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January/February 2017

Dance Central A Dance Centre Publication

Collaborations

Dancing Theatre A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt Page 2

Utopia/Dystopia A conversation with Paras Terezakis Page 8

Collaborating Selves A conversation with Stefan Smulovitz Page 14


Welcome to Dance Central

Collaborations: A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt

AK: You are working on a collaborative project called am a, along with dramaturg Heidi Taylor, scenographer Ana Cappelluto, video designer Cande Andrade and sound designer Antoine BÊdard. Tell me about the process. Welcome to the first issue of Dance Central for 2017, and the continuation of our series on collaborations. In this issue, we feature conversations with four artists who speak of their experiences in creating performances by collaborating across disciplines and across cultures. The first is a feature on an ongoing work by choreographer Amber Funk Barton and director Mindy Parfitt, in a work that brings together aspects of dance and theatre in the context of neuroplasticity — the research concerned with the brain's ability to reconfigure itself. The second is a conversation with choreographer Paraskevas Terezakis and composer/media artist Stefan Smulovitz, conducted separately but based on their experience as collaborators, on the occasion of Kinesis Dance somatheatro's thirtieth anniversary, and in recognition that the theme of utopia/dystopia which Paras Terezakis is currently exploring is timely indeed. As always, we thank all the artists who have agreed to contribute and we welcome new writing and project ideas at any time, in order to continue to make Dance Central a more vital link to the community. Please send material by email to members@thedancecentre.ca or call us at 604.606.6416. We continue to look forward to the conversation! Andreas Kahre, Editor

AFB: It began about three years ago, when Mindy approached me with an idea. We had been working together on a piece called This Stays In The Room, where we had a number of conversations about how performance could combine dance and theatre, and we both had specific thoughts based on what we had seen, and how we thought we could marry those two forms and make them as cohesive as possible. Mindy was fascinated by dance, and I was really interested in working with new collaborators, with a new community, and the timing was right. Mindy also came to the table with the idea of the science of neuroplasticity, and the fact that even the adult brain has the potential for emotional and physical change within a fixed structure. From that starting point, we decided to use ourselves as test subjects, with dance, voice and/or singing, and to explore having Mindy dance and me speak or sing in order to show that you don't have to be perfect but you can do it. MP: The working process began at Scotiabank Dance Centre, with Amber teaching me dance. We also explored free-form writing based on personal subjects. One of the themes I came into the room with was gender identity, and as the process went on, it became clear that it would be about Amber and me, that we would perform in the piece and that the material would be about us. Through an interview I conducted with an acquaintance I became interested in experiences that deeply challenge who we think we are. This became a central idea we worked with: How do we see ourselves? Where and how can we alter or challenge that perception? We recognized that this was what the dance and the voice and the singing were doing and how it related to neuroscience and the brain's capacity to change and build new pathways. The piece is about how do we change behavior, or habits of behaviour, and how neuroscience explores the capacity of behavioural change... AK: The dramaturg Peter Hinton used to call it 'habits of mind'. MP: Yes, exactly. We had two residencies with designers, one in Vancouver and one in Montreal, which was a wonderful opportunity

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Dance Central Januar y/Februar y 2017

to integrate their work into the process and into its voice. We also


Dancing Theatre

Photo by Tristan Brand

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Collaborations: A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt

wanted the work to push the boundaries of what a theatre piece could be and bring in non-conventional elements. AK: Such as? MP: For one, it has an alternate beginning and ending. The audience doesn't just come in and sit down, and at the end they don't just clap and go away, but I am not revealing all our secrets... AFB: For me, this process has very much included a sense of collaboration because everyone, all the designers, have been so invested and contributed to the development of the script. They just didn’t stay tied to their professional realm, but they all contributed to the bones of the work, beyond their specialized skill set, to make it clearer and stronger. Everybody has been really excited about it, and while we were in Montreal, with their input, we changed the script three times. AK: A script isn't a common starting point for a dance piece. How does it function? AFB: For me it's a blueprint, or a through-line. It's different from the way you might use a script in theatre, but related. We have 'scenes', but it's not the formal theatrical type, with dialogue and stage directions. We have monologues that are revealing or expressing things we feel or think about.

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There are two parallel parts; we share aspects of the science

the collaborators, and someone raises a point, no one is de-

of neuroplasticity, which is the true backbone of the piece, and

fensive about it. They simply say 'let's talk about it'. In dance,

our personal stories become these little nuggets on the side, or

in my experience, that is not always the case. What I have

experiments of a scientific theory that we are testing.

experienced in this process is how people are really able to converse and discuss, and find ways to answer questions and

MP: In a normal script, you would have text, but in ours there

explore. That has been really great for me, but I find because I

might just be an explanation of a visual element, or it might

am not used to speaking six hours a day and because we are

say 'Here Amber is teaching Mindy dance'. Next scene. There is

speaking about our own personal experiences, at the end of

some text, but there are also pages that are more descriptive of

some rehearsal days I feel tired, and on a different level. It is

what is happening on the stage visually. When you asked about

great to be challenged and to not feel like I am on autopilot.

collaboration what came to my mind is that early on there was

The journey of making the piece is also reflective of what we

a really interesting difference between my background as a

are trying to share in the work. We are really confronting our-

theatre artist and Amber's background as a dancer. We talked

selves, working with something that is really uncomfortable

a lot about that with respect to our ways of being in the room.

as we ask ourselves: How do we deal with this?

