Mocean's annual choreographic lab CLEaR Forum, Photo by Kevin MacCormack

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Oscillating between Strength and Vulnerability

Pushing on we reach, we reach within ourselves and beyond the stretch of our fascia.
We fall, run in circles inside our head and within our canvas of activity.

I feel the resistance of an open porous heart press into me.
My bones stack like a wall and I absorb her power.
We are five. An ensemble of accidents and searching for the unknown. 

Open waters I float, electricity,  and weighted boots


Thick is my home. Rooted, emergent forms of merge and separate. A welcomed meditative trance.

Searching for a clue, taking in the room, I search for the mean white cat but really I imagine that I have slipped inside a Jaque Tati film. For a moment I am French.


The reeds bend, an early season sprinkler. My fascia extends to meet the room.

~ Sara C.

Second Week Post Rehearsal Reflection

Dec. 8th, 2014 - Bennathan creation

first day of the second week and already my calves are burning

running in circles
the ground beneath our feet is not solid
we are pushed around
and slam into ourselves

we have to surprise ourselves
we have to dig deeper
erasing all that we have built up in order to find something essential

i am searching for my essence
it is fleeting
it cannot be held, or figured out, or accomplished

it must be demanded

we are not dancing in space, we are space

i feel powerful and weak
humbled by my own limitations
trying to grasp the ungraspable

how do we move together but not the same
in unison but not identical?

can we move together?
can we (this group) overcome the lines that define us?
can we break down the walls
ride the wind
wings batting, batting, tumbling, falling , crashing into one another

surveying our place
we are held back by invisible fences

our strength is only strong in relation to our vulnerability
how soft can we be?
how strong?

erase, erase, erase

- Susanne Chui

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Widening the moment of action

What ghosts surround you?
What images penetrate your thoughts and pierce your soul?

Floating between the earth and the sky supported by water. Suspended on a liquid bed.
Going through a thick forest and riding a train through the mountains, a journey so profound but fleeting.

Dancers: Sara Coffin, Rhonda Baker, Susanne Chui, Jacinte Armstrong and Gillian Seaward-Boone.

How long can you linger in each moment, arrive at the consequence of each action?

It is day 2 in the studio with Serge. I feel refreshed and feeling alive being on the inside.
I am enjoying discovering the strata between my fascia and flesh.

I feel at home following the sensation of impulse. Feeling the weight of my bones and harnessing the fullness of self speaks to me. I happily erase the lines of any preconceived schema.

I notice myself anticipating each accident and smudging my impulses into one.
I need to practice my printing – my hand writing is illegible. This continually haunts me, so I take this opportunity to practice through the medium of the body.

Widening the moment of action, I strive to arrive in the consequence of every accident. I feel an improvement from yesterday and I am further intrigued by the poetry of our lingering ancestors.

I continue to remind myself not to blur or smudge my edges, but to finish each whisper so that a story of existence can linger.

.... maybe I should unpack my bag so that my transient self can feel grounded. How do you suspend time when you feel time compressed?

It is never to late to practice one's printing.


Monday, 1 December 2014


We are thrilled to welcome Serge Bennathan to Halifax, to begin a new ensemble creation with the company.

This new work in the making is set to premiere in April during our home season mainstage production.  Mark your calendars and get ready to make your way to Dartmouth this spring! We are planning a full force poetic and physical ground swell April 30-May 2, 2015 at Alderney Landing Theatre. 

The new creation includes dance artists Susanne Chui, Sara Coffin, Jacinte Armstrong, Rhonda Baker, and Gillian Seaward-Boone.  We welcome the return of Mocean co-founder Sara Harrigan who will be rehearsal directing during the project.  And finally, we are also pleased to offer support to emerging artist Kathleen Doherty as she understudies the new creation.

