Since the winter of 2014, Toronto-based dance artist Amelia Ehrhardt has been exponentially developing her curatorial profile through the umbrella of Flowchart, a self-founded, small-scale multidisciplinary performance series. Garnering recognition for the quality of her work, Ehrhardt is now SummerWorks’ first dance curator, right in time for the performance festival’s twenty-fifth anniversary. When we spoke, undeterred by my baby’s pulling presence and despite having just biked through a summer storm, she articulated in detail the circumstances that led to this new position as well as the driving values behind her curatorial choices.
MF Prior to this year, what was your history with SummerWorks?
AE Last year, I presented a Flowchart at the festival. I had been called in May 2014 from [artistic producer] Michael [Rubenfeld] asking whether I wanted to present the series for SummerWorks. ‘It’s one night only’ he said. I agreed to do it — I didn’t know him prior to that. Somebody told him about Flowchart as an event, and I guess he was intrigued; he hadn’t seen it before. It was like a little sub-contracted curation.
MF And how did you become the dance curator for the festival from there?
AE They are doing a dance series for the first time this year, along with a music series, a live arts series and a theatre series. I think the staff at SummerWorks realized that live arts had exploded and no longer made sense as an all-encompassing category. To reflect that change they did what I think is a fantastic thing and branched off into creating separate programs, dividing up the curation accordingly. That’s how I came into the picture; I have been working with them since last October. We did that typical thing: put up a call, received submissions and made our selections.
MF Going back in time a little further, what drew you to curation initially?
AE It was really random: when I started Flowchart in the winter of 2014, I had been working on a twenty-minute solo that I wanted to self-present. I didn’t want to show it on its own, so I thought, I should show it as a series … What should I pair this with? I know all of these artists … Once I got the process in motion, I asked myself, what’s the verb describing what I’m doing right now? Well, I’m curating this. OK! So I’m a curator for this series. Very shortly after that, the SummerWorks opportunity came up, and then the Dancemakers Flowchart and now the SummerWorks’ curatorial gig; it snowballed rapidly. That said, it has never been something that I actively pursued — it came as a surprise.
I already had many administrative skills and was regularly seeing other people’s shows so stepping into curation has not been such a challenge. I’ll admit I’m also a bit of a control freak — that helps. I like to self-present when I create my own work and I like to create shows I want to see. Curating is a really good way of getting to see shows you want to see.
MF Aside from that, what is keeping you interested in curation at this stage?
AE It’s a nice thing to be doing alongside choreography and interpretation. I have a real desire for there to be more artist-run spaces and art-central spaces. There are so few platforms that I’m aware of really centralizing the experience of the art-maker. I think that it is such a crucial thing to have a platform that puts the interest of ‘making the art’ first. What I’m after is identifying what I can do to make institutionalized platforms — those more so than true DYI venues — have real artist-run values at their core. This is something I feel very strongly about.
MF There indeed seems to be a pattern of more-or-less subtle pressure put on the artists to keep their work ‘a certain way’ coming from particular institutionalized platforms’ curators …
AE For me, it is very important to remain hands off with the art. I’ll give feedback if somebody wants it, which is something I’ve been doing with SummerWorks. Of course I love to do that, it’s fantastic if there is room for it. But I think it’s important to a) trust the people you are working with and b) trust your choices. I think curation, especially in performance, is so much about making space for something to happen. If it doesn’t go the way you thought it would it is not a failure … on anybody’s part. That’s performance.
MF Can you briefly talk about your selection for the twenty-fifth SummerWorks and the reasoning behind your choices?
AE For one thing, when I was looking at submissions I tried to make choices that I liked. I realized how difficult it is to avoid making political choices in the context of the sector. I tried to just pick works that I wanted to support and that allowed me to stand behind the series. Certainly, one of the things behind the selection is my particular taste. There is a lot of improvisation, there are a lot of open questions in the works, there is a lot of work on state, unknowability and inarticulability.
In the process, I was struck by the audacity coming from very young dancemakers, who made strong statements, such as: ‘this is what I’m going to do’ and ‘this is how I’m doing it’. I feel like SummerWorks is exactly the platform for that sort of thing. It’s a risky platform. It’s really a ‘do a lot of things yourself’ situation. SummerWorks offers a ton in terms of technical support and that sort of thing, but it’s still like ‘you go in — you do your thing.’ I love that it is the kind of platform for artists who have the energy to tackle that.
To find Amelia’s curatorial statement and the SummerWorks 2015 schedule, visit summerworks.ca