Friday, 24 April 2015

Stretch Your Boundaries with Helen Simard & Margie Gillis

We want you to have the inside scoop, so in the weeks leading up to the 2015 Guelph Dance Festival, the artists will take you behind the scenes and you will hear from the Co-Artistic Directors about their creative vision. You can stretch your boundaries and unleash your imaginations before the Festival even starts! So go ahead, follow your instincts and read on...

This week on the blog, we hear from Helen Simard, who will be performing a piece based on an interview with Margie Gillis, as well as Co-Artistic Director Catrina von Radecki about the curation of the Festival to include Helen Simard in the Park series and Margie Gillis on Stage A.

Why are the arts important to us? Why should we publicly fund the arts?

Helen Simard’s piece On the Subject of Compassion, which will be performed in the Park series, is a response to a contentious Sun News interview by Krista Erikson wherein Margie Gillis was barraged with questions about the value of the arts and importance of public funding of the arts. We feel privileged to have both artists in the Festival this year and hope that their work will speak to the value of the arts in our community.

Margie Gillis is a national treasure and has been widely recognized in Canada for her artistic and diplomatic efforts. Gillis was distinguished as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 2009 and named a laureate of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Her work is highly emotional and full of beauty and grace. We are truly lucky to have her here in our community and to have the opportunity to see her work in Stage A, to hear her speak in the talkback session, and to take part in her workshops.

Every time I have seen Simard’s On the Subject of Compassion I have been brought to tears. The arts are important. We need compassion in our society. Everyone in our society needs to be valued and supported, to be allowed to stretch their boundaries, to unleash their imagination, and to follow their instincts.

Guelph Dance is honoured to have the opportunity to present Simard, Gillis and all of the talented and provocative artists that will make up this year’s Festival. We could not do so without both private and public support. This is why it is important for us to lobby the government in support of the arts. It is important to collect statistics and understand how the arts can be an economic generator. Perhaps most importantly, we must engage with the arts and be open to creating a dialogue containing diverse opinions and perspectives. This way we can increase our compassion.

Helen: I was 8 the first time I saw Margie Gillis perform. It was the first modern dance show I ever went to, and one of the experiences that fostered my interest in becoming a dance artist. I was mesmerized by Margie’s long hair, flowing costumes, unearthly presence. My mother convinced the theatre to give me one of the promotional posters after the show. That poster stayed on my bedroom wall for almost ten years. In fact, it's probably still somewhere in my storage room...

Fast forward about 25 years. In June 2011, I had a 3-week residency and performance opportunity at Bain St-Michel, an abandoned art deco swimming pool in Montreal that regularly hosted theatre and dance shows. The first day I came into the space to work just happened to be the day the now defunct Sun News television station interviewed Margie Gillis about government funding to the arts. I came into the studio enraged, frustrated, but more than anything, feeling lost. It was in this emotional state that On the Subject of Compassion was created spontaneously, intuitively, without very much filtering. At the time, it was my attempt to respond to what I saw as an attack not only on the arts, but on vulnerability, generosity, and compassion. It was my attempt to make sense of my place in a world where we are afraid to open ourselves to other ways of thinking, being, or doing.
Photos of Helen Simard by Celia Spenard-Ko.
So what does it mean to me to present this piece in the same festival as Margie Gillis this summer, with her in the audience watching? Well the short answer is that I CAN'T BELIEVE IT AND I AM SO EXCITED THAT I AM JUMPING UP AND DOWN AS WE SPEAK! I honestly am so honoured that I will have the opportunity to share my work with her and with all the other spectators who will present. Performing in the Park series will allow me to explore the work in a new space, with new audiences, hopefully allowing us to open new dialogues on the vital importance of dance and art in our society. 

Oh, and I might just have to dig that poster out of my storage room, and see if Margie is willing to autograph it for me! :)

Tickets for Stage A, featuring Margie Gillis, can be purchased now through the River Run Centre Box Office. The Park series, featuring Helen Simard, is pay-what-you-can, suggested donation of $15. Don't carry cash? Pay online ahead of time!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Unleash Your Imagination with Katie Ewald

We want you to have the inside scoop, so in the weeks leading up to the 2015 Guelph Dance Festival, the artists will take you behind the scenes and you will hear from the Co-Artistic Directors about their creative vision. You can stretch your boundaries and unleash your imaginations before the Festival even starts! So go ahead, follow your instincts and read on...

This week on the blog, we hear from Katie Ewald, who is curating a component of On the Stage B entitled ReCalibrate. All of the artists involved in this collection can't wait to share their work with you! Get your tickets for the performance on Saturday June 6 at 8pm through the River Run Centre Box Office!

"How can we make the audience a partner in adventure instead of a consumer?" - Frie Leysen

Katie: I never thought I would curate anything, let alone curate a dance show with sixteen choreographers. But recently, I did just that. And I learned something: I've been a professional dancer for almost fifteen years, but I was somehow surprised to discover that I had developed a secret skill along the way. I know how to give performers what they need so that they can do what they're good at: perform. 

So what do dance artists need? They need space. And trust. And a clean floor. And support in doing what they want to do. And if you can gather a bunch of people to witness the event, well that is just about perfect.  

