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

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Seven Years and the Crop Still Keeps on Giving (thankfully!)

I’ve just returned from Mocean’s annual choreographic lab - CLEaR Forum, it is one of my favorite programs that Mocean offers in the company’s season mix.  As I process this year’s unfoldings I decide to write a few words.  I don't even know if "blogging" is still a thing/relevant?  ..... Who knows, I do know I care about CLEaR Forum and archiving the program's existence is important to me.  So I write, I write a few words from my perspective, as really this is the only true statements that I have in relationship to this program and my work with the company.

This season overall for Mocean has been a development year, we started the creation of a new work, we offered two professional development programs; CLEaR Forum and Next Wave in which process was the focus and not outcome, we dove into the construction of new three-year strategic plan, and we hired two new contract staff and three new dancers this season. She is a garden in a flow of germination, a series of catalysts in action with fruition yet to come. Having time in the country by the ocean during the lab I finally have had a chance to feel all the potential that is at work. I am in awe, exhausted, and full of gratitude and anticipation of what’s to come.

Each year Mocean invites six artists and one guest creative facilitator to the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in Canning, NS for an artist residency experience. This year we welcomed guest facilitator Lee Su-Feh (Vancouver) and dance artists Justin De Luna (Montreal), Sarah Joy Stoker (St. John’s), Nyd Kwasowsky (Toronto), with Anastasia Wansbrough, Lydia Zimmer, and Anastasia Wiebe (Halifax). During the lab, we live together in an old farm house that has extreme amounts of character, we eat together via meals provided by the centre’s resident chef, and we work together in the studios which is an old dairy farm that has been converted into a new art centre… that is now close to twenty years old amazingly.  The cows once grazed, slept and shat in now what is called the studios.  One could argue that energetically the weight of these animals is still felt in the studio today – the heat of their bodies and excrement, the slow chew of their cud, etc. there is a certain rhythm at the centre that one cannot deny and I wonder if it is from the energy of the centre’s previous life.  I say this because at CLEaR Forum artists and the group body have time to stand still together, eat together, reflect on our personal and group shit, and move at a pace that is refreshingly slow but very profound and state changing.

This year was the lab’s seven year. To date we have welcomed 42 dance artists and seven guest facilitators to this gem of a spot in rural Nova Scotia at the edge of the sea. Thinking about impact of the week, my reflections also take me to the longitudinal impact of the program. I smile.  Just last week I received an email from a past participant who started research at the lab in 2016 and continues a revival of her project today with showing of her research hosted by Older and Reckless in Toronto the same week of our lab in 2019.

As program director and part of the facilitation team I simultaneously feel empowered and am scared shitless for the duration of the week. Each year, I feel empowered or inspired as I am reminded how the lab is in service of dance as a whole. The lab provides resources, networks, and calculated and happenstance outcomes that is all directed to the betterment of the artist. I am also scared shitless as I never know what is going to happen. Through a selection process co-created annually with the guest facilitator six artists who know very little about each other are invited to the middle of nowhere in Nova Scotia to unpack their creative practice and habits. I am responsible for the group’s well-being in a quirky and destabilizing context. I always hold my breath a little until I feel where the group and questions will land and what paths present themselves that may need following or not.  Without fail, once the group lands and the desire paths reveal themselves, I can exhale a little and only worry about tick checks and firewood supply after that.

I am grateful for the fiery support offered by Lee Su-Feh this year, I could really lean into her as a facilitator as I trust her instincts and deeply respect the value of her perspective. Su-Feh brought an ease and playfulness to the group as well as rigour and no shit excuses attitude.
Su-Feh told me that she could also lean into me, which was really nice to hear and to know that my instinct and expertise is felt by my peers and those more established then me. I really enjoyed the mix of our two playful spirits and serious research nerd habits colliding together easefully.

In the studio, year seven of the program, a shedding of the skin happened across the board. Unravel, re-birth, new skin it all happened in both research groups. The focal point of one group was grief and loss (Sarah Joy Stoker) and the other was joy and sanctuary (Justin De Luna). Complimentary research from the opposite end of the spectrums. The common thread that both groups shared was courage and patience. It revealed itself in different forms, but their persistence and presence were steady to allow for new unfoldings to occur. We practiced listening, not knowing, formulating and refining questions but not rushing to answer them, releasing tears without judgement, wands and fires were made, drawings were practiced, and a spontaneous polar bear swim erupted. It was a good week.

A special thank you to Kathleen who cooked for us all week, Buddy the dog and the resident porcupine who brought us smiles, and to Executive Director Chris O’Niell for our longstanding relationship and hosting the lab in the magical place known as Ross Creek.

~Sara Coffin
Photos by Anastasia Wansbrough

Thoughts from a Ross Creek Virgin

open air boundless 
the yolk of sunrise 
into yellows across the horizon
a sea of Fundy and fuchsia
with waves like clouds

porcupine bundles waddle
in the grass
a minefield of ticks
each step stepped 
a risk

energy and creation 
in and out a jumble 
of thoughts and impulse
and ocean bed rocks

each one as special
as the next one-in-a-million
the clouds blow in and out
and we move
with them


~Rachel Franco