Yesterday I interviewed Natalie Tin Yin Gan for our Vancouver Dance Histories project. Natalie began recreational Chinese folk dancing at the age of six in Scarborough, Ontario. Just a week before she was to perform in her first public recital, her family moved to Vancouver and to this day Natalie says she cannot remember a single thing about the move. Soon enough, however, she was enrolled in the Cindy Yan Dance Academy at Granville and Broadway, where she studied until she was 14; the traditional costumes that Natalie wore for various performances while studying at this institution just served as an important mnemonic in the collaboration with Eury Chang that Natalie recently participated in as part of a DanceLab residency at The Dance Centre.
In high school Natalie taught herself hip hop, going so far as to start, captain and choreograph for the first hip hop crew at her school. Following additional studio dance training at the Spotlight Academy in Burnaby, Natalie enrolled in the dance program at SFU, where she studied with my colleagues Rob Kitsos, Cheryl Prophet, Marla Eist, Judith Garay. Sessional instructors also included Day Helesic, Megan Walker-Straight, Peter Bingham (who inspired Natalie's love of contact), and Claire French, whose composition class would be instrumental in helping Natalie create her first major work, Hands in His Back. Rob was also key to fostering Natalie's first cross-disciplinary collaborations, and it was while at SFU that Natalie met theatre-maker Milton Lim and musician Remy Siu, with whom she would go on to establish the company Hong Kong Exile (HKE). While at SFU, Natalie also started Art for Impact with Alissa Stanton and Anna Kraulis, which has since become a registered non-profit and which over the past eight years has hosted countless community events and raised serious funds for a number of social causes. According to Natalie, it was helping to run Art for Impact while studying full-time that really honed her producing chops.
Upon graduation, and following a trip to Lebanon (where Natalie taught theatre to Palestinian refugees), Natalie signed up to dance with Modus Operandi for two years. By this time Natalie had already danced for Jennifer Mascall in two separate tours of Homewerk. However, the next major step in her creative progression came in 2013 when Joyce Rosario, then at New Works, put Natalie's name forward for a commission from the Kickstart program of the CanAsian Dance Festival. Natalie received the commission and according to its terms she was assigned a mentor-dramaturg to work with from the community. That person turned out to be battery opera's Lee Su-Feh and Natalie credits her for thoroughly transforming her practice. Out of this collaboration came HKE's acclaimed NINEEIGHT, which has toured festivals across Canada. Other transformative moments in her still very young career that Natalie cited for me included collaborations with La Pocha Nostra and the Le Brothers at the 2015 Vancouver LIVE Biennale; an artist talk for An Exact Vertigo that she gave at UNIT/PITT galleries; and running a workshop at fu-GEN Theatre's 2016 Walk the Walk Festival about commanding space without preparing.
It was at the same festival that Natalie presented a version of her performance installation Chinese Vaginies that went horribly wrong. The piece involves the use of dough to mould into steamed buns in the shape of a certain part of the female anatomy. However Natalie said that the lights on the stage at the Factory Theatre in Toronto were far too hot and that the dough began to cook before the piece was over. At the end of the performance, fu-GEN Artistic Director David Yee was scraping bits of cooked bun off the stage floor with his credit card.
Somehow that tactile mix of food and commerce seems like an apt metaphor for art-making.