As we work this week in the studio, we have also come to realize this creation marks an upsurge within the community; the force of the tides are shifting and we are thrilled to acknowledge a gathering of strength within Mocean and our larger community context.   We are witnessing and experiencing a strength in artistic grounding for each of the individual artists involved in the project, a strength in artistic grounding and a renewed articulate visioning for the company (aptly so as we prepare for the next CC deadline), and a renewed strength in our community activities as a whole. You all better book your flights to Halifax now and join in on our party!

Even before winter has started, there has been comment in the studio that a new thaw and exciting ground swell of people, projects, and activity is circling back around, shaking up the sometimes quiet town of Halifax. 

As we work with Serge, we can't wait to see how the work will unfold. One thing is certain though, we will pass through many layers of our own personal depth and many layers of depth will also be added to our bay.  Halifax is known as a nautical city with the world's deepest natural harbour. You will not want to miss crossing the harbour for our mainstage production this spring, we guarantee that witnessing the seismic shift of emotional depths in performance will be worth your ferry wait.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Community, Commitment and Communication

Susanne and I are currently in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador at the 39th Labrador Creative Arts Festival.   

Today is our last day of the festival, so sadly later today we will part ways with the 16 visiting artists that we have bonded with during the seven day festival. During our time here we have had the pleasure of sharing stories and trading teaching tricks with an incredibly inspiring group of individuals/artists.   

After the festival closes tonight Susanne and I will stay on to continue working with Let’s Dance, a local dance school in the HVGB area, so stay tuned for a post on this portion of our outreach and education activities later! 

The morning view at our billet's house

About the Festival (aka: the logistics of a committed and inspired community)

At year 39, the festival is Canada’s longest running Children’s Art Festival.  Since we arrived, it has been a whirlwind of teaching, sharing stories, and experiencing the Labrador hospitality.   This year the festival invited 18 artists from across Canada to share their artistry and professional practice with students from across Labrador. The range of invited artists includes theatre, puppetry and voice, singer songwriters, interactive media and music integration, visual artists, a cartoonist, a contortionist, a children’s writer, costume designer, a food writer and two dance groups! (Our friends Calla Lachance, Andrea Tucker, and Tammy MacLeod are here!)

The festival itself is centred around the nightly student plays which are written, directed, performed and produced by the students themselves. Each night we pour into the Lawrence O’Brien Art Centre to witness the hard work, dedication, and the inspired imaginations from students up and down the Labrador coast.  The students prepare their plays in September-October, and they also fundraise and/or get assistance from the festival to travel to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to perform their plays and take part in the workshops and festival experience.

In the daytime the artists are busy teaching workshops at the local schools, for the various adult and education centres, and for schools in the surrounding communities. We were also teaching workshops at the community North Cross Church (the larger rental venue) for the visiting coastal students who are in town sharing their plays  ­­– these students are also billeted around the town, therefore they really get to share in a full community experience making new friends with the other kids and families in the town.
The festival also prioritizes giving accessibility to the arts for all Labrador students by providing workshops up and down the coast for those who can’t make it to Happy Valley. Some of the lucky visiting artists get to the remote coastal communities to deliver their workshops, stay the night or fly back in time to see the nightly plays. The coastal communities who participated this year include: Nain, Hopedale, Makkovik, Postville, Rigolet, Cartwright, Black Tickle, Port Hope, and Mary's Harbour.

Map of Labrador

Behind all these logistics is the Labrador Creative Arts Festival committee and a community army of volunteers. Volunteers drive the artists to all the different regions in “the big land” of Labrador, volunteers to make lunches, to billet the visiting artists and coastal students, fundraise, and volunteers are in the theatre to support the students backstage so that the “heart of the festival” ­– the student plays can be shared with the community on a nightly basis. 

My Festival Reflection (aka: my attempt to articulate the open heart)

The theme for the 39th Labrador Creative Arts Festival is Communication. The students presented their community school plays centred around this tying theme, and each night Susanne and I witnessed truly wonderful stories, interpretations, and reflections of how communication and communication devices effect their daily lives and world around them. 

You could tell it was comforting for the students to be on stage talking about the positive and negatives of social media and texting. This topic is ripe in their minds and is a key driver in the teenage tool for communication. 

