In honour of Public Energy's 20th Season, founder/artistic producer Bill Kimball is digging into the archives and sharing memories, images, and videos from each of the last 20 years to post every other week. Distract yourself with these gems...
Deepti Gupta is a Canadian choreographer and world-renowned practitioner of Kathak (a classical dance of North India) who marches to the beat of her own drum and deserves a special place in Public Energy’s 20-year retrospective. The program from which this 20X20 is drawn was one of three programs of Deepti’s work we presented in Peterborough between 2000 and 2007.
Drawing inspiration as much from the rugged Ontario wilderness (early in her career one of her favourite places to perform was the Arlington Hotel in the small town of Maynooth, about 260 km northeast of Toronto) as from India itself where she now lives much of the year, Deepti presented an evening of work consisting of both traditional Kathak dance and her bold experiment, titled Rubies, with the Chhau form of martial arts that also incorporated projections by Peterborough artist Lester Alfonso. The attempt to create a new signature style of dance using Chhau was what motivated the Chalmers Foundation to grant Deepti a fellowship to develop the work and it is what intrigued both Public Energy and Toronto’s Danceworks to program it in the fall of 2003.
To perform Rubies Deepti took on the task of training three dancers in Chhau from scratch. The dancers seen here - Melissa Adella Kramer, Kyla Kowalski and Jenna Morrison – were all graduates of various professional Western training programs who had then spent the past few years learning Indian dance from Deepti. The choice of using non-Indian dancers - and training them in a style of dance traditionally practiced only by male dancers - was a typical example of Deepti thumbing her nose at the set ways of the Indian dance world. If the result was uneven it was also an invigorating breath of fresh air featuring dancers and audiences exploring unknown territory.
It is a territory that, it seems, has not been visited in dance since, despite its obvious lures: Rubies described a world inhabited by Lalita, the tantric goddess and embodiment of energy, as described in the esoteric Sanskrit text Lalita Sahsranama - The Thousand Names of Lalita. The program notes described Rubies as “a celebration of the rising and flowing of life force, of energy and vitality.” The notes also describe it in a way that embodies the vision Deepti set for her company Arzoo Dance Theatre, to function as an example of global exchange and re-tribalization: “It brings together elements from a remote tribal culture with the “urban tribal’. It builds a creative link between dancers and artists in Canada with those in remote villages in India. This is post-modern reality.”
The year 2000 saw a good variety of independent Canadian dance presented by Public Energy (then known as Peterborough New Dance), including Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux’s program of duets and Holy Body Tattoo’s Circa. However, the program with the strongest staying power in my memory is Claudia Moore’s 45 minute multi-disciplinary work three women (Claudia seems to have a thing about capital letters), performed on February 17 and 18 at Peterborough’s Market Hall Theatre.
What chiefly distinguished three women was the richness of its visual design, created by Jan Komarek’s exquisite, deceptively simple lighting on Julie Fox’s white set. Working on the show as a lighting assistant was Kim Purtell, who today is one of the most in-demand lighting designers in the country. The look of the piece was just one element in Claudia’s vision for a complete dance/theatre experience that incorporated spoken text and song, as well as music, set and costumes created by some of Canada’s best talent. One of these was Peterborough resident John Lang, a Gemini-winning composer with a distinguished career creating music for dance, film, theatre and television. John’s work for three women was a tour de force, incorporating a variety of musical styles from around the world, for which he called on a dozen local artists1 to contribute different voices and sounds to the richly textured score.
While the heavy lifting of choreography and writing is credited to all three dancers – Claudia, Bonnie Kim and Fiona Drinnan - a who’s who of Toronto dance and theatre talent are thanked or credited as coaches and consultants on the project, particularly Katherine Duncanson, Denise Fujiwara, Linda Griffiths, Martha Randall and Lin Snelling2. The assembling of so much talent can be credited in part to the respect with which Claudia is viewed in Canada’s dance community, and in part I think to the organization that supported the development of the work: Toronto’s hot house for theatrical creation, the Theatre Centre, at the time directed by David Duclos.
