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March/April/May 2017

Dance Central A Dance Centre Publication

Emergences Modus Operandi A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen Page 2

Grounding A conversation with Marissa Wong Page 8

Welcome to Dance Central

Dance Pedagogies: A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen

Welcome to the March/April/May issue of Dance Central, and to the introduction of Emerging Bodies, a series about the experiences of young dance artists at the early stages of their professional career in one of the world's ten most unaffordable cities. Following a recommendation by Amber Funk Barton, we begin with a conversation with the Vancouver choreographer Marissa Wong of TWObigstepscollective. As part of our ongoing series Dance Pedagogies, this issue also features a conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen of Modus Operandi, a training program for contemporary dance artists that has, over the past ten years, successfully established itself as an alternative to academic institutional dance training. The conversation centres on what is involved in developing a curriculum that is both responsive to the requirements of young performers and rigorous in laying the foundation for a professional career in the evolving context of contemporary performance. 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 e-mail to or call us at 604.606.6416. We continue to look forward to the conversation! Andreas Kahre, Editor


D a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7

Modus Operandi

AK: Dance Central is featuring a series about dance pedagogy and in particular about how the training of young dancers is changing in response to developments in the performing arts. Aside from the established schools and institutions in Vancouver, Modus Operandi has now been operating for ten years, and has become a very visible presence in the community, with alumni dancing with companies across the city, with students working in professional situations, and a full-fledged four–year dance program. What made you do this? DR: MO began as a series of annual workshops, and over 4 or 5 years it transformed and formalized into a multi-year program. When we started, it was a place for Tiffany and I to share our work as dancers, choreographers, and teachers but MO quickly evolved in the direction of the needs of the young artists who attended and since then we have been constantly developing into a place where young dancers come to get professional training. With this, a whole new set of questions and responsibilities presented themselves. We asked: Why are these young people interested in MO and how is that unique from what is already available to them? Why, what and how should we expand, structure and nurture? Who are the right people for this responsibility? How much formalization is too much before we discourage instead of cultivate the possibilities, discoveries, openness, diversity and humanity that are central to what is already beautifully working and shared with our students? What do these interested young artists have in common? How do we honour and nurture the group and how do we

D a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7


Dance Pedagogies: A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen

DR: There are lots of schools and teachers that have similar philosophies; to bring the students’ curiosities and individual needs into the conversation, and to assess what they are going to encounter when they leave, which brings up one of the big questions we are all asking: What is contemporary dance going to look like in the future and how do you prepare young artists for something that doesn’t necessarily exist yet? We were inspired by places like the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance, or SEAD, and especially by P.A.R.T.S., a contemporary dance school in Brussels founded in 1994 by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Bernard Foccroulle. One thing that we are specific about is that we want to reinforce the idea of the dancer having

offer our experiences as professionals as a platform for their

an artistic voice that needs to be developed as much their

development while providing the means for them to discover

physical ability, and establish this philosophy in relation-

the artist they want to be? What are we learning from them

ship to what their responsibilities will be to themselves,

that should shape how we work together? These are ques-

their own practice and how that will meet the people they

tions we are constantly processing, and one of the ways we

work with. The format in which people practice contempo-

are responding is to connect aspiring dance artists with current

rary dance is always shifting and developing. There is a lot

practicing professional dancers/creators/choreographers/

of project–based work, and that demands many different

teachers — with people actively engaged in the field. We try

skills. Working as an independent dance artist now means

to encourage and program this interaction between young

moving from place to place and not necessarily staying

dance artists and professionals as the means to find out what

within one form of practice, and that is something we want

is needed to become a rigorous and integral practitioner, to

to prepare young dancers for. We want them to understand

expose our students to a range of perspectives and values,

and feel empowered that they are in control and respon-

and also discover what gaps exist in their development instead

sible for their own dancing and trajectory.

of assuming that all of our students have the same existing skills and challenges. The program attracts young people