Yet ironically, in contrast to my accessibility, these students are coming from tiny schools where the student population range is 2 students to 60 (no exaggeration here), from communities with limited road and internet access, and where flying in and out is the only means for communication with the outside world.  So the range and intimacy of their perspective was incredibly heart warming.  Honestly though, I am somewhat envious of the space and pace that this situation fosters in both the people and their artful reflections. The Labradoreans really have mastered the zen quality of “ma”.

Seeing the students work on stage together was also incredibly powerful to witness.  The people of Labrador are especially grounded, “serving it with nothing added,” understated, open-hearted, and are extremely exceptionally when it comes to just being yourself.   

On top of this, the plays’ presentation or performance styles all have a special sense of family or community about them. There is a natural wild and naive spirit that dances alongside the students as they perform their plays.  It is a spirit that can’t be rehearsed no matter how skilful one may be at drama, yet it is still extremely evident due to the reality that the students have known each other their whole lives, or they likely are a cousin of someone on the stage with them, or a whole family for that matter - literally and metaphorically, it is a spirit that only the culture and the landscape of “the big land” can foster.   

I am incredibly thankful to have witnessed such tender and introspective student plays.
Getting some office work done during our airport delay
Saying goodbye to the "Big Land" from the airplane


Saturday, 23 August 2014

Taking the town by STORM

Our season’s opening activity is taking place in the Annapolis Royal, where we are performing our beloved Canvas 5 x 5 (by Tedd Robinson) at the Festival of Dance Annapolis Royal(FODAR). FODAR is a new summer contemporary dance festival produced by Randy Glynn, which coincides with the town’s nine-day ARTSUnleashed summer festival, a festival that allows the region’s artisans and local and visiting performing artists to shine!

Performing in FODAR has been a delight! Randy, a seasoned figure in the Canadian Dance scene, laughs and comments how preposterous it is to organize a dance festival in a town of 450. But FODAR has taken the town by storm and is successfully proving any sceptics wrong. So far the festival has attracted two packed houses. The audience is enthusiastic, supportive, awestruck, and they are leaning in with every step that graces the stage.

The festival features Randy’s two community works Teen Angel and his wildly popular senior piece Dancing in the Third Act, Mocean Dance’s Canvas 5 x 5 and two works (A Mark and Army of Barbie) from JD Dance, a dance company from Toronto.

Not only is this the inaugural season for the Festival of Dance Annapolis Royal which is exciting to be apart of and to contribute to the success of the festival, this cycle of performances by the company are revelling a few nostalgic moments and circling of accomplishments.

Randy Glynn has been a summer resident of the Annapolis Royal for 25 years and he has been infusing the community with the joys of dance for quite some time. Initially, he ran a summer school for dance featuring an intimate training setting in an old church in Granville Ferry. Artistic Director, Susanne Chui attended this program in 2001 as a student while she was training at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Now Susanne returns to Annapolis Royal as Artistic Director of Mocean Dance and graces the stage with her clarity and generosity as a performer in Canvas 5 x 5.

Our bagpiper Robert Hyslop has close personal family memories tied to Annapolis Royal and he found himself in an impromptu performance while practicing on the hills of Fort Anne and paying homage to those who are close to him. 

Our opening night performance was the 10th performance of Canvas 5 x 5, and we are thrilled to re-visit our critically acclaimed piece, a piece in which our dancers Jacinte Armstrong, Rhonda Baker, Susanne Chui, and Ruth Ellen Kroll Jackson received a Dora nomination for best ensemble performance last summer in Toronto.

And finally in this cycle of performance, I, Sara Coffin am able to join the company as Artistic Associate and Rehearsal Director as my first company activity since returning home from Massachusetts after completing my MFA in dance at Smith College. I am thrilled to be re-joining the company to share my perspective and expertise with the company, to be part of the leadership team with Susanne, and to also celebrate the fruits of our seasoned performers and share in the region’s wealth in contemporary dance.

