Page 1

March/April 2015

Dance Central A Dance Centre Publication

Content Speaking Memory A conversation with Serge Bennathan Page 2

Farewell Grant Strate by Mirna Zagar Page 9

Designing Dance Natalie Purschwitz Page 10

Welcome to Dance Central

A conversation with

Serge Bennathan

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Grant Strate, who has played a central role in the professional and educational development of dance in Vancouver, in Canada, and in the establishment and ongoing support of The Dance Centre. An excerpt from Mirna Zagar's eulogy is included on page 9. The issue also features a conversation with choreographer Serge Bennathan, whose new work, Mr. Auburtin which will be premiering at Scotiabank Dance Centre this March, deals with memory, the influence of past and present artists on his work, and the process of turning a personal history into a dance work. In the Designing Dance series, we present a portrait of costume, set and props designer Natalie Purschwitz, who recently finished working with MACHiNENOiSY for Time Machine, presented as part of The Dance Centre's Global Dance Connections series in partnership with the 2015 PuSh Festival. She reflects on the relationship between visual art, design and dance and on her collaborative practice. 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 or call us at 604.606.6416 We look forward to the conversation! Andreas Kahre, Editor 2

Da nce Central March/April 2015

AK: When I saw an excerpt of Mr. Auburtin last year, I was intrigued by the way it addresses memory and the imagination, or both, to the extent that memory is an act of the imagination. The formal frame, and what I saw of the female dancers made me curious if the piece was a portrait of a gendered, a male memory. SB: It is gendered, because I am a man, and because it is about the experience of me, at six years old, wanting to become a male dancer. I want to pass on in the piece how rare it was for a father in a French military family in the 1960s to be supportive when I said I wanted to be dancer. This was a little miracle in itself. The first memory that comes to my mind is of my first teacher, a man, which was rare in those days, and while I had female teachers whom I loved, the first teacher is especially important, because they give you subtle direction on your approach. He was also unusual because he was a young man, in his 30s, not a dancer who had finished his career, but in midcareer. I have found working on the piece quite extraordinary, in that remembering all this has slowly re-opened the doors that he opened to me at that time, and by opening those doors again, my life has come back to me; for example, my love for

Da nce Central March/April 2015


Speaking of Memory

Serge Bennathan

Nijinsky, whose work my teacher introduced me to. What is fan-

use to archive work won't exist anymore. I love the fact that

tastic about Nijinsky is that when you talk about that time, it was

books remain, that after centuries and centuries, there is a

not that far away— now it is a hundred years ago, but then, there

presence that can be passed on and remain constant. When

were a lot of people alive who had seen him perform, so the link

you read some books, you are holding the same object as

was extraordinary.

someone else did 200 years ago. So it is not only an archive, but the link between memories. I will go further, and say that

AK: Like Picasso, or John Cage for us...

books are the voice of the shadows of the past, of the artists that came before us. These aspects are very important

SB: Exactly, it was in living memory. So when my teacher talked

to me. For example, when I talk about Nijinsky and about L'

to me about him, he was present, with the resonance of perfor-

après midi d'un faune, my mind doesn't go to the choreog-

mances by Nijinksy still in the air, 40 years later. From that, I

raphy as much as to how Nijinsky approached the creation

started to build the piece like a tree; going from the trunk to the

of it as an artist. For me, he created this piece because he

branches, which represent the many other artists I admire.

had a profound animal sense of himself, not just as a shape. That is what I like—for example, I love Édouard Lock; I can be

People sometimes say you should make the movie or the book

critical of some aspects of his work, but I love the animality of

you want to read. I don't necessarily agree, because as a specta-

Édouard. It is central to the artist—and I love that word: Art-

tor, the work I love, work that makes me feel my humanity, is work

ist; it has been used and abused, but it is beautiful, because

that I could never do, not even think about doing. So when I talk

it comes from artisan— and being an artisan you become a

about artists, it is artists I admire as a spectator. I also have to rec-

peasant, in touch with earth and with mind and spirit. So all

ognize how much I enjoyed the process of writing and talking, and

this is deeply layered for me.

speaking the names of people you don't hear anymore— Nureyev, Paolo Bortoluzzi—a beautiful Italian dancer who danced with

AK: Painting is another layer in your work...

