Post-Show Discussion: Gravel, Vigneault on Usually Beauty Fails

Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’Art Gravel Art Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opened April 15th at Theatre Junction. Audience members were invited to a reception following the performance. Gravel and Lucie Vigneault were present and shared some of their thoughts on both the group and the show.

In 2001, Vigneault graduated from the Université du Québec à Montréal with a degree in Contemporary Dance Performance. Since then, Vigneault has danced with numerous companies and choreographers in Montreal. In 2006, Vigneault joined Groupe d’Art Gravel Art Group, or GAG.

Directed by Gravel, another UQUAM graduate, GAG is a “moving team of artists” that includes both musicians and dancers. That is to say, Usually Beauty Fails started with a different set of artists than the one’s who appeared on stage for its most recent run. Introducing new artists to the group is important because it brings new energy to the piece, Gravel explains.

“The piece is not about I created the piece, I wrote the piece and there is truth about it. It’s more like…I led a team of artists to create something. Then, when a new artist comes…the group evolves with whoever is in,” said Gravel. “It’s not just about a new artist to get what is going on and fit in. I choose people who will fit well in this energy with [our artists]. When I find these people, these kind of artists, I know they will fit in, and we will all be inspired by them. They will be inspired by what we are doing.”

With regards to the type of work GAG produces, Vigneault says it is the company’s focus on presence that appeals to her as a dancer.

Dancer Lucie Vigneault, opening night reception for Usually Beauty Fails.

Dancer Lucie Vigneault, Usually Beauty Fails’ opening night reception.

“There is something about the way to be present on stage that is really interesting for me, because we don’t want to be too much ‘representative’ in the performance for the public, but something more directly in the action,” said Vigneault.

Vigneault describes Usually Beauty Fails as a show about relationships and how complicated they can be sometimes. “It’s not easy, these relationships…like you want to do something, but there is always something that is not working.”

For Gravel, the relationship between audience and performer is one that takes considerable navigation.

“I think we are trying to be as live as we can be,” said Gravel. “We are still here, you’re still there with us, living in the moment…I know you are thinking about what is going on. Is it worth the time I am putting in? What does that mean?”

“I’m trying to just not get the audience to be numb. To get involved. Be engaged. To see my strategies, our strategies to be seductive, but still appreciate it and be into it…maybe see what is at stake and not just …“that was the greatest show!” and then forget about it. It has to be engaging. It has to be engaging and still seductive, because it is live performance.”


Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails ran at Theatre Junction, April 15 – 18.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/ubf/

Music and dance performers on stage
David Albert-Toth

Frédérick Gravel
Charles Lavoie
Vincent Legault
Brianna Lombardo
Peter Trosztmer
Lucie Vigneault
Jamie Wright

Dancers at Creation
Kimberley De Jong

Francis Ducharme
Frédérick Gravel
Brianna Lombardo
Frédéric Tavernini
Jamie Wright

Usually Beauty Fails Lands With Mixed Results

Frederick Gravel & GAG's Usually Beauty Fails opened April 18th at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opened April 15th at Theatre Junction GRAND. Photo Credit: Denis Farley.

Loud and assertive, this is the way Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opens. The music holds us down in our seats. The dancers, whose eyes were locked with ours just moments ago, escape into fervid movement.

Blending dance and live music, Usually Beauty Fails is a raw display of human emotion. Parts of it, anyway.

Gravel, the show’s creator, director, and choreographer, is the evening’s leading man. Taking the microphone between dance pieces, he shares his thoughts, which are largely self-deprecating, with the audience about the performance. Gravel’s charm is well received by the audience, albeit for a short while. Eventually, the audience’s laughter shifts from warm to tired and nervous as Gravel’s drawn out, wayward thoughts overstay their welcome.

Gravel’s band (Charles Lavoie, vocals/guitar; Vincent Legault, guitar; Gravel, vocals/guitar) perform a varied arrangement of music that sometimes rocks out loud, then other times goes for a soft, melodic sound. The rock pieces are not particularly interesting. The acoustic pieces, on the other hand, draw us in close with simple, tender lyrics that travel smoothly thanks to Lavoie’s clean vocals.

Likewise, the choreography resonates best in its quieter moments.

There is a moment where two of the dancers stand closely together, undress, and explore each other’s naked bodies. Soft pauses. Gentle touches. Nothing is said, and it does not feel like anything has to be said. In this moment that breathes and takes its time, we are witness to human affection in its purest form.

But then, in the show’s final piece, we are reminded of life as we share it together socially. The dancers change into fancy dress – cocktail dresses and suits. They open bottles of champagne and pour each other plenty (and then some). Besides quick whispers between the dancers, not too much is said. And not too much happens. It is as almost as if the dancers have slipped into disguises, masks; pretenses. The dancers look at each other from afar as though wanting to say something, but choosing not to. What keeps them from doing so? Whatever it is, the champagne eventually causes the dancers to throw caution to the wind.

