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Dance artists Damarise Ste Marie, Sujit Vaidya, Olivia Shaffer and Immigrant Lessons (Kevin Fraser & Alyssa Amarshi) write about the work they have been developing during the winter 2017-18 edition of 12 Minutes Max, which can be seen at a free studio showing on February 20 at 6pm.
Damarise Ste Marie
My 12 Minutes Max process involves a group of wonderful dancers, all of whom are enthusiastic, creative, and open. I’m lucky and grateful to be working with 8 artists (and an outside eye). Part of my choreographic inspiration and interest is mass movement and individual-collective relationships; this residency is giving me the chance to begin working with those ideas.
Our group is still part-way through this process, so the challenge of limiting the piece to 12 minutes isn’t yet apparent. When the time comes I will have to make choices about what to include in the showing, and what to archive for future use. The need to choose will help me clarify what sections work well together, what still needs time to be developed, and what may not be working at all.
12 MM has clarified my liking for spirals and waves. During the BLOOM process in June 2017, it was not so conscious –it seemed to come naturally and wasn’t addressed explicitly. This time we have been consciously modifying sequences to increase spirals and waves. It makes the movement feel and look more kinetic and connected. Since we are playing with manipulation of boxes, there can be a tendency to create phrases that seem “boxy” or square. By exploring our relationship to the boxes, we can direct and alter the feeling of proposed movements. My creative process happens as much outside the studio as inside it. Between rehearsals I have downtime to let ideas simmer, and to reflect on my intentions for my work in general and for each rehearsal.
My dance career is essentially an attempt at creating spaces where people can experience collective joy. While specific themes may come and go, and mechanisms may change, the goal is a sense of connection to self and other through the body, through pulse (heartbeat), and through shared undertaking.
The impetus to make this work came from an extended internal dialogue regarding the relevance of my dance practice. After a period of intense self-inquiry with regards to questions about how I fit into the world of Indian classical dance but more importantly, what it is that I wanted to express through my dancing, I thought of channeling this line of inquiry into my dance space. As an interpreter, I have carefully chosen repertoire that has allowed me to successfully challenge gender and sexual identity biases that exist in the context of traditional work. However, I have also known that in the work that I chose to make, I would want to embody my essence as a gay man living in today’s times, with complete honesty while using the language of bharatanatyam as my medium of expression.
OFF CENTRE started off with the intent of blurring the line between how I embody my person inside and outside of dance. It also set out to challenge elements of the classical form that did not fit into my practice of it. The work has since evolved into an exploration of a darker side of my psyche that emerged in the research. Unbeknownst to me, Arun, the other dancer in the piece, was in a similar mental space, and in the studio, we were both attracted to the creepy and dark energy that was manifesting in our initial choreographic impulses. We decided to dig deeper and see where it led us, and everything seemed to flow organically from that place.
I wanted to play with the idea of starkness in how I visualized the stage design, costuming and lighting design, and also thought of extending the idea of minimalism to the soundscape. The percussion instrument, the mridangam, is a metaphor for my heartbeat. My draw to bharatanatyam has always been to the sound of the mridangam. No other drum has had a similar effect on me, and so I decided to incorporate it into the work. We have built rhythmic complexity into the piece by using simple rhythms to represent a regular heartbeat and an arrhythmia. We have attempted to combine these rhythms to form a cohesive phrase. Decluttering the rhythmic structure and using short rhythmic phrases to punctuate long uncomfortable silences appealed to me and that in turn has lent itself seamlessly in creating moments of raw stillness within the work.
Without being literal, the work addresses some preconceived notions of bharatanatyam such as ideas of “sacredness” and “divinity” that I constantly struggle with. Instead, I have chosen to comment on and embrace the flawed human experience and draw from a deeply personal space. OFF CENTRE touches upon lust, love, sexual attraction and narcissistic self-consumption.
There are a lot of ways in which this work can evolve. I am also pleased with its fluidity by which I mean, that the same ideas can easily be translated into a traditional idiom if need be.
I have begun the 12 Minutes Max process by accepting that I am at the right place to begin. Next, I have allowed myself to trust that my curiosities are enough. These simple acknowledgments are what might carry me during the time I have (mostly alone) in the studio. Thus far I am pleased to say that I have held true to these parameters. Mind you, I am only 4 hours into the process...
I must remember to have patience with myself as I become familiar with my creative process. I am a seasoned improviser and I feel comfortable trusting my impulses that arise in the spur of the moment. However, when I am given time to reflect, edit, review and repeat material, I often lose interest, and sometimes I am tempted to “throw it all out the window.” I am conscious of this tendency of mine, and that is why I have decided to use this residency to be rigorous with myself in the practice of research.
Likewise, I need to be patient with myself because the subject matter in which I am sourcing for my solo is deeply personal: I am exploring my father’s disintegration into dementia. Over the last three years, caring for him as he deteriorates into confusion and handicap has been completely disorienting for me. Whatever traditional familial bonds we once had have been fractured and flipped upside down.
For this solo I wish to contemplate his current liminal existence: he is no longer the person he once was, nor is he only the agitated and uncaring stranger who seems to exist now. I examine this process as a slow death, a loss of self, and a dissolving of his place in this world, and in my life.
Immigrant Lessons (Kevin Fraser & Alyssa Amarshi)
This 12 Minutes Max creation process has been both physically and emotionally nurturing. In this place, we are not only creating work but growing, connecting, playing, and becoming closer, not only as collaborators, but as a family. Immigrant Lessons is a very new collective within the Vancouver Dance Community, which is why we felt great importance in presenting work outside of our usual dance community. We feel a great importance in expanding into dance communities in which street dance has a lack of representation. We work to expose people to genres of dance and movement that tend to be met with a superficial or negative connotation. We want to not only represent these dance forms, but also to educate our audiences about the history of the oppression of marginalized communities that created the dances we know and love (hip hop, dancehall, house, pantsula, voguing, waacking etc.).
This process has been beneficial in getting Immigrant Lessons further in the process of the creation of our full length piece. The potential for this creation to evolve and grow has inspired us to remember that we are forever growing and evolving and that trusting the journey and each other in the process is integral to the work as well as our connection. Immigrant Lessons is a collective that seeks to promote cultural pluralism through: fashion, dance, art, visual design, and music. We are a collective comprised of first and second generation Immigrants and people who Identify as members of the LGBTQ community. As such we feel it is very important to create and show work in environments such as 12MM, not only for the lack of representation of people of colour, the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized communities, but also to showcase and represent street dance culture which often presents a large amount of appropriation within various dance communities.
12 Minutes Max Studio Showing
Tuesday February 20, 2018 at 6pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Damarise Ste Marie/Erik Zennstrom
Sujit Vaidya/Provided by the artist
Olivia Shaffer/Ed Spence
Immigrant Lessons/Will Power Cinema
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