Maurice Béjart—an extraordinary artist, who you don't hear about anymore. The pleasure of putting back these names back into the

SB: Yes, it is an important source, and while I have no desire

air was extraordinary.

to become the next Picasso or Proust of my generation, it is important to me to work in these forms and to explore many

AK: Writing is an important part of your practice. What is its rela-

layers and to create.

tionship to movement? AK: When you physicalize text, does it matter whether it is SB: Writing is very important for me; it is the moment when I ex-

your own or someone else's (I am thinking of your work,

tract from myself new paths and directions, and discover stories,

Conversations, which refers to the life of Lorca)

before I go to the imaginary world. I love books, and especially


their materiality. I was talking with someone about archives re-

SB: With Conversations, I was creating an imaginary encoun-

cently, and about how we are about to encounter a huge prob-

ter between Lorca and his assassin, but there was in fact very

lem with archives, because technology is becoming obsolete so

little writing of Lorca's in the piece—only the poem at the end.

quickly that a hundred years from now, or sooner, many forms we

For me, it was more important to talk about the courage of

Da nce Central March/April 2015

"I also have to recognize how much I enjoyed the

process of writing and talking, and


speaking the names of people you don't hear anymore."

Lorca as an artist and as a poet. He was courageous, even

words—like the effect when you suddenly become aware

if sometimes he was afraid, and I wanted to show that you

of light as it is reflected by dust in the air. It guides you to

have to embrace your fear, because that is what makes you

things that are not said or shown but that are present, like

courageous. Lorca was that for me. Then there was the as-

the light in the room, and that you suddenly see in a physi-

sassin, but he was not just a fascist murderer, but also some-

cal dimension. These are all layers that I am trying to create

one with whom Lorca had a more complicated relationship,

so that in the end it becomes an experience that goes

someone we know belonged to his extended family, and felt

beyond the story of my life.

a deep, deep envy of the extraordinary poetry in Lorca. So even in work that is about someone else, I am talking about

AK: When you are inside the performance, how do you

the artist, and especially about the courage of artists, which

direct the layering?

is something we don't acknowledge enough. When I talk to young dance artists in Vancouver, I tell them that they have to

SB: That can be tricky. Last week I suffered a bit; I had found

be extremely passionate and courageous, because their life is

a beautiful relationship for myself with the text and then,

going to be very hard. To me, this is beautiful, because where

suddenly, I was in the studio with two dancers. In the be-

do we see courageous people in our lives?

ginning, I tried to stay within the text, but after a few days, I realized that I couldn't do that. I had to get some distance,

AK: They are usually invisible...

and then go back and forth, answering questions like: "Why do I have two dancers with me in this layer?". Once I have

SB: Exactly, and when I teach or choreograph on young

dealt with that, I can come back. It is difficult, but I learn.

dancers, I am moved by their courage, which holds a rich-

It has also been more than 25 years since I have been on

ness and a beauty that is invaluable for me.

stage, and being there without moving is stressful, because I am not an actor, and I don't want to even begin to pretend

AK: How do you get from the text to the body?

that I am an actor. In this work, I want to be a storyteller, to joyfully pass on certain images that are part of the world of

SB: It is about the layers. If we take Mr. Auburtin, the text is

dance, and that are part of the time in which I lived.

like the trunk of the tree, it leads you, like the path you are following, and then there are the two young dancers and the

AK: The first piece of yours I saw was about thirty years

composer. For me, the dancers are the imaginary world; once

ago, Quand les grand-mères s'envolent, at the SFU theatre.

or twice they come close to mirroring what I am saying, but

It was a dinner party, lusciously lit, with candelabra and

usually, I want them to be in a different layer. I don't want the

wild costumes, looking like a 19th century French painting.