AK: In the past, training would be divided along the lines

from varied backgrounds; ranging from those with extensive

of creator and interpreter, choreographer and performer,

training in gymnastics or athletics, to self taught street danc-

along similar lines that music training divided composers

ers, to students from formal ballet schools, and they all come

and instrumentalists. Dance artists now move more freely

together in the same room. Their needs are deeply varied, and

between various roles, and that presumably means that

our approach keeps striving to nurture the individual, to find

training programs must respond to this. You used both the

out what their needs are, rather than to focus on a general

word institution and school in describing Modus Operandi.

training curriculum. We are not trying to train a dancer for a

Does it fit into that grid of organizational frameworks?

certain type of movement, or a certain type of career, but to understand over the four years how each student’s interests

DR: That’s a big question that Tiffany and I are constantly

are developing and how we can help them to move towards

asking ourselves. I think MO functions both inside and

their evolving goals. The goal is to be in a feedback loop with

outside of those frameworks. That’s part of why our format

each one of them to help guide their development. Each year

is somewhat unique. We want to make sure the process

we are asking questions about the previous year, and where

between the teacher and the learner is as organic and ef-

we can improve, make changes and adapt the program to

fective as possible and sometimes conventional models

move it more towards the needs of the young dancers and the

of dance institutions can obstruct this. At the same time,

needs and standards of professional dance.

a structural framework is necessary when you need to provide information to a group of people: scheduling, cur-


AK: Are there organizations or institutions like Modus Operandi

ricular progression and repetition are necessary to provide

that you have been inspired by?

foundational training and depth of understanding. Still,

Dance Central March/April/May 2017

we are resisting a lot of formal institutional structures and values. The more we evolve MO the more we learn about how resistance is a critical part of its success. It is really about honouring and engaging the natural learning process, perspective and curiosity of each dancer who comes into MO, within a framework that enables not only the transmission but the transformation of information. When it comes to responding to the evolution of traditional roles and how we address that in a curriculum, one of the first things we try to instill in our students is that dance is research and how, why and what we research doesn’t have to be dictated by roles we play in a creative process. In our lessons we are transparent about our thoughts, motivations and challenges as professionals who are performing, creating, teaching and administrating dance and like us so many professionals who work with MO find ways to invest all aspects of their practices into their learning material for MO. While we don’t offer formal

"We asked: is needed to succeed in a current–day professional



performance or dance career? How can we provide the range of skills that a dance artist will have to


in a space

of four years?"

courses on choreography for example, making dance, deD a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7


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 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, Art Director & Layout Andreas Kahre Copy Editor Hilary Maxwell Contributors to this issue: Marissa Wong, David Raymond, Tiffany Tregarthen Photography: Wendy D, 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

Dance Pedagogies: A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen veloping collaborative skills, speaking about dance, leading their own creative projects and many more related activity is prominent throughout the programming. AK: Speaking of the four–year format, which corresponds to a typical undergraduate dance program, how did you decide on that length? DR: We actually didn’t intend to model MO after typical undergrad programs. The four-year format naturally evolved as the program developed. We started to see in the first few years that it really does take that amount of

Directors Carolyn Chan Eve Chang Jai Govinda Anndraya T. Luui Starr Muranko

dedicated time to provide enough support for young artists

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,

or getting into a company right away. It’s really about help-

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 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.

to develop the faculties needed to move forward on their own. MO is not so much about getting a person ready for a professional career immediately after leaving the program ing young dancers establish a high standard of practice and develop their own momentum, confidence and tools to becoming a strong dance artist. MO alumni have had so many varied trajectories and it’s really important to us that young dancers don’t get stressed out about the timing or expectations of their opportunities. AK: How do you balance all these elements in developing your curriculum? DR: We are constantly evolving the curriculum based on the abilities and needs of the students, so it is a fluid thing. There are foundational components; we know that a strong physical aptitude including agility, conditioning, endurance, awareness and sensitivity are universal necessities for a contemporary professional dancer, but that can look like many things. We focus on core practices that provide the best platform for a dancer to develop in many different directions. We know that a dancer’s goals might evolve and we try to provide a foundation that allows them to move into multiple directions. Therefore we are not just focusing on any one of the established foundational techniques, but rather on providing a plethora of practices and resources that come together to cultivate physical intelligence,


