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Last month, Dark Horse Dance Projects showcased the work of eight Ottawa-based choreographers in the culmination of a 25-hour residency. With fully facilitated creation and mentorship available, artistic directors Jocelyn Todd and Marie-Pier Gilbert, along with project leader Nicola Fridgen, have been giving emerging and established artists carte blanche to germinate their ideas and get projects off the ground since Dark Horse’s establishment in 2015.
This year’s cohort of artists performed at The School of Dance from Sept. 8 to 10. Anne Dion, The Dance Current’s deputy editor, went backstage to speak with Todd about Dark Horse’s place in Ottawa’s dance ecosystem and get to know the artists behind this year’s showcase.
This year’s edition included work from Megan Jerome and Mary Catherine Jack, Jeanne Théroux-Laplante, Liz Winkelaar, Charles Cardin-Bourbeau, Katherine Ng, Robin Treleaven and Simon Renaud.
Anne Dion: How would you describe Dark Horse’s event tonight to someone who’s never heard of it?
Jocelyn Todd: I would say Dark Horse is an opportunity to see, almost to peer into, the development of artistic work. Because we really show pieces in more of a research phase, the platform never presents pieces that are already made. So it’s not particularly curated in that way. And these are all artists who have applied with a new idea that they want to explore. So what you end up getting is a lot of pieces that don’t necessarily fit together in a traditional sense. And we do everything that you can to sew them together and make it feel cohesive. And usually, we can do that. But in a way, there’s something really fun in the sort of chaotic nature of the differences between all the pieces.
I also mentioned The School of Dance because we’re moving through spaces; we go upstairs, downstairs, further downstairs and all around the school. So you get this opportunity to breathe, take a moment, digest the piece you just saw and prepare yourself for something totally different.
This year, we have two installations as well. In the past, we’ve only ever had pieces performed in individual studios with more staged lighting. And this year, we have some really cool, interesting installations in the hallway spaces in the school. It’s a bit of an emotional roller-coaster because some of the pieces are really humorous, some pieces are quite emotional and moving, other pieces just feel much more like just pure human research.
AD: Is this type of event something that happens a lot? Are you hoping to create something new by organizing this type of show?
JT: So I’d say, in Ottawa, this is something fairly unique to the contemporary dance community. We started this festival in 2015. And it was really a response to the feeling that there wasn’t this type of opportunity, a sort of platform type of opportunity, where people can come in and do these kinds of research residencies.
When I graduated from The School of Dance from the contemporary dance diploma program, I really wanted to be a choreographer. And I felt that I didn’t have a lot of opportunities that I didn’t create myself – which is fine, you know, as an artist, especially as a choreographer or, you know, in a leadership role, often you have to create your own opportunities. That’s fine, but we sort of felt like it was important to have something that was facilitated. So the first year, myself and Marie-Pier Gilbert, who is also a graduate of the same program, we decided that we wanted to put on this show, and first year was pretty chaotic. And we loved it, and then kept applying for funding.
It was very, very low-budget our first year. But we have had a lot of funding in the last few years from the Ontario Arts Council, the Ottawa Community Foundation, the City of Ottawa and a ton of support from The School of Dance and Ottawa Dance Directive. And we’ve been able to create this opportunity so that we can pay artists for their residencies, for their shows. So they get to have this opportunity sort of presented to them, then they can apply and have this carte blanche research period. What we are trying to achieve in this specific region is to have an opportunity for artists, for dance artists, choreographers and dancers to be able to do this earlier stage, creation residency, that’s also paid.
AD: So tonight is, as you said, chaotic. I imagine that the lead up to it has been likewise. What can you tell me about the challenges and rewards of putting on an evening like this?
JT: Well, I mean, overall, it’s all rewarding. Hands down. Like, I almost feel a little emotional talking about it because it’s such a joy to be in the presence of artists, to be able to support artists. That’s something that’s really, really important to me in my life. And I know that Marie-Pier Gilbert and Nicola Fridgen who also worked on this show with me feel the same way. We do everything we can to support everyone that we work with, and just the opportunity to be surrounded by artists and to feel like we’re contributing to their careers is just a kind of overwhelming joy.
And I would say, in addition to that, we obviously have challenges. Life is full of challenges. So for instance, there’s always challenges with budget, you know, in the arts. In every level of the arts, we always wish we could do more and more and more and more. But we’re really happy with what we have to work with. And we just felt really appreciative of what funding we receive from all of our incredible funders. And we try to use that money in the best and most efficient way possible, which obviously creates challenges when you’re trying to make a budget work to support as many people as possible. That’s often a challenge.
And, you know, the usual challenges, but they’re all always manageable. Problems come up, we fix them and we make sure the show goes on. The show must go on.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
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