For me, all the elements – choreography, concept, lighting, music - come together in one of my favourite dance sequences of all time, what I call the ‘egg dance’, a sequence that not so subtly, but with much humour, suggested one of the work’s main themes: women’s fertility. Fitting perhaps for a work inspired by Sylvia Plath’s Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices. As Claudia wrote in the program notes: “Plath’s words encouraged us to celebrate, to grieve and to cherish.” And that’s exactly what the dance did.
1. Do you know any? They were Pamela Barron, Don Dawson, Allie Hearn, Diane Latchford, Brenna MacCrimmon, Susan Newman, John Oosterbroock, Craig Paterson, Tom Reader, Diana Smith, Kate Story, and Nick Oval.
2. As well as Daniel Brooks, Leah Cherniak, David Duclos, Mark Christmann, Gerry Trentham, and Keith Cole.
Calculated Risks is my choice for fave event of 1999. This was another Dancing Across Ontario (DXO) project, similar to 1997’s 6 Electrifying Dance Hits (6EDH). In both cases we toured these programs to two other cities: Hamilton and Ottawa. The Calculated Risks program was the brainchild of Toronto choreographer Kate Alton, who created it for her company Overall Dance, whose goal was to commission new work and bring the best Toronto dance artists together with national and international artists. The international artist on this program was New York choreographer Doug Varone, whose Eclipse was performed at break neck speed by Kate, Gillian Smith and Michael Sean Marye. That grouping itself was worth the toil and (usually) pleasant aggravation of touring the program to three cities in five days. The mini-tour began with the performance seen here, at the Market Hall in Peterborough on October 3, 1999.
Michael Sean seemed to appear on every Toronto dance program in those years (he was in 6EDH too) and Kate, appearing in three of the four pieces, shows us why she is one of the greatest contemporary dancers ever to have called Toronto home. Mix in some compelling work by other veteran choreographers (Peggy Baker’s Spätstil, Mitch Kirsch’s Le Ventilateur á Turbine and Alton’s Tartan Briefs) and up and coming dancers (Laura West and Heidi Strauss, now a veteran of the scene who will be in Peterborough with her own full evening work in the fall of 2014) and the result was a diverse and satisfying program with moments of humour, pathos, and grace.
Kirsch’s solo for Kate, and Varone’s trio, were commissioned specially by Overall Dance for the Calculated Risks program, which had premiered in Toronto a month before the Peterborough date and DXO tour. Varone’s work seems to have stolen the show. Audiences appreciated the dancers’ commitment and the choreographer’s crafty construction but were unsure how to interpret the work. Always a dangerous task, but one that two Toronto critics tackled head on and in so doing came up with comparisons to famous works of visual art. But not the same work: Susan Walker of the Toronto Star related it to Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, while Deirdre Kelly at the Globe & Mail recalled the ancient Greek sculpture of Laocoön and his sons being strangled by serpents. Wow. But that’s what is great about good dance - there is no right way or wrong way to view the work.
The success of Calculated Risks can be credited both to Kate’s curatorial skill and to her producing partner in Overall Dance, theatre artist Ross Manson. Ross brought to the program a knack for organizing and an eye for design that brought the program into focus. It was his idea to hang those brown paper banners around the stage and have them colourfully lit - a welcome change from black drapes. Ross accompanied the program as a kind of tour manager, helping us mount the production in two vastly different theatres: Ottawa’s Nouvelle Scéne (this was the first ever dance program in the multi-purpose space, newly built for Ottawa’s French language theatre community) and Hamilton’s Tivoli Theatre, a former vaudeville house then owned by a fellow with more dreams than money who only reluctantly turned on the heat.
In all three cities the program was enhanced by the inclusion of local artists. In Hamilton this was the Hamilton Dance Company, which performed David Wilson’s In Your Face and Joanna Blackwell’s Mash; in Ottawa Meagan O’Shea was our partner in crime, performing her solo work …this is the The Way. And in Peterborough we presented Penelope Thomas’s Interstices and Janet Johnston’s the hands of the beautiful swimmers. Why those two works did not make it onto the videotape that documented the program is a mystery; if they were in the Public Energy archives, you would see them here.
