Monday, 21 May 2018

A Reflection on the 20th Anniversary of Guelph Dance

by Dorothy Fisher, GD's Stage Manager extraordinaire for the past 20 years 
 
Thrilling!  I can hardly believe we are celebrating 20 years of wonderful dance artistry!  The best way to describe those 20 years boils down to three words GUELPH DANCE = CHANGE.
I have never been involved with an organization that is so focused on improvement.  At the end of each year questions are always asked: “what worked?”; “what could we do better?”; “what do we keep and expand on?”  This approach comes from a place where there is no fear of looking in the mirror.  It exemplifies dynamic leadership.  I feel privileged to be a small part of this energy.
As for change in the backstage where I live – from the very beginning I have been blessed to work with gifted Canadian icons of dance, international independent dancers and dynamic youth.  Over the years dancers have shared the backstage halls with an Elvis impersonator, the Guelph Chamber Choir, and the frenzy of dance school recitals and high school revues.  Not only did our dancers share the space, they did it with generosity of spirit.  It is true that each year had its own story, but the level of professionalism, care and concern for each other has always been A+.
The vision of two young women and their desire to bring dance to their own backyard is an inspirational story that has mobilized many other supporters.
 Congratulations to Guelph Dance on your success in bringing dance to the Guelph community!



Monday, 14 May 2018

Q&A with Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre (CCDT)

We had the chance to ask Michael deConinck Smith, Managing Director,  Deborah Lundmark, Artistic Director and Natasha Poon Woo, Rehearsal Director of the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre a few questions about their company. This is a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about a unique group working with professional young dancers.
GD: CCDT dancers are all 13-19 years old, and yet they are all already professional dancers. Can you tell us a bit about what a week in the life of a CCDT dancer looks like.?
CCDT: Company dancers train around 20-25 hours a week at our studios, in both technique classes, conditioning, and repertoire rehearsals. On weekdays they are regular school students, so all dance training takes place outside of school hours. The dancers take 6-7 technique classes (RAD ballet, Limón modern, and contemporary classes with guest instructors) and one Conditioning with Imagery class throughout the week, with Thursdays as a rest day. Repertoire rehearsals take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week, totalling about 12-15 hours a weekend. Our dancers learn excellent time management skills in order to balance their dance training and rehearsals with their school work, and everything else that comes up in between!

Show weeks are a different story — the dancers often miss a handful of school days a few times a year for touring and performances with CCDT. Because much of CCDT’s season includes performing for student audiences, many of our shows are weekday matinees, which means taking our Company dancers out of school. Touring and performance weeks usually involve one full day of technical rehearsals, followed by 2-5 days of shows (and often two shows per day). Especially in these theatre weeks, CCDT operates just like any other professional company: early morning warm ups, performances followed by notes, daily leisure time, and meals out together as a company. Frequent shows throughout our season allow our dancers to quickly learn how to adapt to new performance venues, bond with their colleagues, and cultivate and refine their artistry through repeated performances of our repertoire. 

 GD: What have been some highlights and challenges for the company over the years? What would you like to see moving forward into the future for contemporary dance?

CCDT: Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, Challenges and Highlights, 1980 to 2018

The biggest challenge CCDT has faced was translating the idea that there is a place for young people performing dance as an art form for the general public, into reality. In 1980 the only performance options for young dancers were studio recitals for friends and family or competitions where dance was adjudicated, more like a sport, again with no public audience. Not much has changed with respect to these options – competitions still dominate “the industry”, though they do not prepare young dancers well for post-secondary artistry essential to a career in the performing arts. In spite of CCDT’s later successes - highlighted by some critical acclaim, generous arts council support, a broadening audience and higher profile guest choreographers - that credibility challenge has never completely gone away.

Solving a second challenge in the early years proved to be key to solving the original credibility issue -  how to identify a common language of dance that was appropriate to younger dancers and, once internalized and shared, would have a collection of individuals begin to look like a Company. Toronto Dance Theatre with its powerfully defined Graham technique provided a perfect example but that technique demanded a degree of maturity beyond most of CCDT dancers’ reach. Then, in our 1987/88 season, Donna Krasnow arrived in Toronto and solved that challenge. Her deep understanding of the Limón technique with its free flowing, almost playful suspension and release principles, soon became a unifying syllabus suitable to children as young as seven. 
Commissions that same season by “Limonesque” choreographers Carol Anderson and Holly Small and one by TDT’s David Earle that fused Graham and Limón, had The Globe and Mail proclaiming CCDT a “National Treasure” and Premiere Dance Theatre audiences springing to their feet – not to be forgotten highlights for an obscure Company barely seven years old. A subsequent three-week tour to the People’s Republic of China established the Company’s international credibility and returning to share the YTV Youth Arts Award with The Barenaked Ladies provided some indication of its increasing popular appeal.