We have one more performance tonight, I know the power of a shared community will be felt on stage and in the audience tonight. It is something beautiful to witness and to be a part of. 


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

tending to our roots and hitting the wall you built to hide behind

"we were tending to our own few acres
in a space where time was ageless
and never clearer when not distracted
by the distortion of mirrors, we were

uncovering small miracles
all wandering and then
I’m on an island, I said
limbs shooting out in all direction
along the lengths of loops and repetition
inhabiting spaces once clearly defined

mine, but this time crossing the line with
a diminished resistance, to one moment
stretched out as I stood, within myself

and there is something I meant to say
about this, but the words slipped on their way
to my lips, the letters wound around
in limitless combinations, to ride
the tide of an oceanless wave
pouring endlessly into the depths of
wet pages

for the human condition never so
evidenced as when in search
of a guide, to keep going, to step
forward and fall, spiralling
in and in and inward
hitting the wall you built to hide behind
from the compression of time and the pressure
of dwelling anywhere except on the
sidelines, when finally you realize
you’ve been redefined
by nine lives

growing up in the absence of existence
from the remains, one base
with encouragement from the wind
a duration held for deep listening
we were tending to our roots not searching
for an ending, but you can humour me
if you have no will to believe this
or adhere to my incoherent ramblings

i am a witness" 

by Rhonda Baker

Photos by Rhonda Baker

Cataloguing our research

Things we were discovering, trying, avoiding, and coming up against in the studio at CLEaR Forum June 2-6, 2014. Field Research Location: Ross Creek Centre for the Arts.

Accumulation              Sticking with
Directive                     Ambiguous
Chance                        Craft
Predictability              Surprise          
Control                        Openness
Texture                        Sameness
Landscape                   Structure        
Embed                         Separate
Sensorial                      Analytical
Seeing                          Hiding
Syntax                         Phrasing
Order                           Chaos                                                 
Change                        Monotonous
Perspectives                Assumptions
Toolbox                       Habits
Desire                          Demand          
Vulnerability               Comfort
Uncertainty                 Victory
Space                           Crowd
Observation                Introspection 
Listening                     Interpreting
Community                 Individual  


Contemplation, ACTIVATION, excavation, reflection, percolation, realization

We emerge from the work field and from the tall grass, complete with a few causalities from co-dwelling with nature. Simultaneously exhausted and rested, as a collective we are more awake to what is already there. Mocean’s 2nd annual CLEaR Forum: Choreographic Lab, Exploration and Research Program was held last week, June 1-6, at the picturesque Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in Canning, NS, and from the gathering, co-habiting, and questioning – I am proud to report that both as a collective and individually artistic widening took place. 

CLEaR Forum 2014- The team during the golden hour on the beach.

As a work-group and as a supportive peer network we lived embedded with each other; and more importantly embedded with each other’s questions and habits, therefore witnessing or conceivably activating a shimmering of new possibility from each participant.  

This year, the program boasted representation from the local and national dance community with dance artists from Halifax, Fredericton, Montreal, and Vancouver. The nine artists on-site included; Researching Choreographers Jacinte Armstrong (Halifax) and Emily Gualtieri (Montreal); Program Dancers: Rhonda Baker (Halifax/Toronto), Julia Carr (Vancouver), Artistic Director Susanne Chui (Halifax), Bridget Lappin (Halifax/London), and Lucy M. May (Fredericton native and Montreal-based dancer with Compagine Marie Chouinard); and Choreographic Mentors Lesandra Dodson (Fredericton) and myself, Artistic Associate and Program Director Sara Coffin.

The purpose of the CLEaR Forum program is to offer a forum for discussion and inquiry within the creative gesture, and to provide two emerging to mid-career choreographers with studio space, skilled-dancers, and in-studio provocation from a choreographic mentor team. 