My experience of working with a dance artist in this capacity is quite unlike theatre where you do a scene, and then the direc-

AK: Uncomfortable in what sense?

tor gives notes. As a director, I don't say 'go over there and do this'; we talk about it and figure it out together. My experience

AFB: Partly the material and partly the collision between the-

initially in this process was that Amber thought my comments

atre and dance methods of working.

meant ‘I'm doing it wrong and I have to figure out how to do it right’, and I was thinking: 'No, that's not what I am saying.' On

MP: We just did a presentation at Scotiabank Dance Centre

the one hand, Amber would be there, all organized and ready

as part of our DanceLab residency, and I thought 'this will be

to go, while I was all over the place, and I realized that there is

great; we'll just show what we have created' but when people

such a different sense of rigour and discipline associated with

came into the room, I suddenly got really nervous. Luckily, I

dance, which is not meant to badmouth theatre, but in com-

didn't have to dance, but I thought 'There is no way I would

parison it is striking. On the other hand, in dance there is not

be able to get my body coordinated enough to dance in this

the same sense of building something together as in theatre,

moment!', so I need to figure out why it was happening and

but of having to do what the director/ choreographer is telling

make sure it doesn't happen in the show. It is amazing to be

you to do. Of course these are generalizations, but it was an

confronted by that...

interesting realization when we came together: 'Oh, so this is how you are used to working and how I am used to working.'

AFB: ... and to continue to be confronted by it. We are mid-

We needed to figure out how these pieces can come together,

career artists and yet, all this is still so new!

and I think we have found that place. Now Amber knows that when I say something, it isn't about doing it another way, but

MP: That is also something we are consciously doing: We

about us figuring out together what is going to work.

are deliberately making ourselves uncomfortable. I haven't performed in a long time, and I love that not only what we are

AFB: Theatre is so different from dance, which I especially feel

saying and revealing about ourselves is uncomfortable, but

with regard to my background in ballet. There are also times

just the act of doing it physically is uncomfortable.

in contemporary dance when I felt that there was not as much discussion. Dance can be 'Do this! Change this!' As a dancer, a

AFB: It's very true. At one point in rehearsal I was thinking 'I

lot of my self-worth is still tied to getting it 'right'. And it carries

can totally handle this' and then, in the first scene when I had

on; I am 36, and still, when I am in a process or a rehearsal and

to say something out loud I realized: 'There will be people

Mindy is giving me a note on something, my brain automati-

sitting there and I will be saying this. Out loud. How do I deal

cally goes 'I am doing it wrong' and I feel myself go into a tail-

with this?' It feels great to be nervous and scared, because

spin until I get it right. What I love in working with Mindy is the

it means you are taking a risk. It's wonderful to feel that

dialogue that is always present. And when we sit down with

nervous energy, and that's the whole point; not to take the

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Dance Central The Dance Centre Scotiabank Dance Centre Level 6, 677 Davie Street Vancouver BC V6B 2G6 T 604.606.6400 F 604.606.6401 info@thedancecentre.ca www.thedancecentre.ca Dance Central is published every two months by The Dance Centre for its members and for the dance community. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent Dance Central or The Dance Centre. The editor reserves the right to edit for clarity or length, or to meet house requirements. Editor Andreas Kahre Copy Editor Hilary Maxwell Contributors to this issue: Amber Funk Barton, Mindy Parfitt, Paraskevas Terezakis, Stefan Smulovitz Photography: Tristan Brand, David Cooper Dance Centre Board Members Chair Ingrid M. Tsui Vice Chair Josh Martin Secretary Margaret Grenier Treasurer Matthew Breech Past Chair Beau Howes, CFA Directors Carolyn Chan Eve Chang Jai Govinda Anndraya T. Luui Starr Muranko

Collaborations:

A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt

easy route. It's 'easy' for me to make a solo and dance, but I don’t want to be comfortable. If I’m comfortable it makes me worry that I’m stagnating as an artist. I want to know if there are other ways I can perform and express myself. I want to find out what more there is. AK: What is it like to support each other, coming from different disciplines? What is it like to teach dance to a theatre artist? AFB: For me, I have fallen in love with dance all over again. I realize that the training I have received is amazing. Just even basic coordination– MP: Thanks... AFB: Mindy is an excellent student but I’ve realized that I

Dance Foundation Board Members Chair Linda Blankstein Secretary Anndraya T. Luui Treasurer Jennifer Chung Directors Trent Berry, Kimberley Blackwell, Praveen K. Sandhu, Janice Wells, Andrea R. Wink,

take a lot of my dance training for granted. This experi-

Dance Centre Staff: Executive Director Mirna Zagar Programming Coordinator Raquel Alvaro Marketing Manager Heather Bray Venue and Services Administrator Robin Naiman Development Director Sheri Urquhart Technical Manager Shawn Sorensen Accountant Elyn Dobbs Member Services and Outreach Coordinator Hilary Maxwell Member Services and Development Assistant Anna Dueck

so much—ballet is how I started as a dancer. This process

The Dance Centre is BC's primary resource centre for the dance profession and the public. The activities of The Dance Centre are made possible bynumerous individuals. Many thanks to our members, volunteers, community peers, board of directors and the public for your ongoing commitment to dance in BC. Your suggestions and feedback are always welcome. The operations of The Dance Centre are supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia, the BC Arts Council, and the City of Vancouver through the Office of Cultural Affairs.