audience to see a repetition of the words, I want to create

The excerpt of Mr. Auburtin was much sparser, but I was

a little distance, in order to feel more freedom in creation,

reminded of that layered painterly texture again. I was curi-

and it is less important to confirm with the dance what the

ous to find that I could track it through two such different

text says, than to use it as another colour. And then there is

works, thirty years apart, and curious what it means to put

the music. The piano plays a very important role, because

that on a 21st century stage, where the frame has changed

the music can suddenly appear between the dance and the

so much, especially in a work concerned with memory— Da nce Central March/April 2015


Speaking of Memory: Serge



which inherently creates a dialogue with the audience that mediates between your personal knowledge and recollection, and what the audience has to imagine in order to transform the recollection back into a personal experience of their own—in a process that translates lived time, narrated time, time recalled by others and transformed into your own narrative, into a shared experience of the present—a layered tableau that spans more than a hundred years. SB: I'm surprised that you speak about Mr. Auburtin in that way, because I made a conscious choice to pare it down. For example, at the beginning, I thought about using images, videos but then I realized that I just wanted a bare stage, and a piano. For me, Bertrand's presence is important because when he plays he is in his world, and when people look at him from time to time, they will see him as an artist himself, creating and playing his music. So I said: No set, no images, just a piano, a musician, two dancers, and a little table—and my computer. There is nothing extraneous in the piece; everything comes from what transpires on the stage, from the words, from the musicality, from the attitude, and it is intangible—perhaps that's why I am surprised. But I don't know yet how people are going to receive this thing, and there will be no video to help them connect the images. It is all in the mind, and I hope I will succeed in transmitting what I have in my mind, in the text, and visually. AK: How do the dancers find their place in this work? SB: I wanted to have relatively young dancers—dancers who are strong, but don't yet have the many years of experience, because that corresponds to talking about dance in a certain period in my own life. They guide me by imposing sometimes a rhythm and I have to guide them. I consider that the choreographer's role goes beyond choreographing: You have to bring another person artistically onto the path of what you want— not by imposing your ideas, but by encouraging them to make them their own. I work a lot with images that relate to the piece in order to feed the imagination of the dancers, and then I want them to experiment with all that I offer. It is easier to let the dancer go too far and then bring them back, than to not take them far enough. I always thought about my role as a choreographer as being divided into parts: First, you offer something, then you guide, then you observe...It is complicated because after the physical material they have to go to their imagination, and to their own artistry. There is a moment in choreographing that I call 'digging'—once the material is laid out, they have to dig—physically and in their imagination. Dance Central September 2004


Da nce Central March/April 2015


"I love that when you have doubts, that is not meant to stop you,

but to

make you think

about it. It's a way of living your life as a human being differently, and fully."

Dance Central September 2004


Da nce Central Marcht/April 2015


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

Speaking of Memory

Serge Bennathan

AK: Do the dancers generate any of the material?

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.

SB: Not really. I don’t ask them to improvise, but once I have

Editor Andreas Kahre Copy Editor Hilary Maxwell

will do an arabesque differently, and what does it mean

Contributors to this issue: Serge Bennathan, Natalie Purschwitz, Mirna Zagar, Photography: Natalie Purschwitz, Michael Slobodian, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward Dance Centre Board Members Chair Ingrid M. Tsui Vice Chair Gavin Ryan Secretary Margaret Grenier Treasurer Matthew Breech Directors Susan Elliott Anusha Fernando Kate Franklin Beau Howes, CFA Kate Lade Anndraya T. Luui Josh Martin Starr Muranko Dance Foundation Board Members Chair Linda Blankstein Secretary Anndraya T. Luui Treasurer Jennifer Chung Directors Trent Berry, Kimberley Blackwell, Janice Wells, Andrea R. Wink 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 Directors Justin Aucoin and Mark Eugster Accountant Elyn Dobbs Member Services Coordinator Hilary Maxwell

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.