Mentor Lesandra Dodson observes Jacinte Armstrong as she works with Lucy May and Bridget Lappin

In addition to this, the program offers morning research (in the form of open-ended propositions) to probe the creative gesture of all participating artists and to close the day's work – facilitated evening discussions are scheduled as a means to share resources and consider art making practices beyond the CLEaR Forum eco-system. 

I am thrilled Mocean Dance can offer this resource to our community as the program serves many purposes in which the breadth and depth of its offerings are difficult to articulate. In attempt to name a few and proclaim the use of service – CLEaR Forum serves as a platform for professional development, cross-pollination amongst dance making communities, for network and connection making, and serves as a focused retreat and repose for personal interrogation and creative development.

CLEaR Forum is my favourite auxiliary program that the company offers beyond our creation/production. I love the challenge of creating a precise focused container for research to take place within. And within this framework, it is also my job to allow the container to be responsive and flexible to the inherent eco-system created by the gestalt of the program participants. 

Dancer Lucy M. May, working with Jacinte Armstrong

In a program designed to support and stir those involved, I love facilitating and observing the concord and the rub of being vulnerable, accountable, open, spontaneous, and calculated in one intense format. By setting up such continuums, it is the space between each of these (personal and creative) acts that the magic and resultant transformations can take place. Without the gift of time and such a plausible forum, such introspection is unattainable if working isolated in one’s own thoughts.  This is the purpose of CLEaR Forum.

In addition to creating the program structure, I also serve as a choreographic mentor on the two-person mentorship team. This year I was joined by Fredericton-based Choreographer Lesandra Dodson. 

Perhaps this is a slightly formal title in the context of my discussion tactics and informal self. Nonetheless, it is a useful title to delineate the roles within the program. In retrospect, I think I would much prefer the title sounding board or peer adviser, as it is important to me to continue to orientate the program towards peer learning and using the resources that we already have. Regardless, I firmly believe that discourse and a fresh perspective offered by an outside eye can serve to redirect or unblock one from their own habits’… whether the peer reflection seems useful in the moment of the offering or not. CLEaR Forum is the exact 'no stakes'  and 'unattached' time and space to get overloaded, to re-consider, to be agitated – so one can remould themselves more articulate and defined or be opened to new window of possibility to further explore post program. 

Dancers: Julia Carr, Susanne Chui and Rhonda Baker, working with Emily Gualtieri

As American composer Morton Feldman suggests, CLEaR Forum is in place so that we can “concentrate on not making the lazy move.

The forum is the activation…. and the aftermath of such activation is in itself a beautiful dance that occurs in the striate of the immediate, near, and distant future. 

It was a beautiful week of rigorous inquiry and I am proud to be in the presence of such good company and such stimulating artists. 


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Embrace Adventure with Mocean Dance: Susanne & Lesandra's 3rd Guelph Dance Festival

Excerpted from the Guelph Dance Festival Blog (May 28, 20134):

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2014, some of the Festival artists will share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions and engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Embrace adventure with us in 2014!

Susanne Chui shares a bit about her experience working with choreographer Lesandra Dodson for the third time. Mocean Dance performs at On the Stage A on Friday, May 30 at 8pm at the Co-operators Hall of River Run Centre. Tickets are available now through the River Run Centre Box Office!

Susanne: In preparation for writing this blog post, I reflect that this is actually my third time performing in the Guelph Dance Festival, and each time it has been in work by Lesandra Dodson. I further reflect that each time Lesandra and I travelled to the Festival, we have been at very different stages in our lives, and in our work as dance artists. In fact, the Guelph Dance Festival has acted as a kind of marker in the ongoing flow of time.
Photo of Mocean Dance by Holly Crooks.

Susanne: Our first appearance at the Festival was 2003, when we performed the quartet Kuere, with TILT: sound + motion dance company, where I was a dancer, fresh out of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, and Lesandra was choreographer-in-residence. The second time, in 2011, we presented a solo I commissioned from Lesandra, called Her blameless mystery.  By then, both Lesandra and I had moved from Toronto and were living out east, myself in Halifax, NS and Lesandra in Fredericton, NB. I had made the transition from being primarily a ‘for hire’ dancer in the ‘big city’ to a wearing the many hats of being an independent dance artist in a smaller city. Lesandra had kids and built a family life in New Brunswick, while becoming immersed in that community and continuing her choreographic practice.