it has been interesting to feel protective and wanting to

ence has also strengthened me as a dance teacher. We started with a lot of ballet, and that brings me back to how I started. That is why it has reminded me why I love dance has also reminded me to be very grateful for the life I have pursued. And that I have the skills to teach and to witness a student’s progress. MP: I think that seeing someone be vulnerable in a different way is very powerful, and I have felt protective of Amber in certain places, because she is articulating and sharing things about herself in a very challenging way. In places where we felt like we needed to go deeper, I kept thinking: 'This also has to be safe.' Amber is such a talented artist and stepped into this process with so much grace, and make sure that in the context of what we are doing there is always a place of safety and of being held by something. AK: I remember how Mindy and Heidi Taylor, the dramaturg for this piece and for This Stays In The Room, created a set of protocols designed to keep the participants feeling safe. Did that play a role in how you experienced this working process? continued on page 19

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"At one point in rehearsal,I was thinking 'I can totally handle this' and then, in the first scene when I had to say something out loud, I realized: 'There will be people sitting there and I will be saying this. Out loud. How do I deal with this?' It feels great to be nervous and scared, because it means you are taking a risk. It's wonderful to feel that nervous energy, and that's the whole point;

not to take the easy route." continued on page 14

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Collaborations A conversation with Paraskevas Terezakis AK: How do you experience collaboration from the perspective

both gratifying and challenging. I conducted more research

of a choreographer?

of light and movement in Parallax, the next leg of the Odyssey, and am now developing the piece to present to the

PT: Collaboration is not always easy, but I have worked with ex-

Vancouver audience as a premiere with the title In Penum-

cellent people, who have inspired me, who recognize my vision,

bra. It is part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival

and who are committed to it.

and in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Kinesis Dance somatheatro.

AK: As you know, I had a conversation with Stefan Smulovitz who has collaborated with you as a composer. He made the

AK: Utopia and Dystopia are abstract concepts. How do you

point that you have a very clear vision of what you want, and

physicalize them?

that you make all the decisions. What is your vision now? PT: The penumbra is the soft fuzzy shadow between light PT: I am working on a piece that I started last year that deals

and dark shadow, which for me combines all these ele-

with utopia and dystopia. You may call me a pessimist, but I

ments. That grey area between light and dark, a place where

think we live in a dystopic world, and we are constantly try-

we can get stuck in our search for light or enlightenment.

ing to reach the utopic element. I wanted to make a piece that

As a person, I have my dystopic and my utopic life. The

uses no theatre lights, but only incandescent bulbs and LEDs, for

dystopic begins with being adopted, which I only found out

two reasons: When I did some research, I realized that incan-

late in life, and which made me face the ongoing question

descents emit 95 percent heat energy and only 5 percent light.

of who I was. I know that my birthmother was poor, and the

There is something oddly beautiful about that; I also thought

woman who brought me up worked very hard, and gave

about the way a moth is attracted to light, even if it burns itself. I

me a lot, but it left me with a lot of questions. One day I

often work with myths, which interest me because philosophi-

changed the question and instead of asking 'why' and feeling

cally they represent the reality of our day to day lives, and they

sorry for myself, I decided that art is the expression of my

make my imagination go wild; you have monsters and beautiful

utopic hope and will to survive, that it makes me question

things that I can really relate to. Then I thought about LED light,

and that makes me better. I think In Penumbra is all about

which gives a colder light, but you can touch it, and it lasts, and

the uncertainty, my shadow or grey area between utopia

this technology changes all the time. I also liked the way LED

and dystopia, even though that sounds romantic. Because I

light gives sharper shadows, so I designed the piece around light

like to work with imagery, I also drew inspiration from a film

as a symbol of some kind of utopia. And as I have in my past

called A Bothersome Man, about a man who tries unsuc-

three works, I use Homer’s Odyssey as a path for the creative

cessfully to kill himself while perfectly happy. It made me

journey. For me, it is a story rich in symbolism and discovery, an

realize I wanted to do something about this topic, and my

excellent encounter to create from, physically and intellectually.

own utopic moments. I liked how the character’s attempts

I also used the work of a poet by name of C.P. Cavafy who wrote

to kill himself don’t succeed, even after throwing himself in

a famous piece called Ithaca based on the Odyssey, which I

front of a train. He then retreats to his basement where he

contemporized. There are many elements in his poetry that I like

has a kind of altar, with a thousand lights, where he hears

and that I associate with my life, which is something I can bring

symphonic music through a small crack in the drab cement.

