Thursday, March 24, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 10

Ten weeks into this project, we now have a fairly established routine. Upon arriving at Justine's sixth floor office at The Dance Centre, the first thing we do after doffing our coats is unpack our snacks: today it was a delicious pumpkin muffin sliced six ways and a bag of trail mix from Alexa; gluten-free multi-seed crackers from me; and jujubes from Justine. Then we gossip and catch up for a bit, which this morning included me asking Justine how her talk went last night at An Exact Vertigo; smashingly, was Alexa's verdict. (I had wanted to go, and was ever so close physically, but a Zee Zee Theatre board meeting at Playwrights Theatre Centre ran way longer than I expected.) Then we start to work.

Or, rather, I should say that we turn to the next phase of our work. For, as subsequently came up in conversation with James Gnam (today's interviewee), friendship and the work that goes into sustaining a meaningful friendship is an important medium for facilitating collaboration on any dance-based project. So it is in our case that the social conversation that always accompanies our sessions necessarily spills over into and informs whatever it is that we are building or trying to work through in our process at a given point. That includes the sample choreographic scores that Alexa and I brought to today's meeting. Based on Justine's suggestion that moving forward we should devote a portion of our weekly time together to crafting some of the potential physical content for whatever performance results from all of this, Alexa created a score based on a compilation of the different individual gestures she noted during the first minute of our video footage with Rob Kitsos. We cycled through these a few times before turning our attention to my score, which I put together by reviewing some of my old blog posts on dance shows I'd seen in 2009.

The parameters I gave myself were, for each review, to pick a temporal reference ("This past Thursday..."), a movement description of some sort ("crashing briefly to the floor..."), and a transition word or phrase, preferably adverbial ("Actually..." or "When, for example..."). Working chronologically, I isolated ten such groupings over the course of the year; the challenge will now be to think of how we might present this on stage--or even if we want to. One possible idea is to have a couple of timelines on the floor--e.g., a yearly horizontal, and a weekly vertical one--that would give us different quadrants to move to depending on how we cut up the text (assuming, that is, I continue with a similar rubric for 2010-2016; the gap of 2006-2008 is a whole other story). What happens next is anyone's guess, but as Justine suggested, it will most likely have to involve a studio. I am constantly second-guessing my involvement in this project, especially when it comes to the future tense performance I keep deluding myself into thinking will forever remain hypothetical. But taking a page from Alexa's reading of Claire Bishop on the idea of "de-skilling," I am ever so slowly coming round to letting go of the question "Am I qualified to do this?" and embracing instead the question "Why do I want to do this?" Today, with Justine and Alexa's help, I discovered that one of the answers to the latter question is, my terror at executing it notwithstanding, I really really really want to make a dance with these two women!

And James Gnam, when he arrived, gave me further license to think I can in fact contribute in meaningful ways to this project when he noted in passing that James Proudfoot had choreographed the ending to the piece James G and Natalie had performed at Evann Siebens' The Indexical, Alphabetized, Mediated, Archival Dance-a-Thon! last weekend. Which, given James P's years lighting just about every dance show in this city, makes absolute sense. (Needless to say, James P is on our list to interview...)

James G gave an incredibly thoughtful interview, and one of the most interesting things for me was thinking about how we might inhabit in performance the pauses in his responses to our questions. There were many of them, but they were also so full of genuine reflection, and always eventually led to an amazing personal story, or a powerful insight about the larger institution of dance. Indeed, James' narrative of how he came to leave Ballet BC in 2008 and begin to dance for Peter Bingham at EDAM (with no previous training in contact) encapsulated at once all that is good and bad about the profession. Particularly in Peter's and Ballet BC AD John Alleyne's different reactions to a serious injury sustained by James while he was in rehearsals for both men we had clearly illustrated for us two different models of dance collaboration: one that James called "transactional," and one that was based more on what Ali Denham referred to in her interview as an "ethic of care."

James also talked about his ongoing "heterosexual male dance love affair" with Jacques Poulin-Denis, whom he first met in 2011 while collaborating on Triptych, a choreographic research project that brought together dance artists from Vancouver, Montreal and Italy (Sylvia Gribaudi was the third member of James and Jacques's collaborative team). So sympatico are the two Js, that James now spends up to a third of each year in Montreal (in fact, he's off to the city next week for three months). But that doesn't mean he and Natalie are leaving Vancouver any time soon, at least to judge by the happy news of plastic orchid factory, MACHiNENOiSY, and Tara Cheyenne Performance joining forces to lease a space together in Chinatown. At the same time, James didn't hesitate to talk about how hard it is to make work in Vancouver; paradoxically, however, he said that he thinks it is because of the city's myriad constraints (from cost of living to a presentation and curation model for dance that is festival-dependent and has very little to do with the work itself) that many of the artists he admires have chosen to stay--because the obstacles fuel an aesthetic that pushes back against them.

As James noted, the precarity of being a dance artist is always already a political statement. Why not explore that in the social obligations and affective intensities embedded in the micro-aesthetics  of your work instead of succumbing to the macro-economics of infrastructural scale that demands your work be more: more spectacular; more excessive; just more?

Vancouver dance artists are already habituated to making do with less. In James' blue sky future for the community--which he very much sees as being "in transition"--these artists will not only feel individually empowered, but also be institutionally enabled to make something out of this making do.


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