Friday, April 22, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 13

Justine is super-busy with childcare and other commitments this week, so today it was just Alexa and I on hand to interview Deanna Peters. As usual, we began with our "So when did you come to/start dancing in Vancouver?" question; and, as usual, I learned something new from Deanna's response. In this case it was about the connection between the former dance program at what was then Grant Macewan College in Edmonton and the dance program at SFU. I had long known about the impressive roster of GMC alums in Vancouver (Molly McDermott, Kim Stevenson, Walter Kubanek, Carolyn Woods, to name just a few). But I had never known that there was a formal exchange between GMC and SFU, and that several folks who had started their training at GMC under Brian Webb, like Deanna, ended up graduating from SFU.

Not that the latter institutional fit was a great one, and Deanna talked frankly about her difficulties with the SFU dance curriculum as it then existed in the early 2000s. This was offset to a degree by some of the amazing professional opportunities that Deanna was able to take advantage of while still a student, including dancing for Paul-André Fortier, and in Bill Coleman's Grasslands, a large-scale, all-day site-specific work set in a national park in Deanna's home province of Saskatchewan that included collaborations from Margie Gillis, and Robin and Edward Poitras. It also required Deanna to set off, at the outset, on a one-kilometre long improvisation across the prairie grass, her body getting smaller and smaller as she receded into the horizon.

While Deanna's description of dancing in Alvin Tolentino's BODYGlass at Centre A was fascinating, I was most interested to hear Deanna talk about the mentorship she has received--as well as the occasional difficulties she has faced--in working with two "strong" women of Vancouver dance: Barbara Bourget and Jennifer Mascall. Barbara was one of Deanna's sessional instructors at SFU and invited her to join Kokoro as a result. Deanna said that she liked that, as the new person, she was never made to feel she had to earn her place, and that she was immediately given complex and challenging solos to perform. She also said that the experience of dancing for Barbara and Jay, so physically intense yet also so creatively rewarding, made her feel like she could do anything. Deanna also expressed gratitude for the many opportunities she has been given from Jennifer, from dancing to rehearsal directing to producing; at the same time, she was open about some of her problems, including around dancer safety, with Jennifer's process.

Mutable subject, which Deanna rightly insists is not a company, was born in 2008 when she needed a name for a presentation series she was putting together that included The Contingency Plan and The Story of Force in Motion. Deanna Peters Dance sounded too precious and also didn't seem to do justice to the range of creative practices and presentation platforms Deanna was becoming more involved in--including web design (which Deanna puts to great use on the wonderful ms site). The work Deanna has created under the Mutable Subject banner, including Cutaway and New Raw (which will tour to Toronto in August as part of SummerWorks), does seem to be a model for a more distributive and, in Deanna's words, "peer-to-peer" style of working, in which the process is as much about fostering lasting and mutually supportive creative and personal relationships as it is about making a piece.

And on this front Deanna is hopeful for the future of Vancouver dance. At the same time, she said that people can't just talk about the need for more of these kind of grassroots initiatives; resources need to be put behind them in order to challenge entrenched presentation models. It continues to be difficult for Deanna to find support to produce the kind of ensemble stage work that she is drawn to. Which does make one wonder: when a cast of four dancers is considered "large," something must be wrong.


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