These impactful moments are scarce, stuffed away in favor of presenting something big and loud. Something so big, in fact, that at one point the stage lights flash so hard that the audience has trouble keeping their eyes on the stage. It is then that point that one ask themselves whether this is a dance show, a rock show, or an uneven effort in trying to accomplish both at the same time.

The show’s main problem, though, is that Gravel seems more interested in speaking about the work than allowing the work to speak for itself. It is too bad considering that the work does at times succeed in stirring something intimately profound within us. Not to mention also that Gravel’s dancers, who move with vigor, feel terribly underused.

Presented by Theatre Junction, Usually Beauty Fails’ integration of live music and dance is mixed at best, resulting in a show that sometimes grabs our attention, but mainly pushes us away.


Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails ran at Theatre Junction, April 15 – 18.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/ubf/

Music and dance performers on stage
David Albert-Toth

Frédérick Gravel
Charles Lavoie
Vincent Legault
Brianna Lombardo
Peter Trosztmer
Lucie Vigneault
Jamie Wright

MoMo Dance Theatre Springs Forward With I Didn’t Wear My Raincoat

Pictured, MoMo Dance Theatre's Performance Ensemble member Kathy Austin in

Pictured, Kathy Austin in “We Have Come To Be Danced” (April ’12). Audiences can catch Austin in I Didn’t Wear My Raincoat which opens March 26th at the Vertigo Studio Theatre. Photo Credit: Matthew Brucker

Later this month, MoMo Dance Theatre will be presenting I Didn’t Wear My Raincoat. The company’s latest production will explore the four seasons with original work from its performance ensemble members and new work created by guest artists.

And as the company prepares for opening night, Artistic Director Mark Ikeda remembers when he first started working with MoMo Dance Theatre two years ago.

“Just walking into that door was like walking into a big hug. Everyone was so welcoming and just wanted to see what I had to share, and was so ready to engage” said Ikeda who was teaching workshops for the company at the time.

When it was announced that then Artistic Director Pam Boyd was leaving the company, Ikeda lept at the opportunity to fill the position. Ikeda says he was not only taken by the overwhelming positivity of the MoMo family, but that he was also impressed by the skill level going in.

“There are some challenges…but being able to launch into the work and really dig into some ideas has never been a problem…when I was welcomed by that idea I was enticed into the MoMo family.”

Founded in 2003, MoMo Mixed Ability Dance Theatre offers artists of all abilities and skill levels a range of classes focused on growth through creative movement. Currently, the company offers three adult classes and two youth classes. As well, MoMo offers performance opportunities for its members.

Part of the company’s mission is to facilitate artistic expression by removing barriers that might otherwise restrict the exchange of ideas between artists. For Ikeda, a combination of improvised and choreographed movement works best to achieve this mandate.

“While we do we have set choreography…other times we’ll explore a mood or an emotion or a thought or a color, even. Let’s say we’re exploring sunshine…we’re all going to move like sunshine until someone claps. And so, in that while everyone is in the same or at least similar idea and adapting it to their own bodies…they can move how they like to move and interpret the idea of sunshine [as they like]. It’s open to exploration.”

But in order for this exploration to truly take off, Ikeda says, an individual must first feel comfortable within the space. Ikeda explains that this turning point usually occurs after three classes.

“If someone will come to three classes, they’ll usually open up. That’s kind of the shifting point… for someone totally new to feel comfortable and engage in the activities. And so, after three classes, there’s that open – and again it’s like that family idea of who are you and how we can play? How can we enjoy each other in this art?”

This year, the first in a three year process, MoMo launched an outreach program to share their passion for play with various communities.

With funds received by The Calgary Foundation, the company has been able to partner with URSA (Universal Rehabilitation Service Agency), the Calgary Association of Self-Help, the Vecova Centre, and Carewest Garrison Green. In these spaces, MoMo’s dance teachers promote community and personal development through interdisciplinary, communal physical activity. What results is a holistic approach to wellness, something the partner organizations have praised.

“There’s a bunch of papers out right now about how interdisciplinary and communal physical activity is one of the strongest ways of bringing someone into an idea of what a community is…and the idea of empathy that if you’re doing the same thing as I am, I can see that not only are we a team, but you have your own unique way of doing things.”

“A lot of those intangibles…can’t really be measured or quantified…[but] when you can engage with someone creatively…be able to go into yourself, find an idea or thought or something that hasn’t existed either in you or outside of you before and share it with other people there is an intelligible connection that happens…MoMo has for over a decade now found a way to set that up for people who identify as having disabilities.”

