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?