D a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7

continued on page 15

"What is contemporary dance going to look like in the future and how do you prepare young artists for something that doesn't exist yet?" continued on page 14

Dance Central November/December 2016


Emerging Bodies A conversation with Marissa Wong AK: Your background is strongly based in ballet, but the move-

did my relationship with Amber, more toward having her

ment you create in the context of your company and your solo

as a choreographic mentor. She has been really wonder-

work is quite different. How do the two relate to each other?

ful in helping me develop and keeping me grounded in this industry...

MW: I started with a heavy ballet background, and that's what I trained in when I was growing up in Vancouver. I even went

AK: Speaking of the 'industry', there is a distinction made

to ‘Provincial Reps’ and attended ballet intensives such as Jof-

between 'emerging', 'mid-career' and 'established' artists;

frey Ballet, The Rock School for Dance, and Ballet Austin where

categories that map artistic development on a linear arc

I ended up doing the training program in Austin, Texas. That's

that reflects the notion that funding rewards seniority as a

when I realized I didn't want to do that any more, so I chopped

marker of perceived merit, but not necessarily meaningful to

off all my hair and moved to San Francisco to study at the

an artist's actual journey. Where do you see yourself in this

Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, which is a brilliant


place to foster you as an individual and also encourage you to expand on the facility and foundation you already have. The

MW: I don't necessarily define myself in that particular way

director, Karah Abiog, and the teachers there encouraged the

but when I am being compared to other artists in the com-

exploration of your genuine self. That was really helpful to me

munity, there are those who have definitely had more time

in exploring how to break down the barriers of what I knew

and experience to develop, and a more defined vocabulary,

and translate that into a narrative in an honest way. The experi-

which is what we are currently exploring, and differenti-

ence at LINES allowed me to explore my intention and the type

ates someone who may be 'emerging' from someone who is

of movement vocabulary I wanted to explore as an artist and

more established.

choreographer. AK: Do you have a sense that you have an audience that folAK: When did you move to Texas?

lows you?

MW: I moved there when I was seventeen. I had graduated

MW: Yes, and no. It's difficult because I have been choreo-

early from high school and had it all planned out: I was going to

graphing for the past four years, but I have been travelling a

be a professional ballerina, but once there I realized I wanted to

lot, and I spent a lot of time in San Francisco and Montreal;

explore other forms, and contemporary movement allowed me

we are going back there this fall. So we have many follow-

to find a more raw place to express myself from.

ers, but not in one place, because the audience here hasn’t had a chance to see us develop and expand, but we have a

AK: I did notice a similarity between your way of moving and

lot of support, with a lot of wonderful people helping us and

that of Amber Funk Barton, who had suggested you for this

cheering us on, but we are receiving that more in terms of

series. How did you meet?

online communication.

MW: I met Amber through my mentors, Sarah Brewer-Clowes,

AK: You use the terms collective and company somewhat

and Jocelyn Wozencroft. Each time I came back to Vancouver I

interchangeably. The TWObigsteps collective website lists

was wondering if I wanted to stay here, and if it was a place that

you as the choreographer for most projects. Do you think of

would foster me; one thing I have learned in my travels is that

yourselves as a company with defined roles, or do your roles

location really does matter. As priorities in my life shift, so do

shift among members, as they often do with collectives?

my intentions as an artist to finding balance in all aspects of life,


and dividing that energy and time. I went to one of her work-

MW: Right now, we are still in the process of establish-

shops and I was interested in working with her as a performer,

ing what the collective is, and I am spearheading it, making

and as my relationship and interests within my craft shifted, so

sure we are on track in terms of time and organization, but

Dance Central March/April/May 2017


"I want to be able to share, be collaborative and create a community; not just to be a dance company, but also to create a space where other people can project their dreams."