And with MoMo’s spring performance fast approaching, the company looks to add another success to an already great year.

A dance piece audiences can expect to see in the production is one choreographed by Ikeda which incorporates the use of hand stilts. Hand stilts have been famously used in the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King to portray giraffes. Ensemble member Thomas Poulsen, who uses crutches, will be the performer raised off the ground alongside Ikeda.

“[I thought about] what would be a great duet with [Thomas] or piece for him. I thought of these hand stilts and how a lot of the movement I have to do to stay up on the hand stilts are quite similar to the movement he uses everyday and he uses on the dance floor. We’ve been exploring for a few weeks now and I really love where it’s going.”

And it is this love for play and exploration that makes MoMo Dance Theatre a company to watch.


MoMo Dance Theatre’s I Didn’t Wear My Raincoat runs March 26 – 28 at the Vertigo Studio Theatre.

Tickets can be purchased online here: momo.brownpapertickets.com

For more information on the company, visit: http://www.momodancetheatre.org/

Fire Exit Theatre & Corps Bara Dance Theatre Search For God in Absence

Corps Bara Dance Theatre rehearsing "Cleansing," one of six dance pieces in Absence. Photo Credit: Char G. Photography

Corps Bara Dance Theatre rehearsing “Cleansing,” one of six dance pieces in Absence. Photo Credit: Char G. Photography

What is the value of faith in a world full of injustices? This is one of many tough questions Fire Exit Theatre and Corps Bara Dance Theatre fearlessly tackle in Absence. Blending theatre and dance, Absence explores the doubt, fear, and perhaps even anger that some experience in their personal relationship with God.

Written and directed by Val Lieske, Absence stages three characters (played by Brendan Andrews, Jennifer Beacom, and Sarah Irwin) who feel utterly overwhelmed by the world. So overwhelmed by the world, in fact, that they are spiritually exhausted. For if God is everywhere, as he claims to be, then why do bad things continue to happen in our world today?

For these socially conscious youth, it is the poor and the downtrodden who suffer the most from God’s absence. And what frustrates the youth is that the marginalized are asked to remain firm in their faith. But how can one, the youth ask, trust in God when he has failed them, and so many others at home and abroad?

And their shared frustration reflects a larger phenomenon regarding youth and traditional teachings. For youth, of what relevance does the Bible have today in our chaotic world? How can we apply its teachings to unprecedented levels of disaster and conflict? And this scrutiny extends to the church where youth retention is a very present issue. What can the church do to help alleviate the dissatisfaction youth feel towards the Bible and its inadequacy to make sense of their everyday experiences? Lieske suggests that the church needs to modernize and acknowledge current affairs. Singing gospels can only get one so far in their spiritual journey, especially when there are so many questions to be asked. And so, the church needs to welcome and foster critical discussions where youth feel they can raise questions that challenge the foundations of faith.

Unfortunately, Absence lacks a central narrative to tie its main arguments together. The characters simply debate amongst themselves various positions regarding God’s inexplicable absence in the world. And they do so by making vague, heavy handed observations on politics, crime, and the media. So when there is a truly potent question raised, it has no support to carry it where it needs to go in order to have a real stimulating effect. Instead, the question becomes engulfed in an exasperating amount of talk.

Where the production does manage to hold our interest is in its six dance pieces led by Corps Bara’s dance ensemble (Laura Barcelo, Jessalyn Britton, Sarah Curtis, Valentia Dimitriou, Jason Galeos, Natalka Lewis, Sylvie Maquin, Caitlin Unrau). The reason being is that each piece is focused on one or two central ideas.

One particular piece that stands out is Cleansing, choreographed by Amy Meyers. Downstage centre, there is a bowl of holy water atop a pedestal. And the dancers each try to bring themselves to it, but they cannot for they feel unworthy. Externalized here is the spiritual agony that doubt creates. And it reads across the dancers’ faces and bodies as they frantically circle the holy water. The piece ends when finally, a dancer gives herself over and smashes the water with her hands. It is a striking image that brings the first act to a close.

And then, there is Cinch, choreographed by Krysten Blair. Setting up this piece is talk surrounding the debate between faith and reason; religion and science. And this piece explores this conversation with a recurring phrase of movement where the dancers pull apart threads or, depending on your perspective, split atoms. For once we apply scientific rationality to religious beliefs, we fall into an almost infinite series of questions that only lead to more questions.

These physical meditations of the soul are executed gracefully by the dancers.

But regardless, the sort of dramatic interest needed to fill an approx. two-hour run time is not here. The elements of the show operate in segments that result in a bland pattern of “acting/dancing/acting” and so on. There is no cohesion between the acting and dance segments until the end, but then it is too late. The audience is ready to exit the theatre.

