This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
When Sarah Prosper was two years old, she began dancing in the Eskasoni First Nation children’s dance program, which her mother had just started. At the same time and on the other side of Canada, 22-year-old Sara Coffin was finishing the dance program at Simon Fraser University and getting ready to take her first paid contract with TILT sound + motion in Toronto. Now, 20 years later, the two spend their days together rehearsing a new dance work, premiering tonight.
Co-created by Coffin and Prosper, Utawtiwow Kijinaq – Our Mother’s Road is a cross-generational, cross-cultural duet inspired by the spiritual and emotional qualities of water. It’s one of the featured performances in Fluid Forms (April 8-9), the 20th anniversary mainstage production for Mocean Dance, a contemporary dance company in Halifax.
Founded in 2001, Mocean Dance grew from a thriving contemporary dance community in the Halifax area. There were already several dance organizations established including Halifax Dance, which was seen as a hub of dance activity, and Live Art Dance, the regional dance presenter created by the late Diane Moore. But overall, there weren’t many professional options. The founding, five-member artistic team of Mocean Dance dreamed of establishing a place where dance artists could stay in Atlantic Canada, develop their craft and build performance careers.
“There were excellent dancers coming out of the province, then going away to do their post-secondary training, and really they couldn’t stay and have a professional career other than teaching and doing some performances here and there,” says Carolle Crooks Fernando, one of Mocean’s founding members. The artistic team also included Sara Harrigan, Alicia Orr MacDonald, Lisa Phinney Langley and Sarah Rozee. Forming the company was initially an opportunity to create sustainable dance careers for themselves.
While it may seem intuitive to produce a retrospective for the 20-year milestone, Susanne Chui and Sara Coffin, who were appointed artistic directors in 2012, have chosen to look to their identity as an eastern Canadian dance company.
Chui and Coffin regularly program full-length works, but for Fluid Forms, they decided to produce a mixed program including different choreographic perspectives that reflect on the future of dance, the future of Mocean and the value of art, coming out of the pandemic. With these issues swimming around them, they commissioned three pieces from four choreographers, all with roots in Atlantic Canada.
In addition to Prosper and Coffin’s Utawtiwow Kijinaq / Our Mother’s Road, the program features New Brunswick-born Syreeta Hector’s From The Top, which traces connections to family histories and considers what we inherit from our ancestors and the landscape of Eastern Canada. Mercurials is a trio from Halifax-based choreographer Lydia Zimmer, who plays with the line between illusion and disillusion.
Fluid Forms runs April 8-9 at the Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth, N.S. A livestream will be available on April 9.