D a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7


"I have a lot of people in my life who are

artists and many who are not, and they go to see art for different reasons. Some, like Mama Wong, just want to be entertained, while others have different objectives. I want to make art accessible to a broad range of people and not narrow the audience." 10

Dance Central March/April/May 2017

Emerging Bodies A conversation with Marissa Wong I am working with wonderful people (Katie Cassady, Kaitey

talk with people, and take a break from the constant cerebral

DeSante, Andrew Haydock, and Sarah Formosa) who are

work really helps to keep me balanced.

helping, with social media, meetings, and to keep me sane. We are writing and working together, and in the studio it is

AK: Do you feel connected to a particular generation, or

definitely a collaborative process, but in the work that isn't

cohort, in Vancouver or in San Francisco?

dancing or movement, we are negotiating time and availability, because all the members are involved in many different

MW: I think both cities have quite different communities.

projects, which is very nice because it allows us to bring dif-

In Vancouver, there is a very tightly-knit dance community,

ferent vocabularies to our work. It is a collective in that sense,

which is difficult to break into, but once you are there people

and it is important to me that it is stated that we are working

are really open and giving, and willing to share their experi-

collectively and collaboratively, but I am the one who directs

ences. I have connected with many different generations

where the train goes.

of artists and mentors who have been able to pass on their experiences. Studying at school in San Francisco created an

AK: San Francisco and Vancouver are two of the most expen-

automatic way into the community, whereas coming back

sive cities in the world, and to find a studio, keep it warm and

here I came from the outside, because I hadn't been in a pro-

pay the rent must be difficult. Is it manageable to run a dance

gram, so I had to create connections on my own.

company under these circumstances? AK: Among others, you worked with Jennifer Mascall? MW: We are currently navigating creative ways of receiving funding, which goes beyond just grant writing, such as hono-

MW: Yes I did, and that was really nourishing; it was a very

rariums, sponsorships, or community engagement. A huge

liberating process for me to be accountable to someone else,

part of it is creating genuine connections through the art and

especially as we were starting off and I had a huge amount of

dance world. We work collaboratively with emerging and

other work. It was really nice to be in a process where I was

underrepresented artists to build a community and help one

going to be dancing and creating, but without the administra-

another expand their practice. Our connections in San Fran-

tive responsibility of directing.

cisco have made residencies possible through exchanges, but it’s still hard...

AK: Your movement contains a strong element of contact improvisation. How did you come across it?

AK: More there than in Vancouver? MW: I have taken classes from Peter Bingham in VancouWM: I think it is equivalent. If I look at rent and cost of living,

ver, but I was introduced to improvisation in San Francisco.

they are about the same. When starting out, you have to have

Understanding touch and sensation and the relationship to

another job, because you are working a lot for free—which

another body is a different type of contact. I also worked

we are hoping to change—but as we are at the beginning and

outside of school hours and with friends while in Montreal to

trying to establish ourselves in Vancouver after being migra-

explore that connection and weight transference.

tory for a while, we are currently supporting our work this way. For me it also fosters other experiences: I teach, which I

AK: In watching your choreography for a trio work titled Veils,

have grown into and find is another platform where I can use

it was striking how much you choreograph them almost as

my voice, but I also work in a restaurant, which allows me to

one body. How do you generate movement?

take a break from dance. I know that other artists are looking to make it a full-time career, and there are creative ways

MW: I call it ‘playtime’, where we allow ourselves to create

to work in theatre, or in administration and to have a full life

the creative vocabulary and the spine for the work. With

in dance, but I need a break when I get home. I am thinking

each new process and each new group of dancers we estab-

about the artistic work I am engaged in all the time, and to

lish a vocabulary that relates to the piece or the conceptual

allow myself an eight-hour shift when I can check out and

idea, and also with what the dancers are exploring or have Dance Central March/April/May 2017


