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Interviews, essays and commentary published by The Dance Current.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Feature: Stuck in the Middle

A Story About 14 Mid-Career Independent Dance Artists in Toronto

In December 2009, a group of eight mid-career independent dance creators came together to discuss the challenges they were facing as artists living and working in Toronto and to explore new ways of working collaboratively. In April 2010, their exchanges were formally organized as the Alliance of Independent Mid-Career Dance Creators [Toronto] or AIM-CDC, led by dance artists Kate Alton, Susie Burpee, Tanya Crowder, Allison Cummings, Susanna Hood, Sasha Ivanochko, Meagan O’Shea and Heidi Strauss.

More... Through strategic partnerships with key arts organizations in the Toronto dance sector, they commissioned a case study to examine, in detail, the common challenges, needs and opportunities they and their peers were encountering in the advancement of their artistic careers.

The findings of the report, Stuck in the Middle: A Story About 14 Mid-Career Independent Dance Artists in Toronto, were presented at the national conference of the Canadian Dance Assembly in September 2010 and resonated profoundly with artists across the country, at varying career stages. Many delegates expressed that the working reality of the independent creator had never been documented in such a way and that the findings point to the need for a change in the way that artists, and the systems that support them, are functioning.

The research was conducted via lengthy questionnaires with fourteen indie creators. The survey examined the financial situation and business structure of participants, as well as issues related to the creation, production and presentation of their work. The report revealed that:

•The average Toronto-based, mid-career independent contemporary dance creator is 39, has worked professionally for 18 years, and earns $18, 130 – 78% of which is earned from dance-related sources.

•80% of artists function on a project-basis with a typical budget of about $27,400 per cycle of activity. Half operate as charities, the other half as sole proprietors.

•In their last cycle of activity, 14 artists engaged a total of 194 individuals and paid out over $357,000 in salaries and wages.

•Artists volunteer time in virtually every aspect of their business. For every paid hour, an additional 36 minutes of volunteer time is required to realize a cycle of activity. This does not include time volunteered by board members.

•Artists spend less than 50% of their time on artistic activity.

•Nearly 60% of business revenues come from government sources.

•Artists want and need two key things: more opportunities to promote and disseminate their work, including connecting more with presenters and new markets and an appropriate resourcing strategy and administrative support structure to facilitate a range of activities that support their artistic mandates.

•Despite an ever-evolving working environment, artists are replicating an existing business model that isn’t effectively supporting their artistic careers.

Throughout the survey, artists identified repeatedly the need for more opportunities to promote and disseminate their work, including connecting more with presenters and new markets. One respondent remarked:

“Both having more local opportunities to present work in a forum that draws a national and international buying audience as well as having some expert, experienced and committed help in selling the work would be helpful …”

Perhaps even more fundamental, respondents articulated a pressing need to build an appropriate resourcing strategy and administrative support structure to facilitate a range of activities that support their artistic mandates. Study participants said:

“I have larger and larger doubts about whether the small company structure really benefits us, or if it is just a whole extra work load. Boards, though helpful in many ways, need managing, recruiting, catalyzing, upkeep and education.”

“In the current funding climate, as artists, we are really only able to access enough money for one creation at a time, and it takes a long time to secure all the funds needed to go from [research and development] to production.”

“It often feels like we are looking within the community for money. It would be ideal to have a forum where we could build relationships with philanthropic-minded individuals.”

By all accounts, artists appear to be stuck in a situation where the very model they are working inside is preventing their advancement. This model reflects a typical non-profit social enterprise, regardless of the artist’s registered (or non-registered) business structure, where revenues are derived from a combination of public, private and earned sources. According to this model, artists have done everything “right” over and over, and this has led them toward an unsustainable working situation characterized by low wages, isolation, significant personal sacrifice and minimal opportunities to advance.

The struggle to sustain basic business functions such as fundraising, promotion, distribution and market development, poses a major barrier to these artists’ growth. Without adequate, external, specialized administrative support to devise and implement an appropriate resourcing and public engagement strategy, administrative efforts are limited to the artist’s knowledge and available time, and not effective enough to create a sustainable construct in which they can succeed.

After nearly twenty years in the field, credible mid-career artists who regularly receive public funding are identifying considerable limitations to their own progress. The public funder can’t keep pace to play the role it did two or three decades ago and it’s inevitable that the pace of growth in the sector will continue to outpace the growth of available resources from government.

The report makes four key recommendations about how independent dance creators can work together to move forward.

1.Form partnerships with the business and academic sectors to explore more viable business structures and financing models focussed on supporting the artist’s core activities.

2.Explore collaborative working models and opportunities that move the artist away from the independent working environment and toward a more supportive, collaborative environment, reducing the feeling of isolation and burden associated with individually facilitating all aspects of an arts business.

3.Spearhead a sector-wide effort to develop a Toronto dance scene, creating partnerships across all levels of infrastructure and career stages to promote and raise the profile of dance in Toronto. These efforts should be grounded in a spirit of solidarity, focussed on raising the profile of the whole, rather than the individual.

4.Open a dialogue with public funders, private sector supporters, and presenters, about how values can more closely align to better facilitate a fluid and viable working model and environment that supports the creation, production and promotion of new dance work, reflective of a contemporary context.

As Albert Einstein so wisely said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. AIM-CDC’s collaboration to formally document the working lives of the mid-career indie dance creator is already a step toward the change they want and need to see. Collaboration is key and, together, change is possible.

Shannon Litzenbergeris a Toronto-based dance artist, writer, director and arts advocate. She is the first-ever Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow and author of the blog ‘The Arts Policy Diaries’.

