Thursday, 29 March 2012

Tanya Williams Examines Contact Improvisation

Tanya: Back in the year 2000, I came here to take in the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival when the festival itself was still fledgling. I unwittingly wandered into the main stage series and saw Karen and Allen Kaeja performing Broken Saucer choreographed by Claudia Moore. Seeing this piece opened up a whole new world to me that set me on a course that has been life-changing. I had never seen contact improvisation before. I imagine that their piece was set choreography that had emerged from contact improvisation among other processes. The soaring lifts were, of course, spectacular, but there was something else, a quality of listening and responsiveness within the turbulence and ecstasy of the mysterious unknown of relationship. It was that embodiment of what I actually wanted in relationship, which found me declaring to my friend as I left the theatre: “Whatever that is, I have to do that.” The next day I was hunting down a contact improvisation teacher in Guelph and organizing classes at the studio I had in Kitchener.
Contact improvisation arises from a few core principles: 1) Take care of yourself, while 2) having an extended sense of self. This sets up a creative tension from which emerges a complex dance where the dancers are both free, and response-able (able to respond to whatever happens). If I attend to my needs while in an interdependent relationship with you and trust that you are doing the same, the dance is alive with a fundamental trust in our awareness to navigate the unfolding unknown.
This year I had the opportunity to work with choreographer, Karen Kaeja. What I learned when I worked with Karen was how she brought these principles into the process of creating choreography. She regarded the dancers with a deep trust in what we bring, and what we don’t even know yet that we bring, infusing the space with an appetite for the unknown, navigating through curiosity and experimentation. I have the sense that when she is watching us “try stuff out”, she is as curious about her own responses, trusting her intuition to juice up whatever she sees, and trusts what her imagination might cough up to further build on that. There is no fear of muddling about in the ether. As in contact improvisation, often the most awkward moments are where the treasures lie, and if we relax into that trust, it will reveal itself. I discovered the quality of reverence for the mystery of relationship, which had captured my heart over a decade before, can swell at the core of creating choreography, as much as it can in my most enlivening contact dances.
TANYA WILLIAMS is a context artist with a passion for dancing with systems… in community, on the land, and in the body. She regularly teaches contact improvisation and contemporary dance and has been facilitating and performing for 19 years. She is a co-founder of the Ontario Regional Contact Jam, Friends of the Floor Dance-Theatre, Embodied Cognition Collective, Fall On Your Feet Dance Lab, and The Living Room Context learning community for the embodiment of ecological thought. She currently resides in the living experiment: Household as Ecology. She is hosting a weekend workshop with internationally acclaimed Contact Improvisation teacher, Martin Keogh, in Kitchener on April 27-29th.  Information available at

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Video Post: Allen Kaeja at the GCDF Arts Explosion Camp

Last week, award-winning choreographer and filmmaker and co-artistic director of Kaeja d'Dance, Allen Kaeja, was a guest teacher at the GCDF's Arts Explosion Camp. He talks here about what it was like to work with the Dance Focus group––campers from 10-13 years-old with at least two years of dance experience.

Don't miss Allen's work at the upcoming festival in June where Kaeja d'Dance presents Armour/Amour.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Shannon Kingsbury Behind the Scenes

As part two in our two-part story of the symbiotic relationship between musician and choreographer, Shannon Kingsbury adds her thoughts—and music—to Sue Smith’s post (below) about working with choreographer Karen Kaeja on the GCDF commissioned piece, Crave to Tell

Shannon: It's a crisp February morning and I am at Temple Studios with the Fall On Your Feet Dance Collective and choreographer Karen Kaeja. Karen is creating a piece for the troupe and Sue Smith and I will be writing the accompanying musical score. Today I have come to observe the dance rehearsal to give some context for the music composition. Sue is out of town so I am the lone singer in a room full of gorgeous women dancers. I feel like a voyeur.

We are sitting casually in a circle with notebooks and pens. The theme of the piece to be is “Secrets”.  Karen has a sentence for us to complete: “The most secret place inside of me is..........”

Scribble scribble go the pens. We share our answers. Karen urges us onto our feet to give physical form to our words. I'm not sure what to do. Karen coaxes me to join the dancers. Yikes! The instructions are clear: we are each to create a movement inspired by “the most secret place inside of me”, and then learn each others’ movements sequentially, creating a series.

