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Setting the Stage Ablaze

Toronto's Jae Blaze and the rise of dancehall technique
By Francesca D'Amico

Jae Blaze has spent over a decade introducing mainstream dance audiences to the rhythms of dancehall technique.

During a rehearsal for the fifty-second annual Grammy Awards, choreographer Jae Blaze sat in amazement as she watched her piece for the Black Eyed Peas’ Imma Be and I Gotta Feeling take shape. Blaze was brought to tears as she watched the dancers onstage replicate the same visceral movements she had first created as a youth, dancing with friends at a community centre in Toronto’s often troubled Jane-and-Finch neighbourhood. Blaze’s struggle and heritage were coming alive, and on the largest stage in American music.

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La renommée internationale de la chorégraphe Jae Blaze découle de sa réputation comme celle qui a popularisé le dancehall, forme de danse issue de la classe ouvrière de Kingston, Jamaïque. Originaire du quartier Jane-and-Finch de Toronto, Blaze fonde sa carrière sur la gestuelle viscérale et individualiste du dancehall qu’elle traduit sur la scène professionnelle. Elle chorégraphie des vidéoclips pour des vedettes comme Rhianna et Sean Paul, ainsi que des publicités et des numéros pour nombres d’émissions télévisuelles de remise de prix. Si des variantes de la danse existent partout dans le monde, la culture dancehall a des assises culturelles solides dans la diaspora jamaïcaine de Toronto. Blaze trouve cette danse importante pour les Nord-Américains, car elle offre l’occasion de lâcher prise, d’être positif et de s’amuser.

Jae Blaze / Photo courtesy of Blaze

 

Confluences

Body of Water Project: Creative Exchange
By Wojciech Mochniej, Aimee Dawn Robinson, Anne Troak

Three artists, from Saint John’s, Calgary and Whitehorse, worked in each other’s communities to consider water, rivers and our collective identities.

This year, CanDance Network’s Creative Exchange program brought together three artists from different communities across Canada. In autumn, Wojciech Mochniej, (Calgary, Alberta, and Lublin, Poland), Aimée Dawn Robinson (Whitehorse, Yukon) and Anne Troake (St. John’s, Newfoundland) collaborated on the Body of Water Project (BOW). The artists met first in Whitehorse in late August, then in Calgary in September. The process to date closed in St. John’s, in October, with an epic roll down an iconic hill. The three Creative Exchange presenters for BOW were Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, Springboard Performance in Calgary and Neighbourhood Dance Works in St John’s. Together, with guest artists in each community, they plunged into the waters of our collective identities. Throughout this cross-country process, the BOW artists acknowledge all Nations (acknowledged and unacknowledged, recorded and unrecorded) who care, and cared for, the land.

Learn more about the BOW of Water Project with a video and additional images at thedancecurrent.com/BOWProject

L’eau est personnelle. L’eau est politique. L’eau est essentielle. L’eau a toujours lié le pays. Cette année, le Programme d’échange en création du Réseau CanDanse rassemble trois artistes de différentes communautés au Canada. À l’automne, Wojtek Mochniej, (Calgary, Alberta et Lublin, Pologne), Aimée Dawn Robinson (Whitehorse, Yukon) et Anne Troake (St. John’s, Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador) ont collaboré sur le projet Body of Water (BOW). Ils se sont rencontrés d’abord à Whitehorse à la fin août et ensuite à Calgary en septembre. À ce jour, le projet s’est conclu à St. John’s en octobre, avec une longue roulade le long d’une côte symbolique. Les trois diffuseurs du programme d’échange en création pour BOW sont le Yukon Arts Centre à Whitehorse, Springboard Performance à Calgary, et Neighbourhood Dance Works à St. John’s. Ensemble, avec des artistes invités dans chaque communauté, ils ont plongé dans les eaux de nos identités collectives. Par l’entremise du processus pancanadien, les artistes de BOW reconnaissent toutes les nations (reconnues et non reconnues, enregistrées et non enregistrées) qui prennent soin du territoire.

Anne Troake / Photo by Wojciech Mochniej

 

The Invisible Injury

Two dancers discuss concussions in dance and the recognition, treatment, prevention and significance of this often misunderstood brain injury
By Justine Comfort

Two dancers discuss the implications of concussions and the recognition, treatment, prevention and significance of this often misunderstood brain injury.

Awareness of the significance and frequency of concussions and traumatic brain injuries has grown considerably in recent years. Professional sports organizations and institutions are bringing to public awareness the startling number of athletes who suffer from this injury and its serious and long-term repercussions. As dancers and choreographers push the human body to discover new movement possibilities, how concerned should they be about injuries to the brain?
Justine Comfort, a graduate of York University’s BFA program, with a disciplinary certificate in dance science focusing on concussion research, met with two dancers with different experiences of concussions to discuss the scope and seriousness of this health condition for the dance community.

