so well.”
Karen said that every work created for her takes her off guard – “because it takes me on a tangent that I would not go myself” – and these two were no different. “Ben’s is really quite raw and exposed,” she said, “and that was a very beautiful inter-relational process, of becoming each other – and having him witness, as a choreographer. That process, for me, was like a mindful trio, very different than me and Allen being in the studio creating a work.”
Robinson and Kamino were creating works on a significant and special relationship, she said, and she and Allen “in a way, had to open our door and let them in.”
“Karen and I met in 1981 and started dueting 36 years ago, but started dating 32 years ago … so, our physical connection has a longevity that most people don’t know together,” said Allen, referring to its dance aspect. “As Karen was saying, a lot of our dueting is improvised, so we’re continuously surprising each other, we’re continuously living in this state of unpredictability, and yet a depth of knowledge about [each other].”
“Or catching each other’s predictabilities and challenging those,” interjected Karen.
“That, as well,” admitted Allen. “That being said, Tedd’s piece is tightly, tightly, tightly choreographed, to almost every beat in the music. There is very little room for variation. Whereas, in Ben’s piece, there’s only one moment that’s set and even that is an improvisation, so it really captures our life and our existence together.”
After a brief discussion about how many moments are indeed set – which wasn’t definitely resolved – Allen said, “The emotionality of the work, especially with becoming each other, with Ben’s piece, it’s a very different type of piece because we are continuously asking ourselves questions. For example, I was there when Karen’s father passed away, and so I would ask a question, what would my last dance be for my father’s final minutes, things like that. It’s got an emotional resonance that nobody would know but her. For me, it’s not only a vulnerable place and a personal place, but it puts me into her being, her essence. I’ll never know how Karen is truly feeling … but it allows me a window into her soul, to be my perception of where she is at.”
The Kamino piece is different every night, said Karen, “because we work with imagery that comes to us; it’s not set imagery.”
While not religious, Allen described he and Karen as “Jewish to the core.”
“Some of our works have touched upon that aspect of our lives,” he said. “But, as creative artists, I would say the connection to being Jewish, in a sense, is that connection of always questioning, of not being satisfied with an answer.”
“But I would say that that is universal,” said Karen. “I don’t think that’s particularly Jewish, but that’s what’s led us, our heritage.”
Allen’s father was a survivor, and Allen has done series of works on his father’s life during the Holocaust, including two trilogies of films, he said, some of which are housed at Yad Vashem, in its permanent collection, as well as in the permanent collections of New York’s Jewish Museum, and Museum of Modern Art.
Karen said her parents never approved of her becoming a dancer, and certainly not her marrying one. “Acceptance came later,” she said, “after the commitment to our career went forward and they saw what fruits were coming. It’s a long road, establishing oneself as a dance artist…. But, here we are, 27 years into the company.”
For tickets to lifeDUETS and the full festival lineup, visit vidf.ca/tickets or call 604-662-4966.