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how much being an artist has changed in my short career. In her closing keynote address at the 2015 Australian Theatre Forum, Belgian festival director and curator Frie Leysen said “We urgently have to reconsider the role of theatres and festivals, as instruments to facilitate and valorise artists again. And we need more flexible structures, production houses that can work tailor-made with artists.” I’ve been thinking about how artists are often put in the role of having to please others in order to be granted space, money and time to make their art, and how this can undermine the very impulses that make us artists. I want to help facilitate and valorise the artist. I believe we need art in the world that is encouraged to fulfil the vision not of the powers that be, but of the artists themselves.  

Through the Local Initiatives project, Guelph Dance has given me this support and time. With ReCalibrate, I am now able to turn around and offer this support to artists who are, for the most part, local. I am continually impressed and encouraged by Guelph Dance and their trust in local talent. I am honoured to work with them again.

The ReCalibrate artists are Jasmin McGraw, Simon Portigal, Janet Morton, and Lynette Segal, I have asked them to re-imagine and re-construct a recent work that they have performed, and adapt it to the context of Stage B on June 6 at the Co-operators Hall in the River Run Centre.  

I will be working with these four amazing people to see what they can do with the initial work that they presented for Short&Sweet: Guelph Edition at Kazoo! Fest, to expand it for a different situation. They are talented and distinctive artists with different experiences and methods of engaging with performance.

What connects all of the works is their strong conceptual basis, and the fact that none of the pieces used ‘music,’ but rather sound design or text. I want to offer the audience a journey into these three distinct worlds, to entrust with them the demands of being present to art. 

I can’t wait to see what the artists come up with. I know it will be compelling.

L to R: Jasmin McGraw, Lynette Segal with Janet Morton, and Simon Portigal, performing at Kazoo! Fest. Photos by Jacklyn Barber.
Jasmin: Last Friday night at Silence, the concrete space was jam-packed, with barely any room to move. The space was a blank raw canvas and the night was produced in such a way the dancers felt an incredible amount of respect and support. Not an easy feat, so much trust. It was the first time in a while where I danced and felt supported enough to create from a place deep within myself and express it without prejudice.

Without the clean professional production feel, the edges of the performance space were not so defined.  The dance pieces bled right into the room. Not with the intention to bring dance down to meet the public, but instead to be so close that the spectators were a part of the experience and had no choice but to let it over-ride their intellect and hit them in the gut. 

The new challenge is: How to Re-Calibrate this experience to a formal stage?  I don’t believe that it can be the same animal but it does pose an interesting question. Is there a way to have the audience be actively connected to the work on stage without having them standing right next to you? And can I be true to the message of the night? This is the challenge.

Lynette: I am honoured and thrilled to have embarked upon a collaborative artistic relationship with the remarkably talented and wise Janet Morton. We have created a forum to bring our art practices and dialogue together, as we go forth as female artists in our middle passage. Although Janet has had an interest in the ravelling and unravelling of things in her art for a long time, this will be our second shared iteration of this concept.

Let's make sure these incredible artists have a full house! Get your tickets now: seats are assigned and prices go up May 31.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Unveiling the 2015 Guelph Dance Festival

We are very excited to announce the line-up for the 17th annual Guelph Dance Festival which will take place all over downtown Guelph from Thursday June 4 to Sunday June 7. We are hoping you will stretch your boundaries and unleash your imaginations with us this year. After taking in all of the beautiful photos and moving piece descriptions available at, we encourage you to follow your instincts and map out your Festival weekend early!
The complete 2015 Guelph Dance Festival line-up.
We are thrilled to bring artists from across the country while also supporting our growing local dance community. This year we are hosting Margie Gillis (Montreal), who is celebrating her 40th anniversary as an internationally-renowned and deeply personal soloist. Jody Oberfelder (New York) is also a very special treat as she will be combining the talents of 3 of her company dancers with that of 3 of our local dancers in a week-long residency, culminating in a one-night-only performance. We are equally proud to present local artists Julia Garlisi and Katie Ewald as choreographers, dancers, and even curators in the Stage series of this year's Festival!

As always, we aim to balance the 
virtuosic, sensual, and highly emotional with the quirky and unexpected. The four companies performing in our popular Park series will make you laugh, cry, and dance in your seats! Programming is suitable for all ages, so bring your families for a walk in the park. Youth Moves, where dancers under the age of 19 take the stage by storm, makes for the sweetest possible ending to the Festival weekend!
You'll be seeing this poster by LINDdesign all around town soon!
Don't let the professionals have all of the fun! If this incredible line-up has got you inspired, take note of the five opportunities you'll have to get up and dance with us! Public workshops, designed for all levels (ages 14+), allow Festival artists to share their styles with you. On Saturday June 6, Margie Gillis will help you "dance from the inside out", and on Sunday June 7, Tentacle Tribe will expand your vocabulary to include "conceptual hip hop". New this year, we're giving you two chances to sample the variety of movement forms offered in our great city! Join us in Exhibition Park before and after the Saturday and Sunday Park performances for our 3rd annual Dance Market. And last but not least, linger after the Stage B performance on Saturday June 6 for an After Party, free to the public, hosted by Guelph's own King Neptune & His Tridents, courtesy of Hillside Festival. We can't wait to share the dance floor with you!

Purchase tickets early to avoid disappointment! Tickets for all performances at River Run Centre can be purchased through their box office. All other events are pay-what-you-can or can be reserved through our website.