CCDT’s third challenge was one shared by all new companies – finding a secure home. After fourteen years of hourly rentals and month to month leases, the purchase of the former Carlton Cinema and CBC AM Radio building on Parliament Street brought stability to the Company and the associated School. It also helped deepen CCDT’s role in the dance community as a reliable provider of workspace while increasing opportunities for our dancers to cross paths and collaborate with more senior artists. Among these visiting artists was Carla Maxwell, The José Limón Dance Company’s Artistic Director. She saw in CCDT dancers, uniquely steeped in her own Company’s technique, future Limon Company members and immediately launched 19 year old Kristen Foote on her seventeen year career with the NYC-based Company, the first of four CCDT dancers to join.  
Regular residencies by Limón artists culminated with six commissions by Colin Connor, a former member of that Company who has gone on to become its new Artistic Director. This unique sister-companies relationship culminated in 2015 when CCDT was invited to perform Jose’s The Winged as part of The Limón International Dance Festival celebrating their 70th anniversary. Those performances in New York’s storied Joyce Theater, met with standing ovations, will forever remain the highlight of our many years as CCDT Founders.

GD: What are some of your thoughts on the Future of Contemporary Dance?

CCDT: With respect to the future of contemporary dance in Canada, we would hope to see more studios recognize the constructive role that modern dance technique and movement improvisation can play in the development of young dancers. In terms of dance-as-art rather than competitive sport, Performing Arts High Schools and University programs are setting an excellent example for commercial studios to consider. In terms of public funding, no art form can flourish without generous support from arts councils and contemporary dance has found itself squeezed between extremely well-funded large ballet companies and a surge of multi-cultural dance genres that, while equally worthy of consideration, leave all barely viable. This condition is more evident with dance than theatre or music and should provide Councils the incentive for increased funding allotted to dance disciplines.  One result of under-funding is the presentation of contemporary repertoire that has not had the more rigorous preparation characteristic of the other performing arts.  The development of both artists and audiences is set back as a consequence.

Don’t forget to check out CCDT’s performance of SEEDS.whisper on Friday June 1st as part of the On the Stage A series, taking place at the River Run Centre at 8:30pm.

Monday, 7 May 2018

A Conversation with Karen Kaeja



We had the opportunity to chat with Karen (and briefly Allen) Kaeja from Kaeja d'Dance over the phone. They have both been involved with Guelph Dance since the first days of the then Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival. Their Guelph Dance bio is quite rich and can be found at the end of this article. Kaeja d’Dance are definitely a Guelph favorite and we are thrilled to be welcoming them again this year with Crave!
 
Karen Kaeja

Karen first came to Guelph in 1999 as a dancer performing in Broken Saucer, a piece choreographed by Claudia Moore. This was one of the first lifeDUETs that Kaeja d’Dance had commissioned over the years. In 2008, Karen worked with local dancers and community partners in Birds’ Eye View which featured an audience inclusive Flock Landing at the end at Exhibition Park. In 2012 Karen was the first Guelph Dance Artist in Residence, meaning that she spent a lot of time in the city working with local artists as well as dancing and choreographing and collaborating with Guelph Dance.  We last saw Kaeja d’Dance in 2016 at the CSA nooner with .0 and Taxi.

When asked how she felt her worked had evolved or changed over the last 20 years, Karen says that she is now more open and receptive. She doesn't walk into the studio with a firm idea of what is going to happen or delivering steps to the dancers. A dancer who she is currently working with on a new commission recently addressed her as a creator who is a “collector”. As such, she collects what she is offered or observes in the room, in between dancers juxtaposed to what she intuits, be it movements, feelings, emotions etc. She shapes these through the lens of her theme.
 
Karen in Armour/Amour 2012

For Karen every aspect of her career has challenges. The very essence of being in the studio is challenging as she is very sensitive to the energy of the space and its inhabitants, depending on what phase of the process she is in. Navigating the intensity of the ups and downs of the system, from getting and not getting funding to instigating creation and performance platforms. It's a career of constant uncertainties. On the other hand there are very many highlights, her whole career is a big highlight. One of the biggest gifts is when she is offered commissions and having the opportunity to immerse herself in the dancers as intellectual, emotional and physical vessels; to create something from the empty spaces and being invited to excavate the essence of who they are.

