Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Holidays!

Everyone at GCDF wishes 
you a very 
Happy Holiday 
and a wonderful 
New Year 
full of dance!

Visit us back here after January 19 
for more stories of dance and the dance community.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Fine Art of Curating

Catrina: While much of my time as the General Manager of the festival revolves around grant-writing and securing funds to make it all possible, without doubt, my favourite time of the year is when I can put all number-crunching aside and devote myself entirely to being one of the co-artistic directors of the festival and to viewing the 80-100 applications we receive each year.

firstthingsfirst productions (Toronto) with  a view is a view is a view.  Photo by Kristy Kennedy

The GCDF posts a Call to Artists with a deadline of September 15th. We also travel across the country to view as many performances live as possible and to engage in discussions, panels, and professional development.  In fact, I wrote this post as I was on a train on my way to Montreal for the Parcours Danse Conference hosted by La Danse Sur les Route du Quebec and recently went to Calgary for the Fluid Festival and CanDance Network AGM.

Though the video-viewing and travelling to see works can be great, great fun, this time of year can also be one of the most difficult. Out of the 100 applications, only 24 artists get selected (6 for the On the Stage, 2 for the In the Studio, 4 On the Street, 4 In the Park and 8 Youth Moves series artists), we have to decline many very, very strong applications.

So how do we make our choices?

Janet and I view the submissions separately so as not to influence each other. We try to give each submission our equal time and attention. We take notes, we make scores, and we allow the work to resonate. Choosing pieces is not as simple as picking our personal favourites. We truly want to represent the national dance community. We try to choose artists from at least 3 provinces each year while also representing the local dance scene.  Our choices must represent our nation’s cultural diversity (the GCDF has represented dance from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and influences), an eclectic mix of dance styles (urban, innovative contemporary, improvisation, aerial dance, physical theatre, modern, etc…).  And the works have to work well on a mixed program (for example, three solos could feel long, but a mix of solo, duet, trio and group work becomes much more exciting). 
LINK Dance (Vancouver) with Experiments: Where Logic and Emotion Collide. Photo by Peter Eastwood.
Creating a program that incorporates as many of these criteria as possible while also ensuring the strong programming you have all come to know and trust is indeed a challenge, but something both Janet and I cherish as part of our jobs as co-artistic directors.

Janet: Curating ... a joy and an utter heartbreak!  It is incredibly stimulating to see packages from across the nation (and other parts of the world) filled with powerful passion, determination, conviction and artistry.  I feel that each package is a little gift, a message from an artist, a way of looking at dance, the world.  I try hard to honour this and view packages when I am alert and will only view a few at a time before taking a break.  I often know which pieces "work" by how long they resonate in me, how often they come into my imagination, my visual musings.  
tiger princess dance projects (Toronto) bring us Cypress. Photo by Brendan Wyatt.
There are some tough parts like loving a work but not necessarily thinking it is right for this year's festival for a number of reasons.  It is also potentially super-difficult when works come from a  personal as well as professional connection (much of the greater dance community is made up of links such as these...) ... When we just don't have the cash to bring the bevy of amazing talent that comes our way ... When we are well aware that an artist or company "needs" a gig like the GCDF to grow and be reinforced for what they do.

Curating annually gives me a great sense of what's out there at this time, what themes, movement motifs, styles are at the forefront, what artist is investigating what territory, collaboration, etc.  I feel honoured to wear such a hat and am incredibly motivated to bring to the Guelph "table” a diverse, highly skilled, challenging, heart-felt feast of dance.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Robert Kingsbury at the CSA Nooner

On Wednesday, November 23, Robert Kingsbury performed as part of the CSA Nooner at the University of Guelph. We asked him to describe his experience.

Robert: My first piece of choreography as an adult was site-specific. I was studying music at York University and in an attempt at taking dance classes again, I found myself in site-specific choreography. The class culminated in a showing that toured the concrete jungle campus, stopping in places that the students had chosen for choreography. In studying this type of work before entering the realm of formal dance & technical training, I immediately began to see human movement as part of a larger context and environment. In site-specific work, the choreographer seeks out places where they think that they can make moments happen. For the CSA Nooner, the location is predetermined and so it's more of a case of bringing dance to an environment where it may be surprising.

