On Tour: Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ Juliet & Romeo at the Fredericton Playhouse

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a lot like a pepperoni pizza. It’s a classic. You know it when you see it. And you know what? You’ll eat it because it’s never really let you down before. In other words, it’s fine. Now, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ Juliet & Romeo is all about that pepperoni pizza. It’s just that DJD takes all the basic ingredients of Shakespeare’s play, throws them in a wood-fired oven, and serves you something that makes your taste buds explode.

Adapted by Cory Bowles, Juliet & Romeo is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed lovers. The plot is all here but not in a traditional sense. Consider Bowles’ adaptation a remix of Romeo and Juliet. Bowles hits the major story beats but rearranges them into something almost entirely new. Kimberley Cooper’s choreography brings the text alive with movement that is exhilarating, tense, and at times contemplative. The production features live original music from Composer/Musical Director Nick Fraser, accompanied on stage by the Nick Fraser Ensemble (Fraser on drums and percussion; Rob Clutton on bass; Jeremy Gignoux on violin; Carsten Rubeling on trombone). The live jazz music is an integral part of Juliet & Romeo, and the company’s DNA. All these elements together produce a deep dive into the material that explores its themes and puts a spotlight on Juliet.

In DJD’s original production, which premiered at the 2017 High Performance Rodeo, Bowles played the Narrator. This time, company dancer Natasha Korney is the Narrator of Juliet & Romeo. Korney is infinitely charming in the role. She captures your eyes and ears with her larger than life persona and fierce delivery of the text.

Bowles weaves the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe into Juliet & Romeo. If you remember from English class, Pyramus and Thisbe appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, woefully but amusingly staged by Bottom’s theatre troupe. Korney, dressed in a big coat to play The Wall, energizes Bowles’ take on Pyramus and Thisbe with comedic flair. Shayne Johnson and Catherine Hayward play Pyramus and Thisbe, respectively. Cooper’s choreography sees Johnson and Hayward reaching through the wall, wanting so desperately to bridge the distance between them. The story ends with Pyramus and Thisbe choosing death over living apart — sound familiar?

“3000 years later…”

By including Pyramus and Thisbe, Bowles winks and nods at not only the ultimate fate of our young lovers but the timelessness of their story. Young people will always rebel against their parents and go to great lengths for love (or what they think is love). Or maybe not. Juliet & Romeo’s thesis is not so simple.

Soon after, Juliet & Romeo narrows its focus on Juliet. The dancers gather around a table and, using shoes as hand puppets, illustrate Juliet’s situation at home. Juliet is a 14-year old girl with no freedom. Her future is not her own. Juliet’s father promises Count Paris that his daughter will marry him. Moving up the social ladder is all that matters to the young Capulet’s family, not her happiness. The “shoe show” is delightfully crafted by Cooper.

Meanwhile, Romeo (at this point played by Kaleb Tekeste) is livin’ la vida loca. He’s a regular bro. Tekeste is laid back and totally cool as Romeo. He and the boys have nothing to stress about. No, really. What is the biggest problem in Romeo’s life before he meets Juliet? Unrequited love. After meeting Juliet? Putting a ring on her finger. Small beans compared to everything Juliet has on her plate.

Everything changes when Tybalt (Scott Augustine) enters the equation. Johnson really shines here as Mercutio, the clown of Romeo’s friend group. Even in the face of death, Johnson’s Mercutio has time to crack a smile. Cooper’s choreography brilliantly brings together danger and levity as Mercutio and Tybalt fight, with Romeo trying to defuse the situation. Of course, Mercutio gets stabbed, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to have the last laugh. He collapses, then tries to get to his feet, only to collapse again. Mercutio flips off Tybalt and dies. Johnson’s facial expressions and comedic timing elevate the scene.

Thanks to Costumer Designer Sarah Doucet, the dancers look super slick in this world of secrets and schemes, of jazz and violent delights. 

In the second act, the dancers run through the entire plot of Romeo and Juliet in “6 Minutes and 47 Seconds.” The whirlwind scene sees the whole company flex their comedic talents. It is reminiscent of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). The scene is hilarious.

The show returns its focus to Juliet at the end. In an “Open Letter to Juliet,” the Narrator wonders what might have happened if Juliet had friends around her. What if Juliet had a support system to keep her from acting so drastically? Perhaps it was unbearable loneliness and Juliet’s estrangement from her family that pushed her. Hayward dances an eloquent solo, moving vertically and horizontally across Scott Reid’s industrial set, as Korney laments Juliet’s fate. The open letter also expresses rage, all of it directed towards misogyny and patriarchal oppression. 