to the dancers and to my collaborators. We go on a kind of jour-

That was the inspiration for the set, which, for the first time,

ney, and of course they also bring much to the table, all of which

I designed myself, with Mark Eugster executing it. At this

generates more ideas. This work is a continuum of my last work

point the piece has hundreds of different lights in it, mostly

U>Waltz, where I brought elements of the waltz on this journey,

incandescent bulbs (although I am using some Par-cans to

particularly intrigued by the fact that it was forbidden until the

create more intensity) I am also collaborating with Josh Hite

18th century because it involved proximity between people. I

as videographer and Nancy Tam as sound designer.

thought this was a beautiful juxtaposition. The experience was

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Utopia&Dystopia

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"You can go further

if you don't focus on ego and politics, and don't 'think am the director.' I want to stimulate and energize collaborators." 10

Dance Central January/February 2017


Collaborations A conversation with Paraskevas Terezakis AK: You haven't mention lights. PT: James Proudfoot, who I have worked with for a long time, is the lighting designer, and in this work he has a challenge because he likes working with incandescent lights and although I want a certain result, I have given him full liberty to put his aesthetic into it; we see a lot of works fall apart when we call them collaborations but don't collaborate. Collaboration gives me many more challenges, and makes my canvas richer, because I am working with very experienced and capable people. If I use them, why not use the best of their work? AK: Speaking with Stefan, who is both a composer but also performs with dancers on stage, he noted that he may have ideas about rhythm or about defining space, but of course set design, choreography and lighting also define space. The question is how to delineate who is in charge of what, or how to make decisions where disciplines overlap. Stefan pointed out that you have a clear hierarchy, and that you make the decisions. How do you approach that? PT: The collaborators give me a lot and I always ask them what they think about the work as we go along. I guess in the end, my role is director and I will make the final decisions. Art is dictatorial sometimes, even though I hate the word, having lived through a dictatorship in Greece. Artists are rich and tormented people; in my opinion, if you are not tormented, you cannot create. Collaborators like Stefan can tell me what they think, inject ideas that add to the overall themes, but I will make a decision, and stay open to reworking it. For example, with Stefan we worked on a piece at Scotiabank Dance Centre, animating every room, and he and Vivian Houle worked very hard to create sound for every space, the staircase, the elevator, the downstairs area, the patio; everything was utilized. There was a beautiful moment, when Stefan worked in the catering room, with a system that used lights to control sound, and I said 'Let's try it!'. Stefan said a few times 'I don't think this is working, and he brought new elements that inspired me. I could see and feel his enjoyment in the process, and that is important because you can go further than if you focus on ego and politics, and realize your role as director is 'I want to stimulate and energize collaborators'. AK: Collaborations take place because artists come together to form a collective based on shared goals, or, more commonly in

dance perhaps, because a choreographer selects artists to be collaborators. How do you choose? PT: I have very good intuition about people, which sometimes gets me into trouble; sometimes I am impulsive and leap before I look, but now that I am more mature, I can really see it more clearly. I believe that people have talents, and there are many things we can dig out, and if the person interests me, and I watch their performance —without reading reviews and programs ahead of time — I look at how they react and interact. And I see composers, like Stefan, or Adam Basanta, who are very creative and make fantastic music. The first situation creates an impact and then I have an impulse to go on from there. I do this with dancers as well. Sometimes it has led to disaster but usually it works, and the dancers I have now are incredibly skilled and versatile. I look for dancers that have more than technique, because dance suffers when that is all there is; we may have bodies that look beautiful, but we are making theatre, we are making art that is about textures, humanity and emotions. I watch for that and I see people who have that talent which goes beyond technique. Remember that I first studied theatre at the National Theatre School of Athens before I went into dance. AK: What and who made you shift to dance? PT: Someone at my theatre school encouraged me, and I was very inspired at the time by seeing companies like Maurice BÊjart and Martha Graham. I started in ballet and ended up as a dancer with John Metsis at the Experimental Ballet of Athens. I never really intended to stop making theatre, but somehow I was swept up in the path of dance, although the theatre side never really left me intellectually. And then later, after seeing Pina Bausch, I was even more focused to create as I saw how she made dance richer and more affecting to us at the time, in different ways and without being afraid that words would be obstacles. Even Martha Graham, whose work I studied most when I came to Canada, used a lot of mythical stories, acting and emotions, but it was primarily physical. I think we can go a lot farther, and let theatre expand into the physical. As dance artists, we can't work without theatre; even in site-specific work, everything has some kind of protagonist and antagonist, and some storyline. For me that is very important. Dance is too vain, in that vanity we lose touch. Aesthetics are important, of course, and dancers bodies are fabulous, but there is more to it. I like watching performances where you are very close, unlike Ballet, for Dance Central January/February 2017

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Collaborations A conversation with Paraskevas Terezakis

ways. His choreographic seminars at SFU were so progressive and influenced my approach to dance making. Then at other times, you could see how his heart, his own aesthetic,

example, which separates you from the dancers. I prefer smaller

was rooted in ballet and upheld the strong discipline and

venues, where you can see the sweat, and film, even if it is medi-

technique of it.

ated, but close to the body. AK: Seeing some of Pina's work again in Wim Wenders' film, AK: That intimacy is reflected in the name of your company, Kine-

it is striking how pieces like Kontakthof and Palermo also

sis Dance somatheatro.

oscillate between dystopic and utopic moments. Canada developed a strong dance theatre scene in the 1980s and

PT: Yes, exactly. I didn't want to use my own name, so I called it

90s, supported by the funders and by audiences, but since

Kinesis because the word has a meaning that is emotional, me-

then dance appears to have shifted away from that move-

chanical and universal, and as my work changed over the years,

ment, which you have been a part of.

and I found my own voice, I liked the mix of soma — the body, but also the drug in Orwell's Brave New World— and of theatre as the

PT: Yes, there were people in Canada, like Lola, who had

acting of the body and the mind. For me, that's what it is.

that German influence, but also Montenaro Dance, Carbon 14, and Édouard Lock who influenced me a lot at the time,

AK: How did your life in Greece influence your work?

because they had a new kind of theatrical presence.

