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

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Post Human and the Body Abandoned

Choreographer's Musings:

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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.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

We will make better mistakes tomorrow

The Brooke Chronicles 

Choreographic Residency
Fredericton, New Brunswick
December 30, 2013-Jan 10th, 2014
Posted by: Darryl Tracy

Last year at this time I was touring with Mocean Dance and Lesandra Dodson. We were on what we called the  ‘Deep Freeze Tour’ but was actually The Trilogy Project. I was there as a dancer. A great team and incredible experiences. I was sad that time had passed. It didnt want it to be over. While en route to Winnipeg from Fredericton, Lesandra Dodson suggested I be the Artist in Residence for this year at the warm and creative Charlotte Street Arts Centre. I had spent many rehearsals in the auditorium as well as in Dianne Garrett’s space (Artemis Dance) creating with Lesandra as an interpreter. Now it was my turn to work out some creative ideas.

It was an incredible residency. We hosted a Summer intensive in July 2013 at CSAC. Young dancers from Fredericton spent an intense week exploring conditioning,modern and creation with me, ballet with the amazing Dianne and sound/hip-hop and theatre with local artists including Lisa Ross. In only one week these young artists were revving up novel ways in movement and artistic expression. The final showing for the parents was quite inspiring. I had not really worked with dancers that young and at first was somewhat nervous as what skill sets I would use to communicate and inspire them. So while they explored, I grew tremendously as a teacher and communicator.

I am originally from New Brunswick and my family and many friends are here throughout Atlantic Canada. Although I am now based in Toronto, these artistic bonds seem to deepen and the pull back East seems to be more regular. The end of October, I returned to Halifax (not part of this Residency) to remount “A leash for two hounds” with Susanne Chui (Mocean Dance repertoire). I was happy to be back dancing with her. She is intuitive and a versatile performer and an interpreter I feel very at home with on stage. The trust I can place in her is immense. Classes at Halifax Dance- again I feel at home. We are joined by Lesandra Dodson and Jacinte Armstrong and hit Moncton and the Atlantic Dance Festival. More bonds and more ties are created.

I had a very busy fall as I produced a large scale show in Toronto entitled ‘vital signs’ and was joined by Toronto’s
Susanne & Lesandra
incredible Heidi Strauss to investigate old works of ours (we had a company called Four Chambers dance projects) as well as new works. It was a huge undertaking. I also had a new creation on the dancers at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Considering all of this, I was ecstatic to come back to New Brunswick for the holidays and to hunker into a creative lab at the Charlotte Street Arts Center.

As a choreographer, I am often commissioned to do works and often a product/production is to follow soon into the creative process. IncuBator2 was designed to give me studio space and some collaborative dancers to play/create/provoke my tendencies and perhaps go into new terrain. I was excited and nervous.

I brought together an incredible group of dancers. Susanne Chui (Halifax/Mocean Dance), Charles Cardin-Bourbeau (Ottawa/Montreal), Austin Fagan (Toronto) and Amanda LaRusic (Toronto/Truro). I had varied experiences with each of them and this was the first time they would work together as an ensemble. Lesandra Dodson is well versed in a choreographic lab. She has a long history with Ottawa’s le groupe de la place royale as a dancer and choreographer. She was my outside eye and mentor. In the studio, her aesthetic point of view is strong and clear. She continues to always ask and seek clarity in work and she is not afraid to try new things. She is meticulous and relentless. I knew having her as my mentor would be good for me.

New Year's Eve Party

Jeff Staflund & Darryl
Week one (December 30th is Day 1)-we all gather and the Center is quiet-the city is till on Christmas time. We have company class every morning with accompaniment first week by my host Jeff Staflund. He used to play for class in Winnipeg and now resides in Fredericton-more connections. Immediately the dancers bond. Jokes emerge of the TV show “Dance Moms”-the dancers all acquire show names and I get donned the name of Abbie Lee Miller-the bossy and manipulative rather rotund choreographer/teacher. Austin is Brooke-the one always at the bottom of the pyramid. With this kind of camraderie and play, I knew the studio energy would be productive and safe-I could exhale (well a bit)

In the studio, I was exploring the tissues of the human body. I was wanting to use some of my experience as a clinician (physiotherapist) to investigate how this could be a starting point. We played with breath/sound and movement studies. Connective tissue (connects), epithelial tissue (blankets/covers and supports), muscle tissue contracts/pushes and nervous system (electric). Group organisms morphed and tableaus and portraits appeared. The work was starting to take a directive in week 1.
Amanda LaRusic & Charles Bourbeau-Cardin
Lesandra knows me as a dancer and as a friend. I like to be organized. ?right/left brained. I received tasks: to come to the studio unprepared (that was a hard day), to try something humourous/funny, she told me to keep dissecting small phrases. Tough, funny,antics...the dancers all look at me “What do you mean? This seems real heady”. Gulp! Habitually, I go nestle by the window and look outside to see if maybe something will speak to me. Large  six foot snowbanks, gargantuan icicles hang from homes, the city seems frozen. Not much is moving. We will make better mistakes tomorrow.

The beginning of Week 2, I felt heavy (not because I was named Abbie Lee) but from all the questions. I was doubting myself. Seeing old habits emerge when I was unsure. Personality traits (of my own) that affected the clarity in my process. I had a lot of support from the dancers and Miss Dodson and I/we pushed forward. I learned a lot about time inside the studio and the importance of trust. I witnessed  the importance of how hard work and freedom need to partner each other. Gut instincts can be a good thing but to not rely on them too heavily nor quickly. Levity is a good thing. (I guess very basic principles in any walk of life not just in the studio).
Austin Fagan 

I took class with the dancers every day and when listening to the live music and dancing/performing the physical exercises to even Chaka Khan’s dance tmix “It’s Not Over”-Brooke’s favorite...I realized how much I love the practices inside dancing.