Click here to read the full text: thedancecurrent.com/feature/invisible-injury

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Dans les dernières années, nous avons beaucoup appris sur l’importance et la fréquence des commotions et des lésions cérébrales. Les organismes et institutions en sports professionnels mettent en lumière le nombre surprenant d’athlètes qui souffrent de blessures au cerveau, et les conséquences sérieuses et à long terme de telles blessures. À titre de danseurs et de chorégraphes qui oeuvrons à découvrir de nouvelles possibilités en mouvement, à quel point devrions-nous nous en faire avec les traumatismes crâniens? Justine Comfort détient un baccalauréat en beaux-arts de l’Université York avec un certificat disciplinaire en science de la danse axé sur la recherche sur les commotions cérébrales. Elle discute avec deux danseurs de différents parcours de leur expérience des commotions cérébrales et de l’envergure et de la gravité de cette blessure pour le milieu de la danse.

 

Editor’s Note: At the time of print, the Legislature of Ontario was poised to pass Rowan’s Law, the first concussion legislation in Canada for young athletes. The law’s name honours a young seventeen-year-old rugby player who died after a game in 2013. An inquest found that she had suffered multiple concussions in the week preceding her death. The legislation would create an expert advisory committee to advise on the implementation of the recommendations of that inquest. The legislation aims to increase awareness of concussions and their symptoms, particularly through Ontario’s public school curriculum.

 

Finding Fitness

How experiences of dance and fitness instruction fit together
By Deanna Paolantonio

What are the benefits and drawbacks of moving from a dance career to one in fitness instruction? Through her interviews with five successful fitness instructors from different disciplines, Deanna Paolantonio considers if and how well dance and fitness “fit.”

Dance and fitness instruction have a long, entwined history, and in today’s cultural and economic environment, many dancers are are finding careers in fitness instruction. What drives dancers out of dance? And is a career in fitness comparable? 

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Brittany-Brie D’Amico / Photo by Jessy Pesce

Departments

Editorial

By Lee Slinger

In 2016, I resolve to honour the strength and courage of those around me and those I have the privilege to meet and work with at The Dance Current. This issue features numerous individuals who have demonstrated commitment and perseverance over the course of their careers and lives. The candour and vulnerability expressed by Amie Chartier, a young dancer who spoke about her recent concussion with writer Justine Comfort, comes to mind. So does the determination and creativity of Jae Blaze, profiled by Francesca D’Amico, who found in the dancehall genre a way to give movement to the Jamaican diaspora of Toronto and across North America. I think of Moira Walley-Beckett (creator of the television drama Flesh and Bone), a dancer who took a chance on writing and has become one of the great television writers of this generation. I think of soprano Neema Bickersteth, who learned to dance so that she might more fully creatively examine the lives of black women in the twentieth century. The three artists who created the Body of Water Project demonstrated amazing commitment to creating art that spoke to important human issues across vast physical distances. 

In a recent conversation about the latest issue, our designer, Lois Kim, rightly pointed out that I had gotten a bit carried away in my use of the word “inspired.” While more varied language was indeed called for, my enthusiasm was genuine. For the coming year, I hope The Dance Current continues to provide you with examples of individuals and creative works that will, as they do for me, strengthen your resolve to improve, change or grow in your own life and career.

dc.editor@thedancecurrent.com | Follow me on Twitter at @TDC_editor

Movers

Subtle Strength: Christianne Ullmark of Toronto Dance Theatre
By Christina Strynatka

Subtlety in dance requires the trust that the deep interior life of the dancer will express itself outwardly without being forced, without being pushed, a trust that can be hard to develop. While it has taken her many years, Christianne Ullmark of Toronto Dance Theatre is committed to that task. “I am really curious,” she says, “about finding ways to make more out of less – the power of subtlety.” Through her, this internal search makes for powerful and magnetic outward movements. Critics and reviewers have often been drawn to her, describing her as “luminous” or “radiant”, and a large part of the attraction comes from that combination of calmness and commitment.

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Christianne Ullmark / Photo by Jay Crews

Movers

West Coast Swagger: Ralph Escamillan's street and studio cool
By Jillian Groening

A performer who has worked with several high-profile Vancouver dance companies, Ralph Escamillan began dancing as a teenager who was looking for something with which to connect. After becoming enthralled with the style and swagger of hip hop at the age of fourteen, Escamillan cleaned the studio floors at Vancouver’s Harbour Dance Centre to pay for breakdance classes. His passion for performance and his dedication led him to the innovative Modus Operandi contemporary dance program. Inspired by Artistic Directors Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond, he says, “[I had to] work my butt off, ’cause I had to catch up. I’m still trying to catch up.” The work paid off, leading to performance opportunities with 605 Collective, Out Innerspace Dance Theatre and a prestigious apprenticeship with the world-renowned Kidd Pivot.

http://www.thedancecurrent.com/column/west-coast-swagger 

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Ralph Escamillan / Photo by Richie Lubaton

Influences

Interactive Technology as Performance
By Emma Kerson

Jacob Niedzwiecki is creating a web of code, space and movement.

