Dance artists Katie Cassady, Lisa Höstman, Isabelle Kirouac and Robert Leveroos, Sophie Maguire, Jhoely Triana and Juan Villegas write about the work they have been developing during the spring 2017-18 edition of 12 Minutes Max, which can be seen at a free studio showing on April 24 at 6pm.
Through this process of 12 Minutes Max, I have attempted to illustrate and convey some of the ideas that have changed the way I think about climate change, attempting to synthesize and think through in physical form the thoughts of academics and philosophers that have really opened up the possible perspectives, responses, and actions we can have in the face of climate change. While initially heading into this process I had a basketful of people and ideas I wanted to draw from (Anna Lowenhaupt-Tsing, Timothy Morton, Robert Hass, Mary Oliver, Naomi Klein), my concept and sources funnelled slowly through the parameters of my own creative capacities and the constraints of time, to become a little stone of the boulder I began with. Thank goodness.
This process of shaving down my initial concept has been immensely interesting to me, and surprising how specific it has become. This project has become focussed on cranes breeding in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, how we culturally conceive of nature, and the idea of interconnectedness; and the attempt to deal with these ideas through dance and the limits of proscenium presentation. While I feel that this is just the initial launch into what I hope this piece can become, I’m grateful to have been able to create this seed.
As ever with creation, it’s been a process of diving in to meet the unknown, with the illusion that I’ve been creating something known (at least to myself). But it continues to be revealed to me, that sometimes, even when I am guided by a very sure feeling or instinct, I still have no idea what’s really happening. And throughout this process I’ve been grateful for the perspective of Jo Leslie, and the partnership of Eden Solomon. Together in the not knowing is a great place to be.
“But what does it mean, what is your intention for the piece?”
I’m not entirely sure why I wasn’t expecting that question to arise so quickly, but when I first entered this process I was certainly plagued by it. And I didn’t have an answer!! Traditionally I created because I believed the visceral language of dance could express more eloquently than my own words could. As someone choosing to re-enter this intoxicating world after a 12-year absence however, I was drawn less from emotion and more from curiosity.
Going in I knew I wanted to work collaboratively with two ‘older’ dancers who had a different skill set to offer besides virtuosity (Greg Gurel and Jill Henis). Within that collaborative framework I hoped we could individually and collectively ride our edges, but not in ways that disrespected our physical/emotional boundaries. And I also wanted to experiment with using a live vocal score that I would participate in. But as in life, so in the studio. Best laid plans…
In our first meeting, my mentor’s words “this might be a bit ambitious” came almost as a relief, validating my concern that having a dual focus on the score with so few hours to create might undermine the choreography. So out that went. Greg and Jill also WAY surpassed my expectations as to what they could do physically. Awesome. And then there was that question of intention - while I was counting on the dancers’ bodies to show me what their relationship was over time, I was asked to clarify that outright. Which I resisted and then began to appreciate as doing so created the throughline upon which I could shape the movement we created. All in all, having enough time together has been the biggest challenge within the process, and the generosity, groundedness and wisdom of these two the biggest gifts.
Isabelle Kirouac and Robert Leveroos
Our final piece is intended for outdoor locations. Previously, we’ve mostly been working outside in parks. Being part of 12 Minutes Max has afforded us playtime in a studio to discover new ways our performing ‘alien objects’ move and given us time to build new choreography with them. As we imagine sharing our work in a performance studio setting, it’s gotten us thinking about entrances and exits, front-facing viewing, and duration. Working with a container of 12 minutes gives us a chance to show sketches of scenes we’re developing. Eventually we see numerous scenes of various length to be performed outdoors as pop-up dances in response to specific landscapes. We’re happy to share our process with people on the 24th!
This piece began with the cultivation of a phrase: ‘Stages of Self Burial in Today’s Pleasure Garden’, after I was stunned by the performance of a series of photographs created by Keith Arnatt.