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IN THE STUDIO | EN STUDIO: Jacinte Giroux & Jo Leslie

Jacinte Giroux / Photos by/de David Gaubiac, agencepictus.com
Interview by/de Megan Andrews

Jacinte: “I am making dances to put disabled people on stage to destroy stereotypes, and for the dancers to experience how dance can transform them and change their self image. In this way we can share our human commonality. Dancing for me is a way to say thank you to life. Thank you that I am still alive.” « Je crée des danses pour mettre les personnes handicapées sur scène et détruire les stéréotypes. C’est aussi afin que le danseur puisse vivre la capacité transformatrice de la danse, la capacité de la danse à changer sa perception de soi. Ainsi, nous partageons notre ressemblance humaine. Pour moi, danser est un moyen de dire merci à la vie. Merci que je suis toujours en vie. »

Editor’s Note: Jo Leslie works with Jacinte Giroux as choreographer and rehearsal director. They have a close working relationship and an intuitive way of communicating. Jacinte is francophone and, because of her disability, has difficulty speaking and typing so Jo worked with Jacinte to help translate, interpret and type her responses to my questions. I am grateful to them both for their investment of time and energy in this interview process.

Jacinte Giroux: Artist Statement
“I am making dances to put disabled people on stage to destroy stereotypes, and for the dancers to experience how dance can transform them and change their self image. In this way we can share our human commonality. Dancing for me is a way to say thank you to life. Thank you that I am still alive.” « Je crée des danses pour mettre les personnes handicapées sur scène et détruire les stéréotypes. C’est aussi afin que le danseur puisse vivre la capacité transformatrice de la danse, la capacité de la danse à changer sa perception de soi. Ainsi, nous partageons notre ressemblance humaine. Pour moi, danser est un moyen de dire merci à la vie. Merci que je suis toujours en vie. »

In 1985, Jacinte Giroux graduated from UQÀM with a BFA in dance and a teaching certificate. She made her professional debut in Jean-Pierre Perreault’s original production of Joe, and from 1988 through 1994 she toured internationally as a member of Montanaro Danse. From 1996 through 1999, Jacinte taught at the National School of Circus of Châtellerault in Paris, where she developed classes combining dance and circus arts. In July 2000, at age thirty-nine, Jacinte suffered a massive stroke, leaving her in a coma for nearly four days. At first unable to talk or walk, she was in rehabilitation for two years. She has permanent paralysis of her right arm and leg and is limited in verbal expression, though her singing voice remains in tact. She returned to the stage in 2002 in Carnets de curiosités at Tangente in Montréal. In 2004, Jacinte joined Le Théâtre Aphasique (a company for stroke survivors) and has worked on a number of projects with the company. A year later, Des paroles dans le vent, an arts workshop group, formed for stroke survivors and Jacinte spearheaded the dance component. Over a period of two years Jacinte developed the dancetheatre production Les Mémoires de Lady Chesterfield with director Guylaine Paul and the eight performers of Paroles. Jacinte lives in Montréal with her partner and two sons.

En 1985, Jacinte Giroux reçoit un baccalauréat en beaux-arts en danse et un certificat en enseignement de l’UQÀM. Sa carrière professionnelle est lancée dans la production originale de Joe de Jean-Pierre Perreault, et de 1988 à 1994, elle danse au sein de Montanaro Danse, compagnie qui tourne à l’étranger. De 1996 à 1999, Jacinte enseigne à l’École Nationale de Cirque de Châtellerault à Paris, où elle développe une classe qui allie la danse aux arts du cirque. En juillet 2000, à trente-neuf ans, Jacinte est victime d’un accident vasculaire cérébrale et tombe dans un coma pendant près de quatre jours. Immédiatement après l’accident, elle fut incapable de parler ou de marcher. Elle a été en réhabilitation pendant deux ans. Elle a une paralysie permanente du bras et de la jambe droite et son expression orale est limitée, bien que sa voix de chanteuse demeure intacte. Elle revient à la scène en 2002 avec Carnet de curiosités à Tangente à Montréal. En 2004, Jacinte se joint au Théâtre Aphasique (une compagnie pour les personnes atteintes d’aphasie) et travaille sur plusieurs projets avec la compagnie. Un an plus tard, le groupe de création Des paroles dans le vent est mis sur pied pour les personnes aphasiques et Jacinte devient responsable du volet danse. Sur une période de deux ans, Jacinte développe la production danse-théâtre Les Mémoires de Lady Chesterfield avec la metteure en scène Guylaine Paul et les huit interprètes de Paroles. Jacinte habite à Montréal avec son conjoint et ses deux fils.

Jo Leslie: Artist Statement
“I have always danced, meaning ‘improvised’; choreography came much later. My pattern has been to go directly to what and who interests me, from physical theatre to the Alvin Ailey school to indigenous ceremonies to teaching to work with specific theatre directors…. My career path is characterized by a process of discovery and application – a voracious appetite for means to express the human story through myriad performance genres and related fields.

Forging an artistic identity exclusively through solo choreography lost relevance at a certain point; theatre provided the antidote, as well as a marvellous education and challenge. Through everything I do, the body, and all that it houses, is the key: the trained, aware, open and connected body-mind of the performer. For thirty-five years I have been connecting the inner to the outer, content to form, in the amplified arena of the stage.”