And GO! Karen creeps along the floor like a wounded crab. The rest of us replicate. Tanya wraps her arms around herself, her right hand guiding her chin upwards. We add Tanya's chin lift onto Karen's crab. Kelly's slender frame spins and withdraws into itself. 3 movements. Now, my turn.


I try not to analyze or agonize since there doesn't seem to be any way out of this! With my secret word in the fore of my mind, I feel my body lunge forward, palm extending out beyond my parameters and then reaching sharply back behind me. The dancers copy. Exhilarating!
Georgia corkscrews down into a “thinking man” position, Lynette clasps her knee to her chest, Janet's wrist flicks and Karen adds a final swirl. I do my best to keep up with the lithe & fluid bodies around me as we move in tandem. I wonder how it is that I can remember thousands of lyrics and musical motifs and yet have trouble with the sequence of 8 relatively simple movements? The dancers cheer me on with their eyes and smiles.

I feel stiff and winded and ask to sit on the side and observe. They are amazing to me—the five of them moving like a flock of birds with Karen at the helm calling out the direction of their flight. The motion of their bodies, the swish of their clothes, the sound of their breath and pattering feet has a hypnotic effect and my lids grow heavy. The dancers become my dream muses and the next thing I know the clock has drifted ahead and they are gathered around me again, sitting casually on the floor as we began.
Did I dream it all?
Again we take to the pages of our notebooks, this time to complete the sentence “I crave to tell.........” This assignment takes more time than the first. Brows furrow, eyes seem to glaze over with memory. Pens alternate between energetic spurts and thoughtful pauses. We do not share our answers.

Karen instructs the dancers to choose a few words from their writings. She counsels me to observe and listen from the outside. She directs them into a heap on the floor, bodies completely relaxed and breathing as one. “Now, randomly speak your words.”

I grab my pen and record it all down through the lens of my lingering drowsiness. Sometimes their words overlap. Sometimes they assume each other’s words. Sometimes they even finish each other's words. There is a randomly beautiful rhythm and cadence to what arises, even a hint of melody:

“Laugh. Wait. Lie. Truth. Up. Up. Up. Crave. Choices. Causing. Wishing. Heartache. Heart. Wishing. Damage. Oblivious. Up. Up. Up. Living. Wait. Oblivious. Wait. Live. Truth. Laugh. Heart. My Heart. Ache. Causing. Heart. Choices. Causing. Oblivious. Heartache. Damn. Dawn. Laugh. Live.”

A shiver runs down my spine at the conclusion of this spontaneous musical score unknowingly being born. I can hardly wait to share it with Sue.

Shannon Kingsbury is a singer, songwriter, harpist and music educator whose eclectic
performance career has ranged from film soundtrack to stage to studio. Along with Sue Smith,
Shannon is Co-Artistic Director of Ondine Chorus, vocal ensemble, and SKSS Productions,
creating unique multi-discipline performance arts shows in support of environmental and
social causes.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Sue Smith on Creating Music for Dance

We asked Sue Smith to tell us about her experience working with choreographer Karen Kaeja and fellow vocal artist Shannon Kingsbury on Crave to Tell, the piece the GCDF commissioned for Women's Voices.
Sue Smith

Sue: Working with Karen Kaeja is a most inspiring process. Working with Shannon Kingsbury is a delight. Together, the three of us are collaborating to weave together music and dance—newly found, original, moving, held, telling.

When the three us met up on a cold December morning, Karen introduced us to her concept for the piece—the exploration of secrets.  She asked us, “What secrets do you crave to tell?”   

Think about that for a minute and you will likely find yourself on an intense personal journey. We talked about the impact of secrets on our lives, generational secrets, how secrets were revealed, when we shared secrets, when we were implored not to tell—and thereby put into the arduous position of carrying a burden of knowledge.  Being alone with a secret.  Oh, the responsibility.  Oh, the emotional work.  Oh, the musical work; the privilege of taking these ideas and transforming them into musical expressions.

The exploration of the theme was a gold mine of sorts,  eliciting many ideas and avenues for musical expression. Along the way, Shannon and I composed musical elements and created structures for improvisation, knowing we would be working with an “orchestra” of 5 female voices. Singing with Louisa Kratka, Monique Vischrschraper, and Mosa McNeilly, our rehearsals have been a combination of  learning set pieces written by Shannon and me as well as improvisational explorations in which the uniqueness of each voice intermingles, responds, cajoles, soothes, harmonizes and blends with the group, creating one-of-a-kind moments and bringing forth music that could never have been born from a page or a solitary composer; a deeply satisfying musical communication.

