Monday, 28 May 2018

Q&A with Mix Mix Dance Collective

This week for the Guelph Dance blog, we had the opportunity to ask Mix Mix Dance Collective a few questions about their work, their history of presentation in Guelph and the piece that they are bringing this year to the Guelph Dance Festival.

GD: Can you talk to us a bit about the various performances and workshops you have brought to Guelph over the years?

MM: Mix Mix Dance Collective presented a small section of JACK YOUR BODY at the Guelph Dance Festival, and the Hillside Music Festival in 2014. We also did our first dance workshop as a collective that same year. We blended house, hip-hop and waacking (some of the dance styles featured in JACK YOUR BODY). 

JACK YOUR BODY is partially inspired by the history of gender-bending inherent in waacking and voguing, two dance forms created by gay men who were also ethnic minorities in clubs in L.A. and Rikers Island. Though originally created by men, both dances fall into stereotypically female body positions and movements, resulting in an interesting fusion of gender-bending that came about through imitation of famous female movie stars and models like Marilyn Monroe or Greta Garbo while socializing with others through movement and dance. The dynamic and fast-paced dance performance pays homage to American street dance culture though a uniquely current and Canadian perspective.

GD: How have you felt your work has evolved or changed over the years?

MM: Our work has changed in many ways. In 2017 we created our second full-length work called LIPSTIQUE to the Toronto Fringe Festival, which focused on the feminine and individual ways of expressing one's own connection with femininity.

GD: What have been your career challenges and highlights and what would you like to see in the dance world as you move forward?

MM: The highlights of the collective have been to represent Canada at the 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie in Abidjan and be selected to perform at Fall for Dance North. The collective teaches workshops more often around Toronto and the GTA. We have been able to expand and add new members, and create different kinds of street dance work.  

GD: Can you tell us a little about the work you are bringing this year?

This year we will present Follow Me.

Follow Me was created for the 2017 Games of La Francophonie in Abidjan, where we were selected to be part of Team Canada as part of the cultural component! Our motivation for competing in the games was to celebrate the excellence in artistry, athleticism, and expression Canada has to offer.  FOLLOW ME was also performed at Fall for Dance North in 2017. Mix Mix will also be teaching a street dance class on June 2nd.

Don’t miss Mix Mix Dance Collective’s performance of Follow Me as part of the On the Stage B series on Saturday, June 2nd at 8PM at the River Run Centre. If you would like to learn some street dance moves join their workshop on Saturday June 2nd at 9:30am and if you want to show off what you learned, join us at the festival party at the Red Papaya on Saturday June 2nd at 9:30pm, where members of the collective will get the party started to the beats of DJ Classic Roots.

Monday, 21 May 2018

A Reflection on the 20th Anniversary of Guelph Dance

by Dorothy Fisher, GD's Stage Manager extraordinaire for the past 20 years 
Thrilling!  I can hardly believe we are celebrating 20 years of wonderful dance artistry!  The best way to describe those 20 years boils down to three words GUELPH DANCE = CHANGE.
I have never been involved with an organization that is so focused on improvement.  At the end of each year questions are always asked: “what worked?”; “what could we do better?”; “what do we keep and expand on?”  This approach comes from a place where there is no fear of looking in the mirror.  It exemplifies dynamic leadership.  I feel privileged to be a small part of this energy.
As for change in the backstage where I live – from the very beginning I have been blessed to work with gifted Canadian icons of dance, international independent dancers and dynamic youth.  Over the years dancers have shared the backstage halls with an Elvis impersonator, the Guelph Chamber Choir, and the frenzy of dance school recitals and high school revues.  Not only did our dancers share the space, they did it with generosity of spirit.  It is true that each year had its own story, but the level of professionalism, care and concern for each other has always been A+.
The vision of two young women and their desire to bring dance to their own backyard is an inspirational story that has mobilized many other supporters.
 Congratulations to Guelph Dance on your success in bringing dance to the Guelph community!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Q&A with Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre (CCDT)

We had the chance to ask Michael deConinck Smith, Managing Director,  Deborah Lundmark, Artistic Director and Natasha Poon Woo, Rehearsal Director of the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre a few questions about their company. This is a great opportunity to learn a little bit more about a unique group working with professional young dancers.
GD: CCDT dancers are all 13-19 years old, and yet they are all already professional dancers. Can you tell us a bit about what a week in the life of a CCDT dancer looks like.?
CCDT: Company dancers train around 20-25 hours a week at our studios, in both technique classes, conditioning, and repertoire rehearsals. On weekdays they are regular school students, so all dance training takes place outside of school hours. The dancers take 6-7 technique classes (RAD ballet, Limón modern, and contemporary classes with guest instructors) and one Conditioning with Imagery class throughout the week, with Thursdays as a rest day. Repertoire rehearsals take place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week, totalling about 12-15 hours a weekend. Our dancers learn excellent time management skills in order to balance their dance training and rehearsals with their school work, and everything else that comes up in between!