A pioneer in many ways, Jo Leslie was a well-established dancer-improviser-choreographer before becoming a movement director and coach in theatre. She co-founded Studio 303, spearheaded music-dance improvisation, was one of the first teachers at LADMMI and was principal movement teacher at The National Theatre School from 1990 through 2001, where she developed a three-year movement pedagogy for the actor. Her theatre credits include many at the National Arts Centre, Caravan Theatre in BC, regional theatres and The Stratford Festival. She has also worked in new opera and is a dance writer. Recently Jo has provided dramaturgy for Rubberbandance Group, direction for Tour BusT (on a travelling Greyhound bus) and coaching for The List (Nightwood Theatre, CanStage). In 2010, she wrote and choreographed A propos of Nothing for Louise Moyes, Docudance. Jo has collaborated on over 150 productions across Canada. She lives with her family in Montréal.

Pionnière à de nombreux titres, Jo Leslie est danseuse-improvisatrice-chorégraphe bien établie avant de se tourner vers la direction de mouvement pour le théâtre. Elle a cofondé le Studio 303 et a mené la ronde de l’improvisation musique-danse. Elle a été une des premières professeurs à LADMMI et professeure principale en mouvement à l’École nationale de théâtre de 1990 à 2001, où elle développe un programme pédagogique de trois ans en mouvement pour le comédien. Son portfolio au théâtre compte plusieurs productions au Centre National des Arts, au Caravan Theatre en C.-B., dans des théâtres régionaux et au Stratford Festival. Elle a aussi travaillé en nouvel opéra et elle écrit sur la danse. Dernièrement, Jo a été dramaturge pour Rubberbandance Groupe, a fait la mise en scène et la dramaturgie de Tour BusT (sur un autobus interurbain Greyhound) et a été coach pour The List (Nightwood Theatre, CanStage). En 2010, elle rédige et chorégraphie A propos of Nothing pour Louise Moyes, Docudanse. Jo a collaboré à plus de 150 productions au Canada. Elle habite à Montréal avec sa famille.

For Jacinte: You performed in Jean-Pierre Perreault’s first version of Joe and then you were with Michael Montanaro’s company for six years. What is it about dancing that made you want to perform again after your stroke?

Jacinte: It is my life! It is my passion! But it was a gradual progression after the stroke through rehabilitation, being able to walk again and then the realization that I would be able to dance. At first I did not think about performing. The first show I did was with Théâtre Aphasique (I have a lot of difficulty to speak, to find my words) and I was singing again. Radio Canada did a reportage on me: that I could act, dance and sing after a stroke. That made me realize, yes, I can perform again. Also my therapist, Marie-Andrée Daigle had A LOT of belief in me, even though she had never seen me dance! She started Paroles dans le vent, which began with painting classes. She convinced me to start teaching dance to other stroke survivors.

Eight years after my stroke, Jo Leslie arrived and wanted to make a solo for me. This was when I saw that it could be possible to be part of the aphasic world and the non-aphasic world, that I could re-enter the dance milieu as a performer.

Jo: It was apparent from my first group rehearsal that Jacinte was a born performer. Early in our creation process I asked her what had been her turning point in rehab. She answered: “When I realized I could dance again.” This story still packs a punch for me.

Do you feel that your prior dance training and experience played a role in your ability to recover, to walk and then to perform again? How?

Jacinte: Definitely! I was in a coma for three-and-a-half days, in hospital for two weeks, at the Montreal Institute of rehabilitation for three months and the centre habilitation Lucie Bruneau for two years. At first I had to both focus on my boys, aged three and five, and also on myself. I used to give myself a technique class as a way of retraining my body. I would do regular port de bras, at least with my left arm, and would make my right arm follow, create the same position as best I could. I used all my training, stretching everything. I also walked A LOT! Even with my IV at the hospital. After that, in the park with my brother, although I could not speak very much.

Jo: Jacinte is extremely tenacious, passionate, ambitious and stubborn, which has served her very well!

What kinds of movement practice/training do you engage in and how has this facilitated your return to the stage?

Jacinte: I walk, swim, give myself class and bicycle a lot. After eighteen months of rehab, I performed in Paris; a small part, I stood on my head and sang! I also did some partnering classes and that informed my choreography. I have done butoh and I do Pilates regularly. Teaching-rehearsing with the group keeps me moving and rehearsing the solo often before a performance keeps me in shape for it.

As an accomplished performer prior to your stroke and having returned to performing since, does movement now feel different in your body? If so, how would you describe the differences in your internal awareness and experience of movement?

Jacinte: Yes, big difference! My right hand, arm, leg and foot are paralyzed; I cannot feel them, but I can move them. If my arm is out of my peripheral vision I have to look for it: Where is it? What is it doing? I can no longer jump on my right leg. There are lots of limitations. I walk with a limp because after five years of dancing I started to have problems with my left hip due to overuse, compensation.

Working with Jo on the solo we would always begin with a Dance of the Day*. This made me aware of and understand many things. I would explore different ways of moving. Jo would watch and provide a reflection. Jo asked me right at the beginning what kinds of things I wanted to explore in the solo – a very open-ended question. I said I wanted to do floor work and jumps, things I cannot do with the group. I used the Dance of the Day to explore these, and see what it was like to go into and out of the floor, if I was able. Chairs are important for me now in my work, for myself and the group, both in classes and in the show. We get tired and need to sit. It is too tiring to be on our feet for two hours of rehearsal.

Jo: *Dance of the day: I begin every rehearsal with this simple ritual. Each person dances, improvises, where they are in themselves, in their bodies in that moment, for about three to four minutes. It is a way to arrive (to land in the studio), to clear out non-useful thoughts and emotions, and transition into an exploratory space, opening the self to other possibilities. After everyone has danced, we talk a little of what we observed in ourselves and others.

Having seen a DVD of your performance of Jo’s solo choreography Affair of the Heart, I note that the work is more expressive than technically virtuosic. Nonetheless, you appear to have full or close to full range of motion in your whole body – jumping, balancing, turning, extending and moving in and out of the floor with ease. I understand, however, that you do have some paralysis in your right arm and leg, though it is hardly apparent. What limitations do you experience in learning and performing new choreography and how do you and Jo accommodate them?

