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.

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#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/

 

Dancers’ Studio West Invites Emerging Artists to LEAP

Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles with Davida Monk, after rehearsal.

Dancers’ Studio West Artistic Director Davida Monk with emerging artists Sylvie Moquin and Dario Charles, after rehearsal in the studio.

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/

A Pioneer in Classical Ballet: JCBS Founder Umran Sumen Shares Her Story

Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society's Founder & Artistic Director Umran Sumen, standing beside a portrait of herself from when she was a leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey.

Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society’s Founder & Artistic Director Umran Sumen, standing beside a portrait of herself from when she was a leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey.

When Umran Sumen arrived in Calgary 33 years ago, the former leading soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey thought her days of dancing were over.

“When I came here, I was thinking that I am not going to dance. I danced 16 years [with the NBCT]…I have a family, so now I am going to be a mother and wife to my husband…But then, the three boys in my life, my husband and two [sons], saw that I cannot. I am bitten by that virus for arts.”

At the time, however, ballet in Calgary did not have quite the same presence as it does today. Alberta Ballet, Canada’s second largest ballet company, was still in Edmonton and would be until 1990 when it merged with the Calgary City Ballet. (Sumen was appointed Artistic Director of the CCB in 1986). There was yet to be a place that offered young dancers intensive training in classical ballet. For Sumen, there needed to be not just a school, but also a company where dancers could apply what they learned to the stage, enhancing their dance education through live performance.

In 1988, Sumen founded the International School of Ballet and Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society. Sumen’s mission: “to put Calgary on the international dance map.”

Today, JCBS is one of the only pre-professional youth ballet companies in western Canada that does full-length productions of classical ballets. In addition to supplementing ballet dancers’ education, the company also aims to preserve and promote the cultural aesthetic of classical ballet in southern Alberta.

“In that time, it was a dream, but I believed so much that if you are not dreaming then you cannot achieve. You have to dream. [And now] we are celebrating 28 years.”

And in those 28 years, JCBS has produced numerous professional dancers who are not only prominent here in Canada, but internationally as well. JCBS & IBS alumnus Alexandra MacDonald is a second soloist with the National Ballet of Canada. Heather Myers has danced with the Boston Ballet (as a soloist) and Nederlands Dans Theatre where her choreography has also been produced. Other notable alumni: Michael Binzer (Royal Winnipeg Ballet), Gillian Abbot (Cirque de Soleil, Juilliard N.Y), Natalie Chui (Alberta Ballet).

For those who have continued on professionally in other fields, Sumen says she is just as proud of them as she is of those who have continued with ballet.

“If they want to do other professions, then they will still…make me proud. They carry that love of discipline, teamwork and [I know] they will shine in their own profession.

“Do you know how much classical ballet and that kind of high intensive training helps [students] develop as humans? That strength, that involvement in teamwork…makes me so happy when I see that. Do not give up. Raise the bar, always.”

Taylor Yanke, 12, and Montana Chong, 16, are two long-time JCBS members who are driven to succeed, and who will be performing in the company’s upcoming production of Coppelia.

Coppelia is a comic ballet about a life-like mechanical doll invented by Dr. Coppelius and the trouble it causes between Franz and Swanhilde, an engaged couple. From below her balcony, Franz admires and falls in love with the doll, Coppelia, who he believes to be real. Jealous, Swanhilde decides to dress as the doll in order to win back Franz.

“You can tell the instructors have a big background in ballet,” said Yanke who has been with the company since the age of three. “You want to work hard. Everyone is nice to each other and help the younger ones out. The older ones are very supportive of everyone.”

And with Coppelia, as with other classic ballets in JCBS’ repertoire, Yanke is excited to perform roles that have been played by distinguished dancers.

“I love JCBS, it’s really a great place to dance at. You get multiple opportunities to do all of these different roles you see principal dancers in Russia, in France do. When you have the opportunity to do those same variations, it’s really exciting.”

Having just finished her Advanced 2 last year and now progressing to her Solo Seal (the Royal Academy of Dance’s highest level), Chong says the support from her peers is also important to her and her success as a dancer.

“Overall, it’s a really great community here. I feel like I can always come here and be supported both onstage and off,” said Chong who will be playing Swanhilde.

“Their age is so young but what they are producing is amazing,” said Sumen about the 40 dancers involved in Coppelia. “Whoever we are inviting [as] guest dancers, they [are] surprised of the quality of the dancers.”

This year, JCBS is joined by Cuban dancer Elier Bourzac. Bourzac trained at the National Ballet School in Havana for eight years and graduated with honours in 2003. In 2007, he became a principal dancer with the Ballet National Cuba.

Yanke is thrilled to be “dancing among such a high dancer.”

“Just to see how [Bourzac] dances and what he does. He helps us out, too. He gives us corrections after we dance. It’s really great to have him here,” said Yanke.

Sumen is excited to stage Coppelia as she believes there is something for everyone to enjoy in this fun, lighthearted ballet. But she reminds us that such a production would not be possible without the generous help from her volunteers.

“I owe everything to the volunteers. Everyone is so dedicated, supportive. I cannot find anywhere else that has what we have in Calgary. If they will understand that you love what you are doing, you have a respect for what you are doing, you have a strong education in what you are doing, they are behind you. That is why I owe a lot to volunteers in Calgary.”

A pioneer in classical ballet, Sumen looks back on her successes with great joy. She tells her story and speaks about her students with immense pride. And Sumen looks forward to many years to come, because this is not her job, she says, this is her life.

“The arts feed your soul and bring you different perspectives to look at life…to see what is the purpose of who you are and what you are going to bring after you leave this life. If you are going to bring one drop of change in people’s life, then you are successful.”


Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society’s production of Coppelia runs May 29-30 at University Theatre. 

For tickets and more information about the company, visit: http://jcbs.ca/

International School of Ballet: http://www.iballet.com/