DJD’s Juliet & Romeo is a must-see. The company brings together dance, theatre, and live music for an enthralling experience that reimagines and reinvigorates Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.


Decidedly Jazz Danceworks presented Juliet & Romeo at the Fredericton Playhouse on October 30th. The production ran as part of the Fredericton Playhouse’s Spotlight Series.

DJD’s Canadian tour of Juliet & Romeo runs October 8 – November 20.

Juliet & Romeo will run as part of the 34th Annual High Performance Rodeo. The show will run January 16 – 26, 2020, at the DJD Dance Centre in Calgary. Tickets available here.

DJD Dancers:

Scott Augustine
Cassandra Bowerman
Sabrina Comanescu
Jared Ebell
Jason Owin F. Galeos
Catherine Hayward
Kaja Irwin
Shayne Johnson
Kaleb Tekeste

“I didn’t want to be less than perfect”: Interview with Actress and Former Ballet Dancer Sarah Murphy-Dyson

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Originally from Victoria, B.C., Sarah Murphy-Dyson is a Toronto-based actress whose credits include Suits (NBC), Workin’ Moms (CBC), and 12 Monkeys (SyFy). Photo credit: Tara Noelle.

In 2006, Sarah Murphy-Dyson retired from ballet to pursue acting. Four years later, the former First Soloist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet premiered her one-woman show The Naked Ballerina at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The Naked Ballerina told a story Murphy-Dyson had kept secret for years.

“Ballet was such a perfect metaphor for my life,” Murphy-Dyson said. “Everything is about looking perfect and getting it as close to perfect as you can on stage. And that carried over to my life. I didn’t want to be less than perfect for anybody. I was struggling with stage fright and body issues. For me, they were such big secrets and there was shame around that. I would have rather died than people find out about it.”

In writing The Naked Ballerina, Murphy-Dyson touched on subjects she had “ignored or suppressed.”

“It felt really good to get those out,” she said.

Since the play’s original run, Murphy-Dyson has spoken more openly about her struggles. She says reaching this point took a long time. “And I think that’s why it’s so important.”

“It was kinda layer by layer that I was able to do it,” Murphy-Dyson said. “I did the show, and it was terrifying but very cathartic. When I redid the show a few years later, I did a Q & A ⁠where some young girls told me how much it had helped them.”

Hearing the impact of her story, Murphy-Dyson realized her potential to be a role model. “I realized more and more that everybody is working through their own stuff. The more we hide it from each other, the more we perpetuate the idea that these things are bad or shameful.”

“I realized in hindsight how heavily all that weighed on me,” she said. “I was always so anxious. Always, always, always. I’m not anymore. Every time I think about it or talk about it, it’s such a relief.”

Growing older has also helped Murphy-Dyson in her journey.

“The older I get, the less I care about what other people think,” Murphy-Dyson said. “Which doesn’t sound very nice but we are conditioned In the dance world — maybe more so with women — to make everything okay.  We are told to be nice and quiet, and to make sure people like you.”

“You can take me as I am or not. If you don’t, that’s okay. It may hurt my feelings but I get it. I accept it at least. It’s been very freeing that way.”

Today, the 45-year old actress sees her younger self in a different light.

“It really does feel like that was a past life for me,” Murphy-Dyson said. “It’s interesting because I used to look at it with shame. I didn’t like talking or thinking about it. And now, it’s like I have empathy for my younger self. I can really feel sad for that part of me. For me in that time of my life where I was so lost and didn’t even realize it. Before I would have been upset with myself, but now I can empathize with that person like I would for anyone else. We are our own harshest critics.”

Murphy-Dyson says her departure from ballet came as no surprise for anyone who worked with her. 

“[My coworkers] were definitely supportive,” she said. “I think they got it. I had been going to school while dancing at that point. I had done some independent films. They knew I was getting into the acting. I always loved character roles the best in the dance world.”

Appearing in 2005’s Capote with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman motivated the actress to finally pursue acting full-time.

“What had happened was two of our ballets were made into films,” Murphy-Dyson said. “We got to know the crew really well. We would be laid off — it was contractual — for one to three months a year. Some of us started doing stand-in work and feature background work. It was in doing that, that I ended up doing Capote with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman.”