Now in 2014, I am returning to the Festival as Artistic Director of Mocean Dance company, having made another big ‘move’ from independent dance life to running a company. Lesandra also took on a leadership position in her community, as Executive Director of the Charlotte Street Arts Centre.
Photo of Mocean Dance by Holly Crooks.
Susanne: Inasmuch as our lives have changed over the past 11 years since Sandy and I first came to Guelph, her choreographic work has also shifted, evolved, and changed with time. Over this period I have been in a fortunate position to sense this shift, literally through my body, by performing her work. So how has it changed? Well I would say that the biggest shift is a  ‘distilling towards the essential’. Where Kuere was highly physical, dense, fast paced, layered with text, the work we will be presenting this year, A leash for two hounds, is sparser, less ‘dancey’, more pared down. In creating this piece, Lesandra wanted to challenge herself to work within limits. The first was how to create a duet on a man and a woman that is not a traditional male-female “relationship.” The second was to not use text or video, two elements that were becoming common in her work, and played a large role in Her blameless mystery. The third was to use props, but also with the limitation of using them outside of their intended way. As she worked with Darryl and I, she further began to impose limitations, including the significant choice to have us face the back for almost the entire piece. The question then became what can be expressed when the face is taken away?
Photo of Mocean Dance by Lesandra Dodson.

Susanne: To me, these limitations are part of Lesandra’s search for the essential. She has always been a huge ‘editor’ of her material, she’s not the kind of person who is married to the movement: if it’s not speaking to her, it’s cut! (So much so that we joke that all her pieces end up only being 12 minutes long!) But I think this shift towards essentialism goes beyond editing. I think it speaks to a deeper desire that is surfacing in Lesandra. She appears to be at a stage in her life where less is more, where depth trumps breadth, where the ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what’. I see this in her life as well, having survived the amazing circus of independent dance life, raising a family, and running an arts centre, she is taking a step back and looking at what is essential to move forward. I’ve seen this shift in many of my peers and I’m starting to feel a pull in this direction as well. To me this is what makes following an artist’s work over the long term so exciting: you get to see the work evolve as a reflection of the evolution of the artist herself. I’m pleased be able to witness this process and be part its’ expression through dancing Lesandra’s work. I wonder if audiences in Guelph will remember the other two times we presented at the Festival, and if they too will experience this subtle shift. Looking forward to finding out!

See you soon Guelph,
Susanne Chui

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Reflections from Northampton

This post is a little late for publication, but as you read you can see where I may have gotten held up...

We did it!
A fantastic piece in full fruition on stage, a cycle of questions and reflections embodied in full form, presentation with many congratulations…it all happened here with the wonderful and…. yes I’m gonna say it…. the beautiful Mocean Dance team. (We discovered during our travels that Northampton loves the adjective: beautiful).

Photo by Derek Fowles

I am extremely proud and grateful for the inquisitive generosity, vulnerability and permeability that was tested and exhibited by all involved. Thank you to Jacinte Armstrong, Rhonda Baker, Sarah Rozee, Susanne Chui, to my collaborators Andrew Hawryshkewichand Phil Thomson and to my mentor/thesis adviser Chris Aiken.

I was proud to witness all the hard work and vulnerability that was exhibited on the Smith College stage:

From my cohorts: Shaina Cantino, Safi Harriott and Mat Elder – we each in our own way took our weight off-balance and tested our tilt in unfamiliar axes to seek disorientation and in this place we were able to find a new sense of clarity from our bewilderment.  (an excerpt from our directors' notes in the program)

To the wide range and many perspectives in performativity that graced the stage; the enthusiastically green by talented undergraduate dancers, the local professionals from the community, past and present graduate students, and the professional dancers hailing from Canada (that’s us!).