PT: I come from a culture that is colourful, dramatic and proud.

AK: How do you perceive it now?

The way of life, the connection between people, the music, food and traditions are all somehow larger than life compared to the

PT: I think we have another movement toward a combina-

more restrained and polite approach here. Theatre, both ancient

tion of theatre and dance. I see a lot of theatre, especially

and contemporary, is held in great importance. I think I bring that

when I go to Greece, from all over the world, from Russia,

boldness of spirit to my work. I left Greece after the dictatorship

Germany, Brazil, and it is unbelievable how much movement

had ended, but I had been drafted by the military for three years

there is in theatre now. I look at it from the point of view of

and because I was perceived as a leftist, I was sent to the remote

Dionysian chaos becoming organized into an Apollonian

northern posts, doing boring Morse coding as a form of punish-

state, from the human condition and from the need to live

ment. It was a bizarre and surreal experience but has fed my

in the present and react to what is affecting me now. In

imagination and my attitude ever since. When I got out, I went to

Vancouver, I think we can do even more. Vancouver suffers

Toronto to study Graham technique and then got a scholarship to

from its distance to other centres, and its orientation toward

attend Toronto Dance Theatre. I met many different people there

a shallow kind of beauty and athleticism, but we have to see

who helped and influenced me in my career choices including

beyond that. We are developing, but slowly, and we have to

Katherine Brown and Grant Strate at York University. He became

take more risks, as presenters, as companies and as artists.

a life long friend, mentor and harsh critic. We had so many argu-

If Vancouver was more easily on the touring circuit, like so

ments over the role of spoken word in dance and how he found

many European cities, we would see more variety and that

it a distraction and out of place. In Canada, I learned to be more

would influence how we create; that being said, Vancouver’s

patient and diplomatic, and to see the broader world. In spirit, I

beautiful natural environment feeds creativity as well, like a

still have one foot firmly planted in Greece and the other planted

hot house of ideas that need to be tested on other audiences

as firmly here. I still struggle between the two, but that is just who

across Canada and abroad.

I am. AK: The company is now 30 years old. What happens next? AK: Thinking about Pina Bausch and dance theatre, it is interesting to note that Grant may have considered it separate from 'pure'

PT: I am interested in creating more site-specific works. I am

dance, and at the same time became instrumental in creating

looking to do work outside of the theatre, and in creating a

interdisciplinary performers through the SFU dance program.

different experience for audiences, I also want to develop new relationships and exchanges and develop a program

PT: Yes, it's ironic. Grant was very pro-revolutionary in some 12

Dance Central January/February 2017

for artists from elsewhere to come and work with people


in Vancouver, and present their work here. As I have always been in a ‘cross-cultural’ state of mind, I want to promote artists from other cultures and ethnicities to share and interact with Vancouver artists. It would be great to create a mini-festival that is not about bringing people to perform, but to involve international artists with the local community and to develop a new types of work, maybe a new collaborative form or exchange. I'd like to see it as cross disciplinary as well. There is plenty of talent here to support the idea. It’s all a question of planning, funding and making it happen! AK: You will be working with Stefan Smulovitz again? PT: I hope so; we have applied for funding for a multidisciplinary project with visual artists Richard Tetrault and Esther Rausenberg, and Stefan and myself to work with his 'Mad Scientist Machine'. It’s an ambitious but exciting project, fingers crossed! Over the years, there have been many struggles, inconsistent funding and yes, a few mistakes made. But it has never stopped me from getting excited about working with such great fellow artists, and somehow, with the help of many, we get it done and put it out there! AK: Thank you!


Collaborating Selves

A conversation with Stefan Smulovitz

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Above: Kwhili Gibaygum Dance Group. Photo: Kent Danielson


AK: You have been a collaborator for years, with different performance and dance companies, with different choreographers, including Paras Tereza-

"That's what happens in collaboration: When you are interacing with others, things go in ways you don't expect, and that is a nice thing, and so as long as people are willing to listen, you can end up in these magical places you would never have

gotten to by yourself.