Emerging Bodies A conversation with Marissa Wong

when connecting to each other, and how these structures are established with another body. AK: In one of your solo works you appeared very strongly con-

learned recently. We start out with improvisational scores,

nected to the ground, which for someone coming from ballet is

depending on the piece, and with Veils we were working

not the first thing that comes to mind, but you look very com-

with the idea of self vs. identity, our relation to objective and

fortable with the floor as a partner. How did you manage the

subjective perspectives. Once we establish that connection

transition from the vertical axis to being grounded like that?

to the spine of the work, we begin to create phrases and improvisational scores. Sometimes I generate movement

MW: In that exercise, I was working particularly on floor work,

in which the dancers will translate individually, or through

and it's definitely a result of my training at LINES. Although we

prompts and scores, we will develop phrases working with

were doing almost two–hour ballet classes every day, we also

words, sensations, or a connection to the concept. I ask

had a sense of breaking what that foundation was, and working

each dancer to develop hyper awareness to ensure the

with and beyond our limitations. We were being asked to take

most accurate interpretation of my intention in hopes this

ourselves to the extremes of our strengths—emotionally and

will be translated to the viewer. That is our goal.

physically—, and draw out what we could in pushing further. I also spent a lot of time in Montreal, in an exchange where, for

AK: You keep the group very closely together, and while the

cleaning the studio at the end of the day I got free rehearsal

movement is very fluid, the sheer proximity requires a lot of

space, and where I spent a lot of time alone to see how I could


challenge myself. We also worked a lot with gyrotonic technique at LINES and that translates into how I teach, so rather

MW: That is just a result of working together and getting to

than having an up-momentum and getting myself off the floor

know each other well. As I learn more about the dancers, I

in ballet, I am now interested in how we use the down move-

start to see where their natural movement patterns are and

ment to go up and how we can connect to this vertical place by

how to relate that movement in the space and working with

using the floor and having it influence the movement, even in a

the group. We use contact techniques, and we do smack

lower position.

each other, but we also find out how to soften the bodies, how to create a genuine connection and that goes back to

AK: Do you still think of yourself as having a 'ballet body', has it

touch. There is so much one can say without words, and

transformed, or do you switch between different bodies?

simply touch. We often work with what we are trying to say


Dance Central March/April/May 2017

to establish that more. It also depends on who I am workMW: I think they influence each other. I love ballet; I love having a

ing with, but everyone I have been working with has some

structured technique and a vocabulary that is familiar, and I love

ballet training, and the work requires some certain amount of

challenging my body from day to day in what I can explore. So now

technical foundation.

when I do ballet, I no longer think of my technique, but I focus more on sensation, on intention, ideas, metaphor and visualization, and

AK: Establishing and running a dance collective in Vancou-

on what I am trying to achieve through that, so when I am doing

ver demands that you administrate, fundraise, and manage

a promenade and attitude I am not thinking of where the lines are

resources, media and publicity. Do you have sense of where

but what they translate to, perhaps in a relationship to a bowl, or

you want the company to establish itself in the local ecology?

expanding wings. I love that structured place but also exploring how to challenge myself in terms of contemporary floor work. Ballet is a

MW: I do. I think establishing that coincides with your values

lot easier to access because it is my foundation, and it takes a little

and morals, and especially navigating the city as a business

more mental stamina to work on contemporary work, both alone

owner or entrepreneur you need to establish your integ-

and with others. In the context of the collective, it is easier for me to

rity and what your limitations are. It is like purchasing an

choreograph on other bodies because I can see the lines or momen-

apartment in the city. I may want to have a porch, a view,

tum, and can give direction or suggestion as to how we can explore

heat, and you go and look at all these apartments, some

it further, and that is how we work in the collective, how we expand

great some not, and then you say, 'within my price range or

what we are working with, and how we work with collective and

boundaries, what I am I willing to give up, and what is es-

individual narratives. When I am working in the studio by myself,

sential to me?' I think it is the same with approaching your

I explore how to meld ballet and contemporary techniques, but

career. Are you willing to take certain opportunities because

mostly just moving from an honest place.

they might offer more money or advancement, or do you want to work under specific conditions? It is important to