“I got chosen to do a scene with him. It was literally that moment when I was like, this is what I want to do.”

The next day, Murphy-Dyson told her director it would be her last season with the company.

For the actress, a “huge” part of the transition from ballet to acting was learning to tap into her real self and be honest with not just herself, but other people. Rae Ellen Bodie and David Rotenberg, instructors at Toronto’s Professional Actors Lab, Murphy-Dyson were pivotal to the process.

“When I was dancing and I would get really nervous, especially at first, I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Murphy-Dyson said. “I just thought, it’s my problem. I would push it down and try to ignore it. It would come out sideways at some point. Most people wouldn’t know watching me on stage. Whereas an actor, I can’t. Before, I would deny any negative feelings — nerves, sadness, or anger. [My training] forced me to touch them and acknowledge them. That’s where I have to act from.”

“Sometimes I feel sad that I wasn’t able to get to that place while I was still in the ballet because I think that would have been an amazing place to dance from, the freedom of that.”

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Sarah Murphy-Dyson in End of the Rope, a short film by Sibel Guvenc.

Although she retired from ballet 14 years ago, Murphy-Dyson has not totally stopped dancing, especially not for the camera. The CBC web series Off-Kilter, released last year, saw Murphy-Dyson play the role of Anna, a veteran ballerina nearing the end of her career. The actress recently starred in End of the Rope, a sci-fi short film by Turkish-Canadian director Sibel Guvenc. In it, Murphy-Dyson plays a famous dancer whose career is ended by a car accident.

When she is not busy appearing on stage or in film and television, Murphy-Dyson writes screenplays. The actress says she has many ideas, and plenty of screenplays “sitting idle,” but high on her priority list is an adaptation of The Naked Ballerina.

“I want to direct and produce my own stuff with a core group,” Murphy-Dyson said. “ I have had great feedback on an adaptation of The Naked Ballerina, it’s just a matter of money. It’s definitely high on the list, but I would do something smaller first to help get a directing or producing calling card.”

Murphy-Dyson has a new teacher in her life.

“I have an eight-year old daughter,” she said. “Being honest with yourself and really stepping into who you are and not worrying about what people think. She’s more like my teacher in that. She’s definitely well on her with that.”


Follow Sarah Murphy-Dyson on Twitter and Instagram.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries Looks At A Life in Transition

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Top to Bottom: Barbara England and Jill Henis in Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries. Imaged provided by Jill Henis.

Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries is an original contemporary dance work informed by the writings of Jeanette LeBlanc, with the concept, choreography and sound design by Jill Henis. This site-specific piece is staged inside Henis’ downtown studio space, located inside a building where the top two floors accommodate working artists. Performed by Henis and collaborator Barbara England, PrimorAgator Diaries is a deeply intimate look at a life in transition.

Once the audience settles into their seats, Henis, lying nude on the floor, awakens. She is caged by three walls and a curtain of light fabric (that separates her from the audience). England, dressed with black heels, enters the space as Henis retreats away against the back wall, keeping herself hidden behind fabric. Roaring white noise is projected onto the walls (projection & visuals by Greg Debicki). England is ferocious with her movement, stomping loudly with her heels as she moves across the space.

Afterwards, Hennis, now dressed, takes a large roll of aluminum foil and rolls it out like a carpet. Carefully, she tries walking to the other end without wrinkling the foil or creating a disturbance of any kind. Anyone who has used foil before knows how tricky the material can be when handling. Henis’ effort doesn’t fare well.

The imagery created by the large studio mirror stage left is very striking. There’s this great triangular symmetry when Henis walks downstage (diagonal) on the foil. She comes down from the peak to the base, to the audience; she comes out of isolation.

England joins Henis in a ‘four-legged race’ to stage left, to the mirror. The dancers shuffle forward, becoming more and more competitive as the race goes on. So competitive, in fact, that England and Henis are soon grappling each other. What’s really funny are these moments where the two break and smile at the audience, like they were friends and this is only friendly competition, despite their contrary actions. We wonder, though, why these “friends” are tearing each other down rather than helping each other achieve their mutual goal? Is this a race towards self-improvement, where envy rules the roost?

The dancers enter a club where they enjoy loud, pumping music. There’s a big splash of colorful lights that hits the room as England and Henis lose themselves in the music. The scene is so very different than the ones before. Where the others were filled with anxiety and self-consciousness, this club scene is loose and without inhibitions.