given them movement, I am interested in seeing them fulfill it. Every dancer is so different that any move will change. For example, if you ask for an arabesque— every dancer to do an arabesque? So the dancer has to work with what it means to them to do an arabesque, and the movement will transform itself. What is important to me is not that it remains as it was but that the essence is there. AK: When you worked on Conversations with two experienced performers, Danny Wild and Billy Marchenski, did that change the process? SB: Well, you choose specific people for specific reasons, but the approach was the same— to dig, once you have the material, and to get your hands into the mud. What is important is to have them discover why they do the movement, and to find the poetry of the dancers who are your interpreters. AK: How do your dancers respond to your approach, and to the material? SB: It is interesting; first of all, I would say I am a choreographer for dancers, not necessarily for the public. I am lucky, because I work with people who love my work. My work is physical, not because it is intended to cause pain, but it is like free climbing; people say they want to do it, but they will suffer while learning to develop the strength in their fingers. As a choreographer, one of my great pleasures is that in general dancers appreciate my work, because of its depth, and I truly value that. AK: In my encounters with dancers, your name frequently triggers enthusiastic responses about your work as being focused on the dancers. SB: What I love is that dancers often come to me, because my work is challenging, and I like it when they have the courage to do it. I am working on a piece for Mocean Dance in Halifax, five women, a charged, 40–minute piece.


Da nce Central March/April 2015 continued on page 16

Grant Strate, Photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Today, Scotiabank Dance Centre is a testament to Grant’s determination, passion and commitment to the art of dance; it’s those characteristics which enabled the achievement of great goals at times when others would despair. He was always open to a great discussion, especially about dance, and he always spoke his mind and presented true conviction when it came to principles. As a life–long advocate and activist for art, his commitment to the cause contributed greatly to the recognition and funding that the arts enjoy in Canadian society today. As a pioneer in dance he remained involved with many arts organizations across Canada, in the USA and beyond. On Monday, February 9, 2015 in the late evening, Grant

For his many contributions, Grant was made a member

Strate, a visionary, friend, pioneer, statesman of dance re-

of the Order of Canada in 1994, in recognition for being "a

tired. He left us after a short battle with cancer. For us here

creative and tactful presence on arts and dance

at The Dance Centre and in Vancouver it will take some time

committees nation-wide; the Governor General's Per-

to realize that this time he will not attend our event, meeting,

forming Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in

will not be hosting a party. For we have indeed relied on him

1996, the Canada Council for the Arts Jacqueline Lemieux

to be around and here for us, always ready to offer advice

Prize in 1999, and, in 2006, he was made a Fellow of the

and perspective on any challenge, issue, or vision we might

Royal Society of Canada. Yet Grant did not know of retire-

be getting caught up in.

ment, he wrote a memoire and an account of his visits to China, he taught well into his 80s, and to his last minute,

His multifaceted and influential career in dance and his

he was Director of The Dance Foundation, a sister orga-

eventful life, which took him across the world to engage

nization of The Dance Centre – an organization Grant was

with diverse dance communities, leaves a lasting legacy. His

deeply involved with since its inception.

initiatives in both ballet and contemporary dance not only changed Canada’s dance landscape, they forever trans-

On a personal note, Grant as friend and mentor, will

formed it. Their results continue to be felt and will remain

forever remain a significant memory in my career and life

important supporting mechanisms for dance here in Vancou-

in Canada. His advice to listen and consider carefully, to

ver as much as across Canada.

not be judgmental and to remain principled in making any decision will forever be with me as a reminder that we all

From his time as the charter member of the National Ballet

have to work for things we wish to see happen and that

of Canada in 1951 to his work in education, Grant was always

they be successful.

the one to open opportunities and initiate brave and bold moves. From contemporizing the repertoire of the National

Our heartfelt sympathies go to his family, and in particular

Ballet, to founding York University’s Department of Dance,

Wen Wei Wang, his protégé and partner since 1999. Grant

to being the long–time Director of Simon Fraser University’s

will be missed but not forgotten.