Jacinte: For me it is VERY apparent! I do not have any fine motor control in my right hand. I rehearse how I place it on the floor so it can take my weight at a certain moment. The more I practice the better I do! But it is because of how Jo and I work together, which is very closely, that you do not see my disability. But we are not trying to disguise anything. Jo can ask me to do something and I try; if I don’t get it, I try several times. I have to decide HOW to execute the move … shift my weight more this way, change hands maybe…. If it’s not possible, she changes the movement.

Jo: Jacinte is very disciplined and a fighter. She doesn’t like to drop things that present a challenge. She tries repeatedly. If it’s impossible, we change it or adjust. “There are 100 ways to kneel and kiss the earth….” [Rumi]. Working creatively with Jacinte, and also from my work in theatre, I often find one idea is as good as the next. It’s what works that counts (meaning the performer has to be able to execute it very well). I rarely have a deficit of ideas with this approach. Also, we never tried to hide any difficulties; in most cases we reveal them. I realized that maybe Jacinte is unable to execute a certain movement because actually it was not a good choice (on my part); it doesn’t fit, so her body rejects it. I have to listen to that.

As I understand it, you joined Le Théâtre Aphasique as a performer and subsequently also began working with its partner organization, Des paroles dans le vent, which brings stroke survivors together through artistic practices and workshops. You’re responsible for the dance component. How do you approach your teaching in this context? What is the main objective in your classes and how do you focus your approach?

Jacinte: There are two ways I approach the teaching. 1) I hired guest teachers in African, partnering and Tango. We would have a class in one of these, then the next week I would lead the class using the material and seeing how it could be adapted for the group, .e.g., going more slowly for them to break down combinations and learn them with some sense of success, or changing things for easier balance, etc. 2) I am more interested in making dances than teaching a class over and over. So my classes quickly evolve into a rehearsal with themes, music, counts, steps, characters, etc. Some classes have concrete objectives like walking to different rhythms, turning, gestures … I see how the dancers manage the moves and then I push them! [laughs] Some things like leg work are impossible. I work from and with their ability. I look at their disability and ask if they can turn this way or not? Are you able to balance? Etc.

Jo: Jacinte’s classes are very structured and rhythmic.

Jacinte: Contrary to yours! That’s why we complement each other.

Jo: The participants need structure and they naturally copy our movements. Imagery and concepts are less familiar territory.

Des paroles dans le vent is also an amateur performing group. How do you develop and rehearse choreography with them? What challenges arise and how do you facilitate each performer’s ability to accomplish the movement expression?

Jacinte: One big challenge for us is verbal communication, which is why I asked Jo to work with us. I was teaching, choreographing, running rehearsals and performing. I needed help. When I am teaching, I have to stop the dancing and it can take five minutes for me to find the right words for what I want to communicate. Everybody accepts this. We are all aphasic and it is normal for us. It is better to support this, to struggle to find the words so our brains can practice. But it interrupts the flow of rehearsing. It is very time consuming. It can make me tired too.

Jo: People automatically want to finish Jacinte’s sentences, or embark on a guessing game before she gets all information out. I do it all the time. It takes patience and acceptance to let her struggle and get closer to expressing her idea. It is the same for everyone in the group.

Jacinte: Another challenge is to not injure anyone, to avoid accidents. It can be easy to lose balance when you can’t feel one side of your body.

In the past I would choreograph apart from the group and then teach it to them. For the latest piece, we began by working together with a series of sports photographs; this is new. Some have been in the group for five years and they have improved a lot. We had two people leave and two new people join this year.

The show Les Mémoires de Lady Chesterfield has changed every time we have performed it due to … change of directors or cast, performing context, only doing excerpts…. We are used to a lot of change!

Jo: There is a very open, supportive atmosphere in rehearsals. People feel natural and are motivated to do well. Jacinte is very disciplined and professional but also wild and expressive. The attitude is far from precious. We get a lot done and enjoy ourselves. The mantra is “ce n’est pas grave”. Rather than get frustrated, people laugh. It is such a great attitude! This pleasure is transferred to their performance and is very tangible for the audience.

You also sing and paint. How are these expressions the same as or different for you from your experiences in dancing?

Jacinte: I did not paint before the stroke. My brother paints. I never felt drawn to painting. I started it in rehab. I paint with my left hand even though I am right handed. I paint with my whole body. I prefer large canvases but can’t always afford them. Whatever size I work on, I cover every inch of the canvas. The same as in dance: I use the whole stage, spatially, expressively. I can still sing but slower and I have to have the score in my hand. For the past few years, I have not had time to sing in the choir. Last year I sang in an installation performance for Festival Transatlantique. As in dancing, I have to adjust to my new body.

Jo: Often after a stroke, people cannot speak but can still sing; two different parts of the brain.

I know you have two boys at home, who I’m sure keep you very busy. How do you balance parenting, teaching and performing?

Jacinte: My sons are now teenagers, and yes I am busy! My partner also has a son. I have to be home by 4pm for the family. I must have time to relax in the day as the stroke makes me tire more quickly. I have to not get too stressed because then I cannot say what I need to say. When I breathe and relax, I can find my words more easily. This is being aphasic. Since the stroke I have difficulty to find my words.

I teach two times per week, have theatre practice two times per week (we perform quite regularly), I paint one morning, train and make dances. If I have a show, I rehearse the solo as well. Otherwise, I am a busy mother and I spend time with my dad who has Alzheimer’s.

