Contemplating motivation and responsibility
a research and choreographic creation project
Driven by personal questions and grounded in conversation and reading, this project is a process of dissecting assumptions, owning privilege, revisiting accountability, refining values and uncovering new lines of inquiry.
Funded, in part, by the Toronto Arts Council with funding from the City of Toronto.
Click here to read Responsibilities of a dance artist / My responsibilities as a dance artist (PDF).
THANK YOU to everyone who attended my Work-In-Progress Showing!
Three short solo choreographies, followed by a Q&A
Friday July 7, 2017 from 8:30-9:30pm
The Citadel (Upstairs Studio) at 304 Parliament Street, Toronto
I'm keen to hear your feedback and continue the discussion!
In May 2016 I had the privilege of attending a leadership program at The Banff Centre called Creating Positive Change. Throughout the program, I bonded with a group of twenty leaders from across Canada - all ambitious change-makers in their own fields and all self-proclaimed “non-artists”. One day, I lunched with the Director of Fundraising for a cancer research institute and the Executive Director of a nonprofit dedicated to delivering healthy lunches to students in low-income neighbourhoods. Throughout our lunchtime conversation, I found enormous respect and appreciation for the incredibly meaningful and tangible contributions that my new friends were making in their respective communities. Then, in a transformative moment (mid-bite), I began to feel immensely insecure about my work as an artist.
I believe deeply in the importance of the arts — but I've realized that this belief is so deep (for many of us) that it often goes unquestioned. Factor in an inescapable quota of capitalism and ego, and it’s easy to get sidetracked from the reasons why we think art is necessary and meaningful. I recognize this in myself and in some of my colleagues.
I remember an elementary school teacher constantly asking my 3rd grade class: “So what?”. She wanted us to look at the bigger picture: "Ok, so you’re [creating a piece of choreography]— So what? Why does it matter? What makes it relevant or timely or necessary?”.
What are the reasons why I’ve become a professional dance artist?
What are my current motivations?
Is this a selfish act? If so, how might I come to terms with that?
Does my work matter? To whom?
If it matters, why? To me? To others? What makes something “matter”?
How do I earn the privilege of being a professional artist?
What can I contribute to the world?
What responsibilities do I have to my community / world as an artist? To myself?
This project is a personal journey, with community implications. I intend to investigate the above questions for myself, without assuming that my curiosities and research will apply to others, while creating opportunity for others to join me in this exploration. My interest is in honouring the inherent impossibility of definitively “finding answers” by focusing my attention and effort on consistent reflection and revision, allowing new questions to emerge and priorities to shift. This process is emergent without being whimsical: What is the nature of rigour, when the process is fluid and the destination is unknown?
In concrete terms, I am embarking on this project to deepen my understanding on my role as an artist; to lay a foundation of WHY I'm doing what I'm doing to support WHAT I'm doing and clarify HOW I'm doing it.
- Interviews - I began my project by interviewing five professional dance artists (Amanda Acorn, Christopher House, Jasmyn Fyffe, Colleen Snell and Hanna Kiel) and three post-secondary dance students (who also happen to be my mentees: Nicolas Ruscica, Claire Whitaker and Alessia Mallozi) to identify their reasons for participating in the art form and gather resources for continued research. Four main themes emerged in terms of the responsibilities and motivations of dance artists: to practise attention, to challenge the status quo, to bring joy / create excitement, and to foster community.
- Reading and Online Research - Next, I read and reflected on select chapters from books including “Art & Fear” by Ted Orland and David Bayles, “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and “Art and Upheaval” by William Cleveland . I also spent time digesting online resources including this interview of Chrysa Parkinson and this interview of Adam Curtis.
- Studio Time - In November 2016 and January 2017, I spent two weeks in the studio everyday beginning to apply my research to my movement practise. How do you take an esoteric idea or philosophical question and translate it into movement, in a way that respects the complexity of the thought without succumbing to the easiness of narrative, representation or illustration? How do you create a choreographic dialogue that can be responsive to your intellectual journey and vice versa?
- Transparent Process - In April 2017, I invited Colleen Snell, Riley Sims and Francesca Chudnoff to investigate the topics of artistic motivation and responsibility with me through four days of discussion, personal reflection, reading and choreographic proposals in the Lobby Gallery at 401 Richmond in Toronto. We were curious to understand how working in a public space would necessitate accountability; literally bringing our messy and confusing creative process out into the open where it would be exposed to critical and skeptical eyes right from the beginning. Halfway through the process, Colleen provoked us with the questions: “What if I told you to ‘just get over it’? What if these questions we’re asking don’t matter? What if we’re wasting time doubting the necessity of our work, that could be spent making the work itself?”
- Workshops - Also in April 2017, I taught four workshop classes at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts based on my research. We worked on two of the four main themes of this project through a number of activities and choreographic scores: to practise attention and to foster community.
- Studio Time - After indulging in the endless questions and conceptual meanderings of Transparent Process, I returned to the studio to "suspend my own disbelief" in my work and get started with shaping and editing the choreographic material that had emerged so far. I began to work with Riley as my outside eye.
- Collaborative Residencies - In May and June 2017, I teamed up with Marielis Garcia (New York) for two weeklong residencies, one at Dance Initiative (Carbondale, Colorado) and one at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center (Tivoli, NY). Although technically beyond the scope of this project, these residencies provided another opportunity to dive in to some questions related to this project. Our guiding question was “How can we create choreography that is truly relevant to an audience?” and we explored ways to be in dialogue with the audience through co-creation and audience participation.
- Writing - Simultaneous to the above residencies, I started to devise two pieces of writing which can be downloaded below in PDF format: 1) Articulating my Mindset and 2) Responsibilities of a dance artist / My responsibilities as a dance artist
- Showing - After additional studio time, I shared three work-in-process solo choreographies that emerged from this project on Friday July 7th in Toronto.
Re-thinking the pros and cons of self-expression:
Discussing the role of the dancer:
Creating conversations around a timely subject: