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In July, The Dance Centre in Vancouver announced Helen Walkley as the recipient of the Lola Award for outstanding contributions to Vancouver dance. The $10,000 award honours the memory of the much-loved choreographer Lola MacLaughlin.
The prestigious award, supported by the Lola MacLaughlin Endowment Fund with the Vancouver Foundation, and administered by The Dance Centre, aims to encourage and facilitate the work of senior choreographers in the community. Past recipients include Crystal Pite (2012), Lee Su-Feh (2014), Rosario Ancer (2016), Justine A. Chambers (2018), and Paras Terezakis (2020).
In a statement, Mirna Zagar, the executive director of The Dance Centre, said this year’s award “acknowledges a body of outstanding work which spans more than 30 years, and in particular, Helen’s approach to contemporary dance which is fuelled by her unique improvisational mind and dedication to exploring somatic practices. In addition to her continually evolving and innovative choreography, she brings so much to our community as a teacher and mentor, and I am thrilled that her unique contribution has been recognized.”
A member of the award selection committee said this year’s nominees represented “a pool of artists of a very high calibre” but “it was the depth, elegance and humanity of Helen’s work that convinced me she deserved this honour.”
Walkley’s career has included performance, teaching and choreography both in Canada and internationally. Based in Vancouver since 1994, her choreography has been presented at festivals and venues in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal, Quebec, Regina, Calgary, Amsterdam, Bremen and Berlin. Her latest work, John, a duet about her brother’s disappearance, toured earlier this year to Vancouver, Sidney, Nanaimo and Edmonton.
Walkley’s practice is rooted in somatic forms and explores the integration and connectivity of the body. She is a certified Laban analyst and somatic movement educator, and holds an MFA in interdisciplinary studies from Simon Fraser University.
Walkley has taught at several universities including SFU the University of Calgary, Virginia Commonwealth University, Concordia University and the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies in New York, School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam and the TanzFabrik in Berlin. She now shares her practice in Vancouver through improvisational workshops and intensives that weave together Bartenieff Fundamentals with Developmental Movement Patterning.
Walkley said she is “deeply pleased and grateful” to receive the Lola Award. The milestone has given the senior choreographer a special moment to reflect on her body of work and a lifetime of dance.
“It does have a feeling that a door has opened,” she said, “that other people can see in and that I can see out more. There is a feeling of longevity…feeling what’s behind me and looking forward to what’s next, and how one thing becomes the next, and that it perpetuates motion.”
Walkley plans to use a portion of the Lola Award to complete and disseminate some ongoing research that began in 2020 (a solo choreographed for Josh Martin featuring 250 wooden blocks) but also to start a new project she is envisioning.
When asked whether she has more or fewer ideas at this stage of her career, Walkley said, “It’s not so much about numbers of ideas, but it feels more like [I have] the ability to penetrate an idea, so that it blossoms in ways and directions that I may never have suspected.”