Centre for the Arts and a founding member of The Dance Centre, Grant was a key leader with the vision and determi-

Mirna Zagar

nation to create a home for dance in Vancouver.

Executive Director Da nce Central Marcht/April 2015


Designing Dance: A conversation with

Natalie Purschwitz

In An Aqua Oasis AK: When I searched for images of your work, I came across

Gather, so a lot people have called me a fashion designer, but I

an image of Gordon Campbell smiling his famous Hawaii traf-

don't think of myself that way. I do like the fact that clothing is a

fic police arrest photo smile next to you...

functional term, which can work in any context.

NP: Ah, the internet! There is no control over Google images...

AK: Two years ago, I had a conversation in this series with Bar-

Well, I was receiving the BC Creative Achievement Award,

bara Clayden, a costume designer who mainly works in theatre

and he was the premier at the time, and we shook hands.

and film. She was adamant that she designed costumes, not clothing. She made the point that costumes express something

AK: Your background is mostly in visual art. How did you

about character that communicated differently than cloth-

come to work with dance artists?

ing, which made me curious about the nomenclature, and the thinking that underlies it. Aside from functional concerns, do

NP: By accident, originally. A good friend of mine in Calgary,

you approach the process of designing costumes differently

Kim Cooper, now the Artistic Director of Decidedly Jazz

from designing clothing?

Danceworks had seen the video of a 'fashion show' I produced at art school, and she immediately asked me to create

NP: Of course I do, and I like that dance is driven by a concept,

costumes for her first show. I had absolutely no experience,

which I can take as my starting point. The costumes clothe the

but I jumped right in. The budget was something like ten dol-

dancers' body, but to me, they are less about character and

lars but it was a lot of fun. Then she invited me to do another

more about the concept; something which I really appreciate

show, and after that one thing led to the next.

because that's how I work in my visual art practice. I like to think of it as part of the scenography. I have been getting more

AK: The differences between 'fashion' and 'costumes' are

into set and prop design, and I am trying to integrate all of these

interesting, beginning with the fact that dance costumes have

elements. I am an installation artist in my visual art practice,

to stand up to endless washing.

and it makes more sense to me to work beyond the limits of costume design. For example, in Time Machine, the most

NP: That is one of the challenges, so materials are always an

recent show I worked on with MACHiNENOiSY, everything was

issue. But I like the challenge; I am a material–based artist,

integrated: The props functioned as set pieces and costumes,

and I like thinking about those types of questions.

and vice versa - it was all interchangeable and visually integrated.

AK: What is the right word for what you create: Apparel, clothing, costumes?

AK: One of the challenges in working as a designer or scenographer in dance is that most of your choices depend on being in

NP: I like the term clothing. I have always designed clothes,

the right light, and if you and the lighting designer are at odds,

and I had a line of clothing for several years, called Hunt &

that becomes very difficult. Do you work with lights?


Da nce Central March/April 2015

Natalie is an interdisciplinary artist based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work seeks out spaces between art, design, performance and daily life. Her curiosities include anthropology, the notion of survival, clothing as a type of cultural production, language and mythology. Natalie shows her artwork internationally, designs costumes for a wide range of productions and maintains a small clothing line called Hunt & Gather. In 2010 she completed Makeshift (a yearlong endeavor to wear only things that she made herself), a project that received worldwide attention and press. She has studied at the University of Calgary (BA, Archaeology) the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science (NY, NY) and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (BFA, Media Arts). In 2012 she was a recipient of the Canada Council for the Arts International Residency award in Paris, France. Natalie grew up in Radium Hot Springs, a small town in the Canadian Rockies. Dance Central September 2004



Dance Central March/April 2015


NP: Not very much – I don’t really have any skills in the field. I

never quite lost the whiff of 'craft' while design and 'fashion'

am interested in what lights can do but I don't know the lan-

are considered low–brow endeavours devoid of theory.

guage well enough to work with it as a material. So for now I

How do you navigate these attitudes?

