Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Embrace Adventure with Shannon Litzenberger: Who Says Bankers Can't Dance?

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2014, some of the Festival artists will share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions and engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Embrace adventure with us in 2014!

Choreographer Shannon Litzenberger provides an account of her artistic process for her exciting large-cast piece. Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance performs at On the Stage B on Saturday, May 31 at 8pm in the Co-operator's Hall at River Run Centre. Tickets are available now through the Box Office!

For this year's Festival, we are inviting the community to Embrace Adventure with us! One way is through Shannon Litzenberger's piece, which you will hear about below, and another way is through Across Oceans piece, which is still open for public sign-up! If these bankers inspire you, join the fun here!

Royal Bank of Canada performers in Everyday Marvels. Photo by Kevin Konnyu.

Shannon: A group of enthusiastic Royal Bank of Canada employees will be showing off their moves at River Run Centre this May as part of the upcoming Guelph Dance Festival. Together with professional Toronto-based contemporary dancers, they will perform as part of my large-scale episodic dance production, Everyday Marvels. Developed at the intersection of professional and community-based dance creation, Everyday Marvels is based on a volume of poetry authored by Governor General Award winning poet Lorna Crozier called The Book of Marvels: A compendium of everyday things. The quotidian objects interpreted in Crozier’s poems, such as ‘radiator’, ‘chair’, ‘flashlight’, and ‘sky’, are brought to life by a group of eight contemporary choreographers including Robert Abubo, Julia Aplin, Susie Burpee, Valerie Calam, Peter Chin, Marie-Josée Chartier, Dan Wild and myself. 

Named one of the top things to see at Toronto’s 2013 Nuit Blanche by Toronto Life and the Globe and Mail, Everyday Marvels attracted nearly 10,000 spectators to the Gardiner Museum from dusk ‘til dawn last October. Nuit Blanchers stood in line for over an hour to take in the performances, and the house was still at capacity at 6:30am when the final poem was read. Maybe it was the cozy indoor venue that attracted the crowd, or the great advance press…but maybe it was just sheer curiosity! Can bankers really dance?

My co-directors Susie Burpee, Marie-Josée Chartier and I had the pleasure of working with this wonderful group of RBC employees over a period of six months leading up to the Everyday Marvels premiere. We rehearsed with them on Monday nights at one of the RBC towers downtown so it was convenient for them to participate. Instead of teaching them steps and routines, we engaged them in a creative process that helped them get out of their heads and into their bodies. We practiced moving together as an ensemble, as well as focusing and responding to non-verbal cues.

As part of our creation process, we attempted to capture the experience of the bankers along the way. Take a look:

Everyday Marvels @ Nuit Blanche from Shannon Litzenberger on Vimeo.

As the bankers can attest, participating in dance creation offers considerable benefit beyond the rehearsal hall. Dance, at its most complex is a sophisticated process of creating meaning through the arrangement of bodies in time and space. But at its most elemental, dance is about collaboration and community. I asked the RBC performers what they took away from the experience, what surprised them, what challenged them, and what was most memorable. Here’s what they said:

“I was surprised by the hidden talent we had. Once I saw the complete pieces, I understood that amateurs can do amazing things under the guidance of great choreographers. I never saw dancing the way I see it now. I learned that dance is more than choreography.” – Inez Fernandez

“I am inspired and encouraged to do more and to be part of a group.” –Nisha Rana

“I was surprised to see the fun side of my colleagues. And it surprised me even more to run into them again in suits at meetings.” – Jessy Zhao

“It was a powerful, moving night for me. The energy in the room was so satisfying and it felt great to be a part of something so creative and expansive.” – Dalreen Fobler

“It wasn’t like jumping from a bridge, but there is some free fall to this unexpected journey that makes everyone smile, brings some joy, and a feeling of unrestrained freedom.” – Mark Bilous

“None of us are professionals, but we all have dance inside of us.” – Barbara Hodder

“Looking back at the experience, it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling moments in my life. I feel very grateful to have been a part of this process and wish to continue supporting the arts.” – David Lim

In short, yes, bankers CAN dance! But don’t take my word for it. Come and see them for yourselves on May 31st at River Run Centre as they take the stage with Lorna Crozier and an ensemble of top Toronto dance artists during the not-to-be-missed Guelph Dance Festival.   