Absence suffers from pacing issues and clumsy dialogue. While its dance pieces are exciting, the overall production lacks the necessary momentum to truly leave an impact on its audiences.


Fire Exit Theatre in partnership with Corps Bara Dance Theatre presented Absence at the Lantern Community Church, Feb. 25 – Mar 1, 2015.

For more information on
Fire Exit Theatre, visit: https://www.fireexit.ca/
Corps Bara Dance Theatre, visit: http://www.corpsbara.com/

Soulocentric’s Dance Cabaret Features Diverse Original Works by Local, National Dancers

Shelby Jansen and Allison Zwozdesky duke it out in Cooking Truths, one of eleven works presented in Soulocentric's Dance Cabaret. Photo Credit: Ben Laird Arts and Photo

Allison Zwozdesky (left) and Shelby Jansen (right) duke it out in Cooking Truths, one of eleven works presented in Soulocentric’s Dance Cabaret. Photo Credit: Ben Laird Arts and Photo

Presented at West Village Theatre, Soulocentric’s Dance Cabaret is a showcase of original works by both emerging and professional dancers. The Dance Cabaret runs as part of the company’s 2015 Contemporary Performance Showcase, formerly known as the Soulocentric Dance Festival.

Ranging in style and tone, the Dance Cabaret comprises of eleven works choreographed and performed by local and national dancers.

The showcase opens with Tangy Lime Dance Projects’ baBBLe ON, a contemporary stilt dance piece. Stilt dancer Allara Gooliaf impresses with the control and ease of effort she displays moving to the sounds of a bustling city. The urban soundscape mixed with Julie Funk’s active movement is reminiscent of the 1998 film Run Lola Run. The piece runs smoothly until Tara Blue, who is also on stilts, starts singing. The loud music overpowers the dancer who simply cannot compete, thus making the audience lost on the lyrics. As a result, the piece ends on a weak note.

Next, Kelsey Hanna and Megan Fraser take the stage for their contemporary piece From Silence. Hanna and Fraser, both professional graduate students from the School of Alberta Ballet, are a tight pairing in this piece that explores the difficulty of loving that which cause one pain.

Dario Charles’ solo piece Without Face follows. Charles confidently exposes and plays with the the impact social conventions have on our capacity for real, unmediated human interactions. One way Charles does this is by creating uneasiness through inactivity. Sitting down, adjusting himself for maximum comfort, Charles takes a stand against the expectations of the audience – performer relationship. Then, through repeated motions, the dancer emphasizes the scripted nature of our relationships with the other. Overall, Charles presents an interesting piece. (Although, at one point, Charles’ own script refers to non-existent armrests which does remove us from the narrative).

Natalka Lewis and her company Trip The Light Dance present Dandelion Children. A collaborative effort between Lewis and her seven dancers (Misha Behnia, Madison Dixon, Odessa Johnston, Christina Robertson, Janelle Shiffner, Jordan Wallan & Katherine Mandolidis), Dandelion Children stages the abusive relationship between a mother and her daughter. The ensemble reflects the complexity of these relationships in a recurring phrase of movement where one dancer supports the other, only to drop her suddenly onto the floor. And then, they switch positions; the abuser becomes the abused. The choreography is well-thought out, and clearly presents the narrative it sets out to tell. Although, the choreography does lack an exact moment where the daughter, played by Lewis, comes into her own, leaving something to be desired in terms of a cohesive resolution.

Halifax-based dance company Votive Dance tells its own narrative of control in Proven Lands (choreography by Catherine Hayward). Kathleen Doherty plays a sinister character/force that sets out to corrupt and manipulate Stephanie Mitro’s character who attempts to resist her influence. Doherty embodies very well the weight of conformity on the individual, and Mitro displays a great vulnerability in the piece. The piece does lose some steam near its end, which is drawn out quite slowly, but overall it is a solid piece from start to finish.

Der schuh-shoe-La chaussure, choreographed by Jason Owin Galeos, is the last piece before intermission. Interested in the shoes we wear and where they take us in life, the piece begins with four dancers – Galeos, Cenzia Nina Aviles, Meghann Michalsky, and Chandler Smith – who walk on stage holding in their arms various footwear. The piece fails to make its intentions clear, thus making it feel like a missed opportunity. Galeos’s choreography attempts to grasp onto a central idea, but leaves the audience with little going into intermission.

Taking us into the second act is Metamorphsis, choreographed and performed by Krizia Canvas Carlos and Aris Nsungani. Carlos and Nsungani light up the stage in this exciting urban dance fusion piece.

Choreographed by Naomi Lawson Baird, Jass Parlour’s Daughters of The Deep is a short jazz piece that features Baird, Kimberley Ilott, and Hannah McCathy. Well-executed, though not particularly memorable.