The process of creating music for dance is fluid and conversational.  Having worked with Karen previously on the scores for “Wedding Threads”,  “Cold Beneath Me” and “Hangman”, I was confident in our process together. Karen creates a magnificent yet delicately held container in which to work—and into which she welcomes the fire of ideas and possibility. Shannon and I observed, created, responded, and contributed ideas, music, and voice, which Karen took into her process with the dancers.

Shannon Kingsbury and Sue Smith at work
The back and forth of:  “Look at this; listen to this; I LOVE IT!;  try this;  what about silence?; more energy required here; I LOVE IT;  a softer approach here; watch for the moving yoga tree,  wait for Kelly’s hand”, intermingle as the ideas grow and take shape and colour. Witnessing the dancers moving to our newly created musical pieces is a marvel—I think I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to do this work.

The absolute inspiration of observing Karen and the dancers at work gives me energy for months to come. Working with Shannon is always an enriching musical experience empowered by wonderful commitment and the ever-present twinkle in her eye. The dedication, artistry and communication that fill the studio during rehearsal is an elixir that moves us all.                                                                                                        

Sue Smith is a singer, musician, composer, and dancer and has performed on stage, on camera, and in the studio as a soloist and collaborator.  27 years ago Sue had the good sense to co-found Hillside Festival and is the founder, Artistic Director, and General Manager of the Season Singers. She has scored several pieces for Karen Kaeja, and has performed with Robert Kingsbury. She is a dedicated music educator, maintaining a vibrant teaching studio in Guelph and Toronto. 

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Robert Kingsbury for Women’s Voices

We welcome Robert Kingsbury to describe the process of creating his piece Can Be Is Hiding for tonight's performance of Women's Voices.
Robert: I was a little bit surprised when I was asked to be a part of the Women's Voices show this year. All the proceeds from this show go to Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis. I saw the show last year and was impressed with the strong lineup of choreography offered by local women. In contemplating what I felt might be right for this event, I immediately enlisted the help of a female acquaintance. Katie Ewald is a dancer with a strong background in conceptual work. She moved to Guelph with her husband to raise their son. I had been interested in connecting with Katie so I decided to make this piece a bit of a “get to know you”.

Katie went to an influential choreographic school in Belgium called PARTS and has worked for choreographers Daniel Leveille and Ame Henderson. She teaches a gentle Pilates class at Temple Studios on Wednesday evenings. During our first rehearsal, I have never had anyone ask for so much clarity. Katie wanted to authentically explore the tasks set out by my research. This is part of the rigour of some contemporary forms of dance and choreography. How much time in the process is invested into sensory research, what are the specific intentions of the work, and do the performers have a precise understanding of their role. I was challenged to answer why I want to present my work to audiences instead of just doing it for my own experience. I eventually realized that in the process of performing I am challenged to be receptive, which allows me to grow. I believe that the possibility of witnessing this is of value to the audience.

During rehearsals we talked about what was going on in our lives, how we were feeling. I realized that every moment that we shared was somehow going toward what would be created. We indulged in my sensory mapping improvisations, where the attention of the body is kept in specific visual or felt places for prolonged durations. After our first rehearsal, I was happy to hear that Katie's neck was feeling better than usual. A recurring injury that comes and goes eventually evolved the nature of our performance into something very specific.

One of the things that we talked about was the desire to dedicate yourself to deep research, yet finding this difficult when the available funding is limited. We agreed that compensation in different forms might allow us to feel more willing to be involved. Within the next week Katie asked me if I'd do some babysitting or vacuuming. I happily played with her son on several occasions, allowing her some time to relax or get organized. From our discussions and this mutual exchange I feel a shared sense of value in the process we've had. We created a space for community, friendship, and the mutual expression of our desires onstage and in life. This happened because we kept a specific intention for the work. The goal was for whatever happened to be mutually satisfying for each of us. For me this meant learning to be receptive in every moment both to myself and to someone else. This has become the gift that I would like to share with Guelph.

Working equally in dance, music for the stage, and choreography, Robert has had the pleasure of participating in many artistic collaborations. In his work he produces audio, film, and movement to create a sense of embodied performance installation. A graduate of York University's Fine Arts department, Robert is honoured to be part of Guelph's rich community of artists.