Show weeks are a different story — the dancers often miss a handful of school days a few times a year for touring and performances with CCDT. Because much of CCDT’s season includes performing for student audiences, many of our shows are weekday matinees, which means taking our Company dancers out of school. Touring and performance weeks usually involve one full day of technical rehearsals, followed by 2-5 days of shows (and often two shows per day). Especially in these theatre weeks, CCDT operates just like any other professional company: early morning warm ups, performances followed by notes, daily leisure time, and meals out together as a company. Frequent shows throughout our season allow our dancers to quickly learn how to adapt to new performance venues, bond with their colleagues, and cultivate and refine their artistry through repeated performances of our repertoire. 

 GD: What have been some highlights and challenges for the company over the years? What would you like to see moving forward into the future for contemporary dance?

CCDT: Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, Challenges and Highlights, 1980 to 2018

The biggest challenge CCDT has faced was translating the idea that there is a place for young people performing dance as an art form for the general public, into reality. In 1980 the only performance options for young dancers were studio recitals for friends and family or competitions where dance was adjudicated, more like a sport, again with no public audience. Not much has changed with respect to these options – competitions still dominate “the industry”, though they do not prepare young dancers well for post-secondary artistry essential to a career in the performing arts. In spite of CCDT’s later successes - highlighted by some critical acclaim, generous arts council support, a broadening audience and higher profile guest choreographers - that credibility challenge has never completely gone away.

Solving a second challenge in the early years proved to be key to solving the original credibility issue -  how to identify a common language of dance that was appropriate to younger dancers and, once internalized and shared, would have a collection of individuals begin to look like a Company. Toronto Dance Theatre with its powerfully defined Graham technique provided a perfect example but that technique demanded a degree of maturity beyond most of CCDT dancers’ reach. Then, in our 1987/88 season, Donna Krasnow arrived in Toronto and solved that challenge. Her deep understanding of the Limón technique with its free flowing, almost playful suspension and release principles, soon became a unifying syllabus suitable to children as young as seven. 
Commissions that same season by “Limonesque” choreographers Carol Anderson and Holly Small and one by TDT’s David Earle that fused Graham and Limón, had The Globe and Mail proclaiming CCDT a “National Treasure” and Premiere Dance Theatre audiences springing to their feet – not to be forgotten highlights for an obscure Company barely seven years old. A subsequent three-week tour to the People’s Republic of China established the Company’s international credibility and returning to share the YTV Youth Arts Award with The Barenaked Ladies provided some indication of its increasing popular appeal.

CCDT’s third challenge was one shared by all new companies – finding a secure home. After fourteen years of hourly rentals and month to month leases, the purchase of the former Carlton Cinema and CBC AM Radio building on Parliament Street brought stability to the Company and the associated School. It also helped deepen CCDT’s role in the dance community as a reliable provider of workspace while increasing opportunities for our dancers to cross paths and collaborate with more senior artists. Among these visiting artists was Carla Maxwell, The José Limón Dance Company’s Artistic Director. She saw in CCDT dancers, uniquely steeped in her own Company’s technique, future Limon Company members and immediately launched 19 year old Kristen Foote on her seventeen year career with the NYC-based Company, the first of four CCDT dancers to join.  
Regular residencies by Limón artists culminated with six commissions by Colin Connor, a former member of that Company who has gone on to become its new Artistic Director. This unique sister-companies relationship culminated in 2015 when CCDT was invited to perform Jose’s The Winged as part of The Limón International Dance Festival celebrating their 70th anniversary. Those performances in New York’s storied Joyce Theater, met with standing ovations, will forever remain the highlight of our many years as CCDT Founders.

GD: What are some of your thoughts on the Future of Contemporary Dance?

CCDT: With respect to the future of contemporary dance in Canada, we would hope to see more studios recognize the constructive role that modern dance technique and movement improvisation can play in the development of young dancers. In terms of dance-as-art rather than competitive sport, Performing Arts High Schools and University programs are setting an excellent example for commercial studios to consider. In terms of public funding, no art form can flourish without generous support from arts councils and contemporary dance has found itself squeezed between extremely well-funded large ballet companies and a surge of multi-cultural dance genres that, while equally worthy of consideration, leave all barely viable. This condition is more evident with dance than theatre or music and should provide Councils the incentive for increased funding allotted to dance disciplines.  One result of under-funding is the presentation of contemporary repertoire that has not had the more rigorous preparation characteristic of the other performing arts.  The development of both artists and audiences is set back as a consequence.

Don’t forget to check out CCDT’s performance of SEEDS.whisper on Friday June 1st as part of the On the Stage A series, taking place at the River Run Centre at 8:30pm.