Britain’s Candoco has long been a force on the international scene, foregrounding mixed ability performance and challenging the status quo in terms of who can perform professionally. A comparable high-profile dance/movement group doesn’t exist in Canada, though of course many Canadian artists and groups of mixed ability appear on Canadian stages. Do you accept the term “mixed ability” to describe your work? How do you situate your own work in the context of professional and mixed ability dance practice?

Jacinte: Paroles dans le vent is only for stroke people. It is not mixed ability. I applied for a grant to commission Jo to make a duo for myself and an able-bodied actor-mover. This would have been mixed ability and yes, I would call it that. But I did not get the grant. I was excited about this project, as it would be completely new territory for me – for all of us. Paroles is an amateur company. The work is based on the response of the public – if it touches them or not. Now that I have the solo, I can dance professionally again. This gives me courage and gives courage to other disabled people.

Following your March performances at Tangente, what will you be working on? Do you have a new piece in development? What are your future aspirations as a performer?

Jacinte: I have some pieces I am developing for the group. Also another choreographer, Katya Montiagnac, has made a group piece. These will go towards a new show in a year or so. We need to find funding. Stroke people do not usually do sports. I am making a piece based on sports to encourage them to get outside and be active.

I would like to have a new choreography for myself to perform. Maybe Jo will make it, if I get a grant. My dream is to tour internationally so that people everywhere will have a greater understanding of aphasia and physical disability.

For Jo: You first came into Jacinte’s rehearsal process with Des paroles dans le vent in 2008, as rehearsal director and co-choreographer for Les Mémoires de Lady Chesterfield (directed by Guylaine Paul), with the agreement that you would make a solo for Jacinte (Affair of the Heart) that became part of the larger work. I know that speech is very difficult for Jacinte so I’m wondering how the two of you communicate and work together in the studio?

In all projects my job is to enter the world of the piece, everything flows from there. In this case the performer and music set the tone and narrative. I already had chosen the music (or it chose me?) three years before I met Jacinte. On first hearing Marjan Mozetech’s Affairs of the Heart I was profoundly moved and knew I had to choreograph to it. Strong images immediately came to mind … of a woman in midlife who had struggled against great odds in her life and triumphed; a well known archetypal story. Then I met Jacinte; she was the living example of that archetype! The piece flowed very forcefully out of me without much conscious thought or conversation. I am very sponge-like and tend to absorb the inner life, the essence, of whatever or whomever I work with. This is how I enter plays, operas, choreographies … it happens on an intuitive level (with years of experience to back it up). This was especially true in collaborating with Jacinte. We immediately shared a bond, which required few words. I was clear on the movements or the energy of the gesture I wanted and would show and explain them.

The first day in the studio we began with Dance of the Day, which gave me insight into Jacinte’s vocabulary and her world. She would then tell me which movements from my dance resonated with her. The ritual of “DD” has its own power to connect people without speaking, and creates a shared pool of material, a palette, which is both physical and emotional and particular to each situation. Beyond that, I literally said “do this, try this ….” and off we went.

I have to say after working at Stratford and the National Arts Centre with highly skilled actors, I loved the juxtaposition of creating with Jacinte and so few words! Dance for me is not an intellectual exercise (as it has become in many instances). The embodied experience is my Holy Grail. Make it true, in every cell! I created the solo from who Jacinte is and how she lives in her body as it is now. The traces of the past are of course there, intermixed with her disability and how she lives her disability. We have had a rare opportunity to keep reviewing the piece over time and it just gets better. Jacinte goes further into the material each time, with me saying less and less.

What struck me when I first met her and her group was the total lack of emphasis on their physical and verbal disability. I was greeted by a welcoming group of enthusiastic people. I had been connecting so well with one man, Pierre, that it was a few rehearsals before I realized that he could barely speak. THAT was a revelation! Humans convey so much information by facial expression, tone, gesture, presence. That’s how I make a living, making people more aware of what they are communicating. It has felt very natural, at the same time as being an eye opener, to work with Paroles. In an inexplicable way it has been an affirmation: of life, and what I believe in as an artist.

You state that you made Affair of the Heart “as a testament to Jacinte’s courageous journey”. As such, I imagine you drew on her personal story in the creative process. Can you share a little about how you developed the movement material for the work?

Prior to being in the studio I did not know any details of Jacinte’s story. Just discussing logistics and the sharing daily matters took up our conversation time. (I only was told later that aphasic people tend to live and deal with the present). From the beginning we moved into a zone of radical trust, which of course is where one wants to be to create.

You know how some projects are very special and magical things happen in the studio? The creation of this solo was one of those. When I choreograph I direct too, so every movement is an action. One day we ran the first part for actions. When we got to the part where Jacinte crawls forward on her belly reaching … she exclaimed, “I know what this is! It’s when I had the stroke. I was in the kitchen baking with my three-year-old. I had the stroke and was not really conscious, mess everywhere, but I remembered the oven was on so I dragged myself on my belly to turn it off.” That’s when I knew I was on the right track!

The piece loosely follows her progression through the stroke, the fear or terror of the consequences, the confusion and loneliness, the struggle, the release, the acceptance and finally the joy. But it was never a logical thought process to create that way. That’s the result. I followed my intuition to get there. My motivation was to create a vehicle for Jacinte to return to the dance milieu, to dance professionally again, and for more people to witness her gift as much as her story. I am not interested in creating a signature when I choreograph, I use what works best and presents itself organically. The material is directly related to Jacinte’s own dance history, taste and capability. The material is also influenced by the music and how I chose to work with it. Both Jacinte’s performance style and the music are innately dramatic. I coached her to be more neutral in her delivery and to let the movement do the work, supported by the soaring music.

