Yesterday was my first solo interview. I met with Ziyian Kwan in my office at SFU Woodward's for a trip down dance memory lane and though she claimed at first to be flummoxed by the video recording (an unexpected surprise), the stories eventually came pouring out. Starting with Ziyian's decision at age 17 to head to Penticton for a beginner summer dance intensive (where she was the oldest dancer in the class). Upon her return to Vancouver, Ziyian enrolled in Main Dance at its original location in the old Arcadian Hall at Main and Sixth, where she studied with Gisa Cole, and where two giants in Vancouver dance, Karen Jamieson and Judith Marcuse, had their offices. Interesting fact: though the Arcadian Hall, a former Odd Fellows Lodge that had become a dance studio and live music venue in the 1980s, burned down in 1993 (the arson attacks and subsequent gentrifying real estate developments in Mount Pleasant date back that far), it literally remains a part of Ziyian's body via a wood sliver from the studio floor that is permanently lodged in her knee.
Soon after her training at Main Dance, and following some supplementary grounding in Graham technique in Toronto, Ziyian launched her professional dance career with Special Delivery Moving Theatre. Since then she has danced for almost every choreographer/company in Vancouver, including Kokoro Dance, Lola Dance, Susan Elliott and Anatomica, Alvin Erasga Tolentino, and Jennifer Mascall, for whom Ziyian has appeared in numerous works over the years. Indeed, Ziyian's recollections of dancing in Mascall's Housewerk at Hycroft Mansion, alongside Dean Makarenko and Ron Stewart and others, brought back a flood of memories for me. It's a measure of the length and variety of Ziyian's career that she told me she has appeared at least once a year on the Firehall stage since she began dancing professionally and that she has performed in all but one of the Dancing on the Edge Festivals. Over the years, as she has watched dancers pass through each other's work and different trends ebb and flow, Ziyian movingly described how she has increasingly come to recognize and value the importance of community, particularly as, with the formation of dumb instrument Dance in 2013, she has started to create her own work.
Equally moving was Ziyian's description of performing in the remount of Lola McLaughlin's Provincial Essays in Toronto during the last days of the choreographer's life. Just as the company was about to go on stage, they were informed that McLaughlin had passed, which was obviously some incredibly emotional news to process. However, in the performance that followed Ziyian said it was the first time she felt and understood what it means for the spirit of someone to live on in her work.
My interview with Ziyian turned out to be something of a serial exercise. Soon after we turned off the camera she remembered another anecdote about the first time she served on a Canada Council jury; so we turned the camera back on and she revealed this wonderful story about the late Grant Strate listening to everyone's deliberations, not saying anything and refusing to take sides, but finally and magnificently reminding folks that their job was to reward risk. Then, over drinks afterwards at the Charles Bar, Ziyian talked about Kokoro's vodka-fuelled tour to Poland, which gave me a new perspective on Anne Cooper... And, finally, there was one last anecdote that featured James Proudfoot in fuzzy bear slippers. For that one we also turned the camera back on!