kis and Kinesis Dance somatheatro. I had originally hoped to speak to you both at the same time, but it may be just as interesting to hear what you think about collaboration separately. What is your experience of working with Paras? SS: Every choreographer is different of course, but the first thing that struck me in working with Paras is that he is completely focused on the movement. Everything else is secondary. In collaborating, he hears what you suggest, it goes through a unique 'Paras-filter' and then comes out in completely surprising ways. You may offer something very concrete, and it will come through this prism filtered, stirred, and in a form you definitely didn't expect. He will hear one snippet of a phrase you use and it will inspire something in him. He is also full of energy, and he calls everyone he works with a collaborator, but he makes all the decisions. I would say he listens to all his collaborators, but when it comes down to it, it's his ship and he is steering it. That's not a bad thing; it's just something you need to know, so you don't get confused by the way he uses the term. I find that most people I work with in dance are that way; it's not specific to Paras, and that is important because he has a strong vision, and goes for it, and I really respect that. Another thing I really enjoy in working with him as a collaborator is that he thinks big; way larger than you expect. It's always beyond the budget but he tries to figure out a way to make it happen. Whatever he undertakes stems from a huge vision, and is always outside of everyone's scope. AK: I have sometimes wondered if, for some choreographers at least, the word 'collaboration' simply expresses a desire to ascertain that everyone else is as deeply invested in the process of creation as they are, and that they receive as much input as they need without the threat of losing their sense of being the work's creator. Having collaborated with so many dance artists in the community over the past years, you must have a good sample group by now. SS: Yes, every collaboration is a completely unique experience, and what the word collaboration means to every choreographer is a very different thing. With some, for example, it is very clear that you do not talk about movement at all; you are a composer and that's it. With Paras, there is an invitation to talk about the movement and what is possible, particularly because in one of the pieces I worked on with him he was trying to use alternative spaces and alternative technology, and some of the things he was asking for meant that what I did would have an impact on the choreography. That's where it gets tricky; in a more standard setting where it is quite obvious that the choreographer looks after the dance and you are writing the music to it, it is very clear where the lines are, but in the piece I mentioned, we worked on a section in a small room where I had lights set up that were controlled by an iPad, and Paras could control two different Dance Central Januar y/Februar y 2017

15


"there is a refining process that takes place; one you wouldn't necessarily have the discipline to impose on yourself. There is a certain magic that comes out of that, and that is one of its really positive aspects. I think the people who continue to collaborate are willing to see it as a learning experience.

colours which would trigger different actions and different

w

musical cues...

A AK: It sounds like a relative of your 'Mad Scientist Machine’

s

(a device Smulovitz designed to allow an artist to conduct an improvising ensemble using coloured light to indicate to

S

the players aspects such as volume, rhythm, gestures and

p

to create different groupings and arrangements).

o

e SS: Exactly, and Paras was very excited about it, but even-

s

tually he wanted to set it, which to my mind wasn't really

w

the point of an interactive system, because then you simply

d

have lighting cues, so we went back and forth for some

c

time. He came my way a little bit in the end, and it certainly wasn't a full collaboration. I learned that in the end

A

you have a choreographer who is in charge of the move-

e

ment and you are the musician and you are in charge of music, and to assume that you are going to push this into

S

a realm that is not yours is probably unlikely. You can offer

o

suggestions, hopefully insightful ones, and propose ideas.

p

Now that I have seen so much dance, I sometimes men-

a

tion if I have an idea, but I will never put any weight on it,

b

or expect that it will be used. I simply share an insight, and Paras is very willing to listen. Most likely it won't appear the

A

way you expected but perhaps it will create some kind of

l

spark with him, and that's what happens in collaboration: When you are interacting with others, things go in ways

S

you don't expect, and that is a nice thing, and so as long as

c

people are willing to listen, you can end up in these magical

i

places you would never have gotten to by yourself. On the

f

other side, I am always open to hearing suggestions from

d

choreographers. Paras sometimes has very specific musical

p

suggestions that I may feel strongly against, and we have to

s

work out, for example, whether we are really going to use

t

a piece of Baroque music in a score when there is no other

S

Baroque element. This ability to question and push and

w

discuss things is important.

m

n AK: Does he articulate why he is interested in using music

c

in a certain way.

A SS: With a lot of great creators there is something ineffable

w

that they can't always put into words. Sometimes you have

p

to be willing to just try it; Paras may offer something totally ridiculous and you think 'this isn't going to work', and then

S

you try it and it works, and you have to realize that as a

d

composer you have to be open to these ideas. You may not

w

know why it worked but he had the vision, and you have to 16

Dance Central January/February 2017

try and not to shut it down. In collaboration you have to be


willing to try anything.

the choreographer. Some choreographers are very articulate about exactly what they want from the music, and they are

AK: You are an unusual composer in that you often perform on

super-specific; they'll give you a piece of music and say 'this

stage.

is what I want, make me a new version of that, but sometimes when you a re- doing that you don’t have the right way

SS: Yes, and with Paras I almost got squashed on stage. I was

in, and a great way to get more information is to talk with

playing the viola, lying on the ground, and a trailer was rolled

the dancers, especially if you are having trouble with a sec-

over me, when the axle broke, and the trailer with sixteen danc-

tion, and it doesn't feel like the music is working; to get their

ers on it dropped about three inches. There were metal braces,

information about the feeling is very valuable. Paras describes

so it wasn't going to die, but it was scary as hell. I can add that

the energy.

with Paras, while he isn't reckless, there can be an element of

danger, which is also exciting. It is good to not always be in your

AK: With dance, all the elements overlap without text, the set

comfort zone.

defines the space, but so does the sound. The lighting defines the rhythm, as does the music, as does the choreography.