In some moments I made very literal choices: “this is where you start to reconnect to people, the outer world …” Jacinte appreciates these concrete anchors. Like all works, this solo has a life of its own. My job is to listen to and respect that by staying true to the world of it. Most of the creative process is a mystery (after the homework has been done) and that’s why I do it; I love allowing images and movements to find me. We are entering a new phase: I will be developing the piece for Tangente in March and adding a prologue.

I’ve heard you say that your creative focus is on the expressive/imagistic aspects of movement/dance. What are your main influences in terms of your own background in dance and otherwise, and in what ways do these influences come to play in your work with Jacinte and Paroles?

First of all, you can’t have strong images on stage without any technique to back them up. So for me craft, technique, is a given, a must, in the professional milieu. Then what the performer is saying, communicating, is paramount. I have worked in so many genres and have choreographed or directed everything from operatic poodles, mermaids, lumberjacks, mad queens and singing detectives to hiphop dancers and reluctant actors. All of this influences whatever comes next.

Til Thiele, Mary Wigman’s associate, was my primary influence as a teacher. I studied body wisdom, technique, improvisation and composition for three years with her. Then Richard Pochinko and Linda Rabin. I also trained at the Ailey school. Other influences are Jung, my dreams, ritual, Body-Mind Centering and Shakespeare. The wonderful Peter Wylde, director, teacher, historian and theatre encyclopedia was another influence. My eclectic background allows me to jump into just about any performance context and have something immediate to offer. My own imagination, instincts and lived experience are hugely influential.

The whole being is always my focus and how the particulars of thought, emotion, spirit and behaviour, situation, society, culture and nature shape the body; how life is lived in a given body; how the performer amplifies and communicates from a deeply connected place, whether acting, dancing or standing still. A broad knowledge of stagecraft and cultural, historical context also informs my choices. Working with Jacinte’s group is part of this continuum. I constantly look for creative challenges.

My influences are evidenced in a contemporary piece for Jacinte (in a German tanzdanse vernacular), an historical English country dance for the group, basic creative movement classes and co-created solos for each based on their own stroke experience.

The members of Paroles are all stroke survivors, yet stroke affects people in many different ways and I presume this is the case here. How familiar were you with the specific effects of stroke before you began working with Jacinte? How do you facilitate movement expression with the individuals in the group, given their different capacities?

I only knew about paralysis as an effect of stroke; I was completely ignorant of aphasia. The Paroles members are there to learn, expand their creative and physical capacity and enjoy themselves. I had been working with them for months before we started doing expressive movement. I had introduced images into their warm-up (which Jacinte and I often co-led). Being asked to create movements from their own experience or imagination was a leap. It was also a learning curve for me to see how they reacted. The difference of capacities was less an issue than the overall uncertainty of going into new terrain. It was a revelation for them to move from the inside out and to know that no choice was “wrong”. One issue was remembering what they had done from one week to the next. They would focus with disappointment on what was forgotten instead of what they could remember. Just shifting this focus was very useful.

The group had been very taken by Jacinte’s solo and the original director, Guylaine Paul, was keen to have each dancer develop a short solo. This is how I integrated the expressive work, gradually bringing it around to solo material.

(My work with Paroles was supported by a Canada Council Artist in the Community grant. The solo was made without financial support.)

What have you learned through working with Jacinte that informs your practice generally as a choreographer/director?

Patience, acceptance, openness, compassion, gratitude. Letting go, flexibility.

Much of what I do habitually has been re-affirmed: that the integrity of the performer, their personal implication through imagery, intention and emotion and their availability to the material has a transformative impact on them and the audience.

Jacinte constantly inspires me, and reminds me of what is truly important in life. Art can make an enormous difference to society and community projects of this nature are vitally important. Equally important is inclusivity in the professional world.

You work variously as a creator, director, dramaturge and movement coach for dance and for theatre across the country. And you also write. What’s up next for you?

More dramaturgy, and other undisclosed projects. Beyond that, I am in a transitional phase of my career and life and am exploring new avenues in which to direct my experience and knowledge.

Jacinte Giroux performs Affair of the Heart by Jo Leslie in the Corps Atypik series from March 17th through 20th at Tangente, Montréal. Jacinte Giroux danse Affair of the Heart de Jo Leslie dans la série Corps Atypik du 17 au 20 mars à Tangente, Montréal.

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Feature: Contemporary Dance Class

Proposals & Perspectives
Summary Sommaire

Shannon Cooney / Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Over time, our collective knowledge of dance and the body broadens, as does the curiosity of creators, the range of abilities of interpreters and the span of a professional career. And naturally, professional training and dance class embrace this evolution.

Au fil du temps, notre connaissance collective de la danse et du corps s’élargit, tout comme le font la curiosité des créateurs, la gamme des habiletés des interprètes et la durée d’une carrière professionnelle. Tout naturellement, la formation professionnelle et la classe de danse épousent cette évolution.

More... Over time, our collective knowledge of dance and the body broadens, as does the curiosity of creators, the range of abilities of interpreters and the span of a professional career. And naturally, professional training and dance class embrace this evolution. Contemporary dance has a strong base of dance class models inherited from classical ballet and modern dance and the breadth of professional training available to dance artists continues to grow. Writer Marie Claire Forté recently spoke with a few teachers – Kelly Keenan, Elke Schroeder, Jennifer Mascall, Benoît Lachambre and Shannon Cooney – who are exploring outside the conventional contemporary dance class model. She found that form – meaning specific positions, shapes and movement pathways for the body – is a rich topic in discussions about dance class. Beyond form, larger issues are at play in a dance class around intellectual independence, energy, presence, exchange and human connection. Just as there is a wide variance among contemporary dance forms in studio and in performance, training resources and opportunities vary greatly between communities. Spaces that offer professional dance classes and workshops also organize themselves differently. The Regroupement québécois de la danse, Studio 303 and Circuit-Est in Montréal, The Toronto Dance Community Love-In and the Calgary Contemporary Dance Collective have distinct approaches and objectives in organizing professional level classes. Overall, however, exchange is a value shared among these organizations. Dance class is a space where the work of dance is not only on the body’s ability, but also on the abilities of bodies to connect to each other.