will leave it to the experts. NP: That has been an interesting struggle. The popular AK: There are a few set designers who also design lights, and

combination of the words 'art and design' seems to suggest

they have a tremendous advantage in determining how visual

that there is some crossover, but they really are disparate

elements work together. Of course this can also work in a suc-

worlds, with their own vocabulary, their own set of val-

cessful collaboration, but if it doesn't, lights can completely

ues, and their own system, and that has been challenging

destroy your work.

to navigate. Clothing remains an ambiguous category in all of this, but that is one of the reasons why I prefer to call it

NP: Yes, that's true. When I first started designing costumes, I

clothing rather than fashion or costume: I am interested in it

would choose a colour palette for the piece, source the fabrics

as a formal object and how it can function as a type of cul-

and design the costumes but then we would get into the theatre

tural production. Looking at it in this way somehow allows it

and coloured lights would be introduced and suddenly the

to be accepted in different categories.

entire look of the show would be altered. Sometimes it works out miraculously well but I now know that it’s something to be

AK: Barbara Clayden's distinction was based on the cos-

discussed at the beginning of the process.

tume's function of defining, or visually corroborating information about a character, as distinct from the 'merely'

AK: In your visual art practice you also use clothing; for ex-

functional aspect, but of course every decision about cloth-

ample, in a recent installation at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

ing, including the refusal to wear any, is in itself part of a

It seems that it is still a rarity to see clothing in the context of

performative act, and neutral clothing doesn't exist—any

visual art; perhaps partly because the making of clothing has

more than 'neutral space'.

"One of the reasons why I call it

clothing rather than fashion is that

I am interested in it as a formal object, and that makes it easier for it to be accepted in different categories." 12

Da nce Central March/April 2015

Designing Dance: A conversation with

Natalie Purschwitz

NP: Yes, and that is how costumes can be used to develop a

NP: Again, every project is completely different. The last piece,

space or an idea, or a context. Sometimes the costume is the

Time Machine, for example, was a true collaboration, and I

only link the audience has into this imagined space created

really appreciated their openness and their acceptance of my

through movement. It can be a comfort in its familiarity or it

presence in their process. We started from scratch together,

can take the audience to a fictional or otherworldly place. It

and all I knew was that they wanted to work with children and

is a new game every time, and the last three projects I have

explore the unaffected behavior and innocence of children in

worked on were all completely different.

contrast to the learned, affected behaviour of adults. We did a lot of research, showed each other a million images, and

AK: What were they?

everyone brought things to the table. It was a very positive experience. I am fortunate, because in the last ten years I have

NP: Time Machine, with MACHiNENOiSY, that I already men-

been able to work less and less in the top-down model you

tioned earlier, Steppenwolf, a theatre production with Fight

describe. Decidedly Jazz Danceworks has been a bit more

with a Stick (which grew out of Leaky Heaven), a collabora-

traditional in their process, but working with Kim Cooper has

tive project with directors Stephen Hill and Alex Ferguson and

been amazing because she always has a very strong vision

video artist Josh Hite. Before that, I worked with Deanna Pe-

and we have complementary aesthetics.

ters on a new work called Cut Away, which followed more of a traditional approach to costume design because she already

AK: Do your two practices—visual art and collaborative per-

had a strong idea for what she wanted and so her concept

forming art—inform one another, or are they parallel worlds?

just needed to be fleshed out, designed and constructed. And now I am working with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks

NP: More often they are parallel, but I have collaborated with

again, on Ziriguidum, a project with Cia.Vatá, a Brazilian dance

visual artists too— I made a show, for example, with visual

company working side by side with a Canadian company.

artist Kelly Lycan, at Centre A: Vancouver Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. For that show we made a series of 16 instal-

AK: How do you find working with dancers compared to

lations and we limited ourselves to using only plastic material.

other artists?