Naturally, however, the party ends. (The party always ends). There’s an air of “what now?” between England and Henis.

Ultimately what happens to Henis is that England wraps her, from head to toe, in bubble wrap. A recorded interview with an old man plays, with this line jumping out “Have you thought how you want to spend the rest of your life?” Sure, Henis is safe in her bubble wrap cocoon, but she’s also trapped. She can’t move, her body at the mercy of England who starts to dance with the cocoon.

Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) begins to play. England drags Henis, still in the cocoon, across the floor as Henis softly repeats the lines of the song.

In these chapters of PrimorAgator Diaries, there’s an underlying fear and vulnerability that rises to the surface. Henis’ choreography observes someone trying to come out of their shell and connect with others while capturing some notion of self. In pursuit of trying to please other people, however, the self becomes lost, perhaps overtaken by this intense desire for belonging. And there seems to be no happy medium, or at least a capacity to reach some sort of in-between. Henis’ character is impeded by self-doubt, whereas England’s whole persona breathes confidence; the road map to this latter destination is non-existent.

Debicki’s projection work in this tight (unventilated) space really throws the audience into the frenetic headspace of the work, not to mention the audience’s close proximity to the dancers. The mirror that reflects the inner duality, conflict of Henis’ choreography is a strong visual element. It opens the space creatively, and Henis’ keen eye conjures great visual dynamics.

Henis and England are a dynamite team. They display great versatility (and some fun character work) in this piece that really feels like flipping through a diary, with all the juicy pieces coming alive. And what commitment in such a hot space, especially Henis whose breathing is restricted within the cocoon. Kudos to them for their visceral energy in this bold piece by Project 404.


Project 404’s PrimorAgator Diaries ran June 13 – 18.

#ThisIsLife Explores Ups and Downs of Social Media

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective's #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

Trying to explain social media is difficult. No really knows why they need minute-by-minute updates from just about everyone and anyone. Why anything goes viral is a mystery, even for so-called social media ‘gurus’. And who knows why people obsess over how many virtual affirmations i.e. Likes and Hearts they receive online. If there’s at least one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that social media, for better or for worse, is simply fascinating.

Presented at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife journeys through the world of social media, exploring its ups and downs along the way. The multi-media production incorporates the use of video screens to help seek out and examine the various impacts of social media on daily life.

After the show’s big opening number “Dress Rehearsal”, choreographed by Kelsea Fitzpatrick, Lauren Miholic’s “Bros” takes the stage. There’s no doubt that social media has dramatically changed the way friends and family communicate. Miholic’s brisk, light-hearted piece focuses on social media as a tool to collect and store memories, staging four friends who connect online as well as offline. The piece ends on a happy note as the friends are able to take that connection from the online to the offline.

Next, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak’s “Troll” stages an urgent message about cyber bullying. In this piece, one group of dancers are dressed in red – Hate – with the other group dressed in white – victims. The piece is set to Shayne Koyczan’s “Troll.” There’s this strange idea that the online and the offline are two separate worlds, that whatever is posted online has no real world consequences. Cromwell-Krywulak’s piece argues against the idea. Her dancers in red physically dominate the others, pushing them around until one dancer in white is pushed too far, taking her life as a result. The choreography is powerful in its ability to clearly communicate its narrative, while stirring reflection on tragic cases of cyber bullying e.g. Amanda Todd.

Christen Terakita’s “Parallel Play” explores another recent phenomenon, our careless disconnect with the physical world. The dancers walk onstage, distracted by their smartphones – their hands are cleverly illuminated by handlights. The choreography sees some dancers performing distracted, while others are more focused on the task at hand, switching periodically. Terakita’s choreography works marvelously in making its point about just how glued people are to their screens, even during moments where their attention is needed most. Although the dancers eventually realize they ought to pay more attention at the end, they soon go back to their old habits, or the new normal.

Katherine Mandolidis’ “Chatter” stages two friends trapped in a miscommunication caused by posts made to Facebook. Dancers fill in the space between the friends, who are standing far apart from each other on stage. The choreography is something like a modern game of telephone, where neither end is receiving the same message. Mandolidis’ piece ends as these type of disputes should: the two friends meet face-to-face and clear their miscommunication, laughing it off as the lights go down.