Au fil du temps, notre connaissance collective de la danse et du corps s’élargit, tout comme le font la curiosité des créateurs, la gamme des habiletés des interprètes et la durée d’une carrière professionnelle. Tout naturellement, la formation professionnelle et la classe de danse épousent cette évolution. La danse contemporaine a une base solide de modèles de classe de danse hérités du ballet classique et de la danse moderne, et la portée de l’entraînement professionnel disponible ne cesse de croître. L’auteure Marie Claire Forté s’est entretenue avec quelques professeurs – Kelly Keenan, Elke Schroeder, Jennifer Mascall, Benoît Lachambre et Shannon Cooney – qui explorent des structures de classe autres que celles traditionnelles. Elle découvre que la forme, c’est-à-dire la particularité des positions, des formes et des parcours du corps en mouvement, est un terreau fertile pour la discussion. Cependant, au-delà de cela, des questions plus globales entrent en jeu dans une classe de danse, notamment l’indépendance intellectuelle du danseur, l’énergie, la présence, l’échange et le rapport humain. Tout comme il y a des variantes importantes en danse contemporaine en studio et sur la scène, les ressources et les occasions de formation sont très différentes selon les communautés. Le Regroupement québécois de la danse, le Studio 303 et Circuit-Est à Montréal, le Toronto Dance Community Love-In et le Calgary Contemporary Dance Collective ont des approches et des objectifs distincts dans l’organisation de classes professionnelles. Toutefois, ils accordent tous une grande importance à l’échange. La classe de danse est un lieu où le travail de la danse porte non seulement sur l’articulation du corps dansant, mais aussi sur l’articulation dansée du lien entre les corps.

Read the full article by Marie Claire Forté in the February 2011 issue of The Dance Current print magazine. Lisez l'article intégral de Marie Claire Forté dans l’édition imprimée de février 2011 du Dance Current.

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Lorita Leung & Jessica Jone: Passing the Fan

Summary | Sommaire

Lorita Leung Dance Company in Rainy Alley (2010) by Ying Zhi Qi and Wu Ning/ Photo by Jacee Tan

Stretching in Jessica Jone’s ancestral past are thousands of years of rich Chinese dance tradition, and beckoning her into the future are the infinite possibilities of a diverse, contemporary dance practice in the global art world.

S’étirent dans le passé ancestral de Jessica Jone des milliers d’années de traditions de danse chinoise ; l’invitent à continuer son parcours d’infinies possibilités pour une pratique de danse contemporaine diversifiée dans le milieu mondialisé de l’art.

Stretching in Jessica Jone’s ancestral past are thousands of years of rich Chinese dance tradition, and beckoning her into the future are the infinite possibilities of a diverse, contemporary dance practice in the global art world. Her mother, Lorita Leung, began teaching Chinese dance in the basement of her Kerrisdale, Vancouver, home in 1970. Having celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2010, the Lorita Leung Dance Academy has expanded from a small home studio with a handful of students to become a two-storey warehouse and office space with an enrolment of 130 students, ages four to twenty-five years. In May 2010, Jone accepted the baton – or perhaps the fan – becoming principal of the school. Jone is also artistic director of the Lorita Leung Dance Company, a group of amateur child and adult dancers who perform the folk and ethnic dances of China, as well as classical Chinese choreography. Although Leung retired from teaching two years ago, she remains an active administrator for the school, coordinating the Beijing Dance Academy syllabus examinations in Canada and continuing to act as chair of the Lorita Leung Dance Association, a non-profit association she created for the promotion and continuance of the dance form. In 2004, Jone and her husband, dance artist Chengxin Wei, created Moving Dragon, a company dedicated to the creation and performance of contemporary cross-cultural dance work.

S’étirent dans le passé ancestral de Jessica Jone des milliers d’années de traditions de danse chinoise ; l’invitent à continuer son parcours d’infinies possibilités pour une pratique de danse contemporaine diversifiée dans le milieu mondialisé de l’art. En 1970, sa mère, Lorita Leung, commence à enseigner la danse chinoise dans le sous-sol de sa maison à Kerrisdale, Vancouver. Célébrant son quarantième anniversaire en 2010, la Lorita Leung Dance Academy passe d’un petit studio maison avec une poignée d’élèves à un entrepôt de deux étages plus des bureaux avec 130 élèves âgés de quatre à vingt-cinq ans. En mai 2010, Jone accepte le flambeau – ou peut-être l’éventail – et devient directrice de l’école. Elle est aussi directrice artistique de la Lorita Leung Dance Company, un groupe de danseurs amateurs enfants et adultes qui présente des danses folkloriques et ethniques de la Chine, ainsi que de la chorégraphie chinoise classique. Leung a pris sa retraite il y a deux ans, mais elle demeure une administratrice active à l’école ; elle coordonne les examens du syllabus de la Beijing Dance Academy au Canada et continue à agir à titre de présidente du conseil de la Lorita Leung Dance Association, un organisme sans but lucratif qu’elle a créé pour la promotion et la continuation de la danse chinoise. En 2004, Jone et son mari, l’artiste de danse Chengxin Wei, fondent Moving Dragon, une compagnie dédiée à la création et à la présentation de danse contemporaine interculturelle.