In the 1960s, Arnatt interrupted German television broadcasting for seven consecutive days to display a series of images in which he progressively buried himself standing up. Not originally intended for television, only as a series of photographs depicting the disappearance of the artist himself, Arnatt enacted a self-burial in what had become one of the most public of all spaces: television.
Historically, as explained by the British Landscape canon, the pleasure garden was a public space established as an entertainment hub. Complete with feathered canopied trees and large swaths of lawn, these gardens were a place to see and be seen.
Today’s pleasure garden is not a place but an aesthetic and a platform; a space that is authoritative and brittle. We no longer have the feathered canopies and the coolness of the shade.
Another phrase has come to the surface while working: ‘Starving in the Midst of Plenty’.
Both phrases incite a disappearance and dissociation of sorts. Both of which I am intrigued and fearful of. As I have explored, and the piece has progressed, I am drawn to the process of knitting together the stories and experiences of the women I hold dear to me. The woman as individual. The story as texture. The experience as density. What does the air feel like in this ‘pleasure garden’ and how do we move through it as we traject toward apparition?
I find myself completely and utterly challenged by the exquisite hardship of creating a solo on myself. Working almost exclusively with ensembles, as a choreographer I have learned to trust my eye as someone looking onto a work of dance; however, during this process I have had to learn to trust a different instinct and criticality.
What started as a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve has now morphed into something else that still encompasses my original intention but has definitely changed from what I brought into the studio.
How did it all start? Well, my wedding dress and a love of flamenco. I had made my wedding dress 7 years ago and felt it was time to bring it out and make it dance again. I chose a piece of music that I felt connected me with the feeling of joy I feel for love, life and flamenco. I wanted to express my authentic self as best as I could, using my own movements and my own choreography. I've been dancing other people's movement patterns for years now and felt that it was time to explore my own. The first day I came into the studio was an eye opener... I couldn't move in my wedding dress the same way that I had imagined... restrictions. Then my music was restricting my movement as it was forcing me to dance to it rather than for me to dance and it help enhance my movement. So with the help of Serge Bennathan as an outside eye, I tried to 'explore' movement ideas in silence. What came out of it is emotional expression unbounded by musical form or structure. In my search for joy, instead I felt pain, sadness and despair. The body holds memories of past trauma even though we may think we have long forgotten it, it's there under everything, under all the joy we feel, it's still there. In this way, I connect to flamenco, to its roots of oppression and hardship. I decided to dive deeper into these feelings and let them guide me to express my deeper emotions. Will I find the joy through this piece after all? Maybe, but it doesn't matter, I'm learning to live in the moment and explore the movement. The practice of being in the studio, with no distractions, with no one else there to judge is liberating. What comes out in the end is just a moment in time but the real joy is freedom to express, freedom to create.
This is a project which turned out to be an incredible experience and opened many creative doors for me. I am co-choreographing this work with Alejandra Caballero who was the one who had the idea originally and then proposed it to me. We also have John who is a Colombian musician and who specializes in Latin American sound. Alejandra and I are also from Latin America, so with this work we are interested in researching ways to plug in traditional Latin American dance into a contemporary dance framework.
Some of the first movement experiments that we did were about dissecting Latin Dance moves and then applying them into a structured improvisation. With the help of our outside eye – Serge Bennathan – we have been able to analyze beyond the ‘moves’ and have been having discussions about gender, Latin culture and sexuality, which have informed our work in many different ways.
Some of the challenges we face relate to connecting to past emotions from different cultures which we grew up in, and how we can bring that emotional and kinesthetic memory back to enhance our dance. What is exciting is that we are developing a language that will serve as the ground for many other ideas.
12 Minutes Max Studio Showing
Tuesday April 24, 2018 at 6pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Katie Cassady/Brigitte Cadieux
Greg and Jill/Lisa Hostman
Isabelle Kirouac and Robert Leveroos/provided by artists
Sophie Maguire/Sophie Maguire
Jhoely Triana/Jhoely Triana
Juan Villegas/Erik Zennström