The first act ends with a steamy cabaret number based around popular dating sites and apps like Tinder – the “hook up” app. Susan Rowland’s “Crazy For You” stages a playful dance of seduction that proves no matter the method, the rules of the game never change.

Janelle Rae Ferrara’s “#filterthis” is all about the major impact of photo manipulation, popular on platforms like Instagram, on women and their self-confidence. Rather than search for imperfections, Ferrara argues women ought to celebrate their bodies, for they are beautiful just the way are. Ferrara’s piece is strongly reminiscent of a Beyoncé music video. The five dancers certainly channel their inner Queen B with their stunning performance that has the audience whooping and hollering by the end of it.

Misha Behnia brings the terror of cyberstalking to the stage with “Find You.” Someone has been obsessing over a young woman’s online activity recently, leaving comments that disturb her. While her stalker is anonymous, she suspects it’s someone close to her. Behnia has chosen slow renditions of You’re The One That I Want and One Way or Another to create a frightening atmosphere onstage. The lyrics to One Way or Another (“I’m gonna get ya”) take on a whole new dark meaning in this piece as a terrified dancer runs for safety amidst a sea of people, any of which could be her stalker. Behnia’s slow build in tension is genuinely unsettling.

A much lighter piece, Katherine Wilson’s “Just 5 More Minutes…” looks at the struggle of falling asleep at night now that the internet is just at our fingertips. Wilson’s piece starts with a young woman who decides to watch cat videos before going to bed. A rabbit hole, if ever there was any. The young woman soon finds herself surrounded by dancers dressed as cats, ears and all. The piece is absolutely hilarious as it goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. The young woman finds herself searching for more videos to watch, landing on Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” Dancers come out to recreate Jackson’s popular dance moves. The piece ends with our tired friend getting barely a second of sleep before her alarm goes off. (The struggle is real).

Mandolidis’ “Distraction” focuses on the deadly phenomenon of distracted driving and its aftermath. “Distraction” is an emotional piece, evoking a strong sense of grief and hurt as one dancer watches her friends lose their lives to an urge to always be connected, no matter the situation.

The night’s last number is “Count on Me,” choreographed by Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland. The final word about social media is that social media is not some strange, otherworldly entity, but something created by people, for people. When used responsibly, social media can benefit people in a lot of different ways.

While not clearly linked by an overarching narrative, the show’s dynamic multi-perspective look at social media is compelling nonetheless. The format makes sense considering social media is so versatile and elusive in its identity. Trying to cover the various dimensions of social media through some patchwork story would likely be disastrous. Here, each dimension is allowed to breathe and take on its own character to full effect, like Behnia’s “Find You.”

Through 11 choreographic works, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife taps into the pulse of modern life, delivering a fun, insightful production surrounding the impacts of social media on daily life.


En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife runs Feb 4 – 6 at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre.

For more about the information, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca/#!-thisislife/c72f

Dress Rehearsal

Choreography: Kelsea Fitzpatrick
Music: Bonnie McKee – Bombastic
Filming and Editing: Kelsea Fitzpatrick and Valerie Stretch
Performed by: All Cast

Bros

Choreography: Lauren Miholic
Music: Wolf Alice – Bros
Performing by: Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kiersten Penny, Kimberly Johnson

Troll

Choreography: Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak
Music: Shane Koyczan – Troll
Performed by: Allison Benson, Ashley Green, Erica Price, Jordana Trauh, Kiersten Penny, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron, Tasha Leibel

Parallel Play

Choreography: Christen Terakita
Music: Izzi Dunn – Oblivious
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Katherine Wilson, Lauren Miholic, Stephanie Fuhurman, Susan Rowland

Chatter

Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Joywave feat. Kopps – Toungues
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Misha Behnia, Shannon Sherston

#Goners

Choroegraphy: Tasha Leibel
Music: Twenty One Pilots – Goner
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Jordan Wallan, Julia MItchell, Karen Vito, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Misha Behnia, Nicole Wasylenko, Shannon Sherston, Stephanie Ballie, Susan Rowland

Crazy For You

Choreography: Susan Rowland
Music: Adele – Crazy For You
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Christina Robertson, Emily Neuheimer, Katherine Wilson

Mark My Words

Choreography: All Choreographers
Director/Concept: Susan Rowland
Film Editing: Valerie Stretch
Performed by: The Choreographers of #ThisIsLife and the En Corps Board of Directors
Music: Justin Bieber – Mark My Words