Read the full article by Mary Theresa Kelly in the February 2011 issue of The Dance Current print magazine. | Lisez l'article intégral de Mary Theresa Kelly dans l’édition imprimée de février 2011 du Dance Current.

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Les bienfaits de la leçon privée
De Katharine Harris de l’École nationale de ballet du Canada
Traduction de Marie Claire Forté

Bien qu’elle soit souvent réservée aux périodes de préparation d’examen ou de compétition, la leçon privée offre de nombreux bienfaits et à vous et à vos élèves, peu importe le moment de l’année.

Une expérience en tête à tête permet à l’élève de développer un lien particulier avec son professeur, lien qui ne se formerait peut-être pas autrement. C’est aussi l’occasion pour vous, en tant qu’enseignant, de vous pencher sur des questions difficiles à aborder dans un contexte de groupe. Une seule leçon de quinze minutes peut aider une élève à régler un problème et lui permettre de se sentir plus à l’aise en classe.

La leçon privée s’avère bénéfique si vous avez une élève qui est aux prises avec une question qui la gêne. Seule avec elle en studio, vous pourrez cerner le problème et entreprendre des mesures pour le résoudre. Dans ce contexte, l’élève comprend bien qu’elle doit se concentrer sur vos instructions et vous êtes en mesure de voir si elle les intègre bien. Plutôt que de rappeler à une élève d’être musicale, dites-lui de bien écouter le rythme. Soyez aussi directe que possible et travaillez concrètement avec l’élève afin qu’elle vous comprenne.

Si une élève est frustrée par un problème récurrent, proposez-lui une leçon privée. À votre rencontre, trouvez ensemble un mot code pour désigner le problème. Employez un mot comme « framboise » pour lui rappeler de penser à vos conseils. Dans une prochaine classe, intégrez le mot code dans une phrase : « J’ai mangé une rôtie avec de la confiture aux framboises ce matin ». Ce sera un signal à votre élève de se rappeler son travail en leçon privée sans la pointer devant ses pairs.

Certaines professeures choisissent de prendre du temps en tête-à-tête avec chaque élève en début d’année. Cela peut aider à établir des rapports, à évaluer les habiletés et à noter des questions qui pourraient poser problème. D’autres professeures préfèrent offrir des leçons privées selon les besoins particuliers. Peu importe l’organisation des leçons, exprimez clairement vos intentions pour la leçon à l’élève et à ses parents. Soulignez qu’il s’agit d’une expérience positive et non d’une punition. N’oubliez pas de faire comprendre aux parents que la leçon privée n’est pas une indication du mérite de l’élève.

Finalement, lorsque vous êtes seule avec une élève, souvenez-vous de quelques pistes pour offrir un environnement d’apprentissage ouvert et respectueux. Laissez la porte du studio ouverte en tout temps. Indiquez à l’horaire l’heure et le lieu de la leçon et le nom de l’élève que vous rencontrez. Avisez vos collègues et les parents de l’élève. Avisez l’élève et ses parents qu’une leçon privée peut compter des corrections qui recourent à un contact physique.

Malgré que le travail en privé avec plusieurs élèves prenne beaucoup de temps, il en vaut la peine. Vos élèves en tireront un énorme bénéfice à long terme et le lien que vous bâtirez avec chacune vous sera précieux pour votre travail à longueur d'année.

The Benefits of Private Coaching
By Katharine Harris of Canada’s National Ballet School

Although often restricted to exam and competition preparation periods, one-on-one coaching offers tremendous benefits to both you and your students no matter when it occurs. A one-on-one experience allows students to create bonds with their teachers that they otherwise might not develop. It’s also a chance for you, as the teacher, to address things you can’t in a group setting. Just one fifteen-minute session can help a student solve a problem and allow her to feel more comfortable in class.

One-on-one coaching is also helpful if you have a student who is self-conscious about an issue. By spending time alone in studio, you can get a good grasp on the issue and take measures to solve it. In a one-on-one setting, students are clear they must focus on what you’re saying and you can see if your corrections are being absorbed and assimilated. It’s also the perfect time to be detailed. Rather than reminding your student to be musical, specify that you want him/her to listen carefully for the beat and rhythm. Be as direct as you can and work concretely with your students so they are fully able to understand you.

If you have a student who is frustrated with an ongoing problem, suggest some one-on-one coaching. During your session consider selecting a code word for the problem. Suggest you use a word like “raspberry” as a reminder for her to focus on the issue and your tips for solving it. When next in class, integrate the code word into your speech: “I had toast with raspberry jam for breakfast.” This will cue them to remember what they’ve learned without putting them on the spot or making them feel uncomfortable in the context of the group.

Some teachers choose to spend time with each of their students, one-on-one, at the beginning of the year. This can aid in establishing rapport, help you assess their abilities and note any problems that might pose challenges. Other teachers prefer to offer one-on-one coaching when specific needs arise. Regardless of how and when you offer it, remember to be clear about your intentions with both your students and their parents. Be positive about the value of the sessions and stress that they are not punishment. Also let parents know that one-on-one attention doesn’t mean that student is more deserving than any other.

Finally, when alone with a student, there are key things to remember in maintaining an open and respectful environment. Always keep your studio door open. Write on the schedule who you are working with, where you’ll be and when you’re meeting. Tell your colleagues and the student’s parents. Be sure to discuss with the student and his/her parents that a one-on-one session will involve physical corrections.

Although it is time consuming to work with multiple students on a one-on-one basis, it is worth it. The benefits your students will reap from the experience will be long lasting and the bond you establish will be invaluable as you work together.

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