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Interviews, essays and commentary published by The Dance Current.

Monday, June 25, 2012

La B.A.R.N. – Tedd Robinson’s Place in the Sun

By Chick Snipper

Masaharu Imazu at La B.A.R.N. / Photo by Rod MacIvor

He’s a quiet choreographer and a former zen monk. He’s a physical poet and a spiritual guide to dancers’ creative souls. He’s also a very successful and unassuming man who has been developing one of the most unique facilities for dance artists in this country. It’s called La B.A.R.N.


The facility (an acronym for “beauty, art, retreat, nature”) is located in Pontiac County, Quebec, about ninety minutes northeast of Ottawa, where dusty roads and forest animals are part of his everyday existence. “I chose to move to the Pontiac because of my roots there,” Robinson tells me over dinner. “My family had a cottage on Lac Sinclair, forty kilometres directly east of where I am now. I spent my childhood in that landscape. The dried pine needles are engraved on the soles of my feet.”

Robinson’s professional resumé reads like the dream page from the dance artist’s handbook. He is the artistic director of 10 Gates Dancing, his own education- and performance-based company. He won the Chalmers National Dance Award in 1998 for his solo Rokudo. Formerly a resident choreographer and artistic director at Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, he has also created works for EDAM, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, Main Dance, the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre. He’s a well recognized educator/mentor here and abroad and worked frequently as a monitor at Le Groupe Dance Lab. He’s an associate dance artist at the National Arts Centre and has collaborated with many of the best in Canadian dance: Margie Gillis, Louise Lecavalier and Peggy Baker, to name a few. So why would he put the brakes on a successful career to develop a retreat centre, where his daily concerns consist of holes in a barn roof, bats in the eaves, hornets nests and septic tanks?

La B.A.R.N. / Photo by Tedd Robinson

“Some people say I am naïve,” Robinson points out, “but I see myself as an idealist. I believe in the philosophy of dreams and good intentions. I believe in the power of intimate creative experiences and La B.A.R.N. is the embodiment of that.” Currently, La B.A.R.N. is a seasonal retreat that offers summer residency programs to dancers and choreographers. They get to partake in a cherished opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of daily living for the inspirational calm of creating amidst nature under Robinson’s guidance. Dancers, choreographers, mentors work all day, then talk dance and philosophy and life well into the evening. There is nothing more than the wind on the lake and towering trees to distract them from all forms of discourse. “It gives me pleasure to support artists who give back with equal generosity,” says Robinson. “Whether through their dance work or by digging in the garden. It’s all about creating community.” The actual studio is located in an original outbuilding on the property. Robinson tells me with pride: “I built the dance floor all by myself and it’s still level!” He describes how the space is converted for performance. “We rely on natural light and some basic work lights. there’s a good sound system and my mother’s piano that I haul down from the house when required. We throw open the back doors onto a raised platform nestled among the trees. It seats about forty-five audience members. It’s site specific. It’s intimate.”

Lori Duncan, Megan Jerome, Mike Essoudry, Petr Cancura and Dan Wild / Photo by Rod MacIvor

Robinson’s dreams are big. He wants to open the facility all year round. “If I could afford to build an all season facility, I would do it in a heartbeat. The winter is the most beautiful time of year in the Pontiac, perfect for inspiring the imagination. The major stumbling block is financial. There is no public money in the property or the buildings, they are upgraded and maintained out of my own pocket. The public money is only for funding the programs offered at La B.A.R.N.” Robinson shakes his head thinking about the financial burden then smiles. “I am grateful to my parents who left me a small inheritance which allowed me to purchase the property, to maintain it, improve it. My dad would be proud.”

When asked if he is building Canada’s very own Jacob’s Pillow, he laughs. “Well Jacob’s Pillow was started by Ted Shawn and I’m also a Tedd. And both places began as summer retreats for study and exploration in dance. People have already compared it to Jacob’s Pillow of the early ’30s. But my vision is different, because I want to keep La B.A.R.N. intimate and small, which Jacob’s Pillow no longer is.”

Taking this artistic path is perhaps unexpected because, on paper, his career trajectory as a choreographer and mentor for hire had been right on course. After a much ballyhooed stint as artistic director of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Robinson left it all behind to return to Ottawa in 1990 to build his solo career, developing a close working relationship with (the now defunct and enormously respected) Le Groupe Dance Lab under the tutelage of Peter Boneham who told him: “Your theatricality is innate; your dance vocabulary really sucks.” Robinson chuckles at the memory.

“I had spent several years in Winnipeg creating large ensemble dances that were highly theatrical crowd pleasers, working with large budgets and directing a comparatively large company. I knew it was time to go back to basics and investigate what I really wanted to say as an artist.” It was a leap of faith on his part, one applauded by his dance collegues for its courage and integrity.