For that show we somehow settled upon making every single decision about everything together. It was an excruciating

NP: I love it. Every process is totally different, and the really

and extremely time consuming process but we both agreed in

important part is figuring out how we are going to work to-

the end that the show benefited from this process and was a

gether. I love the fact that every project is something com-

stronger show as a result.

pletely new. AK: You created a year-long project making all of your own AK: The difference between working as a designer for a cho-

clothing, which is in itself like a durational physical perfor-

reographer as opposed to working as a collaborator is also a

mance. Is that the only example?

matter of negotiation in many cases: How much of your own work will be present in the final work, and how you deal with

NP: I have done all kinds of ‘performative’ work (for lack of a

the hierarchical relationship—if that is the model—where you

better word); for example, Thing to Thing at the Vancouver

are asked to offer ideas which are rejected or accepted with-

Art Gallery where I set up a studio in the gallery. People could

out recourse to a clearly articulated goal (as they would be in

bring objects in and I turned them into a bag, or a similar proj-

industrial design, for example), can be delicate negotiations.

ect at TPW in Toronto (invited by Kelly Lycan), where people

How do you approach it?

could name any object and I would create a stuffed version,

Dance Central March/April 2015


Designing Dance: A conversation with Natalie Purschwtitz

seems to suggest that there is

as well as other transformational projects. I like working with

AK: Canada House, which is the Canadian High Commis-

limits and giving myself a framework that determines a begin-

sion, and Gordon Campbell is the High Commissioner. There

ning and an end.

is a piece in there somewhere: "Gordon and Me".

AK: What happens next?

NP: Apart from that, I started working with plastic orchid factory on a new project called Digital Folk, taking place over

NP: I am going to the desert before working on the Brazil/Can-

the next year or so, and I teach at Emily Carr sometimes. I am

ada project with Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, and I have some

really happy to take a small break right now. I did a ten窶電ay

clothing that will be shown in London at Canada House.

residency at Studio 303 in Montreal last November, where I worked with Stephen Thomspon, a dance artist from Calgary

AK: Oh no, Gordon Campbell again...

who lives in Paris, and that was a great experience. We used the colour aqua as a point of departure, and our work be-

NP: It's the BC Creative Arts Foundation...

came an aqua oasis in the middle of my crazy world. I hope to do more work with Stephen soon.


Da nce Central March/April 2015

12 Da nce Central March/April 2015

art and design crossover

"The term

, but they really are disparate worlds, with their own vocabulary, their own set of values, and their own systems."

s some

AK: There appears to be a growing interest in what is

I really like it that dancers now invite me to work with them,

going on in dance, even from visual artists, and while

not just as a costume designer, but to incorporate my visual art

the terminology and the ideas of visual artists about

practice. Until now, the two have been separate, and I really

dance are limited, and sometimes remarkably tradi-

would like to see my costume side integrated into my art prac-

tional, but that seems to be changing, and the fear of

tice and the other way around. Working on Time Machine was a

being contaminated by other modes of thinking seems

step in that direction.

to be disappearing. Do you experience a change in the relationship to the dance community?

AK: Do you dance?

NP: Yes. I did a Canada Council residency in Paris a

NP: Only at parties. I don't have to learn it all, do I?

couple of years ago, and really noticed that there was communication between dance and visual art. I am re-

AK: Thank you!

ally glad about that, in part for selfish reasons, because

Photo: Natalie Purschwitz


Da nce Central March/April 2015


"My work is physical, not because it is intended to cause pain, but it is like freeclimbing:

people say they want to do it, but they will while learning to develop the


continued from page 8

They knew it would be physical and they wanted it because

Debussy's music; and I believe he didn't create his work to

of that. I find that beautiful, because it would be easy to get

Debussy's music but to his own. What I love is the artistry

someone else; and it is marvelous that people will ask for what

that makes me feel the image as complete, and the work

challenges them.

needs this piece of music to be complete, but it’s in the poetry—which has nothing to do with counts.

AK: When you add music to this mix between text— which determines structure—and physicality—which informs space—

AK: You have been in Vancouver eight years since you left

you add a form that does all of these things in itself. How do

Dancemakers. How did you find the journey between the

you work with it?

two places, and why did you come back?