Some people feel that to present dance in a public space tells people that they can look at art the same way that they look at a water bottle or shoelace. I think that the journey towards embodiment is accessible in every place, every moment and through any kind of interaction so this kind of work excites me. I feel as a choreographer a lot of my time & skill goes into sensing my environment. Through site-specific work I feel that my sense of being can be useful in having an affect on the space. For the Nooner I picked the flight of 6 steps facing away from the audience's seats. To make choices that go against audience expectations is one of the first rules.

The piece that I remounted was originally presented in a parquette just north of Queen & Yonge, in Toronto. This was a place that reeked of urine and was not maintained. I took photos of all of the litter, printed them and put them throughout the space during our performance. As a trio, we did a half hour meditation that moved along the surfaces of the space in an attempt at bringing some gravity and thoughtfulness to the environment. People who frequented the space interacted by joining us in climbing the structures of the parquette as though it were a playground. A man peed in the direction of the performance, but did it in a way that said 'this is what I do here'. We did not take offence, in fact a viewer cried at their perception of what seemed ironic and beautiful.

Needless to say the performance at the University Centre was less interactive. The students that I observed seem shy and in a rush. A little bit of this energy made its way into my performance too. I had set a strong intention to interact with the other dancers and be open to the audience, but felt a little less present than I like to be. Being raised above the audience disconnected me from them. In a theatre, they are usually raised above you. That day I was reminded of the frantic sense of disembodiment I experienced during University. This was for me, the major reason I started dancing again. Full circle.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Devoted Fan Shares Her Blog-Dreams

Barbara: Hi all! So happy to meet you here.

To catch you up: I’m Barbara, this year’s GCDF PR go-to and, quite incidentally, Catrina’s sister (GCDF co-Artistic Director).

I’m also going to be the "blog-master", which means I will make sure you have a steady stream of fresh stories—a new post will go up every Thursday morning from now on. On the one hand, we want to reach out to dance enthusiasts everywhere and share our experiences, on the other, we’d like to get to know each other a bit better. And a blog is a cozy way to do just that.

I’ve been going to the GCD Festival since it began. Of course, Catrina is my sister so one might assume it is my sibling-duty to do so. But I could also (just between us) remind you how easy it would be for me to say: “Oh, it’s too far,” (I live in T.O.), or “I have, you know, important stuff to do,” or “My dog can’t be alone all day,” or some such thing. But the reason I come back year after year after year is because the Festival is quite simply amazing!

I have been moved to shivers, moved to wonder, moved to tears. I’ve watched with bated breath as a dancer or dancers pushed the boundaries of convention and made me think twice about what dance is or how it “should look”. Whether it’s in the sweeping fair-like setting of the park, or in the intimate comfort of the River Run Centre, I can’t remember ever, not once, walking away feeling like my life hadn’t just become a bit more nuanced. Like dance moves had insinuated themselves inside this non-dancer’s body and transformed my DNA somehow.

It’s possible I haven’t liked every single piece I’ve seen—frankly, I don’t remember—it’s certainly possible I didn’t understand every piece, but there is something uniquely exponential about seeing not just one dancer’s voice on stage, but several different ones over the course of each Festival. Like a high tea of movement. If the tea isn’t my, well, cup of tea, then the scones will certainly be to-die-for.

I was thrilled when my daughter began to take dance lessons with Michelle De Brouwer of Company Blonde (a delightful mainstay of the festival over the years) and was able to take part in the GCDF Youth Moves series for several years in a row. This wasn’t just a proud mom watching her daughter, but a dance fan watching a young person absorb the complexity and spirit of contemporary dance. It was a powerful turning point in her adolescent life. Way more rewarding than the simple benefit of “exercise” it might have seemed at the start.

It is a delight and an honour to be part of the GCDF. And I thank you for welcoming me here. So what are my blog-dreams? Well, I hope that you will engage with us, throw caution to the wind and share your own stories and thoughts, either through a blog-post of your own or below each story in the comments section. I hope you will share the blog with your friends on Facebook and Twitter and help us spread the word so that we can build our connections far and wide. Because the more we keep dance alive in everyone’s consciousness, the more support we will garner and develop in our broader communities.