Robinson’s time at Le Groupe during the nineties was a good fit. He began to explore his authentic artist’s voice with intensity. And he became everyone’s mentor of choice, criss-crossing the country to observe and assist choreographers in the complicated process of dance making. (I was fortunate to be the recipient of his expertise during a choreographic seminar held in Vancouver in 1992. He was tough, gracious and unendingly patient. To this day, I remember several of his to the point comments, often delivered with an impish grin.)

It’s clearly Robinson’s nature to continually question and search; also in the early nineties he chose to pursue what on the surface appeared to be a very different kind of strict discipline. He started his practice at the Zen Centre of Ottawa, devoting himself to nine intense years of Buddhist study and practice, sitting every day for hours; he spent six of those years as a zen monk. When not in meditation or studying with his master, he continued to create his own dances and monitor others.

After his father died in 2000, Robinson moved in with his mother for six months. Then he committed to a head-snapping, 360-degree turn. He chose the path of a spiritual renegade, pursuing the good life with the same passion he applied to his art making. He drove a BMW, bought a fabulous downtown condo, purchased treasured objects, dressed in quality clothes, drank fine wine.

“I wanted something tangible in my life, something I could touch. I wanted to surround myself with beautiful things of quality. Like many others, I fell into the trap of consumerism.”

This phase came to a screeching halt in 2005. He sold the condo with all its collectibles and took stock. Robinson knew it was time for a monumental shift so he packed his bags and made the move farther west, purchasing ninety-four acres of land on Lac Leslie, not wanting to be too far away from his hometown.

Photo by Tedd Robinson

That was seven years ago. Thus began his determination to build an artistic sanctuary to nourish the spirits and feed the stomachs of his creative colleagues. La B.A.R.N has developed a series of programs that have appeal for dance artists at all stages of their careers, with three distinct experiences or streams into which participants can fit, all related to his company, 10 Gates Dancing:

1. Robinson hires dancers, creates work usually with live music and then puts on shows of his own choreography, sometimes performed over two weekends.

2. A program called “Exclusive Intensives” is geared to young dancers who have graduated from a professional dance program, dancers who are on the brink of their professional careers. They have a two-hour morning class with Peter Boneham. In the afternoon, Robinson and a guest choreographer create work on the dancers, performed at the end of the two-week program.

3. Finally, Robinson offers an intensive for mid-career and senior creators, “a one-on-one experience that takes place over a five- to six-day period of being my guest.” Everyone lives together, spending the day working on solos or with their dancers, while Robinson watches. They eat supper together and discuss their work, the creative process, funding issues and life in general. Robinson’s Zen training comes in handy here, as he enjoys discussing philosophy about life’s never ending dilemmas.

Alexandre Carlos, Philippe Poirier and Marilou Lépine / Photo by Rod MacIvor

Running La B.A.R.N. is a determined act on Robinson’s part, one that takes him deep into the complex, at times brutal, politics of arts funding. He and his manager Tina Legari are currently engaged in some nail-biting battles. He’s determined to make it work, so he persists with undying faith because he is on an artistic mission and a spiritual quest. Robinson will not relent in his desire to assist other artists to be the best they can be. It seems that by doing so he is also assisting himself to be the best he can be. As he succinctly puts it: “I can’t face myself without some kind of artistic vision for the future.”

For the moment, that future includes continuing to make his own work. When asked about that, Robinson says, “Well, I used to call it abstract theatrical narrative. Now I say it’s functional abstract theatrical imagistic narrative technical dance.” We both go quiet. “It’s meant to be tongue in cheek – partly.”

When pushed further to put words to explaining how he sees his work, Robinson responds, “All of my work is solo work. We are individuals among many. We are all connected yet we are alone. This is why I talk of my work as assisted solos or convergent solos or interdependent solos, even when it’s an ensemble dance.” Spoken like a true Bhuddist. Then he adds. “I’m not sure that I even like my own choreography. No one is more surprised by my success and achievements than I am. I lead a charmed existence.”

You can decide for yourself about his choreography. This summer Robinson plans to create a new work on himself (in the barn) with composer Charles Quevillon (in the field), entitled Manifeste (working title), a cryptic text-based work in which both performers can be heard and seen simultaneously yet, he adds, “We are thirty-six metres apart at times, thirty-six years apart at times.”

If you take a drive to the Pontiac, you can spend some time surrounded by the glory of the Gatineau Hills. Sip a non-alcoholic beverage from the country bar manned by his Pontiac neighbours. And inhale the creative brilliance of Tedd Robinson. I plan to be there soon, cocktail in one hand, program in the other.