AK: I have watched rehearsals, and he does take people to the

Everybody is in each other’s territory all the time, and if you

edge...

don't find a way to match ideas you collide. For example, the lighting designer often comes in very late in the process,

SS: He pushes people hard, and in new ways, and that is one

and if your ideas don't align the set design may become a

of the things I enjoy about a collaboration; to be taken to a new

completely different world than the scenographer intended.

place and he has taken me to places I have never been before,

Some choreographers will defer to the lighting design; many

and I think some of the music I wrote for him was among my

don't have the language to ask for specific choices, and there

best work. He took me to a new level.

is little time in tech rehearsal to make a fundamental adjust-

AK: Do you have a sense of what makes you an interesting col-

ment, while others manage to keep everyone communicating clearly from beginning to end. How does it work with Paras?

laborator for him and others? SS: I like to come in early enough to make it an iterative

SS: I don't know. I think in general the dance community likes to

process, but with Paras the choreography comes always first.

collaborate with me, because I am very quick. I have skills as an

I write music that may trigger things and he may shift the

improviser, and they may change things on a whim, and I can

movement toward the music here and there. He was also one

follow them instantly. There are not many composers who can

of the first choreographers to use me extensively as a live

do that. Paras sometimes changes things on a whim; for exam-

performer, and in that case I am improvising and perform-

ple he added three or four minutes to a piece a day before the

ing with the dancers, and, with some direction but without

show, and he didn't tell me, and as I was watching a final run-

explicit instructions, interacting with his choreography, which

through, I suddenly thought 'What is this choreography here!!?'

means that I am collaborating with the other performers

So I quickly grabbed something and put it in and it worked, but

more than with Paras.

with most composers you can't just stick an extra three or four

minutes in a section without giving them a few days notice. I am

AK: You interact with students at SFU. How do you support

not phazed by many things; you can try the craziest stuff, and I

their process of learning to collaborate?

can bring a certain intensity that matches Paras' intensity. SS: Student composers can be tough, because many are

AK: You refer to yourself as 'the composer'; that's the role, that's

used to thinking 'Here is my brilliant idea, and I am sure the

what the contract says, and that's the deliverable. How does the

choreographer will use it just as it is', but often things need

process work with other collaborators?

to change. A shift in movement may mean that a bar gets dropped and the composer says, 'But I need that bar to make

SS: Paras was in control of the space, but I would interact with

the music work!' It is very difficult to create functional music

dancers to get a sense from them for certain qualities in the

for dance, and I think you have to be mature enough to see

work. I find it very interesting to talk to the dancers as well as

beyond your own thing and serve the piece, and that is the

Dance Central Januar y/Februar y 2017

17


Collaborating Selves

A conversation with Stefan Smulovitz

takes you to places you don't expect. It can also be frustrating, because you make a certain thing and you have a certain vision, but the choreographer is in charge and if they don't like it, it gets cut. But then, when you remake that section for the second or the third time, which you would personally never choose to do because you think the first was good enough, and you have to come

key I try to get across to students when I explain what

up with another thing and another thing and another thing, there

functional music is. It is not about creating the best music

is a refining process that takes place; one you wouldn't neces-

but the best piece. Student sound designers may think

sarily have the discipline to impose on yourself. There is a certain

they have created the best music, and I say 'Yes, it's a great

magic that comes out of that, and that is one of its really positive

piece of music and you could release it, but it doesn't work

aspects. I think the people who continue to collaborate are willing

for the piece you are working on because you have made

to see it as a learning experience. Rather than saying 'My creativity

a brilliant techno track while the piece is set in the 1920s,

was stifled', they go 'Wow! I learned that I can come up with this!'

and the sound pulls the audience out of the setting.' How

Instead of getting frustrated about the stuff that didn't get used

to serve the piece is what you learn as you become a more

and getting caught up in an ego thing, you are always trying to

mature artist and collaborator.

serve the piece, and if the piece works and your music works and you have found something better in the end than your first idea, —

AK: You have a long history of collaborating with musi-

something you would not have done on your own — that is a very

cians, theatre performers and media artists. What do you

powerful thing. Collaborating keeps you learning and growing,

discover with dance?

and brings different things out of you every time.

SS: I love collaborating with dancers! Every collaboration

AK: Thank you!

Dance Central September 2004

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Dance Central January/February 2017

3


AFB: Yes, and to Mindy's credit, I got to see so much of the process of

Collaborations

the creation of This Stays In The Room before I even started working

A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt

with the actors, that I knew that she was taking great care of them as a director. When we decided to work in this process, I had automatic trust; I knew she would listen and help.