Toronto-based freelance choreographer, director and programmer Jacob Niedzwiecki marries the worlds of media and movement through the use of interactive technology in a framework of code he created known as Cohort. While the former National Ballet of Canada dancer has been coding since the age of seven, it wasn’t until 2013 that he invested in deeply exploring the intersection of technology and his choreographic work. The result was Jacqueries, a roaming, site-specific work that has since been presented at SummerWorks in 2014 and the Miami trans-media festival FilmGate Interactive Conference in 2015.

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Luke Garwood in Jacqueries by Jacob Niedzwiecki / Photo by Vish Hansa

Inspired List

Producer and Writer Moira Walley-Beckett

Originally from Vancouver, former dancer Moira Walley-Beckett is now a multiple award-winning playwright, television writer and screenwriter. She spent six years as a writer and co-executive producer on AMC’s critically acclaimed Breaking Bad, for which she received numerous accolades, including the 2014 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing For a Drama Series for her final episode, “Ozymandias.” Before becoming a writer, she danced professionally in Canada, performed in musical theatre and played and recorded with her rock band, Bimbo Du Jour. 

Currently, she is the creator and executive producer of Flesh and Bone, a dance-based drama series, which premiered in the fall of 2015. The Dance Current caught up with Walley-Beckett as she was putting the final post-production touches on the show, and we asked her to share what had inspired her during its creation and some memories from her dance career and her transition to writing. 

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Moira Walley-Beckett on the set of Flesh and Bone / Photo courtesy of Starz Network

Healthy Dancer

Don't Be So Quick to Hit the Dance Floor: The impact of flooring on dancers' health
By Blessyl Buan

The surfaces on which we learn, rehearse and perform have significant consequences for our bodies. Different types of floorings have varying abilities to absorb weight. When flooring is resilient, that is, when it is firm but has some “give”, the amount of force returning to the dancer is dissipated. Flooring that is not accommodating enough can cause musculoskeletal injuries, including muscle strain, joint sprains and fractures. The surface you dance on can often be out of your control, but there are precautions you can take to protect yourself. 

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Students of The School of Cadence Ballet’s Professional Training Program / Photo by Courtnae Bowman

Dancer's Kitchen

Sarah's Pumpkin Chickpea Curry
By Sarah Fregeau

A filling vegetarian dish in a flavourful curry sauce – perfect for warming up and replenishing your body after a winter workout!

http://www.thedancecurrent.com/column/sarah-s-pumpkin-chickpea-curry

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Photo courtesy of Sarah Fregeau

Try This

Early Morning Dance Parties
By Denise Solleza

Have you ever wished you could start your day with the same rush and energy you feel after a night of dancing? The early morning dance party, a growing trend in cities across Canada and the world, caters to that desire providing raves, complete with EDM (electronic dance music) and blissed-out revellers, before work. Held from 6:30 to 10am by organizations like Morning Gloryville and Daybreaker, these parties allow participants to enjoy a high-energy dance workout along with their morning coffee. 
In Toronto, Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen and Lauren Pedersen founded Mornin’ Grind to “bring the dancin’ into daylight,” says Bloch-Hansen. Each session, held at local coffee shops, includes free coffee, cold-pressed juices, live DJ sets, yoga, a 1980s-inspired workout led by a certified instructor and a dance party. For dancers, it is a relaxed and fun way to start the day off with a coffee, a stretch, some cardio and a lot of fun. For those less initiated, it provides a safe space in which to “get their boogie on.” Bloch-Hansen promises you will leave feeling “totally energized, happy and ready to take on the world, one dance move at a time.” 

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Mornin’ Grind / Photo by Zoe Brownstone

Practice

Christine Lamothe of Saimavik Studio, Iqaluit
By Kate Stashko

B-girl Christine Lamothe is a dance and yoga instructor based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. She was introduced to b-girling in her native Ottawa and eventually formed a crew with fellow b-girls Invertabrat and No-Balance, offering accessible and affordable classes for girls and organizing large-scale jams and battles. In 2006, Lamothe relocated to Nunavut, where she currently teaches Zumba and breaking and has recently opened Saimavik Studio, for which she won a Frozen Globe Award for Best Business on the Rise. The Dance Current sat down with Lamothe to talk about her teaching practice and community-building in Iqaluit.

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Christine Lamothe / Photo by Celina Kilgallen

What's in Your Dancebag?