Performed by Terra Plum, Jessalyn Britton, and Janelle Schiffer, Tri Some blends jazz with West African dance forms. Plum’s upbeat choreography is delivered effortlessly by the dancers. The mix between the two dance styles makes for a very cool piece.

Carisa Hendrix brings a strong stage presence in Just For Me, a solo hula hoop act created by Hendrix. What makes this short, playful piece particularly entertaining is both the speed at which Hendrix maneuvers her hula hoop and the element of risk (e.g. the hoop hitting the floor, bringing the piece to a sudden stop) in the maneuvers she performs.

Shelby Jansen and Allison Zwozdesky bring the night to a close with Cooking Truths. In Cooking Truths, Jansen and Zwozdesky play two celebrity chefs competing against each other in the kitchen. There is an array of fun, bizarre moments, like Jansen plucking her rival’s heart out, that receive big laughs from the audience. And inventive staging keeps the piece moving forward as the dancers flip and fold tables to create big, epic moments of warfare (performed in slow motion, of course). The piece does take time to hit its stride, however, as its first couple minutes are rather clunky and awkward. Moreover, the piece might benefit from a shorter run time as it feels a little too loose in its current state.

Featuring a diverse range of original works, Soulocentric’s Dance Cabaret succeeds at entertaining, and giving audience members the opportunity to witness and support Canada’s independent artists.


Soulocentric’s Contemporary Performance Showcase ran at West Village Theatre, Feb 19-21 2015.

For more information on the company, visit: http://www.soulocentric.org/

 

W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven Reflects On The Life (Not) Lived

W & M Physical Theatre's Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Pictured: Laura Henley and Wojciech Mochniej. Photo Credit:

W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Pictured (left to right): Valerie Campbell, Laura Henley and Wojciech Mochniej. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

Presented at the University Theatre, W & M Physical Theatre’s preview of its latest work in development Waiting Rooms in Heaven summons poignant reflections on life and the life (not) lived.

The piece takes place inside a room decorated with pristine white chairs. The only exit is a door atop some stairs, but out this door are a flock of birds that obscure the sky. This place is nowhere exact or well-defined. It is a metaphysical space whereupon eight unfortunate individuals enter into without any answers nor any clarity. Regrets from the past soon reemerge and make heavy the souls of those trapped in this mysterious unknown.

There is woven into this piece this desire that life choices were not so permanent. It is an idea that repeats itself as a wish that life were written in pencil than in pen, that one could go back and do things differently. It is an idea, however, that removes the opportunity to not only learn, but to also experience life in the moment. After all, what is a life stripped of its spontaneity? What is a life interrupted by fear and anxiety?

Driving this idea of doing one’s life over again are the “what ifs” the adult characters of this piece find themselves trapped within. Repeated again and again are what the characters wish they could have done differently if only ‘this’ or ‘that’. It is fitting then that the there is an almost violent sense of control in the movement. As if trying to change the outcomes of some past scenarios, the dancers attempt to manipulate and bend to their will the other. Their efforts are in vain just as wondering “what if?” is a futile attempt at changing the past. Where they manage to exert any sort of “real” control is in throwing the rows of chairs into one large pile. Of course, what meaningful impact does such a destructive action have in the grand scheme of things?

The company has incorporated in this piece four actors who range from 10 to 60 years old. It makes sense that the two adult characters would carry some baggage as they certainly have had the years to accumulate such burdens, but what about the little girl and teenager trapped in this room with the others? How do they, who appear to be brother and sister, fit in this place? Perhaps their baggage is of the second-hand kind, the kind handed down through the generations. If this is the case, then perhaps their wish is not to have lived life differently, but to have been born into a whole different life altogether.

The piece ends on a hopeful tone when the door is opened once again and, this time, soaring birds greet the characters. It is an invitation to let go and move on, to fly away and live a life unrestrained.

Here, the company’s latest work explores the idea that the gravity of our burdens are only as great as we allow them to be. While the current circumstances of our lives may be cemented as a result of choices made, the life not yet lived remains to be written. And this life that waits for us relies upon on the right state of mind which, in the end, makes all the difference.

With this only being stage one of development, it will be interesting to see how the piece evolves and what it will ultimately resemble when W & M Physical Theatre brings Waiting Rooms in Heaven to Calgary again in 2016.


W & M Physical Theatre’s Waiting Rooms in Heaven ran at the University of Calgary’s University Theatre Jan 22 – 24, 2014. The piece was presented as part of U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Dance Pro Series.

