In her new work White Elephant, Marie Lambin-Gagnon opens hers arms wide to draw upon her visual arts and dance background. The work explores awareness, presence and acceptance, placing equal weight on movement, sound and imagery, as five performers navigate a world of bubble wrap and play with the fragility of memory.
Emma Kerson So Marie, first things first. You’re presenting White Elephant in a bit of a pop-up performance style. One showing is at The Collective Space on October 5th and the other is at the Centre for Social Innovation on October 12th. What led to this choice of dual locations?
Marie Lambin-Gagnon I am curious to see how both the piece and the audience will respond in different spaces. How the space will influence my perception of the work, the performers and the audience. I did not want White Elephant to be attached to one specific space or context. The Collective Space and the Centre for Social Innovation both – as venues and in their own ways – bring people together from various fields. White Elephant invites the audience to meet the dancers in the performance space, blurring the line of the audience-performer dichotomy. I chose two venues that do not traditionally host dance performances. I want to create something that is intimate and vulnerable in spaces that are not normally used in this way.
EK Your experience in visual arts seems to play a significant role in your artistic works. Can you speak a little bit about how you got involved with creating installations for events like P.S. we are all here and perhaps about your paintings and des soeurs et des fleurs? How do these endeavors relate to your choreographic work?
MLG My Dad, Denis Gagnon, is a visual artist and growing up I would always interact with his art or art that he liked. My love for visual arts comes from him. I studied visual art at CÉGEP du Vieux Montréal in parallel to my dance training. I draw greeting cards and sell them to finance my projects. I started des soeurs et des fleurs with my sister because we wanted to share a project together and our love of flowers. But more and more I am realizing that I want both visual art and dance equally in my life. I got involve with P.S. we are all here because the Toronto Love-In-ers were familiar with my work and knew I was interested in set design and construction. They gave me an opportunity to experiment and learn how to build more elaborate sculptures and sets. I am grateful for the opportunity and I know my experience collaborating with them will influence my next few projects!
In my work, I use props when I begin choreographing. The more choreography I do, the more props I use. I quickly realized that for me props and other elements are as much a part of choreography and creation as the dancers. They complement and complete each other.
EK White Elephant is visually mesmerizing. As you work with such visually stimulating components in your choreography, I wonder where your ideas begin: in image, in movement or in a hybrid of sorts? And how do they develop into an equal partnership?
MLG I am a visual person and a lot of my projects start as images in my head. From the beginning, I know how a piece will look, but it definitely evolves as I work on it and collaborate with my team of artists.
More specifically, for White Elephant the use of bubble wrap came from one of my side jobs. I was working for a company that received a lot of packages and often the contents of the package were wrapped in bubble wrap. One day, when I was unwrapping one of those packages, I had a fantasy about popping the bubble wrap with my feet. And from there came the idea for a dance performance with bubble wrap.
There are many reasons I find bubble wrap fascinating: the sound it makes when you pop the bubbles, as a symbol how it protects fragile objects, the landscape it creates when you accumulate a lot of it, its transparency… I could go on! The inspiration for the movements came from the material itself, the symbols it represents and the textures.
EK White Elephant examines the fragility of memory through the oral histories shared by the individuals of your cast – Corrado Cerruto, Mairéad Filgate, Sébastien Provencher, Kaitlin Standeven and Kathia Wittenborn. What is it like to be sculpting the stories of others?
MLG The memories or stories are all shared and communicated in different ways. Sometimes they are literal and other times they are more abstract. Some of the memories shared in the piece are very personal. In those instances there was a lot of discussion between myself and the performers concerning how to ensure they felt comfortable and safe during that process.
It has been a real challenge incorporating storytelling as a part of my work. I did not want to have a set text; I wanted the stories to come out as naturally as possible. I am hoping the audience will feel that way too!
I definitely feel very privileged to have the trust of the dancers to share their stories and what shapes who they are.
EK You have a long working relationship with some of your collaborators. How does this influence your creative process?
MLG It’s a luxury to be able to work with the same dancers for so long. It allows us to build and foster a deep sense of trust. I feel very vulnerable when starting a new project in studio, so it’s reassuring, in the case of White Elephant, to return to the studio with a strong team and one that I’ve known for a long time.
EK Lastly, what’s next for you after White Elephant, and what would be your ultimate dream project to work on?
MLG Choreographing for Toronto Dance Theatre has been a dream of mine! So I’m excited to announce that I will be choreographing Slow Dance as a part of their upcoming season.
Beyond that, there are a few visual artists that I would love to collaborate with in the near future for a big scale installation project. I love collaborating with other artists!
Finally, I really hope to one day produce a piece that I can share with my hometown and community, Montréal. That city holds a special place in my heart and my identity. It would be a dream to have a show there.