Thursday, March 30, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 32

Yesterday morning Emmalena Fredriksson stopped by my Woodward's office to tell me about her dance history. That history began in Emmalena's native Sweden, specifically in a small town to the west of Stockholm called Örebro. Later, when Emmalena began a three-year program at the prestigious and demanding Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance (SEAD) she found herself joined by seven other dancers from Örebro, with other members of their cohort asking them what exactly was in the water there to produce so many talented dancers. Emmalena downplayed the specialness of Örebro, but did state that the recreational dance scene in Sweden is very different than in Canada, with robust community programs in every city that are fully funded by the state, and with her high school additionally having a dance program in which students could major.

That said, Emmalena said that when she graduated from high school there was still only one professional dance academy in Sweden, which was located in the north, and which was mainly geared toward the entertainment industry (e.g. training back-up dancers for musicals and the Eurovision song contest). Emmalena dutifully completed the curriculum--comprised solely of jazz, ballet and Cunningham--at said institution, but craving more rigorous contemporary training she subsequently auditioned for and was accepted by SEAD. There, the training couldn't have been more different, focusing as it did on release-based and somatic techniques alongside lots of floor work. Another thing Emmalena had to get used to was that her instructors changed every six weeks and that she and the other dancers were subjected to regular evaluation, with the threat of being kicked out always hovering above them. Nevertheless, she thrived at SEAD, which fostered her choreographic and composition talents, as well as her love of improvisation. Emmalena also recounted a memory of being in a work choreographed by Susan Rethorst that was performed to an empty auditorium, with the audience gathered in an adjoining studio, the door to which each dancer in the piece would pass through briefly only once. Apparently it caused a minor scandal (it was a ticketed performance open to the public), but Emmalena remembers it as an utterly joyful piece that taught her so much about the concept of presence.

It was in 2013 that Emmalena moved to Vancouver to complete her MFA at Simon Fraser University; she was interested in interdisciplinary practice and also knew a friend of Daisy Thompson, who was then also in the program. Gradually she met and began collaborating with other members of the community, including Alexa Mardon, Lexi Vajda, Renée Sigouin, and Ashley Whitehead. Many of these dancers would perform in Emmalena's MFA graduating project, Dance Work/Work Dance (2015), which was my first introduction to Emmalena's choreographic talents, and which has been performed in various gallery spaces around the city. Composer and fellow SFU alum Alex Mah has also become a frequent collaborator, sharing with Emmalena a love of improvisation and live scoring.

To my question about why she has stayed in Vancouver since completing her MFA Emmalena first sighed, explaining that she was in the throes of applying for permanent residency, a particularly fraught and expensive undertaking. Then she said that since graduating high school in Sweden Vancouver has been the longest place she's every stayed (going on four years now) and that notwithstanding the expense and her concerns about her long-term financial sustainability, she finds the dance scene very exciting and inspiring, with friends invested in each other's practices, and with work that she wants to see and support. As long as those things remain in place, and as long as she can restore her soul by heading to the mountains to hike and ski and snowboard, Emmalena has said she'll continue to call Vancouver home.


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