Choreographed by: Wojciech Mochniej with Melissa Monteros
Performers: Wojciech Mochniej, Laura Henley, Rufi O. Rodriguez, and Serenella Sol
Guest Performers: Valerie Campbell, Valerie Pearson, Griffin Cork, Ruby June Bishop, and Kent Brockman (bass)

For more information about the show, visit: 
http://wmdance.com/
http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/pro-series

 

 

Keeping Dance Local: En Corps Dance Collective Provides Opportunities for Calgary Dancers

This is Melanie Nightingale’s last year with En Corps Dance Collective, a company she helped found twenty years ago. One of the last founding members remaining, Nightingale says it has been interesting to see how the company has grown since its inception in 1995.

Initially, En Corps was influenced by the style of dance Nightingale and its other founding members were introduced to in Los Angeles during the 1990s.

“A lot of us used to go to Los Angeles to dance in the summertime,” Nightingale explained.”En Corps really started back in fall of ‘95, maybe spring ‘96, because a lot of us dancers – I think there were five or six of us – we wanted to bring a style of dance to Calgary that we didn’t think existed. We wanted to bring kind of that LA style and feel up to Calgary and give that opportunity to dancers.”

Nightingale adds that while there was a studio in Vancouver they could have gone to, it was important to the dancers that they stay in Calgary.

With how Calgary’s dance community has grown in the past twenty years, Nightingale says the company’s original mission is no longer as relevant as it once was. Now, En Corps is more concerned with retaining local talent.

“We first started because we thought we were bringing to Calgary something that didn’t exist…now, we don’t really see ourselves in that way anymore,” said Nightingale. “We just want to provide a dance experience to dancers in the city, so they don’t have to leave.”

It is not uncommon that dancers move to cities like Toronto or New York in order to pursue dance professionally. The reason for leaving is usually attributed to the lack of local opportunities for professional growth. To remedy this, En Corps offers dancers over the age of 18 classes and performance opportunities aimed at helping them grow and evolve as professional dancers.

For Nightingale, however, it is not enough that dancers gain solid technical training, but that they also feel a sense of belonging within the company, especially since founding members like herself are not always going to be around.

“I think I’m the last remaining founding member of En Corps, and this will be my last year because I’m going on to do different things,” said Nightingale. “We want to make people feel welcome in our group, so that they know that we want them on committees. We want them to get involved in what we’re doing and have a vested interest in En Corps to keep it going.”

And as the company prepares for its upcoming show The Escape, it is not hard to see what a significant impact the company and its commitment to fostering a friendly, professional environment has had on both new and veteran members.

En Corps Dance Collective presents The Escape, Jan 30-31st at the Wright Theatre, 8:00pm. Photo Credit: Red Dot Photography

En Corps Dance Collective presents The Escape, Jan 30-31st at the Wright Theatre, 8:00pm. Photo Credit: Red Dot Photography

The Escape tells the story of a distraught young girl who uses the power of her magic red ball to escape into a magical world of fantastic creatures. Unable to cope with reality, the young girl becomes dependent on this fantasy world to deal with her problems. Will she find the strength to return to the real world or will she become trapped in this unknown dimension?

Brittany Robertson and Jenna Powell started with the company’s drop-in classes five and nine years ago, respectively. Now, Robertson and Powell are not only dancing in The Escape, but they have also helped choreograph pieces for the show.

Powell, the artistic director of En Corps, says Nightingale’s departure signals a ‘passing on’ to the next generation who are becoming more active within the company.

“It’s slowly trickling down into my generation. We’re starting to direct more and to choreograph, ” Powell explained. “There’s also younger dancers who are part of our cast and part of [the University of Calgary’s] dance program, and they’ll eventually probably start to choreograph and become more involved.”

Odessa Johnston, a second year U of C dance student, says her first year with the company has been a valuable learning experience thanks to the diversity of dance experience she has been exposed to.

“This is quite a large range of age which is so great and so wonderful to experience because you get dancers that have been dancing for so long and have these great experiences, then dancers like me who have only been in university dancing for a few years now,” said Johnston.

Johnston, who hopes to pursue an MA in Dance, says she would like to continue dancing with the company, maybe even choreograph for them as well.

Even though there is always the challenge of fundraising and increasing costs associated with performance spaces and costumes, Nightingale believes that En Corps will be around so long as the company is willing to nurture the love of dance that its members share.

“[Twenty years] it’s a long time, especially since we’re a non-profit and we do everything ourselves,” Nightingale said. “I think it’s just because we have such a good base of dancers and we are really creating kind of, like I said, a family of dancers. We’re welcoming to people. We don’t – once people have children or they have families, we don’t say “oh, you can’t dance with us anymore.” …We’ve had pregnant ladies who’ve danced on stage…and they’re dancing because they have a passion for it. We’re open to involving people in different ways and we think there’s a lot of talent in the city that we want to bring to the company.”