Manifest runs at La B.A.R.N. August 3rd through 5th and 10th through 12th (Fridays at 7pm and weekends at 4pm). It’s open to the public with general admission. Tickets are $20. For more information, check the local country papers, Pontiac Journal du Pontiac and The Equity. Dancers can also check out www.tengatesdancing.ca for programs being offered at La B.A.R.N. and/or write a letter to Robinson for information on residencies or intensives.

Chick Snipper, independent dance artist, recently moved to Ottawa from Vancouver where, since 1984, she worked as a choreographer, director, teacher and dramaturge in dance, theatre, documentary and experimental film. She blogs about the performing arts at Ottawalife.com.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Feature: Force of Nature

Dancing The Rite of Spring
By Lucy M. May

Artists of the ballet in Le Sacre du printemps by Stijn Celis for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal / Photo by John Hall

As it was first named in French, Le Sacre du Printemps has appeared in hundreds of choreographic versions in as many years, but the original piece was particularly significant.

Le Sacre du printemps a été décliné en une centaine de chorégraphies en autant d’années, mais son incarnation originale est particulièrement importante.


As it was first named in French, Le Sacre du Printemps has appeared in hundreds of choreographic versions in as many years, but the original piece was particularly significant. Le Sacre du Printemps made its mark on history as a forebear of modernism in music and dance.

The original Sacre was first performed by Les Ballets Russes at Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, in the spring of 1913. It was a collaboration between the young Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, the composer Igor Stravinsky, and a mystic, ethnologist and visual artist named Nicholas Roerich who realized the libretto and designed the set and costumes.

Shelley C. Berg described the creators’ expectations in her excellent book Le Sacre du Printemps: Seven Productions from Nijinsky to Martha Graham (UMI Research Press, 1988). The production was to “portray scenes of the joy of the creation of the Earth and the Heavens in a Slavic conception,” according to Roerich. Nijinsky hoped that it would be “a jolting experience,” one that would “open new horizons flooded with different rays of sun” in which people would “see new and different colors and different lines." For Stravinsky, it was to evoke "the violent Russian spring that seemed to begin in an hour and was like the whole earth cracking.” Their aspirations were perhaps met with more fervor than they anticipated…
It did not take long for the dissonant melodies and contesting rhythmic structures of Stravinsky’s music, paired with Nijinsky’s heavy, angular movements—both revolutionary for their time—to throttle the audience into competing choruses of insults and encouragement. A volcanic riot ensued and police had to intervene…In addition to fighting against the pandemonium in the room, dancing the choreography was in itself a harrowing task. The final scene of Nijinsky’s choreography showed the ensemble choosing a young woman to dance herself to a ritual death…Bronislava Nijinska, on whom the choreographer created the central role of the finale, felt this violence imploding upon her. “As I envisaged the primitiveness of the tribal rites where the Chosen Maiden must die to save the earth,” she recalled, “I felt that my body must draw into itself, must absorb the fury of a hurricane. Strong, brusque, spontaneous movements seemed to fight the elements as the Chosen Maiden protected the earth against the menacing heavens."

This pantomimed ritual of death has been copied, altered and omitted completely in different versions of Le Sacre over the past century, yet choreographers consistently find new ways of bringing their dancers to the brink of extreme physical, mental, and emotional effort.

Force de la nature
Danser le Sacre du printemps
Par Lucy M. May

Le Sacre du printemps a été décliné en une centaine de chorégraphies en autant d’années, mais son incarnation originale est particulièrement importante. La première s’inscrit dans l’histoire comme annonciateur du modernisme en musique et en danse.

Présentée d’abord par les Ballets russes au Théâtre des Champs-Élysées à Paris en 1913, la création est une collaboration entre le jeune danseur et chorégraphe Vaslav Nijinsky, le compositeur Igor Stravinsky et le mystique, ethnologue et plasticien Nicholas Roerich. Ce dernier produit le livret et conçoit le décor et les costumes.

