Saturday, October 15, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 27

Yesterday we didn't have an interview subject booked, so Justine volunteered to recount her dance history to Alexa and I. This is something that the three of us are each supposed to do before this project is over. Mine will be very short.

Justine has been in Vancouver exactly a decade, arriving in 2006 with her partner, Josh Hite, who was starting an MFA at UBC. At this point, as Justine noted, she thought she had retired from dance, leaving behind a long career in Toronto without much regret (more on this below), as well as fourteen months in Los Angeles when she danced for two companies/entertainment franchises that seemed the antithesis of her rigorous contemporary training. The first was Diavolo Dance Company, which combined dance, acrobatics and circus arts, and whose death-defying stunts on stage were always preceded by cult-like backstage circle in which company members were required to say "I will die for you" (Justine recounted a terrifying story of a forward leap off a rocking boat that she had to do, but without the normal counter-ballast because one of her fellow members' feet had been crushed by the weight of the boat). The second troupe was called Hot Thing, and involved women in fishnets and short shorts doing the splits and lots of bootie pops at various celebrity clubs around LA.

After all of this, upon arriving in Vancouver Justine was quite content to be waitressing at Rangoli instead of dancing professionally. But eventually, through a connection with one of her former teachers at Ryerson in Toronto (where Justine did her post-secondary dance training), she was invited by Artemis Gordon at Arts Umbrella to sub for some of the classes normally taught by Yannick Matthon, who was at that time very often on the road with Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot. Gordon then invited Justine to join as a full-time faculty member, and also to help her run the school administratively. Justine said that it was an insane amount of work and that the teaching was very hard, but that it made her a better dancer. It was also while at Arts Umbrella that Justine met Emily Molnar, John Alleyne (with whom she collaborated on a section of The Four Seasons), and various of the then company members of Ballet BC--an institutional connection that Justine maintains to this day.

Indeed, one of Justine's first choreographic forays in Vancouver was to remount a section of a duet she had created in Toronto on herself and recently retired Ballet BC rehearsal director Sylvain Senez for the 2009 iteration of 12 Minutes Max (which was curated by Joyce Rosario and Tanya Marquardt). The piece got picked up by Donna Spencer for the Dancing on the Edge Festival, and together with new work that Justine was creating with her partner Josh--notably, Copy, a performance-cum-installation at the Roundhouse that featured, among others, Megan and Vanessa Goodman, Molly McDermott and Laura Avery--Justine suddenly found herself making dances again, albeit in a way (and primarily as a result of her interdisciplinary collaborations with visual artists like Josh and Jen Wei and Brendan Fernandes and Kristina Lee Podevsa) that was fundamentally different in its conceptual focus from what she had previously understood dance to be.

Parallel to this Justine was also teaching, offering a class in contemporary technique at Harbour Dance (then the only such class in the city), and collaborating with Day Helesic to launch what would eventually become Working Class (now overseen by the Training Society of Vancouver and run out of The Dance Centre). And she was dancing in other folks' work, including Jennifer Mascall's White Spider, Company 605's The Inheritor Album, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg's Highgate, and pieces by Wen Wei Wang, Claire French, Science Friction (Farley Johansson and Shannon Moreno), and others.

It was only after narrating her most recent dance history that Justine circled back to her time in Toronto, which began with her joining Robert Desroisers' eponymous dance theatre company upon graduation from Ryerson. During her years in the company, which toured regularly, she learned that nothing gets easier, you only become a better dancer. She also recounted stories of lost passports in Miami and drunken pool accidents in Bermuda. Interestingly, Justine framed her early career in Toronto in the context of her post-Vancouver returns to the city for the collaborative peer-to-peer choreographic and teaching workshops/explorations/creative exchanges 8 Days and Love In, which she noted have been so instrumental to the dance relationships she has formed in the past decade.

To this end, in answering the "Why Vancouver?" question Justine noted that the collaborators she now has in Toronto (including Jenn Goodwin, Heidi Strauss, Julia Sasso, and others) are a result of what she's done since moving to Vancouver. While initially Justine had absolutely no intention of staying here, she stated that she now has a deep support network, and that she also wouldn't be making the kind of work she's making if she hadn't come to the city. She likewise affirmed that for her the future is exciting and potentially limitless, not least because of a new generation of "badass dancers" for whom ideas of expanded choreographic practices are just a given and who have access to a range of resources that weren't available a decade ago. The key, according to Justine, is just to learn to share those resources and, in so doing, to do less in order to do more.


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