AK: Vancouver has a number of companies that merge contempo-

establish your values, and from that you establish where you

rary and ballet movement, and some strongly emphasize the balletic

want to go. Everything we are doing as part of the collective

elements; more than it appears in your work. How do you approach

is creating a community, and that is super–important. My

the integration of these elements?

goal is also to share and to create a framework that is accessible to a broad range of audiences. I have a lot of people

MW: I think in the pieces you have seen I was rebelling a little, to

in my life who are artists and many who are not, and they

see if I could break away, and as I am still exploring but beginning to

go to see art for different reasons. Some, like Mama Wong,

establish my vocabulary as an individual artist, it is going to translate

just want to be entertained, while others have different

more into my choreography. In this current process, I am attempting

objectives. I want to make art accessible to a broad range of

people and not narrow the audience. I want to be able to share, be collaborative and create a community; not just to be a dance company, but also to create a space where other people can project their dreams. In order to do that we are working with multi-disciplinary artists, such as musicians or photographers, to create a broader range, and to get people talking. So if I am able to make an impact through dialogue, communication, connection, research process, or the final performance, then I feel I have done what I have set out do. AK: How do you experience your development in this community? MW: It is a process. In navigating this new territory, I am learning to surrender to this process and to these new experiences and situations. If you had asked me a year ago, I would not have thought I would be here now. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have thought I would be a performer in Europe going from project to project. As you gain experience your priorities shift, and that doesn't always involve art, which allows you to invest your time in things that are important to you, which in turn will foster your art practice. And it's hard; some days I just want to say 'I want to make art, I just want to dance', but there are a lot of other things that ride on that, administrative work, fundraising, grant–writing, and a lot of time spent working on the computer. When you begin the process, you are not necessarily prepared for these things, and you navigate them as you go along, but I have a lot of wonderful people helping me, and that network and a community are super–important. I have come to the realization that creating these ties and genuine connections is really important in life, because your art relies on a community; you can dance for yourself in the studio and there is nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking to make an impact in a more global sense, then a network is critical. AK: If there is something you could say to the dance community, what would it be? MW: Generosity, gratitude and being honest with your intentions, for yourself and your relationships are vital. Take the time you need, be generous with yourself, and find gratitude. It is a good reminder that you have the privilege to make art, and not everyone has that luxury. It is something to be grateful for every day, and when I get stressed out because things get hectic, that is a brilliant thing. AK: Thank you!


Dance Central March/April/May 2017

. "It is a good reminder that you have the privilege to make art, and not everyone has that luxury. It is something to be grateful for every day, and when I get stressed out because things get hectic, that is a brilliant thing."

Dance Pedagogies: continued from page 7 A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen adaptability, critical thinking and their own perspective. Laying a foundation that will equip the dancer to move in the different directions they may want to explore in the future represents for us the best way to picture the curriculum: to provide a foundation that allows the dancer to be adaptable. This foundation does not look like the same thing in each person due to the different backgrounds, value systems and career interests in the room. AK: When it comes to the future of the artistic environment, performers will find themselves in an unpredictable environment of elements, interactive media, text, sound and sited performance strategies. Is it possible to prepare dancers for these encounters, and do you make it part of the training? DR: Yes, I believe it’s possible to prepare dancers for these encounters. One of our philosophies in MO is to encourage dancers to employ their curiosity and to always be asking themselves questions about the work they are doing as a most essential

part of any process. I think this is also what is needed to navigate new environments, tools and ways of working. That being said our focus at MO is mainly the physical and artistic development of the body as the expressive instrument. We do provide students with as much exposure as possible to how the body is being worked with currently in contemporary dance and hybrid performance practices, but we also make clear that the focus in MO is primarily on mastering how to work with our bodies as the material and source of the choreographic process. Our creative labs and projects, public performance & practice classes, and student- lead projects like Dance On Screen definitely incorporate a multitude of elements and environments into processes. We also program artists whose practices and/ or classes are not necessarily centred in dance and include theatre, voice work, and visual arts, for example. The diverse backgrounds and skillsets of our current students includes basketball, gymnastics, martial arts, and tutting to visual arts, drag, social justice, American Sign Language, biology and drumming, which creates a strong foundation of experimental, unpredictable and interdisciplinary considerations.