Shannon Litzenberger is Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, writer, director, and arts advocate. Over her decade-long career, she has worked with some of Canada’s leading choreographers including David Earle, DA Hoskins, Marie-Josée Chartier, Susie Burpee, Heidi Strauss, Darryl Tracy, Meagan O’Shea, Michael Greyeyes, and David Pressault. Since 2009, she has been creating and producing dynamic multi-disciplinary performance works through the creative umbrella of her company Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance. Her choreography has been presented in collaboration with DanceWorks, JD Dance, Anne Portnuff Theatre, The Registry Theatre, The Toronto Fringe Festival, Gardiner Museum, and Dance: Made in Canada, among others. Shannon was the 2012 recipient of the Jack McAllister Award for accomplishment in dance. www.shannonlitzenberger.com

Monday, 14 April 2014

Embrace Adventure with Julia Aplin: BLiP

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2014, some of the Festival artists will share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions and engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Embrace adventure with us in 2014!

Julia Aplin has choreographed a collaborative piece between Perpetual Motion Youth Company, Swansea School of Dance, and YMI Dancing. She shares with us some journal entries about the piece, which will be performed at Youth Moves, Sunday June 1 at 4pm. Tickets are available through the River Run Centre Box Office.

JuliaBLiP is an interconnected dance work that brings together three dance companies in an exciting new collaboration. BLiP is about creating connections, appreciating differences and understanding how all living things need each other. The work is choreographed to allow each company to shine and to create moments of unity between the groups.

"Blip" is "something that is small that does not last a long time". In the big picture our Universe, life as we know it has not been around for very long and individual lives are a mere blip. Yet, we each are a beautiful, essential part of the whole picture. This piece celebrates the profound importance of each blip of life in our world.
Some early sketches from Julia's BLiP workbook.
Entry 2: Went into an amazing fabric store today. I had to focus myself to get only the black, 4-way stretch. Enough to make 25 balaclavas. 25 BALACLAVAS! Now, to me that seems like an unusual request but the sales lady didn’t bat an eye when I showed her the hooded sample and I asked how many thousands of yards I would need.

Entry 3: Here’s my main problem right now…keeping track of exits and entrances! If you leave stage right and your next entrance is stage left it is a problem. I have to make sure every dancer’s exit is in the correct direction, so that she can enter from the right place for the next section. Sounds simple, right? but with 25 dancers from 3 different companies, it’s a mind bender.

Entry 4: My house is full of tiny bits of coloured foam. Why? I’ve been cutting up kitchen sponges. Why? To make mushrooms. Why? Because mushrooms are an important part of the ecological system.

Entry 5: Had a big rehearsal day for BLiP today! Started at Pia Bouman’s YMI Youth Company at 9 a.m. Then, dashed to Cambridge to rehearse with Dianne Long’s Perpetual Motion dance company. On Wednesday, I’ll be rehearsing with Michelle de Browers’ Swansea dancers. All of these dancers are impressing me with their commitment and energy. Wahoooo! Can’t wait for them to meet each other and share in their awesomeness.

Entry 6: Had a great rehearsal with the Swansea dancers today. I came to the studio with, what I thought, was a big question; Do we want a propeller or a leaf? In the end, there really was no question as the leaf won hands down. In fact, the dancers’ excitement over the leaf made the propeller seem kind of sad by comparison.

Entry 7: We had our first full run-through of the YMI Dancing sections today. The dancers are really going for it, settling into their roles and bringing lots of creative energy to the movement. Our morning costume making session was also very rewarding. The dancers came up with fabulous ideas of what species to put on their heads. For example…the BUTTERFLISH!

