Dancer, choreographer and mentor Gioconda Barbuto has a reputation for conducting excellence: her own and others’.
In the week before Christmas last year, at Café Résonance on Parc Avenue in Montréal, I met Gioconda Barbuto for the first time. Within moments, I realized she is no easy person to forget. We tucked in for a chat beneath the leaves of a potted umbrella tree, and I watched her wide grin and long, expressive arms charm the space around her. I felt special just being in her presence – she does that to you.
The Toronto-born artist has been admired unflaggingly for four decades. Aficionados of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal might remember her magnetic stage presence in the 1980s and 1990s. In her sixteen years with that company, she appeared as a soloist in works by James Kudelka, Ginette Laurin, Nacho Duato and Hans van Manen, to name but a few. Today, a new cohort of movers from training institutions like Montréal’s L’École nationale de cirque, L’École supérieure de ballet du Québec and Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella Dance may remember Barbuto for her energized annual workshops. Her skill and flair as a choreographer – a talent she has pursued since 1995 – has been praised by dance critics from across the country.
Tout naturellement, Gioconda Barbuto charme les personnes qui l’entourent. Sa prolifique carrière d’interprète compte seize ans au sein des Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal et huit ans avec le Nederlands Dans Theater III de Jirí Kylián, une compagnie pour les danseurs de plus de quarante ans. En plus, depuis plusieurs années, ses talents chorégraphiques et pédagogiques sont très recherchés. Son esprit de collaboration lui permet de concevoir chaque processus de création ou atelier en fonction des participants, qui ont ensuite le sentiment d’accéder à leur plein potentiel. Avec le récent décès de son père, elle se penche, plus que jamais, à comment laisser sa trace, à la résonance de son travail d’artiste.
Gioconda Barbuto in NDT III’s 2Lips and Dancers and Space by Robert Wilson / Photo by Michael Slobodian
Dance photographer E. S. Cheah uses some of her recent work to explain how professional photographers get the most out of live performances and studio sessions.
What makes a great dance photograph? Toronto-based dance photographer E. S. Cheah explains how to get the most out of live performance and staged studio shots.
For me, the appeal of dance photography is the challenge of capturing in a still image the emotion of what happens live. You have one moment to explain and replicate the experience of the energy of the performance space. The following work represents photographs with which I have a deep emotional connection, ones that best represent seeing the artists live. A good image will follow the fundamental rules of photography (light and composition, for example), but a great photograph will also convey the feeling of the moment of the capture.
Qu’est-ce qu’une excellente photographie de danse ? Établie à Toronto, E. S. Cheah aime prendre la danse en photo pour le défi de capter l’émotion d’un événement live. Il y a qu’un court moment pour rendre l’énergie du spectacle. Elle présente ici des photos auxquelles elle tient, qui représentent le mieux l’expérience d’avoir vu les artistes en direct. Une bonne image répond aux règles fondamentales de la photographie (lumière et composition, par exemple), mais une excellente image traduit aussi la sensation du moment dans lequel elle a été prise. Cheah offre des suggestions pour prendre de bonnes photos de danse.
George Absi in Break These Chains by Scott Fordham / Photo by E. S. Cheah
Dance is known as an ephemeral art form, but teachers and adjudicators often find themselves required to qualify and quantify that intangibility. Four women with different backgrounds in assessment spoke with Lisa Sandlos about why and how dance is evaluated.
The task of assessing dancers is generally not taken lightly, even by those who have been doing it for many years. Assessors feel the weight of their responsibility and wrestle with numerous issues, foremost among these being the challenge of assigning a number to what may be an immeasurable element in dance. While recognizing that numeric forms of evaluation are often inescapable in many dance contexts, some dance educators are talking about shifting away from numbers and gravitating towards qualitative commentary in an effort to establish more meaningful exchanges with their students.
