Two women stand in front of a white sheet — but it’s actually just one person. One of them stretches her arms behind her head like a contortionist. The other one cranes her neck like a bird. They writhe and wriggle on the floor. “One. Four. Three. Back to one,” a female voice says. A beam of light illuminates the performer’s face. Her hair is slicked down, an assemblage of futuristic curlicues on the side of her face. The two versions of her sit in classroom chairs, across from each other. “Let’s go back to the beginning,” she says.
Striking and haunting, SHE is a sci-fi dancefilm created by and starring Dorotea Saykaly. While locked down in Copenhagen in spring of last year, she created the film with her partner, Emil Dam Seidel, who is a film director. It is based on a 2019 solo she made of the same name and will be released later this year.
Saykaly is a dancer and choreographer originally from Montreal. Currently, she’s a member of the Swedish dance company Gothenburg Opera Dance Company and has danced with Compagnie Marie Chouinard. Most recently, she’s the recipient of the inaugural Emily Molnar Emerging Choreographer Award at Ballet BC (named for the former artistic director of the ballet). Saykaly was selected from a pool of nearly 70 applicants and will have the opportunity to work with the ballet’s 11 full-time and six emerging dance artists. “It’s a big award that is very appropriately named for Emily Molnar,” says John Clark, executive director of Ballet BC.
The award is for an emerging choreographer, a term that’s worth thinking about. Some may associate the word with “new” or “novice” — an implication that an artist is at the beginning of their career. Although Saykaly has been choreographing dancefilms and smaller works for nearly a decade, she is considered emerging — a term that she thinks fits. “Emerging,” she says, “I like that term in the sense that I’m always going to be learning.”
“I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast definition of emerging,” says Clark. However, the intention was to select an applicant who has done choreographic work on a few people. “Those applicants had worked with solos, duets or small regional companies but really hadn’t had the opportunity to work with the calibre of dancers that we identify and employ,” he says. Creating stage works is a relatively new endeavour for Saykaly, spanning over the last four years.
Experience-wise, Saykaly says this is huge since the scale of the work will be much bigger than her previous pieces. In addition to the dancers, she’s working with the dramaturge Mathieu Leroux to create a dramaturgical timeline for the piece and producing an original soundscape and score. “It was just pure joy to receive that news. It’s a huge honour. It’s a lot of responsibility, also, because it’s quite a big step in my career,” she says.
Saykaly applied for the award in fall 2019. “I’ve had this piece brewing in my head since I did the application for the award. So it’s relatively a fleshed-out concept. It’s prepared,” she says. The piece engages with themes of artificially creating life and considering the world of ethics, responsibility and science. “There is a bit of a science fiction overtone to the piece, which I’m fascinated with. I think it’s a very rich landscape to explore,” Saykaly says. To her, the greatest sci-fi movies are the ones that offer commentary on where we’re at, particularly Blade Runner, Gattaca and Ex Machina.
She first used sci-fi themes in DOUBLE BLINDED, a duet she created on two colleagues that was presented at the Gothenburg Opera House in June 2019. “I was touching on creating life artificially and moving into that type of fantasy world,” she says.
Later that year, she created her second solo, SHE (which inspired her upcoming dancefilm). It’s based on the novel The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector, an avant-garde Brazilian author. In the novel, a woman reminisces crushing a cockroach in a wardrobe door. “I really wasn’t thinking ‘sci-fi,’ but people have made comments that there are sci-fi or AI overtones to it,” Saykaly says. Some of her pieces have also included surveillance or an outside eye watching the protagonist.
Medhi Walerski, artistic director of Ballet BC, says that having Saykaly in the studio is “a breath of fresh air,” especially for a company in the midst of a pandemic. “She is deeply invested in the process — caring, engaged, challenging the dancers and leading the studio with authenticity and grace,” he says.
Saykaly is an artist committed to a journey of growth — one of continual emergence and re-emergence. There’s a fearlessness to an emerging artist, someone who hasn’t been locked into an artistic identity yet. “To become apparent or prominent,” seems a more fitting definition of emerging for Saykaly — a definition that turns the focus to the audience. And now that she’s been doing the work for a long time, the audience is paying attention.