Awards and accolades are also a great highlight and it is warming to know that people like her work. She never imagined, coming from a fairly conservative family, that she could make a career out of something so obscure as dance. Working with older dance artists is a great highlight for her as she ages and reality presents younger generations. Herself and Claudia Moore run Cloud 9, a company that works with olders artists. Conversely, working with non-dancers is always rewarding for Karen, as she is able to see the transformation of these individuals as they open up through dance. Karen describes it as an “incredible experience.” Finally, working with Allen, her husband, over the last 30 years continues to be fiercely important.

Past Midnight GYDC 2012


Then we moved to discuss what she hopes for the future of dance, which can be summarized in continuing to nurture the future generations, respecting all ages, abilities and genres of dance and collaboration. Seeing that the traction that the Ontario dance community is gaining is also reflected on greater funding for artists, which is something that is currently gaining more and more momentum.

Last, but not least, we talked about Crave, the piece Kaeja d’Dance is bringing to Guelph this year. Originally performed in Toronto in 2014, Crave took around 1.5 to 2 years to develop. At that time Karen was going through a personal transition that informed the work. Crave explores how people dream, fear and struggle in a relationship and the ability to flip perspectives upside down and leave space for openness and change. The piece is also about longing and longevity. After performing in Toronto, Crave toured six Mexican cities and went to Ottawa in 2016. In 2017 Karen revisited the piece with a live string quartet performing the original score, which was presented in Toronto and was subsequently nominated for four Dora Mavor Moore awards winning Outstanding Male Dancer. Since then the piece has inspired a new creation which is in the works.

You can catch Crave on Saturday, June 2nd as part of the On the Stage B series at the River Run Centre at 8pm. If you feel like joining Karen and her dancers on stage, we are looking for volunteers to slow dance in a Prelude to the performance. For more information about this opportunity, contact info@guelphdance.ca for details.

Crave - Photo by Ken Ewen


Karen Kaeja Choreography at the Guelph Dance Festival

2006
Cold Beneath Me -  choreographed (and performed) a work including Guelph musician Sue Smith at the MacDonald Stewart Art Gallery

2008
BIRD’S EYE VIEW with local Guelph dancers and community dancers with an audience inclusive Flock Landing at the end at Exhibition Park

2010
Wedding Threads at Exhibition Park

2012
1st Resident Dance Artist, Guelph Dance Festival:    
GDF Commission - Crave to Tellfor Fall on Your Feet Dance Lab. Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival, Women’s voices
GDF Commission – Past Midnight - for Guelph Youth Company Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival  Youth Moves

2016
Taxi - CSA nooner at Guelph University

2018
Crave

Karen Kaeja Performing in Guelph

1999
Broken Saucer by Claudia Moore (lifeDUET commission for Karen and Allen) at the River Run Centre

2008
Abattoir co-choreography w/Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre

2012
Armour/Amour by Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre
Guelph Dance Festival Fundraiser improvisation with Allen Kaeja, Ben Grossman and others

2014
X-ODUS by Allen Kaeja, CSA nooner at the University of Guelph

2016
.0 (point zero) by Allen Kaeja,  CSA nooner at the University of Guelph



Monday, 30 April 2018

Q&A With Susie Burpee

We had the opportunity to ask Susie Burpee a few questions about her career, her previous 
presentations at the Guelph Dance Festival and the piece she will be sharing this year with us. 
Susie has previously performed at the festival in 2006 and 2010; its great to welcome 
her once again in 2018 as we celebrate 20 years of dance in our community!

GD: Can you talk to us a bit about the various performances and workshops you have 
brought to Guelph over the years?

SB: The first work I presented at GCDF was in 2006: Mischance and Fair Fortune - a duet 
with Dan Wild. The work is inspired by the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe - two lovers who 
lived their lives separated by a wall. Long curtains divide the space, and there is a phone
microphone that gets used halfway through the work. I have such fond memories of working 
with Taras Cymbalisty and the crew on the production elements.  It was the first time as an
independent artist that I was presenting and performing work outside of my home city, and 
the remarkable Taras and crew helped me bring it to life in Studio A.