Though my aim had been to compare our different experiences and approaches, my discussion with four women who are actively involved in assessing the dance of others revealed that we share a vision for how we would like to see assessment evolve in the future. Carina Bomers is a teacher at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS). She heads the Dancers’ Clinic where she works in conjunction with physiotherapists. In addition to teaching students within the school, she serves on the school’s cross-country audition tours and is a Cecchetti examiner. Meaghan Giusti is the owner of Broadway Arts Centre, a dance studio in Toronto. In addition to assessing students in a studio setting, she has been an adjudicator at dance competitions and served on George Brown College’s dance program admissions committee. Cheryl LaFrance, a PhD candidate at York University, is an educational consultant who has worked for eight years with the Dance Department at York to create degree-level expectations for the program and rubrics for studio and theoretical classes. Finally, Heather Saum is a high school dance teacher in the Toronto District School Board, working with students from grades nine through twelve.
La danse est connue comme art de l’éphémère. Pourtant, les enseignants et les juges se trouvent souvent appelés à qualifier et à quantifier l’intangible. Tout en reconnaissant la nécessité d’évaluation chiffrable dans plusieurs contextes, certains enseignants prennent leur distance des chiffres et adoptent des évaluations qualitatives afin d’avoir des échanges plus porteurs avec leurs étudiants. Lisa Sandlos a mené une discussion entre quatre instructrices qui doivent régulièrement évaluer des danseurs : Carina Bomers de l’École nationale de ballet du Canada ; Meaghan Giusit, propriétaire de studio et juge de compétition ; Cheryl La France, spécialiste en éducation et candidate au doctorat à l’Université York ; et Heather Saum, enseignante au secondaire. Au fil de leur conversation se révèlent leurs expériences, leurs approches et leur vision d’avenir pour l’évaluation.
Carina Bomers and students of Canada’s National Ballet School / Photo by Johan Persson
How does the creative process change for choreographers who choose to revisit a work from the past? Five prominent Canadian choreographers discuss the possibilities and challenges to their creativity in bringing the past to life.
By all accounts, the process of creating a work of contemporary dance starts with a glimpse, not a vision. Inspiration might arise from a Hollywood movie, an outfit at a fashion show or whatever drifts down from the ceiling in an empty studio. Wherever they find it, choreographers see a shape in the shadows and start exploring. With each step, the lights come on a little brighter: clarifying the idea, getting funding, wooing a presenter, choosing interpreters, finding rehearsal space, creating the work, bringing in a dramaturge, collaborating with designers, hiring technicians and, finally, climbing onto a stage and taking a bow.
If all goes well, the work will live for a while on other stages, travelling and finding more audiences. But contemporary dance tends to fade quickly from sight, as new works vie for small slots on limited schedules and choreographers discover fresh inspiration. Often those finished works still have more to reveal even after the lights have gone down again, seemingly for good.
Recently, many of Canada’s mature choreographers have been rejecting that fate and surfacing old works. We asked five senior dance artists about what they found when they circled back, how they’ve changed and what it takes to bring past inspirations forward again.
No choreographer is alike, either in sensibility or in process, but they all face a similar set of decisions when reviving a work. Do they dust it off and present it in its original form or renovate and make it anew? What will be gained or lost in making these choices? Julia Sasso, Margie Gillis, Christopher House, Pierre-Paul Savoie and Daniel Leveillé all answer these questions differently according to their own experiences, influences and intuitions. But whether they preserve the work as a time capsule or transform it to address new concerns and ideas, they must confront a performance’s irreproducibility and the ways in which the work is tied to the context in which it is produced. Because everything changes: the artist, the dance community and the world they reflect.
Récemment, plusieurs grands chorégraphes canadiens en danse contemporaine ont choisi de revisiter des oeuvres de leur répertoire. Que faut-il pour rendre ces créations aujourd’hui ? Une pièce devrait-elle rester aussi fidèle que possible à sa forme originale ou être reformulée en fonction de questions actuelles ? Quels sont les enjeux dans un cas et l’autre ? Julia Sasso, Margie Gillis, Christopher House, Pierre-Paul Savoie et Daniel Léveillé ont discuté avec le rédacteur Mark Mann sur leurs expériences de reprises. Que le chorégraphe laisse l’oeuvre dans sa forme ancienne, la reprenne du début ou la révise entièrement, toutes les oeuvres se transforment de la première à la reprise. Reste le désir d’être en relation au moment présent et aux publics d’aujourd’hui, même si cela signifie plonger loin dans le passé.
