Friday, May 19, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 33

This past week Justine and Alexa and I have been working in the studio at The Dance Centre, developing some preliminary text and gesture scores from the video interviews we have assembled so far. We also visited with Natalie Purschwitz about our planned rhizomatic installation that will take over the stairwell and Faris lobby beginning in September. Our plans for the various components are still evolving, but one thing that has become increasingly clear is how much work we still have to do, not least with respect to completing our outstanding interviews.

And so, on that front, this afternoon I met my colleague Judith Garay at SFU Woodward's to talk about her dance history. It is an incredibly varied and peripatetic one. Judith was actually born in BC (something I didn't know), but moved with her family at a very young age to London (her dad was in the navy). That's where she took her first dance class. Returning to Victoria at age seven, she began taking class once a week in Victoria with Vivian Briggs. Following a move to Halifax, she continued her training, but she only really got serious about things after she enrolled at NASCAD (she was intending to be a fashion and textile designer) and met her first modern and professional dance instructor, Anita Martin. From there, she took a couple of summer intensives at Toronto Dance Theatre, but realizing she needed more structured instruction, she headed off to London to study with London Contemporary Dance Theatre at The Place. It was in London that Judith met her life partner, Anthony Morgan, also a dancer. Following their time in London, the pair decided to return to North America, but whereas Judith wanted to relocate to Toronto, Anthony was keen to try to New York.

Judith agreed to try out the Big Apple for three months, but she ended up staying for sixteen years. That was because very soon after arriving in the city, Judith hooked up with Pearl Lang at the Ailey School. Lang, along with Alfredo Corvino (a former Ballets Russes dancer and a master teacher of ballet at Julliard), became a key mentor. Then, too, there was the fact that soon after arriving in New York Judith joined the Martha Graham Company, quickly becoming a principal dancer there. This was at the height of Graham's fame, with celebrities like Liza Minnelli routinely dropping by the studio, and Halston, Graham's preferred costume designer, giving the dancers rides in his limo. And yet at the same time, Judith said that was living below the poverty line in a roach-infested railroad apartment in a slum, saving up her per diems while on tour in order to help make ends meet.

One of Judith's favourite memories from her time with the Graham company was being asked to reconstruct a three-minute 1926 solo by Graham called Tanagra. They had only some silent film footage to go by and had to guess at which piece of Satie music was being used, but Judith said the six month experience remains an important memory.

It was in January 1992 that Judith returned to BC to take up a guest teaching position at the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. She stayed on for an extra six weeks over the summer to lead the School's Off-Centre Dance Company on a tour of the province. That experience, Judith said, is what hooked her, and so when Santa Aloi encouraged her to apply for the full-time, tenure-track position that opened up that fall, she did. She has been at SFU ever since, and while Judith admitted that she still has a somewhat vexed relationship with the institutional structures of the academy, she also said that she enjoys teaching, especially with SFU's cohort system, where one is able to watch the evolution of a dancer over the course of four or more years. She also admitted that after being poor for most of her life as a working dancer, having a steady paycheque was something that she came to appreciate.

Of course Judith is perhaps best known in the Vancouver dance community for leading her company Dancers Dancing, which has given many emerging dance artists their first job, and which, during its formative years, regularly toured to all regions of BC. Judith said that bringing dance to communities in BC beyond Vancouver and Victoria became something of her mission--though it was also a mission that essentially required her to work two full-time jobs. This explains why she has backed away from the rigorous touring schedule in the last decade.

But she still has a keen eye for emerging talent, and on that front Judith concluded her interview by saying that as a dance city Vancouver is completely unrecognizable from what it was when she returned in the early 1990s. She admitted that she couldn't keep up with all the talent, but she also said that that was a good thing.


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