Monday, 7 May 2018

A Conversation with Karen Kaeja

We had the opportunity to chat with Karen (and briefly Allen) Kaeja from Kaeja d'Dance over the phone. They have both been involved with Guelph Dance since the first days of the then Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival. Their Guelph Dance bio is quite rich and can be found at the end of this article. Kaeja d’Dance are definitely a Guelph favorite and we are thrilled to be welcoming them again this year with Crave!
Karen Kaeja

Karen first came to Guelph in 1999 as a dancer performing in Broken Saucer, a piece choreographed by Claudia Moore. This was one of the first lifeDUETs that Kaeja d’Dance had commissioned over the years. In 2008, Karen worked with local dancers and community partners in Birds’ Eye View which featured an audience inclusive Flock Landing at the end at Exhibition Park. In 2012 Karen was the first Guelph Dance Artist in Residence, meaning that she spent a lot of time in the city working with local artists as well as dancing and choreographing and collaborating with Guelph Dance.  We last saw Kaeja d’Dance in 2016 at the CSA nooner with .0 and Taxi.

When asked how she felt her worked had evolved or changed over the last 20 years, Karen says that she is now more open and receptive. She doesn't walk into the studio with a firm idea of what is going to happen or delivering steps to the dancers. A dancer who she is currently working with on a new commission recently addressed her as a creator who is a “collector”. As such, she collects what she is offered or observes in the room, in between dancers juxtaposed to what she intuits, be it movements, feelings, emotions etc. She shapes these through the lens of her theme.
Karen in Armour/Amour 2012

For Karen every aspect of her career has challenges. The very essence of being in the studio is challenging as she is very sensitive to the energy of the space and its inhabitants, depending on what phase of the process she is in. Navigating the intensity of the ups and downs of the system, from getting and not getting funding to instigating creation and performance platforms. It's a career of constant uncertainties. On the other hand there are very many highlights, her whole career is a big highlight. One of the biggest gifts is when she is offered commissions and having the opportunity to immerse herself in the dancers as intellectual, emotional and physical vessels; to create something from the empty spaces and being invited to excavate the essence of who they are.

Awards and accolades are also a great highlight and it is warming to know that people like her work. She never imagined, coming from a fairly conservative family, that she could make a career out of something so obscure as dance. Working with older dance artists is a great highlight for her as she ages and reality presents younger generations. Herself and Claudia Moore run Cloud 9, a company that works with olders artists. Conversely, working with non-dancers is always rewarding for Karen, as she is able to see the transformation of these individuals as they open up through dance. Karen describes it as an “incredible experience.” Finally, working with Allen, her husband, over the last 30 years continues to be fiercely important.

Past Midnight GYDC 2012

Then we moved to discuss what she hopes for the future of dance, which can be summarized in continuing to nurture the future generations, respecting all ages, abilities and genres of dance and collaboration. Seeing that the traction that the Ontario dance community is gaining is also reflected on greater funding for artists, which is something that is currently gaining more and more momentum.

Last, but not least, we talked about Crave, the piece Kaeja d’Dance is bringing to Guelph this year. Originally performed in Toronto in 2014, Crave took around 1.5 to 2 years to develop. At that time Karen was going through a personal transition that informed the work. Crave explores how people dream, fear and struggle in a relationship and the ability to flip perspectives upside down and leave space for openness and change. The piece is also about longing and longevity. After performing in Toronto, Crave toured six Mexican cities and went to Ottawa in 2016. In 2017 Karen revisited the piece with a live string quartet performing the original score, which was presented in Toronto and was subsequently nominated for four Dora Mavor Moore awards winning Outstanding Male Dancer. Since then the piece has inspired a new creation which is in the works.

You can catch Crave on Saturday, June 2nd as part of the On the Stage B series at the River Run Centre at 8pm. If you feel like joining Karen and her dancers on stage, we are looking for volunteers to slow dance in a Prelude to the performance. For more information about this opportunity, contact for details.

Crave - Photo by Ken Ewen

Karen Kaeja Choreography at the Guelph Dance Festival

Cold Beneath Me -  choreographed (and performed) a work including Guelph musician Sue Smith at the MacDonald Stewart Art Gallery

BIRD’S EYE VIEW with local Guelph dancers and community dancers with an audience inclusive Flock Landing at the end at Exhibition Park

Wedding Threads at Exhibition Park

1st Resident Dance Artist, Guelph Dance Festival:    
GDF Commission - Crave to Tellfor Fall on Your Feet Dance Lab. Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival, Women’s voices
GDF Commission – Past Midnight - for Guelph Youth Company Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival  Youth Moves

Taxi - CSA nooner at Guelph University


Karen Kaeja Performing in Guelph

Broken Saucer by Claudia Moore (lifeDUET commission for Karen and Allen) at the River Run Centre

Abattoir co-choreography w/Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre

Armour/Amour by Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre
Guelph Dance Festival Fundraiser improvisation with Allen Kaeja, Ben Grossman and others

X-ODUS by Allen Kaeja, CSA nooner at the University of Guelph

.0 (point zero) by Allen Kaeja,  CSA nooner at the University of Guelph