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Posted on January 31, 2017 in 12 Minutes Max
12 Minutes Max: Three Choreographic Perspectives

Dance artists Monica Shah, Liliane Moussa and Gail Lotenberg write about the work they have been developing during the winter edition of 12 Minutes Max, which can be seen at a free studio showing on February 7 at 6pm.

Monica Shah:

Monica Shah/photo Chris Randle

In this 12 Minutes Max process, I am working towards discovering my own voice within Indian contemporary dance. This has led the work from its proposed structure to experimentation with improvisation techniques.

Improvisation is relatively new to me, as I am trained in the classical Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam; I have only improvised in workshops and residencies in other movement styles.  While I have a deep appreciation for the beauty and rigor of the classical form, I am also excited by the many capabilities of the human body to transform movement into dance.  Improvisation allows the history of my body’s movements to be expressed, including the stylistic movements in which I have received years of rigorous training, the diverse movements I have experienced through other forms, and the natural movements that belong to my body alone.  Through their guidance and tips, [facilitators] Chick Snipper and Jo Leslie have helped me begin to shift from my ‘default mode’ of moving towards new expressions of movement. 

On a musical level, the work has also evolved from structure to improvisation and we have returned to the idea of play. My cellist, Clara Shandler, and I are feeding off one another so that she becomes my partner in the piece, rather than simply musical accompaniment. This improvisational process has required being present and connecting to our intuition, which is a concept that we are exploring in our work together.

At first, a challenge was the idea that we had to choreograph and present a finished piece in just one month.  However, the emphasis on process in 12MM has been appreciated.  This has allowed us to explore more freely and focus on creation rather than product. 

Creating within a 12-minute parameter has been helpful, because it provides a boundary to work within that feels manageable.  Rather than going into the studio with the weight of creating a full-length work, we can start small and progressively grow the piece. 

We are grateful for this opportunity to develop our work further, and are excited to experience where the 12MM process takes us next.

Liliane Moussa:

Liliane Moussa/photo Anne-Flore de Rochambeau

A few months ago, I had the idea of copying sport events spectators’ movements and making them into a dance. I wanted to emphasize these unconscious micro- or macro-movements that occur when we dedicate ourselves to watching human beings moving. So then I decided to create a solo on myself!  I had never really made a solo before. I wanted to see what it felt like to be alone in the studio. I thought, let’s try to determine any kind of precept that could describe my way of making dance, a sort of individual choreographic religion, with rules and easy answers. Let’s see what I like, how I embody my thoughts and other persons’ movements; how does it feel to be lazy in front of a huge mirror?

I needed a deadline, otherwise, it would never happen! And this was the starting point for 12 Minutes Max. After a few weeks in the studio I came to a couple of realizations:

  • Analyzing the body involvement of sports observers (parents, coaches, teammates, crowds) is simply fascinating and fun.
  • Turning these movements into a dance that is fascinating and fun for an audience needs a lot of brain power and trials.
  • Just because it’s relevant to me doesn’t mean that it’s worth watching.
  • My dancing body’s comfort does not match my creative mind’s comfort. This humbling realization made me respectful of the dancers who had previously worked with me as a choreographer.
  • Objects on stage can be really frightening and confusing during creation.

And it seems that this revealing process has just began. No rules or easy answers for now! At first, I never thought that the 12 minutes limit would be a concern. Then, during a single hour of rehearsal, this time frame could seem either very long or too short. So I let go of time! This showing will be, most of all, made of questions, doubts and humility. 

Gail Lotenberg:

Photo by Gail Lotenberg

I began my process of research for 12 Minutes Max with a goal of gaining more of an understanding of mask work. There are masters of mask performance and I am not even close to being a beginner, but I have a choreographic idea that requires masks to be part of the world of the piece so I needed to dive into some understanding of what masks do to transform a performer underneath their shield. 

At an academic level I understood that I could work either from the perspective that masks would allow my performers to reveal or to conceal aspects of themselves. In some thought experiments, I imagined both scenarios and had a pull towards both. Having Jo Leslie in the room for the first two days of our process was helpful because she has a more complete background in dramatics than I do, so she guided explorations with the mask that I could participate in. I was able to work from inside the mask to make some experiential discoveries.

Of course those discoveries left me with more questions than answers (or mask work would not be a life’s calling for some artists) but the questions helped create a frame of understanding. That frame of understanding has served me well in the last 3 rehearsals as I have begun to choreograph a 12-minute study for this creative process.

I am extremely lucky to be working with two amazing interpreters: Kim Stevenson and Ashley Whitehead. They are smart and articulate and creative and they keep helping me forge a path of understanding about the piece I want to make. I have had an underlying goal all along for this piece and no mentor seems to understand or to embrace the proposition I have put forward. This proposition is something I will continue to keep inside for now because it is like a quiet beacon for me. So suffice it to say, I have kept it resting quietly inside me, but lo and behold the mask work and the short dramatic narrative that is unfolding in our study, now has led right towards the beacon’s end. I’m thrilled inside to see that I can trust my intuition to take me where I want to head, but the deeper investigations into the mask have taken me there in an unpredictable way. These investigations are going to make the idea so much stronger if I ever get to create the larger work I am imagining.

For now, I am engaged in a process of making a 12-minute piece and that limitation has allowed me to step into very unfamiliar territory, with these masks, and to know that within 12 minutes my ideas can be only so misguided. The freedom of this limitation has been an elixir. But now that I am starting to become focused on what I’m showing on February 7, the 12 minute boundary has become a bit of a obstacle. What has shifted is that I want my study to have cohesion with a beginning, a middle and an end. So it has taken me into a new stage of process in which I have begun crafting and polishing, shaving and massaging what we have generated into something concise. This turn of events has put less focus on generating new ideas, and that’s my loss.


12 Minutes Max Studio Showing: Tuesday February 7, 2017 at 6pm at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Free admission. 

Read more about 12 Minutes Max

Photos top to bottom: Monica Shah by Chris Randle; Liliane Moussa by Anne-Flore de Rochambeau; Kim Stevenson and Ashley Whitehead by Gail Lotenberg.


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