As I digest, I realize that the first 15 days of February had been the most impactful and revealing days I have ever experienced in my artistic career. From choreographer, teacher, mentee to performer I had on every possible hat in a two-week span.

During the first 15 days of February my schedule included the following:
  • My MFA Thesis dance project with Mocean Dance was presented for all to see, 
Body Abandoned in performance, Photo by Derek Fowles
  • I organized and facilitated an outreach workshop (taught by Susanne!) and post-secondary education discussion with the Southern Vermont IBIT Dance Company Pre-professional Training Division, 

  • I contributed my lighting and artistic improvising sensibilities for a performance of master improvisers that I deeply respect: Chris Aiken, Angie Hauser and Mike Vargas in Threshold, operating a lighting board that I learned in 10 hours,
  • and I taught and performed at the prestige conference loved by all at the American College Dance Festival at Boston University. 
Teaching at ACDFA at Boston University
Photos (and below) by Troy David Mercier
Performing in "How Did I Get Here?" by Chris Aiken at ACDFA

Whirlwind doesn’t even begin to describe the intensity of the artistic craft, decisions and emotions that I have experienced….. just to survive each day. I am blessed, I feel set afire and I am wiped at the same time.  Pausing to do a rough calculation, from Feb 1-15 my artistic efforts reached approximately 1100 people.

The premiere came and went and now even March is coming to a close. Yikes! The end of the road is nearing. I have pulled myself out of recovery mode and push through to reflective mode.

It is now spring break at Smith and I am thick into my thesis writing, the final yet maybe the most difficult portion in this journey. Give me ideological questions and an empty studio and I can figure out the message physically no problem…. words on the other hand, this medium is a much different process.

I'm on page 22.... only 38 more to go....

The graduate student writing life,
(a heartfelt supportive gift from Chris Aiken).

Yours Truly, Sara

Body Abandoned in Rehearsal at Smith College

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Post Human and the Body Abandoned

Choreographer's Musings:

()  ()

I feel fragmented, sped-up and simultaneously a float. I feel decentralized, in which I exist in a disheveled hyper-dream state, continually pulled from my once grounded corporeal self I am positioned in a parallel existence of me and my other.

My sense of otherness is growing as the digital traces of my life, my virtual in-between self, follows me around.

I increasingly notice the separation of my inwardness of experience from the outwardness of my action. The two are constantly separated from what is felt and what is (re)represented in our mediated culture. 

I am caught in questioning of the affects of not actually ‘thinking about the body’ when positioning the body amidst the digitized, a culture that exists in temporalized space and spatialized time. A place that fosters the new modality of the “always on” existing in the in-between spaces of neither here nor there, instead encouraging the product of “both-and.”

As I reflect upon this sate of being, I ask what would the vanishing “thinking body” lead to, and more so, what does the vanishing edges of the corporeal self mixed with the digital self create?

I start from this sense of the forthcoming posthuman, in which the extreme perception of self is stretched so thin the very edges of corporeality start to dissolve. Reflecting on the changing ecological field of relationships between flesh and virtual, and self and other, I aim to create a dance reflecting the sensation and consequences of our in-between and multimodal existence.

To do so, I begin with what I know, my own phenomenological experiences and I interrogate my own personal modes of experience. I begin with the body. My research serves as both a reflection of this new bodiless state and a source of inspiration to construct from.

I venture into the spaces of formlessness and the unknown. My corporeal edges are thinning and I prepare for what the Body Abandoned might look like.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Productive Instability: the art of fragmentation, coordination and creativity

In rehearsal with Sara Coffin and Mocean Dancers: J. Armstrong, R. Baker, S.Rozee

I am in the last leg of rehearsals with Mocean Dance as we prepare for the USA premiere/MFA Thesis Concert presentation of my new work entitled Body Abandoned at Smith College in Northampton, MA. The new trio will premiere on the Theatre 14 stage February 6-8, 2014 at the college. Then ten weeks later we will grace the Halifax stage April 24-26 at the Dunn Theatre with Live Art Dance’s closing show for the 2013-14 season.