Neema Biickersteth

In her new solo performance, Neema Bickersteth explores womanhood and music in the twentieth century by inhabiting the identities of various historical women through song and dance. Directed by Ross Manson and choreographed by Kate Alton (artistic director of Crooked Figure Dances), Century Song is a physically challenging piece, which, according to Bickersteth, is akin to singing while running on a treadmill for an hour. The Dance Current chatted with her, while her one-year-old daughter was napping, to ask what she keeps in her bag to help with this ambitious performance.

http://www.thedancecurrent.com/column/neema-bickersteth

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Neema Bickersteth / Photo by Jacqui Jenson-Roy

Check It Out

The Dance Gods: A New York Memoir by Kenny Pearl
By Molly Johnson

Kenny Pearl is a private man. In an era of oversharing, he has yet to post a single selfie. This restraint makes the release of his memoir all the more inviting. A passionate dance educator and organizer based in Toronto, Pearl has inspired many a fledgling artist over the years with choice tales of his extraordinary experiences dancing in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. But until now he has refrained from relaying his fascinating history in full. Says Pearl, “When I tell my students about my thirteen years in New York, during those tumultuous decades – Vietnam War times, the tie-dyed hippie and polyester disco years – they always tell me they want more.” He credits those inquisitive minds with the decision to finally put pen to paper. “They encouraged me. I wrote the book largely for them.” 
In his memoir, Pearl recounts his rise from aspiring novice to sought-after performer, bringing us deep into the inner sanctums of dance icons Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham. With remarkable clarity and detail, he charts the steep highs and lows of his journey. Loss is a recurring theme, and Pearl cites the memory of the inimitable artists he met but lost along the way as another reason for sharing his story. “So many of the great artists who inspired me and who were my friends are gone,” he explains. “Their sensual athleticism and dramatic powers have, for the most part, vanished from the world. I want them to be remembered.” Steeped in feeling, The Dance Gods: A New York Memoir is an engrossing look into a singular and significant time and the unique career of one Canadian artist. “I can barely believe now that it all happened,” says Pearl. “The Dance Gods is the story of how it did.”

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Cover image - Kenny Pearl / Photo by Kenn Duncan

From Our Archives

Ballet BC's new era

In February 2009, The Dance Current reported on what appeared to be a glimmer of hope for Ballet BC in Vancouver. After going into receivership, and suddenly laying off its dancers and administrative staff six weeks earlier, the company’s proposal for repayment to its creditors was approved, based on funds raised by the successful presentation of The Nutcracker by the Moscow Classical Ballet. While Ballet BC was still on insecure financial footing, the season would be able to continue.
That glimmer has since become a fire. Now in its thirtieth season, the company has become one of the most exciting in the country. In what would be a turning point, in July 2009, the board of directors appointed Emily Molnar as the new artistic director. Now in her seventh season at the helm, Molnar has overseen the commission of over thirty-five new works, demonstrating, as she recently told The Dance Current, one of the central tenets of her directorship, that art remain “at the centre of the room.” Along with critical and financial successes, this focus on art has allowed them to present legible but challenging works. “Dance at its best,” says Molnar, “is transformational; it can transform a city, a room, a person, a way of seeing things.” Looking forward, Molnar believes Ballet BC’s growth will develop organically from the creativity they have fostered since those dark days at the end of 2008. Their momentum, she hopes, will “trigger and seed new insights and possibilities in the level of our artmaking.”

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Emily Molnar with Ballet BC dancers Emily Chessa and Scott Fowler / Photo by Michael Slobodian

Backstage

Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata performs in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo

How would it feel to be about to step, for the first time, on a stage in a place that had been lingering in your imagination, kindling your creative work for decades? According to Karla Etienne (centre), dancer and assistant to the artistic director of Montréal-based Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata, as she stood backstage at the Centre de Formation et de Recherche des Arts Dramatique (CFRAD) in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, she felt a bubbling mix of emotions: “excitement, joy, nervousness, humility and honour.” This past October, Nyata Nyata, founded by Zab Maboungou, had the opportunity to perform their award-winning work Mozongi, which translates to “those who have returned,” in the capital of the Republic of the Congo. While the country is Maboungou’s place of origin, it was the first visit for many of the other artists of the company, including Etienne, who said the trip was an “awakening.” From the stage at CFRAD, Etienne and the other dancers had a view of the Congo River, which flowed gently behind the theatre. The backstage moment pictured here was “powerful”, she explains, “because we knew that this show was giving sense to all the work we had done at home.”

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Elli Miller-Maboungou, Luis Cabanzo, Gama Fonseca, Karla Etienne and Adama Daou of Companie Danse Nyata Nyata, backstage at Centre de formation et de recherché des arts dramatiques// Courtesy of Nyata Nyata

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