Two years ago, Dancers’ Studio West made the decision to leave its theatre space, located in Sunalta. The company would instead operate remotely, renting both rehearsal and performance spaces, for its 2014-15 season. The decision was a difficult, but necessary one, says Artistic Director Davida Monk.
“The question of the DSW theatre space was a very difficult one for the board to resolve because the company had been there for 15 years,” said Monk. “Before that, it had been in a brewery over in the Inglewood area. In both cases, there was a theatre associated with the company. Productions and regular season events for the company were there, but not enough to really fill the theatre all the time.”
With the costs associated with the theatre unsustainable, DSW moved out of the space. (Presently, the space is shared between Calgary Young People’s Theatre, Ghost River Theatre, and Green Fools Theatre Society).
But ultimately, it’s not the space Monk is concerned about, it’s the artists.
“[We wanted] to channel what resources we did have into something that is effective for the development of the art form. If you ask me, it’s a lot more effective to put that into people than it is to put into a space.”
Founded in 1980, DSW nurtures contemporary dance artists through artist-focused programming. Two of the company’s major production programs are the Annual Alberta Dance Festival and the Dance Action Lab, a 10 week creative intensive that culminates in a full production.
This season, as part of the Dance Action Lab, DSW has invited Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles to participate in the company’s Lab Emerging Artists Program (LEAP). Funded by The Royal Bank of Canada’s Emerging Artists Project, LEAP offers pre-professional dance artists exposure to professional practices, and the rigours of professional rehearsal and contemporary dance performance.
Originally from Ottawa, Ontario, Moquin is a graduate of Ryerson University where she received her BFA in Performance Dance.
“I’ve been here almost two years now,” said Moquin who left for Calgary shortly after graduation. “The first year I came, I did [Decidely Jazz Danceworks’] Professional Training Program. And I immediately found something that I really liked about Calgary, and specifically the dance community. I don’t know if I can pinpoint – I think it’s the idea of how welcoming this community is and how much people are excited about new artists and young emerging artists such as myself.”
“I was looking for an opportunity of where I was going, to find my voice and where I fit, and [LEAP] fell at the exact right time.”
Charles, an Edmonton-based dance artist, studied at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. He then later completed a five month international dance program in Israel with Vertigo Dance Company. Since returning to Edmonton, Charles has worked with emerging companies and artists like himself.
“This application came up and I just thought…it would be great to be a part of [DSW], because most things I’ve done have been with starting out companies or people starting out,” said Charles. “[LEAP] appealed to me for the sake of an emerging artist being able to work with professionals. I think there’s tons to learn with emerging artists, but also with this other group as well.”
DSW’s Dance Action Group form the artistic core of the Dance Action Lab. A diverse ensemble of choreographers/performers, the DAG includes DJD company members Catherine Hayward and Shayne Johnson, MoMo Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Ikeda, and independent dance artists Deanne Walsh, Kate Stashko, and Helen Husak. The group is led under Monk’s direction.
Since April, Moquin and Charles have not only rehearsed, but also trained daily in technique classes with the professional ensemble. The dancers’ day starts at 9:30am with open classes that are run by Monk.
“The ensemble creating together have a technical beginning to the day,” said Monk. “Their bodies warm up and refresh the basic principles that will support the body through various rehearsals and repetitions. We’re trying to bring a balance and a strength and a fluidity to the body so that when we’re in rehearsal, we don’t get injured. We can sustain and repeat and be strong. Class is intended for that purpose.”
When class ends at 11:30am, the dancers take a short break, then rehearse until 3:00pm in their respective sections.
“We got to be involved in the creation process right away from week one, even pieces we weren’t cast in.” said Moquin. “We’re part of it. We’re part of what is this about, what can we try, where can we go with this, what is the potential of every single idea.”
“We go into some unknown places,” added Charles. “We’re working with choreographers who are treading deep waters. It’s all questions.”
And though there may be a lot to take in, Moquin says she is committed to taking away as much as she can from the experience.
“I’m…taking in every bit of information I can from these amazing artists,” said Moquin. “I take a lot of notes, and sometimes I just feel like I need to run to my notebook and write something down, because [something they said] really just struck and you need to hold onto that.”
Retaining these concepts and exercises is important, says Charles, because dancers must be multi-skilled (e.g. teaching, choreographing, performing).
Moquin and Charles are also gaining valuable insights outside their studio rehearsals.
On May 11th, DSW invited the public to an informal showing of the Dance Action Lab’s works-in-progress.
“It was informal, so we were willing to try things,” said Charles about the showing. “There were times where we would stop and do it again…I think it’s really important to able to talk about the work with the audience and get them involved in it.”
“I think it was great to have that dialogue with a new viewer,” said Moquin. “We’ve all been working and seeing these ideas together. As soon as you have someone new looking at it, it shifts the way you or the choreographer sees it.”
“Often times, I think you create work, then you mount it…and get all this feedback and dialogue afterwards,” Moquin continued. “And it’s like, I want to keep going with that! We’ve added that stage midway, so that the choreographers have that chance to take it in.”
Later this month, DSW will formally present Mythbehavin’, four new works produced by the Dance Action Lab.
“They’re all based in myth in some way or another,” said Monk about the works. “The choreographers determined that we would find a theme that we can all spring something from. The aspects are all very different, the ways the choreographers are responding are different. In some cases, it’s the interpretation of the myth, Jungian archetypes for example. In other cases, it’s more looking at the gods.”
“I think there’s excitement within the community,” said Moquin about the show. “I know other dancers are excited to see what’s going to happen, because this is such a diverse, dynamic group.”
Then, upon completing what were a rigorous 10 weeks, Moquin and Charles’ time with DSW will be over.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if it were 12 weeks, three months?” asked Monk. “This kind of experience is so valuable that the way you improve it is to lengthen it.”
Unfortunately, Monk says, a lack of political representation for the arts and, as a result, insufficient funding makes such an extension difficult.
“There is no person in political authority to speak and represent the arts publicly [in Alberta], to even lead the public towards a well understood policy of support for the arts,” said Monk. “We’re a long way away from that.”
That means dancers feel they need to look elsewhere for work, says Charles.
“There are no artists that stay here,” said Charles. “There’s a few professional training programs in Calgary, but there’s none in Edmonton, so everyone leaves because they think they’re going to get more work elsewhere. So, it’s a hard time growing a community here in Alberta.”
How DSW and other organizations can make a difference, says Monk, is by supporting those who choose to stay here. But, she adds, these organizations have just enough resources to operate as it is.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but more money would be nice,” said Monk. “These two young people are getting experience here and they’re getting paid, but it’s a tip. They’re not really getting paid. That’s good in some ways, but not in other ways because it’s really limiting. It would be nice to have a larger pot to draw funds from. We’ve been very successful – I think this is our 4th year being able to access those funds, but they don’t go very far.”
“In the meantime, you do what you can. You pour everything into the opportunities.”
Dancers’ Studio West’s Mythbehavin’ runs June 25 – 27 at the Victor Mitchell Theatre (Pumphouse Theatres).
For tickets, visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1626771
For more information about Dancers’ Studio West, visit: http://www.dswlive.ca/