SB: 98 percent of the time, when I work with composers, for

SB: The first time I came to Vancouver, in the fall of 1987,

example with Bertrand Chénier for this piece, we start a year

was a defining moment in my life. I became what I am

before I enter the studio with the dancers. It is a conversa-

because of the work that I did here at that time. Grant

tion; we talk not about movement but images, sensations,

Strate, who recently passed away, was very important in

essences. Then he goes back to Montreal, plays, improvises,

this. I was with Le Groupe de la Place Royale at the time,

creates, and sends me things, I listen until, suddenly, I discover

and when I came to Vancouver the first time, I met Grant.

a direction. He may not see any movement until I am halfway

He said: "I will talk to some people and when you come

through the piece; I may send him a video, or he comes and

back in a few months, you will have work." I left without

we have a period of creating together. It is a very organic and

thinking too much about it. But when I came back, he had

clear process. Things find their place.

talked to Judith Marcuse, and to SFU, and I started working like crazy right way—all because of this extraordinary

AK: Do you use counts?

man. I am proud to have had created for the first Dancing on the Edge Festival! I met other artists, like Nancy

SB: Never, not even when I create pieces for ballet. I believe

Bryant, she became my set and costume designer for all

that I have my music inside me. I choose the music not for

the years at Dancemakers in Toronto, Jay Gower Taylor,

the beat, but for what it says between, so the count has no

dancer and set designer, they all became friends and co-

place. That is why I work with composers. Nijinsky didn't like

creators. Vancouver was the place where my roots went


Da nce Central March/April 2015


Speaking of Memory

Serge Bennathan



in their fingers.

into the ground, artistically and as a human being, so when I

security systems, which means that we are conscious of our

left Dancemakers, it was natural to come back to where my

community, that you think about the person beside you. The

roots were. It was simple — and difficult because I had to start

economic philosophies of Reagan and Thatcher are totally

at zero again. But there are places where the people and the

egotistical, and it all goes back to dance. In dance you can't

community make you happy, and it was like that for me. I felt a

be egotistical, because you are working with other people,

profound joy, and my work flourished because I was here.

and you have to be aware of them. Dance is fantastic in that way; I am so thankful that I grew up with dance. In the com-

AK: At the same time, you are a European expatriate.

pany I danced with in Marseille there were all kinds of people,

What is the relationship between these two dimensions

from all kinds of backgrounds and it never occurred to me

of your life?

that people were different. Dance shows us another way, and that is priceless. Just for that, I tell people to send their kids to

SB: It is complicated. I have the gratitude of the immigrant;

dance class. It will open their minds. We forget about this and

I find it fantastic, I arrived with a suitcase and a thousand

we think dance is just a thing on stage, but there is a world

dollars, knowing only one person in this immense country. I

behind it that is different. I also love that when you work in

am a first generation immigrant, so I have the experience of a

dance you have to touch each other. To be physical takes

divided sense between the life I had and the 'new' life. I miss

away a lot of problems. Of course you can have problems

France, and at the same time, I don't. I also think that Europe is

in the studio, but that is there to challenge you— a physical

changing drastically, and I am sad to think that the economic

difficulty, or something you aim for and have to struggle to

philosophy of America has won, and Europe is becoming

reach. I love that when you have doubts that it is not meant

American. This is true for the EU and in France, where there

to stop you, but to make you think about it. It's a way of living

is an americanization of things like language, and while our

your life as a human being differently, and fully.

history contains centuries of good and bad things—colonialism for one—I think we are slowly losing the good things and

AK: Thank you!

replacing them with American values. I love America as a country, even if I don't agree with its economic philosophy. In France, we sometimes say the government is too important. Yes, it is, but I like that we have one of the best social

Da nce Central March/April 2015


March/April 2015

Dance Central Dance Central September 2004


Dance Central March / April 2015  

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

Dance Central March / April 2015  

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