The second time I brought my work to Guelph, it was 2010. The work was
A Mass Becomes You, a solo work with a radio artist and lots of boom boxes. Once again, 
the team at GCDF really became a part of the work, and if I remember correctly, there was 
an outstanding stage manager named Dorothy whom I'll never forget!


GD: How have you felt your work has evolved or changed over the past 20 years?
SB: These days, I feel really grateful for all that I've been able to do (and still can do!) in the 
field of dance. As a maker and as performer, I still gravitate toward work that celebrates the 
uniqueness of the individual, including the individual within the group.What's evolved? The 
questions I'm asking within my practice. I'm halfway through my life and career, and right 
now I'm looking back at all that has happened and using it as a means to move forward. 
So the projects I'm doing are about history and memory and using that to make something 
meaningful for the future.

GD: What have been your career challenges and highlights and what would you like to see in 
the dance world as you move forward?

SB: One of the highlights of my career has been the people with whom I've worked. Over 
the years, my colleagues in dance have been the brightest, smartest, most interesting, and 
most luminous people I've ever known. I feel honoured to have had so many meaningful 
working relationships with people who have challenged and enriched my artistic experience. 
Dance is social. We communicate our ideas and negotiate space in and around each other. 

We know that when we move, there is a ripple effect of our actions. The act of dancing 
embodies ideas that our world needs right now. Moving forward, I would like to see these 
ideas illuminated more publicly. I would like that dance remember and use its political power. 
I'm trying to figure out what my role is within this.



GD: Can you tell us a little about about the work you are bringing this year?
SB: Cotton Handkerchiefs and Dog's Tears is a duet by Tedd Robinson that I dance with the
amazing Robyn Thomson Kacki. Here's the background of how it came about:
Tedd Robinson first rose to prominence in 1984 as Artistic Director of Winnipeg's 
Contemporary Dancers, where a teenage Susie Burpee sat in the audience and watched 
his astonishing dance theatre works take the stage. In the late 90's, as a dancer at Ottawa's 
Le Groupe Dance Lab, Susie would finally dance in Tedd's work, and a long-term artistic 
relationship was forged. Fast forward to 2008, when a younger Winnipeg-based dancer, 
Robyn Thomson Kacki, came to study with Tedd and Susie in a summer workshop. A 
triangle was formed - three different generational points of view, connected by a history of 
place and memory. This is the foundation for Cotton Handkerchiefs and Dog's Tears - 
"a metaphysical post-modern treatise on 'home'" (Holly Harris, Dance International).
You can catch Susie Burpee and Robyn Thomson Kacki on Friday, June 1st as part of the
On the Stage A series, presented at the River Run Centre at 8:30pm. For more information
visit https://www.guelphdance.ca/festival/2018-on-the-stage/ 
Production photos for Cotton Handkerchiefs and Dog's Tears by Mark Dela Cruz

Monday, 23 April 2018

Interview with Waterloo’s Contemporary School of Dance

The Contemporary School of Dance's Dance Company, based in Waterloo, has been performing at the Guelph Dance Festival as part of the Youth Moves series for the past twenty years. Christine Parker-Reid, director and owner of the school, tells us a little bit about this journey and what it has meant to her students over the years. 

CSD has been performing at the Guelph Dance Festival. What have you noticed about the company and how it has evolved and changed over the past 20 years?

It is hard to believe that we have performed in the Guelph Dance Festival for 20 years, but I do remember the very first year!  Our Dance Company at the time was only 10 students and there was very limited performing opportunities available for this age group, especially non-competitive ones and in the field of modern dance. 

At the time, we created many of our own performance experiences, so the opportunity to dance in an all youth contemporary performance at the Guelph Dance Festival was so special! 
In the early years, our dancers were able to perform in both the Youth Moves series and the Site Specific series.  It was, and continues to be, important for our dancers to see and appreciate other dancers of similar age who also study and train in contemporary or modern dance.

Our Dance Company now has 4 levels with 50 participants, so if our application is accepted, our most senior dancers get the opportunity to perform at the Youth Moves series.  This is something that our younger dancers look forward to as they move up through the ranks! 

Our Dance Company used to focus solely on contemporary dance, but now, our repertoire includes many dance genres, and approximately 15 performances per year, including performances with the K-W Chamber Orchestra, the K-W Symphony Orchestra, and many professional dancers and companies that have come to the K-W region.



As a long time participant in the Youth Moves Series what has this opportunity meant over the years for your students? What would you like to see as we move into the next 20 years of the Guelph Dance Festival?