Ellen Furey and Emmanuel Proulx in Solitudes Duo (2015) by Daniel Léveille / Photo by Denis Farley
In assembling the cocktail that is an issue of The Dance Current, certain ideas or themes can unwittingly bring themselves to the surface, possibly evidence of their percolation through our collective unconscious. Such was the case with this issue. I began, as usual, with a handful of seemingly disparate but timely topics and individuals. Lucy M. May agreed to profile Gioconda Barbuto, whose growing reputation among many dance training institutions in the country, impressive recent choreographic output and continuing performance career made her an individual about whom we wanted to know more. E. S. Cheah’s dance photography, particularly her prowess in capturing the impromptu and idiosyncratic urban dance battle scene, made her an ideal person with whom to discuss what makes a great dance photograph. Numerous renowned Canadian choreographers have recently revisited and presented previous works. We asked Mark Mann to investigate this as an intriguing avenue through which to discuss the creative process. And finally, as competition and exam season approaches, Lisa Sandlos agreed to host a conversation about assessments and grading.
Little did I know that, among these varied themes and different individuals, one recurring theme would emerge: collaboration. Without any prompting, the writers and participants homed in on the primacy of collaboration to the experience of dance. Whether in taking portraits, in setting the grading criteria for a high school dance class, in leading workshops or in creating new works, it was cited as the most important way in which to make dance meaningful as a process and product. Are we living in a particularly collaborative moment? Or, is it something we feel is missing we hope to recover? Is it a belated rejection of the Romantic idea of individual genius? How do we effectively recognize the labour and ideas of those with whom we collaborate? How best to work with those who have vastly different ideas, priorities and experiences?
As an editor, I tease and trim the work of others. It is by its nature a collaborative process. At a functional level, however, I am struck by how difficult real collaboration can be. It requires trust and commitment. It is based on respect and openness to other ways of thinking. It is hard to achieve under tight time constraints. But as with the teachers and artists in this issue, the end results of collaboration speak to its value: caring relationships and meaningful artistic work.
Your comments and feedback are, therefore, always welcome.
During a musical break in I Got Rhythm from the Stratford Festival’s 2014 production of Crazy for You, Jason Sermonia steps out from the ensemble to the centre of the thrust stage at the Festival Theatre. Calm and collected, Sermonia flawlessly executes four turns with his leg in second, pulls his leg in to a retiré, completes six pirouettes, while smoothly and slowly lifting his cowboy hat off his head, before diving into a no-handed cartwheel. Sermonia shows impeccable technique, impressive moves and that special spark that makes musical theatre so entertaining.
Jason Sermonia (centre) with members of the company in Crazy for You / Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
For Heather Thomson, the newest member of Ballet Kelowna, dancing in a small company is about team effort. The six dancers are “connected and very closely attached to each other,” says Thomson. They work in a tight-knit and supportive environment that would be more difficult to achieve in a bigger company. A recent graduate from the School of Alberta Ballet, Thomson was prevented from participating in the yearly ballet audition circuit due to stress fractures in her shins and lower back. But the auditions came to her when Simone Orlando, artistic director of Ballet Kelowna, reached out to the school about potential young dancers. The healed Thomson was offered a job in the company, and receiving the Muriel Jolliffe Endowment for Dance allowed her to participate in The Banff Centre’s Summer Professional Dance Program.
Heather Thomson and Mark Dennis in Simone Orlando’s Arabian Duet from The Nutcracker / Photo by Glenna Turnbull
What dance artists need to know to illuminate their creative vision: a conversation with lighting designer Joe Pagnan
Candlelight flickers at the dinner table. Pink neon pulses in a shop window. Light transforms space, defining what is visible and what is hidden. Imaginative use and technical knowledge of lighting turns a black box theatre into an entire poetic world. This is the work of a lighting designer. While alluring, this world is mysterious for many dance artists. Most of us could guess red light feels warm and blue light seems cold, but how do we communicate with lighting designers to reach beyond these basics?