Dance Pedagogies A conversation with David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen

covering new information in order to do our work. Descriptive language is often the thing disseminating understanding in creative process especially when working with abstract ideas so we are always encouraging students to be exploring, reflecting and documenting their thoughts. We also think it is important

AK: Given the range of people who teach, choreographers like

for dancers to develop a voice not only to speak about their

Justine A. Chambers or Delia Brett whose work often involves

practice but to speak for themselves, their standards, their eth-

these and other dimensions, do you try to constrain or focus

ics, to be activists, to be critical. Our students and alumni are

the program on the physical aspects, or do you accept what-

both following part of the movement of dance artists eager to

ever the instructors bring to the work with your students?

express and expand the form through writing and dialogue.

DR: It’s always a negotiation. Justine and Delia have been

AK: How are you creating support to allow Modus Operandi to

engaged with the students on multiple levels. We strive to


find common grounds between the developmental needs of the students and what the educator is working on in their own

DR: We have always and continue to strive to make MO

practice. Quite often we find this through preliminary discus-

affordable and accessible as we know the burden of student

sions with the artists to develop a process that is an enriching

debt is very difficult to manage in a field like dance. MO is

exchange for them and provides an essential learning experi-

fortunate enough to receive funding through the Department of

ence for the students. Of course the program goes beyond the

Canadian Heritage’s Arts Training Fund and the BC Arts Council

purely physical practice and it’s always exciting when a per-

to support its activity. We are also very grateful for the sup-

spective is offered for students to see just how diverse dance

port of The Dance Centre and Harbour Dance Centre which

practices can be. I wouldn’t say we constrain artists’ working

has helped provide access to affordable studio spaces and

interests with the program but we do have to consider our

resources to students and alumni. It’s an exciting challenge

focus on developing the physical and practical due to the

to tackle all the needs of young aspiring dance artists and we

age and stage of development students tend to be in when

are constantly looking for new ways to meet it. We also have

they come to the program. Laying a foundation to prepare

to acknowledge the immense expertise and generosity of

someone for something as diverse as contemporary dance is

the teachers, mentors and artists who contribute so much to

a huge task in itself so we are always trying to balance taking

making MO what it is. Their thought–filled contributions and

care of the depth of that foundation while exposing the stu-

desire to engage in the development of young aspiring artists

dents to as much as possible.

is vital to what makes MO continue and grow stronger. From its inception MO has been resourceful. Our public practice and

AK: Along with new modes of dance performance, there has

performance course was a solution to wanting more program-

also been a strong movement of dance artists speaking about

ming, experimental activity and environment, and challenging

their practice and defining a language that articulates artistic

performance development without being able to afford studio

goals and critical reflection. Do you make that part of your

rentals and refusing to raise tuition. By taking class out of the


studio on a regular basis, we now have an invaluable part of our curriculum that gives our students a platform to research

DR: Yes, for sure. The ability to communicate and articulate

and challenge their notions of practice and performance in

what you are working on is an essential skill we address in the

relation to space and public.

program. There are several written projects throughout the years of MO that ask dancers to define their artistic and prac-

AK: A young dancer who wants professional training has a

tical goals, be descriptive about their strengths, weaknesses,

range of options, including dance programs at universities and

interests and approaches as well articulate their thoughts in

private institutions. How do you think these options compare?

many areas of their dancing and development. These exercises really help them develop that language. In dance processes

DR: Dance programs such as SFU, Arts Umbrella and Modus

we are constantly being asked to explain or describe no mat-

Operandi are all very different from each other and they offer

ter what role we are in and we are always mining and dis-

very different things and that is just 3 out of many options. I would encourage young dancers to do a lot of research to