So I’ll leave you with a question: what dance piece comes to mind first when you recall the GCDF’s history? The first one that comes to my mind is one from years ago, a lone dancer centre stage, wriggling out of dozens of layers of clothing—and making it utterly riveting. You?

You can also find Barbara at The Middle Ages blog.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Hello and Welcome from Co-Founders/Co-Artistic Directors: Janet Johnson and Catrina von Radecki

Janet: I arrived in Guelph having had an action-packed, intense, dynamic and, at times, intimate experience with the dance community of T.O. This was a rich time, for sure, but I was starting to feel myself get jaded, worn down a bit by the high and low of being a dancer/choreographer in the big smoke.

So when I found myself in happy, open, earthy Guelph I felt a wonderful new wave of energy and positivity coming my way.  I was cementing my union with my partner, becoming a mother, putting down roots.  
Janet in her own piece, Chrysalis
I felt an almost immediate connection to Guelph, but was missing my former dance community!! How to have it all?  How to bring the best of the T.O. dance scene to my newfound home, this place with which I was most excited to share my passion....?
Janet in David Earle's Tango Dreams
By some odd fluke of happenstance, I found myself meeting Catrina who too had moved from a very vibrant dance scene in Montreal (and Europe). There began our earnest, slightly naïve, but highly passionate attempt to bring fantastic dance artists (many of whom in the beginning were my friends and peers from T.O.) to little river-lined Guelph. I was super excited to give dance artists gigs, as well as to feed Guelphites some great morsels of artistic expression through the body and through this great medium of commonality!  
Catrina and Janet, 2001
In the beginning we had a fantastic group of volunteers (mostly those in the community we had started to teach, to win over) and we would all meet with babies in hand in someone's kitchen, sipping coffee and dreaming big. It was super motivating to see how much our volunteers, like us, were seeking rich artistic experiences to sweep up on the shores of Guelph.  Everyone wanted to support a community that presented such artistic endeavors.... We all wanted to help foster a city for our kids, our souls, our shared sense of the need for artistic interaction and proactive expression.

As a new presenter for dance, Bill Kimball in Peterborough was a big inspiration for me.  He programmed interesting and edgy dance and the University-driven city seemed to follow eagerly in his presenter's path.  I saw a link between these two communities and, with Catrina's love of experimental dance in mind too, we tried our best in those early GCDF years to go slow but to immediately present dance that was slightly challenging, risk-taking and definitely, for the most part, of a very high skill level (we maintained separate series for both emerging artists and youth performers, and continue to do so today).  
We seemed to grasp immediately that if we wanted this wee festival to survive, we would need to grasp hands with other organizations, with more people, and with the greater community if possible.  This element has undeniably been one of the most satisfying as well as wise moves the GCDF has made.  With great support and collaboration, the GCDF has been able to take leaps, spin slowly, lunge deep..........

Catrina: And where are we leaping, spinning, lunging deep to?  Where are we now and where do we go from here?  These are the questions we are asking ourselves right now, planning a future direction for the festival in ways we cannot even imagine just yet.  In the very beginning we dreamed that Guelph could be a place where dancers could work outside a metropolitan area (yes, this was very personal for us), where artists could create in tranquility and with less influences all around them (yes, also something we wanted for ourselves), and where we could witness the diversity of dance happening across Canada without driving an hour or more. 
We really do have all that now right here in Guelph.  Guelph is home to Dancetheatre David Earle, a world-renowned Order of Canada and Premier's Awards of Excellence in the Arts recipient.  Professional dancers can train with them and perform with their company.  Guelph is home to Fall on Your Feet, a relatively new collective of professional dancers who all call Guelph their home and who invite the community at large to join in on their movement research and discoveries. 

Young dancers are training regularly in contemporary dance through the Guelph Youth Dance training program, and the more serious young dancers get performance opportunities with a wide range of professional dancers through the Guelph Youth Company.  And, of course, the festival itself brings artists from not only across the country but from all over the world to this wonderful city of Guelph. 

We may have been a bit naïve in the beginning, but hey, that quality brought us to a place where anything is possible, a place I am still very happy to be.

We are incredibly excited to continue with the dreaming and the planning and to see where this might take us over the next 10, 20 years.  What are your thoughts?  Do you want to be involved?