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In this guest post, dance artist Walter Kubanek reflects on his two-year project Where’s Walter Working, where he visited a variety of artists working across many genres in the studio, to learn about their practices as well as his own.
I am going to share three things I learned during my project Where’s Walter Working . I had certain expectations that I found out about as I went along, and my expectations met some surprises and challenges. The challenges were the parts that I learned from, the surprises were the rewards of the project. Meeting with multiple dance artists over the course of two years was an opportunity for me to recognize a pattern in this experience.
Perhaps it’s useful start by sharing that some artists work in genres which were new to me as a contemporary dance artist: Flamenco (Rosario Ancer), Niyon Buyoh (Colleen Lanki), Bharata Natyam (Sujit Vaidya). Olivia Davies’ work uses contemporary dance language and is rooted in her Metis-Anishnawbe heritage.
I was on more familiar ground with Amber Funk Barton and Company 605, and while familiar ground would seem easier, it wasn’t always. My experience with Company 605 stands out for me. Josh and Lisa invited me to jump into their work, and I find their dance practice is like a deep pool with no shallow parts. Ready or not I had to dive in and swim.
On to what I learned…
During this project I learned I like having conversations. Something happened when I met with each artist that was special, and I don't know if the Facebook live streams that we did quite captured the spontaneity. I interviewed each of the artists beforehand, to get to know each other a bit, to make sure they had a chance to understand my project, and to figure out what we might do for our short time together on video. We often continued to talk afterwards, and my short “let’s talk for fifteen minutes” plan was often thrown out the window. I recall this happened with Colleen, Rosario, Sujit and Olivia, where we talked for at least an hour and could have gone on longer. Sometimes I stuck around after the Facebook live post and we debriefed for a while, as happened with Amber. These pre- and post- talks were a pleasure for me.
The second thing I learned doing this project is that, for me at least, speaking on video is hard work and it doesn’t get easier with practice. It was surprisingly challenging to speak naturally on camera, likely because it is somewhat unnatural. I found it to be a fun and stressful challenge, one that I felt nervous for all morning leading up to it on the days we did it. I think the stress that I felt appearing on Facebook live may have contributed to the long and energetic conversations that I often had pre or post recorded interaction. A good reminder for me that stress can be energizing.
The third thing I learned doing this project is obvious but important; I learned a lot about the artists in a very short time. It was an excellent crash course in a person’s history. I was surprised by the quantity and quality of the details that they revealed, which I felt illuminated them as people and artists. For instance, many of the artists practice a dance form that puts them in a category of dance work or a tradition that is on the face of it, fairly different from the category or tradition I work in, usually described as ‘contemporary dance.’ When I would ask from them for some help to understand the background of the form they practiced they would often start with their personal history. I won’t give details because my memory won’t do anyone’s story justice, but their story always struck me as surprising, very specific to them and thus very real. The pattern that emerged was that the stories I heard were more specific, less predictable and more relatable than I was ever expecting as I went in.
One question I never got around to asking was ‘what gets you into the studio everyday.’ I think it’s a variation on the question of what gets you out of bed or out the door everyday. I will admit that it is a question I struggle with. I have always struggled with continuing to dance day to day over the years. Beyond and apart from the hard and very real challenges of not having the funding, the work or the opportunities, challenges which I have experienced, will experience, and do experience again and again much like most everyone has, I often I feel discouraged or doubt in myself as dance artist. My self-doubt has been with me since the beginning. I don’t know if this is a common feeling for other dance people, but my guess is that it is. Hearing other people tell their story in a way that was generous and open somehow sparked a side of myself I am not often awake to when I feel doubt. I often ask myself why I continue to go into studios, in essence empty rooms, and continue to practice my dances. It can be a hard question. I hope that hearing other people share their stories with so much openness will help me with what questions I find myself trying to answer.
I want to say thank you to all the people involved in this project:
Amber Funk Barton, the response.
Colleen Lanki, TomoeArts
Rosario Ancer, Flamenco Rosario
Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley, Company 605
Olivia C. Davies, O.Dela Arts
And last but not least thank you to Heather Bray, Lindsay Curtis and everyone else at the Dance Centre.
PS: I gave my wife Amy the cliff notes of this piece of writing, and she suggested that something else I learned was that even though I’ve been dancing for as long as I have, I found through this project I still can go into the studio and learn something new. I was really surprised by her comment because it seems so obvious and I didn’t see it! So perhaps an answer to my question, ‘what gets me into the studio?’ could be “I go because I get to learn something new.”
Photos of Walter working with Sujit Vaidya, Olivia C. Davies, Rosario Ancer
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