#filterthis

Choreography: Janelle Rae Ferrara
Music: HWLS – 004
Performed by: Brianne Martin, Jordan Wallan, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Tasha Leibel

Something in The Water

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer
Music: Pokey Lafarge: Something in The Water
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Karen Vito, Katherine Wilson, Nicole Wasylenko, Susan Rowland

Find You

Choreography: Misha Behnia
Music: Until The Ribbon Breaks – One Way or Another, Lo Fang – You’re The One That I Want
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Allison Benson, Ashleigh Cerny, Chelsea McEwing, Erica Price, Jordana Traub, Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Kimberly Johnson, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Nicole Wasylenko, Stephanie Ballie, Sydney Suffron

Just 5 More Minutes…

Choreography: Katherine Wilson
Music: Tick Tock Jungle, Meow Mix Song (EDM remix – Ashworth, Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation, Hans Zimmer – Tick Tock.

Performed by: Allison Benson, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Erica Price, Kiersten Penny, Madison Dixon, Naomi Lawson-Baird, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron

Distraction

Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Grace Potter and The Nocturnals – Falling or Flying
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Jordan Wallan, Jordana Traub, Kimberly Johnson, Misha Behnia, Odessa Johnston, Stephanie Ballie, Tasha Leibel

Count On Me

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland
Music: Bruno Mars – Count On Me
Performed by: All Cast

Ready to Make Her Mark, Serenella Sol Launches SeSol Dance Projects

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Dancer & choreographer Serenella Sol, founder of SeSol Dance Projects. Photo Credit: Wojtek Mochniej.

Until recently, SeSol Dance Project’s debut production, which premieres this February, was simply titled Project 001. Now, the show’s full title has been revealed, and it is a title that resonates strongly with 26-year-old Serenella Sol.

Project 001: Coming of Age.

“There was something about turning 26 that you feel like, okay I’ve danced for a couple years and have done my own works. What’s the next thing I need to do?” said Sol who created SeSol Dance Projects as a vehicle for her choreographic work. “I just felt like it was time…I’ve been wanting to do it for a couple years, but it never felt right. This time felt like yes, I’m going to do it!”

With the support of W & M Physical Theatre, SeSol Dance Projects aims to create performance opportunities for contemporary dance artists in Calgary, and reach out to audiences who may not regularly engage with contemporary dance.

“Most of the good dancers [in Calgary] are gone, and the rest are working at Lululemon,” said Sol. “It’s a duty for me to create opportunities for talented dancers. The good people want to leave because there is nothing going on here. It’s really hard here in Calgary, but I firmly believe that if we fight and keep going the city will be different in ten years. And it’s going to be different because of artists like me and so many others who are trying to make something from nothing. We just have to keep going.”

Sol says that SeSol Dance Projects is a first step towards realizing her big dream, running a small company of her own. Her company would not only create job opportunities for dancers, but also contribute to the city’s cultural image.

“This is just, I feel like people should be excited about this. We are creating culture, people like me and so many other artists. We are creating Canadian culture. We are creating Calgarian culture.

“We’re more than the [Calgary Stampede], cowboys, and horses. I’m sick of it. That’s not us, we are more than that. I feel like it’s so important for me to be a part of that process. [I want to] be forty and be like, we have a better city because we struggled so much.”

“I’m not there yet, but that’s where I want to be,” said Sol.

Born in the United States, Sol grew up in Venezuela where she started dancing ballet at the age of three. Sol says she quit her ballet classes after Venezuela’s political landscape began shifting. “When I was thirteen, the political situation in my country switched, and that really influenced my upbringing in my teenage years. I was really politically involved in my country. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to become a lawyer.”

Sol’s parents applied for permanent residency, a process that can take between two to three years, when she was fourteen. At the age of seventeen, Sol and her family moved to Canada.

In Canada, Sol, still intent on becoming a lawyer, continued studying political science, but felt that something was missing in her life.

“I was really depressed for a while. I didn’t know why,” said Sol about living in Vancouver. “One day, I saw a sign for ballet classes [at Harbour Dance Centre], and I’m like maybe I should join. I hadn’t taken ballet classes for two years. I took a class and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped. I realized that was the thing I was missing.”

“In Venezuela, you don’t see yourself – you cannot be a professional dancer,” said Sol. “There are no companies. There are no choreographers. It’s not even a possibility. For me, growing up, it was not even a possibility to become a choreographer. When I came [to Canada], it was actually a possibility to become a choreographer.”