Tonight in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Guelph Fab 5 is proud to present Women’s Voices. This fabulous event will take place at 7pm at John F. Ross, E.L. Fox Auditorium, 21 Meyer Drive, Guelph. Tickets can be purchased at the door and all proceeds will go to Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis. After the show, we invite you to join us for a reception.  

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Karen Kaeja on Creating Her Latest Work

Karen Kaeja is currently at work creating Crave to Tell, a piece commissioned by the GCDF for the upcoming Women’s Voices performance.

Karen: There are no two better places to be than in the studio and in Guelph. I am truly in my element here. I love the pre-rehearsal anticipation. Each day that my wheels slick the pavement from Toronto to Quebec Street I feel the excitement begin to percolate through my body as if it is attuning to the calling of the work (preparation happens in the most unusual ways!). I walk up the stairs into the studio and it’s like a charge of lighting drops in, the fire ignites.

On the first day while the dancers were shifting through their stretching and warming and settling, I observed them. I get so much information from all of these nuances and initial interactions. Our initial time together fuels my continuum. I am not a choreographer with a routine of how I hit the deck. Each creation is a new possibility and I really do not know where it might go or what it might end up being. Sometimes I come in with a seed of curiosity that I will be inspired from but it may not stick and I secretly hope it does not. This allows me the freedom to follow a thread or many threads until the work finds its voice. In some way there ends up being an indirect link to my initial imaginings.

Shannon, Sue and I got together in Toronto before embarking on rehearsals with FOYF. I exposed my focus this year, which is based on secrets, and we were off to the races. It was a fully fueled conversation and enough to last for hours and hours of exploration.

My current inquiry of secrets kept and secrets shared is what I am stimulated by in this work. It is too tall an order for a short process such as this but it could become a long chapter of work in my life. All the pieces I am making this year share an element of this indirectly. The pressure to pair down the vastness of the exploration kept haunting me while I tried to be open to intuitive meanderings. My goal was to create a work that fits the dancers, one that is really of them and for them. Curious to discover in the body how and where secrets lay, how they affect our behaviour and how they shape our lives, witnessing such treasures of mystery and enchantment bring subtle and bold points of departure. I asked the dancers to only bring in secrets that they were ready and interested in sharing, and nothing that they could not depart with. We created a safe space to be with each other in the process, I hope! Some of the secrets became physical or vocal source material.

FOYF members have an obviously strong connection and this helped me understand its potential right away. I have treasured the amount of input and full on commitment the dancers have given me. I am a lucky woman!

Collaborating with Sue and Shannon has been beyond a dream. It has been an extremely ‘cooking’ relationship, very inspiring. Last night we began a creative session at 9:45pm and when we were too tired to go on at 12:15am, I suggested a little idea of mixing some of the dancers words in sung phrases and they could not help themselves but to go at it. They are a truly amazing team and boundless in ideas and tenacity. I love this way of working – incubating in the oven together.

Questions I ask to myself these days during creative process are: How do I mine something to become uncomfortable? How do I deal with my discomfort? How does the dancer’s discomfort or excitement affect my next choice? How do I fuel it with smell, taste, touch, and an everyday life palette of feelings, exactitude, perseverance and incubated expression? These questions may or may not be transmitted or dealt with, but they linger during my current existence.

I take pleasure in the intuitive and unknown nature of that which can never be exactly repeated. I never feel like I progress, but I feel different each time I create.

Being familiar with Guelph, through many visits and inclusions in the festival, I feel very welcome here. I have a long time friendship and professional relationship with many artists in the community here. I really feel like it is a 2nd home to me artistically and beyond!

Karen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance is a 2009 Dora performance nominee. She is included in The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Canadian Who's Who, and Theatre Dance Encyclopedia in Canada and has won performance awards from Moving Pictures, the Paul D. Fleck Fellowship as one of Canada’s innovative artists of excellence, with nominations for the 10th Annual American Choreography Awards and the 2006 Banff World Television Awards. Noted in NOW magazine as “one of the country’s best dance artists”, her career as a performer, teacher, and creator spans ten countries and exceeds 17 internationally award-winning dance films at over 400 festivals.

On Thursday, March 8th, 2012, and in celebration of International Women’s Day, the Guelph Fab 5 is proud to present Women’s Voices. This fabulous event will take place at 7pm at John F. Ross, E.L. Fox Auditorium, 21 Meyer Drive, Guelph. Tickets can be purchased at the door and all proceeds will go to Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis. After the show, we invite you to join us for a reception.