Members of the cast in MSM directed by Indrit Kasapi with lighting design by Joe Pagnan / Photo by Alejandra Santiago
Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli, Montréal bboy and Projet RAD (Réservé aux danseurs) co-founder, will be the Canadian Dance Assembly’s (CDA) National Youth Ambassador for Dance this year. Patuelli was CDA’s International Dance Day ambassador in 2015 and shared his inspiring message of “No excuses, No limits” with delegates at the National Conference in September. He travels the world dancing with his crew, ILL-Abilities, and speaking in public. We asked Patuelli what inspires him daily.
Luca Patuelli and the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada / Photo by Sgt Ronald Duchesne, Rideau Hall © OSGG, 2015
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a man who had only one vulnerable spot on his body, his heel. For many dancers, their proverbial Achilles heel is, in fact, their Achilles tendon. It can be difficult to get rid of pain in this area. The usual regimen of rest, ice and stretches does not always provide a long-term solution, and dancers can become frustrated with prolonged and recurring Achilles pain.
Members of Simcoe Contemporary Dancers / Photo by Wendy Hutchinson
Dancers need food that is easy to make and even easier to pack for long, active days. This salad provides protein, fresh vitamins and can be quickly thrown together. It makes a great, satisfying salad on the go.
Photo Courtesy of Grace Smith
Peter Eeles is the principal of Edmonton’s Shumka School of Dance and a current company member with the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers. Established in 1959, Shumka – meaning whirlwind – is a professional Ukrainian dance company. Their school, which offers recreational and intensive programs for ages three and up, aims to produce ballet-trained Ukrainian dancers in regionally accurate forms of folk dance.
An instructor at the school since 2006, as well as a former student, Eeles has studied with the world-renowned Virsky Ukrainian National Folk Dance Ensemble and worked with the Prolisok Folk Dance Ensemble, the International Folk Dance Ensemble and the Kyiv Ballet, among others.
The Dance Current spoke with Eeles about his teaching practice and passion for upholding the traditions of Ukrainian dance.
Peter Eeles and students of the Shumka School of Dance / Photo courtesy of Ukrainian Shumka Dancers
Artistic director of the Lorita Leung Dance Company and principal of the Lorita Leung Dance Academy in Vancouver, Jone packs her dancebag with things to help her get through her busy day teaching and performing Chinese dance.
Jessica Jone in Triaspora / Photo by Norm Jone
In the March 2009 issue, Selma Odom wrote a profile of choreographer Peter Quanz as he prepared a work for The National Ballet of Canada, IN COLOUR. The Dance Current asked him to reflect on the intervening seven years.
Lucy Rupert and Peter Quanz in Quanz’s “Search for me in the Wasteland” in dead reckoning (2016) / Photo by Melanie Gordon
This photograph was taken at the 2014 Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, at the UBC Museum of Anthropology, where Jhaimy Alvarez-Acosta shared traditional Andean dances from Cusco, Peru, and Gissela Vargas shared traditional dances from Ambato, Ecuador. The other artists were with the Dancers of Damelahamid, the hosts of the festival. This was a moment as the dancers prepared for the performance by sharing in a circle together. The artists offered intentions. They made prayers in support of all who were present, the artists and the witnesses, as well as in thanks to our ancestors and the land on which we danced. The laughter was sparked by our efforts to translate between Spanish and English.
The 2016 Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, produced by the Dancers of Damelahamid in partnership with and performed at the the Museum of Anthropology, runs March 4th through 6th.
Tobie Wick, Margaret Grenier, Raven Grenier (facing back), Jhaimy Alvarez-Acosta, Renee Harris (facing back) and Gissela Vargas backstage at the 2014 Coastal First Nations Dance Festival / Photo by Andrew Grenier