In 2013, Sol graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Minor in Dance. Although she had changed her mind about becoming a lawyer, graduating from U of C’s Dance program would have taken longer than she preferred. “It was going to take me a longer time to finish dance than political science, because they took some courses I had in Venezuela.”

“[I thought] I don’t need to stay one more year. I don’t need a degree in dance to be a dancer. I just wanted to move onto the next stage of my life,” explained Sol.

After graduation, Sol traveled to Europe where she planned to begin her dance career. “I just wanted to go to Europe, that’s all I wanted to do. I wasn’t even focused on doing a career in Canada.”

She returned to Calgary after auditioning abroad did not go as planned.

“I came back and was super depressed. I had to get an office job. I was like, I’m going to quit dance! I hate this! The first couple months were really rough,” said Sol about the situation.

And then one day, Sol received an e-mail from Melissa Monteros about an opportunity with W & M Physical Theatre.

“I’m not a religious person, but that was one of the biggest moments in if my life that I was like if there is a God, that this was sent by him. Because I never saw it coming,” said Sol.

Sol met W & M Physical Theatre co-founders Monteros and Wojtek Mochniej while at university, as a student. Monteros’ e-mail came as a total surprise, Sol said, because she never considered herself as someone who stood out in their classes.

“To be honest, I never even thought they saw me as someone they could mentor, because they never cast me in any of their pieces,” said Sol. “I never saw it coming, because you see in class, you know, preference for students. You always kind of smell it. They like this person. I never felt anything like that with Wojtek and Melissa.

“I [am] very privileged, because Melissa and Wojtek have so much experience. They’ve been doing this for 40 years already. It’s amazing to have access to their brains. I’m really grateful for that, for sure.”

Sol has danced with W & M Physical Theatre since Spring 2013, appearing most recently in the company’s latest work “Waiting Rooms in Heaven.”

About her own choreographic pursuits, Sol says she feels her craft is something that can only improve through consistent practice. “Creativity is not a talent, it’s something you have to practice.”

“I see it as a more structure and repetitive thing. You need to do it several times to get better,” said Sol, explaining her own process. “For me, speaking and words are kind of hard, especially in English. So, I do better with movement…Even though there are no words, I can see the feelings. That’s also something I’m really interested in, finding new ways to move different things and see what reaction it has in you from the inside.”

“For me right now, I’m just trying different things and just exploring my own, you know, process and creativity,” continued Sol. “I feel like right now I should try different things and approaches, and then time will say what’s my style. I’m a young person, so I have a long way to go.”

If she has learned anything on her dance journey, Sol said, it is that young artists such as herself need to take their work in steps. “You don’t have the experience yet to know how to bring out [big, conceptual ideas] very well. My philosophy as an artist right now is to try and focus, [asking] what do I want to try and learn this time with this piece?”

SeSolEnsemble

The Ensemble, SeSol Dance Project’s Project 001: Coming of Age. Photo Credit: Stephanie Leann.

Looking back and now ahead to Project 001: Coming of Age, Sol says the title is fitting given her experiences as an emerging artist and the novel on which the project is based on – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, first published in 1847.

While the book forms the foundation of the piece, Sol says that the novel and its themes will be interpreted, not staged “scene by scene,” for the production. Project 001: Coming of Age will explore the novel’s rebellious tone, asking the audience to consider a variety of contemporary social and political issues.

“You see how she grows, as a woman,” said Sol about Jane Eyre. “Always struggling with feeling complete and loved, but also independent. At that age, she was such a rebel. She spoke her mind, both the character and author.”

Sol says the novel, considered a feminist classic, is appropriate given that all eight dancers are women. The dancers were each invited to apply for the show. Some are dancers whom Sol has worked with in the past, like Valentia Dimitriou; others are U of C dance students who stood out to her while assisting Monteros last year.

“I just want to say that, I just want to be a choreographer and dance and be able to create,” concluded Sol, grateful for the generous support she has received so far. “I really believe the arts make a better society. And I really want to be part of Calgary making more art.”

Project 001: Coming of Age runs February 19-20, 7:30pm, at the Big Secret Theatre. Tickets can be purchased online here.