continued from page 7

AK: Have you had conflicts to resolve? AFB: No we have been very fortunate. There have been a couple of tears just based on the material we have been exploring, but it has been very organic. MP: It was funny; sometimes I thought: 'This is theatre, we have got to have some conflict here!' AK: One difference between theatre and dance is how the final shape of a work is arrived at. In dance, it is not unusual to have the choreographer change the order of the piece at the eleventh hour, based often simply on their intuition. In theatre, at least usually, you set certain parameters and then work on refining the elements. This is a function of the script, of course—especially in Canada, where even classic texts are considered sacrosanct, and where, with the exception of devised theatre, playwrights' contracts expressly prohibit changes by the director. Do you come up against that? AFB: The way it works in theatre is something I like. As a choreographer, I don't like to change things at the last second, especially when there are other dancers involved. This suits me just fine. AK: Every collaboration finds its own mode, and while in dance it is not uncommon for the choreographer to make changes based on what they may only explain as a function of intuition, and theatre directors are more likely to make an argument, say for a change in the lighting or video, in either case, the collaborators have to find a way to adapt to it. MP: Amber and I, apart from being performers, also have the roles of choreographer and director. It has been an interesting challenge since I have never done both at the same time—perform and direct, and I feel like I have stepped into my directing role only once we were at Scotiabank Dance Centre. That's when I felt that I needed to step outside. We had set up our work so that we understood that this was the end of development period and we were now going into rehearsal, so my brain said 'I understand that I can now step out of the performance and see what is working and what is not.' What we are stepping into next is a rehearsal process. I haven't directed Amber, really, until now, and I think there will be a shift in the room, but I also feel that because of what we have done before I am not anticipating that it will lead to creative conflict. And because we are creating a Dance Central Januar y/Februar y 2017

19


Collaborations:

flow of understanding how the work is developing. Mindy is

A conversation with Amber Funk Barton and Mindy Parfitt

also flows into our work. It highlights our relationship as two

theatre piece, with a script and a structure we have all contributed to, it is unlikely that it will change much. AK: One aspect of collaboration, as I experience it, is that all the contributing artists form their own idea around the core of the work — not necessarily how it will appear on stage but about its inner truth, and that informs the process, even if you are told to ignore your intuition. I remember collaborating on a dance work in which almost every movement was suffused with a sense of grieving, and even though the choreographer emphatically denied this, every design element came to reflect what felt like the work's true essence, but that had to remain unspoken. Sometimes it is a function of artistic hierarchy, sometimes it appears under the guide of the need to 'lock it down', or 'make a show', but there usually comes a time when the balance of power shifts, and someone has to stop speaking to their inner vision of the work. MP: I think we are approaching that place where the shift is going to take place, and it will be interesting to see how it will affect our dynamic. One thing I find interesting about Amber's and my collaboration is that we are making a theatre piece, but Amber is more well known as an artist; perhaps that is a function of working at Scotiabank Dance Centre, but as we move through rehearsal and talk about the piece, Amber’s voice as the dance artist is always very strong, which I love, whereas in This Stays in The Room, it was a theatre work with a strong dance artist added. In this particular collaboration it creates and interesting dynamic, and I think we both bring something to it. AFB: I feel like now I am at the stage where I want to wait, because I have to be speaking and I will need Mindy's direction and help. At the beginning, the process was very focused on dance training but now I am naturally falling more silent to let her focus on her role to take us to the stage. AK: When you collaborate, how does information flow when you are not using language? AFB: A lot of it is very intuitive; I remember A Choreographer's Handbook by Jonathan Burrows, where he mentions that “The moment of collaboration is the moment you ask the right person to work with you and then trust them completely.” That's the best way I can describe what's going on here. There is discussion, but it's not like we have to define every single item. There is a natural 20

Dance Central January/February 2017

also my friend, and we spend time together socially, and that women who are friends; it is extremely natural and intuitive. MP: There is also a real mutual respect and adoration between Amber and I; for each other as people and as artists, and I think we have a similar way of expressing ego. Both of us want to make good and representative work, but neither of us need to be the star, or take it over, so there has never been an ego battle, and I don't imagine that will happen. That helps a lot. It also helps that we are both women, and gender power struggles are not in the room, and that there is an ability to sense each other. During our Cultch residency, every day at 3pm I could feel that Amber was dropping off. It was obvious that something was happening with her AFB: Internally, I was going 'Just keep it together! It's fine!' MP: I could feel it, and that non-verbal communication is essential, although we are also very verbal... AFB: Dance training makes you observant, and you may not always have to communicate verbally. This is part of the training. Good dancers are two steps ahead of what they may be asked to do next... AK: To return for a moment to the experience of neuroplasticity; when someone undergoes a profound shift, such as in transgendering, it is a social rather than a solitary process— friends and family member have to transform alongside. MP: That very idea is built into what we are doing. We are constantly talking about what is challenging about this process, and the piece is very personal, so there is no hesitation about the personal aspect, or how it is affecting us or changing us, or how it interacts with other parts of our lives. For me there was a definite connection from This Stays in the Room to this piece. I definitely wanted to share something different, but there was a thread of what I had learned during that experience and what I am investigating now. So this 'why now' is always in the room with us, and its unfolding is something we have been doing for two and a half years. We talk about unfolding some aspects more, and not unfolding others, and of course there are always surprises, like the experience at Scotiabank Dance Centre but with respect to that evolution, it has always been at the centre of the work, and it continues. AK: Thank you!


"My experience of working with a dance artist in this capacity is quite unlike theatre where you do a scene, and then the director gives notes; Idon't say 'go over there and do this.' We talk about it and figure it out

together."

Dance Central September 2004

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Dance Central Januar y/Februar y 2017

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Dance Central January/February 2017

Dance Central January / February 2017  

The Dance Centre Bi-Monthly Publication for Members and the Dance Community

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