The week-end between the 2 week residency-I held a Teacher’s Seminar entitled “Motor Learning”. A warm and open group of inspiring teachers spent a cold Saturday with me in the studio looking at movement habits and trends. As I lectured with Lesandra sitting by my side (I listened to what i was saying and hearing some of the information for the first time-I become humbled.) I discover new things about sharing information and the dissemination of information.

The 2 male dancers mustered up a lot of energy with the locals becoming local dance celebs. “Boom! says hello to Austin & Charles!!!” We had a showing on the Friday night. The dancers really amped the work up and again I saw the material and potential in yet a new way. I am now sitting at the Fredericton airport waiting for my flight back to Toronto. I feel satiated and inspired. I am already homesick for Nia, Maddy, Brooke and Kendall aka Mandy, Susanne, Austin (F-Face) and Charles-all of them-I have completely fallen in love with. I will miss my morning ritual of bringing the auditorium to life with the beautiful long windows  & Mother Nature’s inspiring and ever changing  lighting plot. Rolling on the warped and wooden floor that had it’s own personality. It was fun playing. Through the frosted windows of Charlotte Street Arts Center-I can see a bit more clearly.

It’s Not Over!!!!


Many many thanks to Mocean Dance for partnering and supporting me in this project! Huge thanks to ArtsNB, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (Toronto), Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Tim and Angeline. Also thanks to Jeff/Hugh, Lesandra  and Mark Jarman for housing us. Big thanks to the beautiful dancers and to Lesandra for giving me this amazing gift and opportunity! xd

In the studio with Darryl Tracy

Incubator Lab II: Choreographic Residency with Darryl Tracy

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Posted by: Susanne Chui

Charles Cardin-Boubeau, Amanda LaRusic, Austin Fagan, Darryl Tracy & me (Susanne Chui)

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been in Fredericton working with Darryl Tracy in a Choreographic Residency hosted by the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. One of my absolute favorite places to work, the Centre is a beautiful old building (previously a school) that has a gym turned studio. I love the classical proportions of this room, the seem to be the perfect dimensions for a dance studio, and the white walls, high ceilings and handsome tall windows (that cast ever changing silhouettes of sunlight throughout the day) make it a very charming, inviting and creative space. Being here reminds me of how important a beautiful studio is for inspiration.

Despite the frigid temperatures outside and the mountains of snow, the studio is hot with creatively. I’m pleased to be joined by a trio of very talented, committed and wildly fun group of dancers. Charles Cardin-Bourbeau (a fellow Leo) is the youngest of the group. A fresh grad from Ottawa School of Dance, he has never worked with Darryl before. We seem to be paired together quite a bit and I enjoyed dancing with him. A former gymnast and competition dancer turned contemporary, he moves with a fluid groundedness and sensitivity that makes him a great partner. Austin Fagen, (aka Brook, amoung other nicknames lovingly given to him by Darryl) is a Ryerson grad. A lithe and expressive mover, he brings spunkiness and a hilarious sense of humor to the studio, making this week so much fun. He and I get lifted, turned, dragged and pushed across the room with wild abandon. My female cohort is the beautiful Amanda LaRusic. A TDT grad, Amanda moves with a soft grace and delicate attention that I admire, along with limbs that extend endlessly into space. A fellow Nova Scotian Amanda hails from Truro but is currently based in Toronto.  Bringing her keen eye and expertise as a mentor to the process is Lesandra Dodson, one of my absolute favorite choreographers, who is currently director of the Centre.

Then of course there is Darryl. These two weeks are about him; about pushing his creative process, not worrying about product or outcome but having the time to explore, dig deep and expand his creative palette. At the beginning of the process Darryl explained that most of his choreographic work is done with students, where he has a very little time to create, is in the role of a teacher and has to be very product driven. He admits that he is very good at making movement quickly, composing sequences and putting together a piece lickedly split. He has a system, but he rarely has a chance to explore an idea deeply or to develop sophisticated themes.  For this residency his goals have been not so much to create a piece but to work on ‘how he makes work’ and to commit to exploring a specific theme. So far Darryl seems to be on track (with only perhaps a few detours and derailments along the way). Although he started from a familiar place he appears to pushing himself to work outside of his comfort zone and stick to his and Lesandra’s tasks, such as ‘working without a plan’ (a very difficult one for Darryl who is a serial planner), mining his material for detail, not jumping ahead to create a ‘piece’, choreographing without music, exploring text and breath, finding humour in the work, directing actions versus having to choreograph every move, among others. It appears that some days have felt more productive to Darryl than others but that overall there is an understanding that every experience, frustrating or enjoyable, are an important part of the process.

I feel very honored and humbled to be part of this residency, to support Darryl in this key moment in his evolution as a choreographer, where he is reflecting on himself and his process, while allowing himself to be open and vulnerable to the unknown. It is times like this that I appreciate the work that we do as artists - work that values process over product, merits questioning, exploring, creating, destroying, failing, laughing, crying, awkwardness, ugliness, beauty and all within the context of the live human body.

One of the themes that Darryl has been working with is ‘tissues in the human body,’ (unusually drawing directly from his
physiotherapy knowledge) exploring how tissues interact, change, destroy and attack each other, exist in harmony and in conflict, and are in an ever-changing state of flux. This I would say has not only been a theme for the studio but could also be metaphor for his journey these past two weeks. Good work DT. Thank you to Darryl, the dancers, Lesandra and the Charlotte Street Arts Centre for an inspiring residency.

- Susanne