Yesterday I had lunch with Barbara Bourget and then interviewed her for our Vancouver Dance Histories project. Barbara's long and distinguished career started with tap lessons at age four, before she switched full-time to ballet five years later--although not before creating her first work of choreography to Elvis Presley's "Stuck on You" at eight years old. Barbara's first ballet teacher in Vancouver was Miss Mara McBirney, who had taught Lynn Seymour, and who was also friends with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Arnold Spohr. It was through the latter connection that Barbara was invited to join the RWB at 16 as a scholarship student, getting to study with and dance in works by such pioneering American women choreographers as Pauline Koner and Agnes de Mille.
From the RWB, and following a brief stint in Banff, Barbara moved on to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, just missing Judith Marcuse, who had left the company the previous year. Fernand Nault cast Barbara as the original Sally Simpson in Les Grands Ballets' highly successful rock ballet of The Who's Tommy. But despite great success with the company, Barbara, at age 22, became disillusioned with dance. She wanted a boyfriend, and as she put it to me in her inimitably frank way, she took a look at the men in the company (most of them gay) and quickly realized that wasn't going to happen here. A family crisis also necessitated Barbara's return to Vancouver, and so in 1974 she found herself back in the city.
However, Barbara's retirement from dance didn't last long, and she soon found herself dancing for the fledgling Mountain Dance Theatre Company, under the direction of local legends Mauryne Allan and Iris Garland. From there, and following the birth of her first child and also the dissolution of her first marriage, Barbara went on to the Paula Ross Dance Company, which along with Anna Wyman Dance Theatre and the Pacific Ballet Theatre (the forerunner of Ballet BC) was one of the preeminent local companies in the 1970s. It was while dancing for Ross that Barbara met Jay Hirabayashi, which began a personal and professional relationship that has lasted 38 years and counting.
Jay and Barbara began creating work together in 1979, working out of the Western Front. And it was there, of course, that they met Peter Bingham, Lola MacLaughlin, Jennifer Mascall, Peter Ryan and Ahmed Hassan, all of whom would come together to create EDAM in 1982. Barbara told me that with such strong personalities all vying to create new work, the collective was doomed to failure; she said they would have meetings that lasted seven hours--just to decide what kind of cash box to buy! And then there was the fact that their styles and dance vocabularies were so different. Barbara, who says she can barely stand to be touched by anyone other than Jay, described to me doing contact improv and it was hilarious. But at the same time Barbara was proud of the amazing work that EDAM had created (none of it, unfortunately, captured on video), and said that audiences ate it up. And of course there is no denying the legacy of that work and how it has continued to shape the local dance community.
Kokoro Dance was born in 1986, its post-butoh aesthetic shaped by a performance by the Tamano brothers that Barbara and Jay had seen in the basement theatre of the VAG in 1982. Several hundred choreographed works later the company is still going strong, with so many folks in this city having been affected by the work, whether as spectators or as performer-collaborators. In my case, it's been both, and the combustible creative process that is Barbara and Jay's partnership is certainly something unique to behold; but what results is almost always an amazing experience.
Of course Barbara and Jay have helped shaped the Vancouver dance landscape in so many other ways: through the establishment of the Vancouver International Dance Festival; through their longtime teaching at Harbour Dance (which just came to an end this summer); and, most recently, through their founding of KW Studios, the new rehearsal, performance, and administrative space at Woodward's that Kokoro and VIDF shares with Vancouver Moving Theatre and Raven Spirit Dance. Barbara gave me a tour of the space before we went to lunch, and while there remains much to do, and while I know this weighs heavily upon both her and Jay, I also know from class that Barbara's tiredness contains within in it reserves of energy that the rest of us could only hope to one day harness.