Our dancers have been so fortunate to perform in the Youth Moves series for the past 20 years.  It is so important for them to see many other dance groups of similar age studying contemporary dance from all over Ontario. 

It has been wonderful for me to re-connect with some old dance friends from university days, and see the great work that is being done with young dancers across Canada. Our dancers have also been able to participate in some of the workshops and see some of the other performances on the main stage.  The festival is an opportunity for them to perform in a professional festival but also to grow as dancers through the other experiences as well. 

For those students who go on to pursue dance professionally, it offers them a great introduction to the types of dance festivals that are thriving in Ontario. 

In the next 20 years, I would love to see more options for the young dancers to learn from experienced professionals through more workshops, dance talks, and perhaps even opportunities for choreography experiences with the professional dancers. It would be great if there could also be a way to showcase students’ choreography and perhaps get feedback from professionals in the field.



What is it that you love the most about performing in a contemporary dance festival?

I think the breadth of the work shown in the festival continues to amaze me year after year.  Contemporary or modern dance is a big genre and encompasses so many styles within the field.  The idea for a dance can arise from so many unique inspirations.  The audiences’ interpretation of each dance is varied as well, and all of this is completely fine!  All of it is accepted and appreciated in the nurturing environment of the festival.  I think this is so important for young dancers to be a part so that they can have the confidence to explore their own creativity and learn to appreciate the complexity and variedness of dance even more.   





This year the CSD Dance Company brings us Be the Change, choreographed by Georgina Rombough. For more info in the 2018 Youth Moves series visit https://www.guelphdance.ca/festival/2018-youth-moves/

Monday, 16 April 2018

Message from Michelle Miller

I have been one of the 100,000 lucky patrons to have experienced incredible, diverse, national and international contemporary dance over the past 20 years, right here in the city of Guelph. It has been pure joy for me to have had the opportunity to discover and witness amazing dance talent from across Canada and beyond. We are incredibly fortunate to have such awe-inspiring and impressive artistry brought to this fair city. I am truly thankful for all that Guelph Dance has given me personally not tomention the community it has built and nurtured around me that I am now a part of. It is not always easy to get to big cities to be able to experience the high caliber of dance that we are presented with each year through Guelph Dance. I applaud all the incredible hard work, foresight and shear tenacity of Catrina von Radecki and Janet Johnson in creating such an amazing and inspiring festival.

Dance is an art form that is inherently grounded, communicating and expressing through our most sensual and rooted tool, our bodies. It can be an integral and elemental way to elicit genuine feelings of connection, authenticity and true conviction. As an audience member, it can be incredibly transformative to experience dance as a collective. To communally witness pure articulation that transmits shared stories and evokes shared emotion is very empowering. In fact, I believe it can even elicit social change.

I am always astounded by the infinite delight I alone can reap from witnessing an extraordinary moment of artistry. I also believe that in our increasingly isolating world it is vital for us to make concerted efforts to partake in collective experiences. Experiencing art as a collective becomes more fulfilling and emotionally intense, fueled by the crowds unified responses of oohs and ahhs. It has the power to expand my world vision and most importantly it is capable of evoking real empathy and eliciting true connection. Good art is capable of changing perspectives, provoking meaningful query and conjuring deep feeling. These are indelible gifts that can last a life time.

This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Guelph Dance Festival. This festival has always brought us diverse, provocative and surprising artistic performances. It is never predictable and it is always an opportunity to immerse ourselves in this enthralling and provocative art form. Hope you can join me!

Michelle Miller
President, Guelph Dance

Monday, 9 April 2018

Hear from the artists participating in the Breaking Ground Mentorship Program

New this year, the Guelph Dance In the Studio series will include four works by local artists breaking new ground.  Julia Garlisi, Amber Sherwood-Robinson, Solana Del Bel Belluz and Robert Kingsbury all have worked under the mentorship of choreographer Sharon B. Moore (Toronto).  

Last Family Day long weekend they had the opportunity to discover new tools in developing their craft as well as the time and space to explore, all with the support of their peers along the way.

We'll let the artists speak for themselves in this great video produced for Guelph Dance by Nicholas Loess.




Catch our Breaking Ground Mentorship participants at the 20th annual Guelph Dance Festival on Saturday June 2nd at 4:00pm and on Sunday, June 3rd at 2:00pm at the Guelph Youth Dance studios, 42 Quebec Street. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here in advance.