For more information about Serenella Sol & SeSol Dance Projects, visit: http://www.serenellasol.com/

For more information about W & M Physical Theatre, visit: http://wmdance.com/

Radioheaded Three Rocks The Big Secret Theatre

Radioheaded 3

The Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) watch carefully over Denise Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists. Photo credit: Diane + Mike Photography.

Created and directed by Denise Clarke, Radioheaded 3: A Listening Party to Watch stages a vivid, politically charged interpretation of Radiohead’s 2003 album Hail to The Thief.

In its first few minutes, the show makes clear who its opponents are. Its opponents are the Authorities (Doug MacLean, Kirk Miles, Bradley Struble) – a trio of “capitalist assholes” in suits. Before he takes his seat, the group’s leader calls the audience a bunch of hippies “who probably voted for the NDP.” Yes, the three men are not far removed from the current political landscape.

A mad frenzy ensues as Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists enter the theatre. Almost immediately, the artists rush the audience in an effort to sell Happiness. “I need to fill my quota,” says one of the desperate artists in her sales pitch.

Corporate greed, social injustices, they are all fuel for rebellion, but no such uprising takes place here. Worked to the bone, the artists have no energy to revolt. Control and routine have subdued their anger, a fact the Authorities cherish.

Although, one man (Thomas Poulsen) holds out hope that change is possible. Trying to revive their spirits, he asks the artists not to give up and give in to the powers at hand. His efforts, however, are in vain. The one artist who rises up (Pamela Tzeng) is swiftly hammered down.

As the full album plays, the lyrics to every song are typed out on a large projection screen. Designed by Wil Knoll, the projected transcriptions feature typos, corrections, and other imperfections which complement the production’s overall raw qualities.

Though raw, the production never feels too loose, or out of control. Clarke’s beautifulyoungartists are a tight ensemble who demonstrate fearless commitment to the movement. (At one point, Poulsen’s bed spins wildly in circles centre stage with Tzeng hanging on one of its sides).

Where the production is weak is in its neon/glow-in-the-dark effects. The tape used to illuminate/outline the artists and props during one particular scene works only for a few, leaving some artists in the dark entirely. (Think of a series of bulbs where a handful are burnt out). So, while the idea is interesting, its execution leaves something to be desired.

Nonetheless, Radioheaded 3 is a visually exciting show that explores Hail to The Thief’s dread towards the future. Clarke holds a mirror to the audience and asks us to reflect on the conditions that make young people today feel so apprehensive about their futures.

Clarke’s Radioheaded 3 holds a tight grip on its audience from start-to-finish with its inspired movement that calls for action.


Produced by One Yellow Rabbit as part of Sled Island 2015, Denise Clarke’s Radioheaded Three: A Listening Party to Watch runs June 24 – 27 at the Big Secret Theatre (Arts Commons).

For more information about the show, visit: http://oyr.org/

Tuplin Gets Personal With Dis/Connected

Melissa Tuplin's Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre's Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

Melissa Tuplin’s Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival. Image provided by Sage Theatre.

In our daily lives, do we exhibit the true self, that which is grounded in our personal convictions, or a false self, an image built upon expectation? For Melissa Tuplin, the former is a desire, while the latter is reality.  And so, she asks, if our identities exist outside ourselves, then what does that leave us with?

Presented by Sage Theatre’s Ignite! Festival, Tuplin’s latest solo piece Dis/Connected explores the complex relationship between who we are and how we want to be seen.

The lyrics “what is wrong with me?” repeat. It is a persistent echo of the mind. Nothing, Tuplin responds by baring herself to us. Yet, despite her confidence, there are small glimpses of hesitation that reveal themselves. But the desire to be happy, to be sincere and at peace with oneself is overwhelming. The dancer’s movements slice the air with vigor as she strives to resuscitate a connection lost too long ago.

In an act of defiance, Tuplin crosses the threshold and walks out into the audience. A determined look meets our curious gaze, until finally she takes a seat. No more is she an image.

Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is at once introspective and bold. Tuplin’s intimate examination of self-expression versus self-censorship excites with its vulnerability.


Melissa Tuplin’s solo piece Dis/Connected was presented by Sage Theatre’s 2015 Ignite! Festival. The festival ran June 18 – 20 inside The Studio at Vertigo Theatre.

A full recording of Tuplin’s Dis/Connected is available here: http://dancingmonkeylab.com/2015/06/14/disconnected-a-new-solo-work-by-melissa-tuplin/

For more information about Melissa Tuplin, visit: http://www.melissatuplin.com/