Ultimately, Nightingale hopes that the company continues to thrive so that it can continue to keep dance and those who are passionate about it in Calgary.


En Corps Dance Collective’s The Escape runs Jan 30 – 31st at the Wright Theatre (Mount Royal University), 8:00pm.

Tickets can be purchased online here: https://tickets.mtroyal.ca/TheatreManager/1/tmindex.html

For more information about the company and The Escape, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca

This story has been edited to make the following correction: Melanie Nightingale (Malarchuk).

 

20 Years Later, W & M Physical Theatre Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

W & M Physical Theatre's newest work, Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

W & M Physical Theatre’s newest work Waiting Rooms in Heaven. Photo Credit: Aldona B Photography

This week, W & M Physical Theatre previews Waiting Rooms in Heaven, their newest dance work, at the University of Calgary. The presentation coincides with the company’s 20th anniversary celebrations.

Founded in 1994, W & M Physical Theatre’s story begins in Poland where Melissa Monteros and Wojciech Mochniej, the company’s founders, met at Silesian Dance Theatre.

“They were just starting the very first professional contemporary dance company [Silesian Dance Theatre] in Poland. The wall had just come down. This was 1991,” Monteros recalls. “[Wojciech and I] made our first work together in 1993. We launched our company at the end of ‘94.”

The company left Poland in 2000 after financial struggles made it clear that a move was necessary, Monteros shares.

“We started the company in Gdansk. We were there for a long time, six or seven years before we felt that funding was never going to happen. I had a house. I sold my house. I put half of my salary into the bank so I could pay the Polish dancers. It was a big struggle…Wojciech and I finally decided that it was too big a struggle. We also wanted to be working in one place because we would be going back and forth between Poland and Canada. It was expensive and difficult.”

20 years later, Monteros and Mochniej’s commitment to the company has not wavered.

Balancing responsibilities at U of C, where Monteros and Mochniej both teach, with a professional commitment to making art with the company is a matter of making time, says Monteros.

“I think we are relentless. Some people criticize us for it, some people shake their heads. Other people maybe admire us for it…there is a big part of the university job that is committed to research, so that’s a huge support, but it’s true that there isn’t the time. You have to make it happen.”

And with that time, W & M Physical Theatre has been busy developing Waiting Rooms in Heaven which Monteros says has been a great opportunity to revisit themes and questions from old works.

Waiting Rooms in Heaven sets out to explore how we experience life, that is if we are truly living rather than waiting for life to happen.

“Really, the piece overall is not about leaving life. It’s about, are we really experiencing life? Maybe, is this heaven? If it is, why are we sitting in the waiting room and not doing anything about it?”

And though she likes to ask big questions in her work, Monteros says that she “would never try to find the answers for somebody,” preferring instead that the audience discover the answers for themselves.

After its preview in Calgary, the company will tour their new work across Poland for a month in the spring. There, as they have done here with this production, the company will integrate local actors into the performance in what Monteros says will be a “very short, intense rehearsal process.”

The piece will then return to Calgary in 2016 as a fully-developed work.

With a rich history behind it, W & M Physical Theatre has plenty to celebrate on its 20th anniversary as it moves forward into the future with new, exciting works.


U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Dance Pro Series presents W & M Physical Theatre’s preview of Waiting Rooms in Heaven Jan 22 – Jan 24, 2015 at the University Theatre.

For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://scpa.ucalgary.ca/events/pro-series

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

Undressing The Dance: Dancers’ Studio West’s Latest Initiative Promotes Open, Critical Dialogue

Kimberley Cooper has been invited to partake in a public discussion hosted by Dancers’ Studio West surrounding her biography and latest show Year of The Horse. Leading the discussion is Davida Monk, the artistic director of DSW, who asks Cooper insightful questions about the dancer’s influences and where she is headed as a choreographer. Encouraged to participate, guests in attendance ask questions of their own along the course of the discussion.

This was DSW’s 3rd Undressing The Dance Dialogue.

Beginning in September of last year, the Undressing The Dance Dialogues are the latest initiative by DSW and its Dance Action Group to promote open, critical dialogue about dance with the involvement of audience members.

“We’re really passionately interested and committed in critical dialogue as a way to improve our own creativity and works, to raise awareness amongst interested members of the public and to build community in an effective way,” Monk said about the Dance Dialogues.

The first Dance Dialogue focused on the Alberta Dance Festival where audience members, choreographers, along with production crew, discussed the works in the program. The second Dance Dialogue, which took place in October, focused on Lev’s House which ran at the Fluid Festival.

In regards to post-performance discussions, Monk says the Dance Dialogues offer audience members a different sort of critical dialogue, one that she feels is not possible without some distance.