Two-weeks after that the whole project will come to close/full fruition for me, when I defend the written portion of my thesis and I will be able to walk away with the letters M. F. A. following my trail!

…..I need to lay down …just by catching you the reader up on the logistical flow of the piece makes my head spin….. and I haven’t even got to sharing the content or the process yet.

Dancers Jacinte Armstrong and Rhonda Baker

But the fruits of this work is a real marker for all involved, this project encompasses a lot for both the company and for me personally. I am grateful for the commitment and the support that the new work and I have received from both sides of the border during its creation.

The content of the work is inspired by what I have been coining as my “blue period” – Picasso stuck with his monochrome tones, me, I am sticking with VGA cables and projectors! However, I think I have finally gotten to the essence of my ideological question, one that focus on our existence and the posthuman-machine connection. I may have come to my end point in the interrogation of the body’s relationship to technology, but I am happy, really happy with the product of my research.


The dancers: Jacinte Armstrong, Rhonda Baker and Mocean-founder Sarah Rozee have been real star troopers during the creation. I feel so blessed for the depth of research, commitment and literally the distance they have traveled with me during my inquiry.

Dancer Sarah Rozee

Wearing the two hats of graduate student and commissioned choreographer has been an interesting challenge in this beast of a production. However, I feel that a part of my MFA research and study have filtered through the process in an osmosis fashion and a bit of my experience has definitely been shared by all.

In our first working period, Mocean Dance was fortunate enough to host Smith Faculty members Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser for four days in June. During this time they offered master classes and workshops for the community while mentoring me in the studio.

Swell Contact Improvisation Intensive and Eco-Poetic Approach to Performance workshop participants.

June 2013
with Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser
MFA Advisor Chris Aiken in session "working the work"
During the second phase of creation Mocean Dance joined me in Northampton and we worked in an empty theatre all to ourselves for a week! Meanwhile my American cohorts were off relaxing on the American Thanksgiving break.

In this phase of creation multimedia collaborator Andrew Hawryshkewich and I worked remotely, sharing files back and forth, and I stayed up late for technical coaching on skype from the west coast.

The dancers were able to test drive the performance space and the sense of the bigger picture or the 'ness' of the piece started to sink in for both me and the dancers. Like the regular star troopers that J, R and S are, the dancers patiently waited and diligently kept working as I tracked the five components: the action/movement, the mediated image, the space, the music and the gestalt of it all.  


Now - here in the third leg of creation, back in Halifax, all the hard work is really resonating and vibrating in the studio. We ran part of the piece on Friday and I was in awe and touched by the how far the dancers continue to stretch themselves.

In preparation for the Smith MFA Thesis concert my fellow grads and I have selected a quote from the book: A Choreographic Mind by SusanRehorst, one that really highlights our state of research:

“One has to know and not know, prefer and not prefer, empty oneself and acknowledge one’s fullness, be passive and charged.  It has to happen to you and from you.  It has to be too fast for you to take in, and done in baby steps, one leaking into the other.”

In the process of this work, I have interrogated my tendencies, embraced my strengths, questioned my doubts, sought new perspectives, and now my skin is raw but my heart is strong. Within the disorientation and bewilderment of my growing pains a new clarity has surfaced*, one that I can feel resonating straight from the core of my bones.

*Note: This line is inspired by and drawn from our Choreographers' Notes crafted for the 
Smith MFA Thesis Dance Concert Program written by Shaina Cantino.
Theatre 14 Technical Residency at Smith College

In the last 100 meter dash before the curtain rises and the dancers take the stage I am filled with much anticipation and a giant check list.

I coordinate stop watches and emails as I finish the final music and multimedia adjustments (via online communication and file sharing) with my remote collaborators; Phil Thomson and Andrew Hawryshkewich respectively.

I keep an watchful eye on the post, as the costumes are arriving by mail from Smith College... and I am watching the snow report praying for clear driving days.