Dance Central March/April/May 2017

assess what they are looking for, really understand what is being

cerned with theory and language, one related to the skill of

offered by the various options before they select one of the many

making objects and another focused on the ability to see and

institutional or other training options. Again the cost of dance edu-

critically reflect. To negotiate all of this and package it in such

cation is tough, given the limitations of the income available even

a way that one can offer a meaningful curriculum and also a

at a professional level. That’s why it’s really important for young

way for students to develop on their own terms, constitutes

dancers to do research before committing to any one avenue for

continually new ground. Dance, I believe, is shifting dramati-

multiple years.

cally in how it situates itself as a performing practice, and interacts with other disciplines compared to twenty or thirty

AK: If a young dancer approaches you and asks what your pro-

years ago. The word pedagogy is perhaps less reflective of a

gram offers, what would you say is unique about it?

specific method and more shorthand for how the conversation is continuing, in the community and with the students.

DR: MO is one student body and this means that for the majority of

How would you define it?

the student’s development they have access to the same maturity of information and opportunities as each other. This shared

TT : Ah! That’s hard for me to define. I agree with calling it a

environment and the level of individual mentorship supports a

conversation with the community and students. What feels

trajectory not based on credits, grades but on their own progress

most essential if we are going to engage in a relationship

and needs. Our application criteria is seeking a student body that

where we are housing a group of young people working,

reflects diverse experiences, bodies and skills that will reflect

is that they should feel they have the opportunity to chal-

the essential need for the profession to include different voices,

lenge the house they are doing that in, and that they feel like

people and dances. The diversity of students and programming fo-

they are supported in the process of discovering what they

cuses less on a central syllabus or aesthetic and more on opening

are becoming, as opposed to being dictated to about what

students to an enormous possibility of ways and reasons to dance

they should be. That seems like central values of what we

so they can discover the artist they want to be. This diversity cre-

should offer, and means that I have to keep transforming it

ates an environment where students learn an enormous amount

in my mind as an instructor, mentor, artist and seeing that as

from each other and where trial, error and risk are celebrated.

working together with our students, and also transforming

The educators are all active professionals who use their current

the actual structure of the program. Our students, regardless

practices, research and interests as the source of their classes. MO

of their history within or before MO or their specific interests

is striving to be responsive and adaptable and our students are

and skills that are developing, for the most part share the

encouraged to shape what MO becomes.

same class in the same room and the same opportunities together and hopefully they will share the same professional

AK: Is there such a thing as an overarching performance peda-

community. To me that suggests that the thing they share is

gogy; in your experience, or are pedagogies developed in relation

more of a commitment than anything else; something that

only to distinct forms such as ballet, contemporary dance, First

revitalizes daily curiosity, dedication, stamina and generosity.

Nations dance, flamenco, or any of the other forms that make up

These are the things that are becoming more obvious to me

the tapestry?

as one of the leaders of Modus Operandi, than what actual dances I am teaching. The program has changed so much,

DR: That is a big question. If you asked me that five years ago I

and I am hoping it will continue to do that. I think that the es-

may have attempted an answer in regards to contemporary dance

sential parts of my developing approach is to remain respon-

performance but it’s changing so fast and I’m always finding

sive, to listen, to stoke the individual fire in them that was

performance practices out there that I didn’t even know existed

already there before dance, to challenge my own institutions,

so I don’t think I can speak to this. I’m sure there are people out

to help students along the unknown, to not know and let

there working on it but it’s way out of my jurisdiction. There are so

them show me, to acknowledge that I am not the expert of

many different things coming together to form new things within

what they will become or a gatekeeper of their success and

contemporary performance today.

to share as much of my experience, energy and resources as possible.

AK: Any form of contemporary artistic training involves a range of shifting influences. For example, if you are training to become a

AK: Thank you!

visual artist now, there will be a media component, another conD a n c e C e n t ra l M a rc h / A p r i l / M ay 2 0 1 7


Dance Central March/April/May 2017

Dance Central March / April / May 2017  

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

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