“After some time, some reflection on the work and a longer period of time not in the theatre setting – a different kind of dialogue can be done,” Monk explained. “You have to ask yourself what stayed with you after the week. When you go home that night something will stay with you, but after a week what stayed with you?”

DSW’s next Dance Dialogue will host Ame Anderson of Public Recordings. One of the topics that will be discussed is Anderson’s what we are saying which opens January 21st as part of the High Performance Rodeo.

The free event will be held at Ironwood Stage & Grill, Nov 23 from 12-2pm. Space is limited. RSVP to communications@dswlive.ca


Decidedly Jazz Dancework’s Year of The Horse: The Completely Fictional Adventures of Josephine Baker ran Nov 7 – 15, 2014, at Theatre Junction Grand. Cooper, DJD’s artistic director, choreographed the piece which featured eight mechanical horses.

Public Recording’s what we are saying runs Jan 21 – 24 at the Royal Canadian Legion #1 as part of the High Performance Rodeo. For more information about the show and how to buy tickets, visit: https://www.hprodeo.ca/2015/what-we-are-saying

For more information about Dancers’ Studio West, visit: http://www.dswlive.ca/

*This interview with Davida Monk took place Nov 23, 2014 at the 3rd Undressing The Dance Dialogue.

Fully Functional Starts a Conversation About Disability, Sexuality, and Society

A co-production between Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre, Fully Functional is a new play that gives a voice and real presence to its artists of mixed abilities. Drawing inspiration from their own personal experiences, the artists/creators tell stories of love, sex, and romance through dance and movement.

Being late to a first date, sex poems and orgasmic shouting: it is fearless storytelling injected with humour.

But past the laughter and heartbreak of these stories, the artists ignite a conversation about how our society views persons with disabilities.

In a talk-back session after the performance, an audience member asked “what impact do you hope to have for people afraid to let others in? [I mean it’s] easy to say I want love, but to say I deserve love is a good place to start as well.”

Mark Ikeda, artistic director of MoMo Dance theatre, responded.

“We got together in a room…and talked how taboo the topic is about the intersection between disability and sexuality, and how not only does no one know how to talk about it but people are afraid to talk about it. We hope to start a conversation, start people thinking about…how certain preconceived notions or thoughts might be quite harmful”

Thomas Poulsen, one of the performing artists, followed Ikeda’s response with his own, saying “I think you indicated that fear is very much out there in the community – in the disability community.”

Fully Functional opened at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pumphouse Theatre on December 3rd. Pictured (left to right): Stephen Henry, Gaelyn Thomson, and Kathy Austin. Photo Credit: Chantal Wall

Fully Functional opened at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pumphouse Theatre on December 3rd, 2014. Pictured (left to right): Stephen Henry, Gaelyn Thomson, and Kathy Austin. Photo Credit: Chantal Wall

The fear Poulsen refers to is a fear of rejection that goes deeper than what one might assume. On a whole, persons with disabilities are marginalized and rejected by mainstream society.

Consider how we speak about disability.

The disabled – a homogenizing term that attempts to refer to all persons with disabilities. It is a term that ignores the fact that disabilities are various in their form and appearance. Above all, it is a damaging term that erases the individual and reduces them to a diagnosis.

Newspaper articles sometime describe wheelchair users as either “bound” or “confined” to their chair. Persons with disabilities are framed as ‘victims who suffer from’, rather than ‘persons who live with’ a disability.

And then, it is the distance “the able-bodied” maintain between themselves and persons with disabilities. This distance comes out of fear, anxiety, and discomfort. But yet, we feel comfortable enough to stare out of curiosity and to make assumptions about their lives (but never to assume that they might have their own desires for human intimacy).

So, how can one think that they deserve to be loved when they are confronted over and over again with this idea that living with a disability somehow makes you a lesser human?

On its surface, Fully Functional addresses the assumption that disability interrupts sexuality. What it also addresses is the lack of belonging persons with disabilities experience in society.

Fittingly, the play ends with a slow dance, but this time – unlike the first time – the artists invite members of the audience to come dance with them. The slow dance serves as an invitation to close the distance and to start connecting with one another.

After all, at the end of the day, we are all human beings who want to love and be loved.


Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre’s Fully Functional ran at the Joyce Dolittle Theatre inside The Pump House Theatre from Dec 3 – 6, 2014.

Fully Functional was created and performed by:

Kathy Austin
Emily Collins-Tucker
Stephen Henry
Thomas Poulsen
Gaelyn Thomson

Co-directors: Col Cseke and Mark Ikeda, artistic directors of Inside Out Theatre and MoMo Dance Theatre respectively.
Assistant Director: Jordan Dalley

Inside Out Theatre: http://insideouttheatre.com/
MoMo Dance Theatre: http://www.momodancetheatre.org/