Shelley C. Berg décrit les attentes des créateurs dans l’excellent livre Le Sacre du Printemps : Seven Productions from Nijinsky to Martha Graham (UMI Research Press, 1988). La production devait « présenter une conception slave de la joie de la création de la terre et des cieux », selon Roerich. Nijinski souhaitait que ce soit « une expérience survoltée… qui pourrait ouvrir de nouveaux horizons baignés d’un soleil autre », et que le public « voie des couleurs et des lignes nouvelles, différentes ». Stravinsky voulait évoquer « la violence du printemps russe qui semble commencer en une heure et qui est comme l’explosion de la terre ». Leurs désirs ont peut-être été plus que comblés… Cela n’a pas pris longtemps pour que les mélodies agressives et les structures rythmiques éclatées opposantes de la musique de Stravinsky, jumelées aux gestes lourds et angulaires de Nijinsky – les deux révolutionnaires à l’époque – déclenchent un tollé, une compétition entre cris d’insultes et d’encouragements. La police a dû intervenir pour calmer l’émeute qui s’ensuivit. En plus de lutter contre le chahut dans la salle, les danseurs avaient aussi la tâche d’interpréter une chorégraphie éprouvante. La dernière scène du ballet de Nijinsky montre l’ensemble qui choisit une femme qui dansera le rite de sa mort. Bronislava Nijinska, pour qui le chorégraphe crée le rôle de la finale, sent l’implosion de cette violence en elle. « Lorsque j’envisageais le primitivisme des rituels tribaux, où l’on élut une vierge à sacrifier pour sauver la terre », se remémora-t-elle, « je sentais que je dus puiser dans mon corps, absorber la fureur d’une tornade. Des gestes forts, brusques et spontanés semblaient combattre les éléments corps à corps alors que l’élue protège la terre des cieux menaçants. »

La pantomime d’une mort rituelle a été copiée, modifiée et omise dans les versions subséquentes du Sacre au fil du dernier siècle. Néanmoins, les chorégraphes trouvent assidûment de nouvelles façons d’amener les interprètes au seuil d’un extrême effort physique, psychologique et émotif.

Read the full article by Lucy M. May in the July/August 2012 issue of The Dance Current print magazine. | Lisez l'article intégral de Lucy M. May dans l’édition imprimée de juillet/août 2012 du Dance Current.

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Profile: Vancouver’s Josh Martin, with (and without) The 605 Collective

Smooth Mover
By Kaija Pepper
Josh Martin / Photo by David Cooper

West coast dance artist Josh Martin has a six-foot-tall, solidly built hockey player’s body, but moves with the litheness of a panther.

À six pieds, Josh Martin a plutôt le gabarit d’un joueur de hockey bien bâti, mais sur scène, il se meut avec l’agilité d’une panthère.


West coast dance artist Josh Martin has a six-foot-tall, solidly built hockey player’s body, but moves with the litheness of a panther. So it’s not surprising he has a big presence on stage, though Martin is a thoughtful, and not unnecessarily showy, kind of guy. Just coming into his own as an artist, Martin already has a pretty decent public profile at only twenty-seven years old. He’s known both for his work as a co-director of The 605 Collective, formed in 2006, and also through contracts as a dancer with choreographers such as Wen Wei Wang (with whom he toured the striking duet Cock-Pit) and Amber Funk Barton. Martin is currently part of a movement research project by senior artist Karen Jamieson and he’s already lined up for Wang’s next piece. “I’ll work with Josh as long as he wants to work with me,” says Wang, acknowledging Martin’s busy life juggling independent dance contracts with the needs of the popular 605. “He always understands what I want, but he also gives me something new.”

À six pieds, Josh Martin a plutôt le gabarit d’un joueur de hockey bien bâti, mais sur scène, il se meut avec l’agilité d’une panthère. Sa remarquable prestance ne surprend pas, même si en personne, c’est un type réfléchi qui n’attire pas l’attention plus qu’il le faut. Le danseur de la côte ouest commence à prendre sa place comme artiste. Son profile public est bien étoffé pour ses vingt-sept ans. On le connaît comme codirecteur du 605 Collective, formé en 2006, et aussi par son travail comme interprète pour les chorégraphes tels que Wen Wei Wang (avec lequel il danse dans la tournée de Cock-Pit) et Amber Funk Barton. Martin participe actuellement à un projet de recherche en mouvement de l’artiste établie Karen Jamieson et il fait déjà partie de la distribution de la prochaine création de Wang. « Je travaillerais avec Josh tant qu’il voudra travailler avec moi », déclare le chorégraphe, tout en reconnaissant la vie occupée de Martin qui conjugue des contrats d’interprète avec les besoins du populaire 605 Collective. « Il comprend toujours ce que je veux, mais il me donne aussi quelque chose de nouveau », ajoute-t-il.

Read the full profile by Kaija Pepper in the July/August 2012 issue of The Dance Current print magazine. | Lisez l'article intégral de Kaija Pepper dans l’édition imprimée de juillet/août 2012 du Dance Current.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Contest for June

Our feature story in the July/August edition of The Dance Current explores dancing the often hugely challenging Rite of Spring/Sacre du printemps from a dancer’s perspective. Tell us, in a sentence or two, about the most demanding dance you’ve ever done. It could be a performance or a piece of choreography for competition or something you danced in a social setting.

If we choose your dance story for publication in our next issue, you’ll win a copy of Renegade Bodies: Canadian Dance in the 1970s, published by Dance Collection Danse.

E-mail us at contest@thedancecurrent.com

‘Like’ us on Facebook and you can send us your response there too.

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