YMI Dancers designing their costumes. Emilie Claus, Amelia Brown, Ella Corkum, Sarah Andrew-Gee, Cate Billinton, Alexia Christie.
Dhara Sheldrick, Stella Horvath and Jenny Aplin modeling some of the designs at Swansea.
Entry 8: I am trying to get the opening section straight in my head. All three companies are in this section, and I am still having fear of traffic jams. That is why I am up at midnight going over the sketches and doing imaginary, preventative traffic control. Here’s some of the thoughts in my head; If the Spikey ball enters upstage right, then the connected animals can enter downstage left, ok… then the tumble weed crosses from upstage left, yes…! Repeat at least one hundred times until you either A) lose your mind or B) feel confident that it will work.

Some diagrams from Julia's BLiP workbook.

Entry 9: The daxophone! The first time I heard it I wasn’t sure I heard it right. Hans Reichel was a genius. Did you ever put your wooden ruler on the edge of a desk to make that bwangy sound? Hans Reichel made a collection of odd looking wooden sticks to make that sound even better!!! Hans Reichel made an artform out of that sound! He used his daxophones to make the album “Lower Lurum” to which my boyfriend (also a musical genius, I must say) introduced me and right away I knew it had to be used for BLiP. When I played it for the dancers they looked puzzled, like maybe they thought I might be joking. Maybe a little crazy. Hans Reichel and the daxophone! 
Hans Reichel's Lower Lurum.
Julia Aplin is a Toronto based artist. Her choreography has been presented across Canada and in Europe. She has created work for Dancemakers, Toco Loca, Urban Vessel, and princess productions, among others. Julia’s career has taken her across artistic boundaries. Julia was a performer with Dancermakers under Artistic Director Serge Bennathan for 15 seasons. Julia teaches dance and movement to a wide range of communities.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Embrace Adventure with Human Playground: The Road Trip of Our Lives

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2014, some of the Festival artists will share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions and engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Embrace adventure with us in 2014!

The Auto-Fiction team at Human Playground tells us their story here. Human Playground performs Auto-Fiction at In the Park on Thursday May 29 at 7pm, Saturday May 31 at noon, and Sunday June 1 at noon, in Exhibition Park. Suggested donation $15, or pay-what-you-can. Human Playground is also featured in this year's Festival poster and banner.

Human Playground: This project has been such an exciting journey - talk about an Auto-Fiction novel and a roller coaster of emotions! Using the automobile as a dance partner, a stage, and a travelling machine brings on new challenges every season. With over 50 shows and 10 used cars under our belts, and countless new friendships made along the way, we're ready to make 2014 our biggest road trip ever! First stops: Flux London Dance Festival and Guelph Dance Festival, here we come!

Human Playground digs their way out of winter to join us in Guelph this spring!
Human Playground: Squatting in parking lots, warehouses, or alleys...this is how we do it. Having to deal with the extreme weather of Montreal and the limited city access of a car, the production of this show always seems to be a tour de force, as most adventures are! We learn to get creative, in many ways, and surround ourselves with an extraordinary team, blessed by the support of a few visionary partners.

Human Playground uses whatever space they can find to rehearse.
Human Playground: Most people only see the show, but the show is only a very small part of the journey. We are happy to share with you some behind-the-scenes photos that we've never shown before. When we come to visit you in Guelph, we will bring you to the fabulous destinations that the show has travelled to, but first we will show you how it's done closer to home, and what getting ready to embrace adventure means to us!
Human Playground gets ready to embrace adventure in Guelph!
The car as a dance partner, stage, travelling machine, and place of rest and humour!

Cheers from the Auto-Fiction team! Here's to amazing and crazy projects!

Montreal-based dancer and choreographer Milan Gervais conceives and performs choreographic proposals for public spaces: on sidewalks (Side walk dancing, 2008), in parking lots (Auto-Fiction, 2009), in transit paths (Trait d’union, 2011), and around crosswalks (Intersection, 2012). Her work has been presented at many festivals in Canada and Europe.

She has co-directed Human Playground with Louliko Shibao since 2011. A creative platform and dance company, Human Playground develops new ways of looking at live art forms as powerful creative communication tools. Human Playground creates human-scale communication devices offering performative, interactive, and participatory experiences. human-playground.com