Emergency #6 is our choice for fave event of 1998, notable as the first appearance in the Emergency festival – indeed the first appearance in a Peterborough New Dance / Public Energy program ever – for Kate Story, who has since set the mark as the artist with the most appearances in this annual festival of dance and performance by Peterborough area artists. Kate being Kate, for her first Emerg performance ever she asked (politely) that the usual rules for Emergency artists not apply: Swallowed was neither short (works had to be under 15 minutes) nor was it brand new, as it had already been seen in Kate’s home town St’ John’s. That was a good thing because it meant we could promote the show with timeless quotes from the local CBC reviewer who said it was likely to “generate some interesting chatter at the bar afterwards”, and “leave you wanting more.” More what…drink?
Emerg # 6 featured a few other firsts: the first appearance by a South Asian dancer, Ramya Rajagopolan; the first appearance from a martial arts performer, Greg Magwood, who performed four short forms placed between other works on the program; and the first time Emergency would not be held at the Market Hall, which was closed down at the time during a notorious attempt, by the development company that owned it, to convert it into a bingo hall. (The attempt was not a success, Emergency was back in the Hall in 1999, and shortly thereafter the City acquired it, putting the Market Hall back in public hands).
In addition to Kate, Ramya and Greg, Emergency #6 saw works by Penelope Thomas, Caron Garside and the team of Ian Osborn (soundscape), Cathy Petch (text and lighting) and Kristina Kyle (performer). Thomas’s solo Intersices was the first in what would become a series of impressive solo and group works she created during her tenure in Peterborough. Garside was the director of To Have and Have Not, a work about the social welfare system created collectively by children and adults. (This was not the first Emergency work created by and with kids – that distinction goes to Stephen Elliot’s Home/Work in Emerg #3). The Osborn/Petch/Kyle team described their work, Harvey Wallbanger, as “the collective conniption fit of three confused collaborators”.
But it was the full-length work Swallowed, written and performed by Kate Story, that stole the show. It helped that she recruited some really good collaborators: choreography by Dy Gallagher and music/sound effects by Patrick Walsh. The collaboration with Walsh was especially impressive – his varied guitar work created different moods, propelling it along with an eerie, recurring morse code motif suitable for a work about the wreck of the Titanic. Here’s a full description from the press release:
“Swallowed is the story of two characters, both stuck on the ocean floor amid the wreck of the Titanic. One is a woman who went down with the ship, hoards relics from it, and lusts to be left alone, resentful of the recent rash of public attention directed at the wreck. The other is a baby, also stuck in the depths but yearning to leave and pick up life as it should have been had the disaster not occurred, yearning to dry out, get drunk and die a natural death. Swallowed is in part a dance-theatre metaphor for the experience of being a Newfoundlander, as Kate herself is a St. John’s native who moved to Peterborough to attend Trent University and is now based in Toronto. A leading actor with Peterborough’s 4th Line Theatre almost since its inception, Kate left the company after the 1996 season in part to pursue her own singular performance work, in which she draws on her talents as a writer and actor, as well as her early training as a dancer. Previous to Swallowed, she created Throat, also a solo work, presented at the 1997 Rhubarb Festival in Toronto, one of the country’s most important festivals for new theatre.”
6 Electrifying Dance Hits (January 26, 1997 at the Market Hall) is still one of my favourite programs. In 20 years of Peterborough New Dance, and now Public Energy, I have rarely created mixed programs of dance. It’s usually too costly to bring multiple artists from different cities together for a one night stand in Peterborough. But doing so can be fun and that’s exactly what this was: a fun program that had humour and some cheekiness, while still being smart and emotionally engaging.
The fun I had was in coming up with the program’s name and graphic design concept (realized by Rob Wilkes): riffing on those K-Tel greatest hits albums from the 1960s and 1970s that promised so much in one package. 6 Electrifying Dance Hits promised that On One Live Program You Get…Premieres Galore, A Once-In-A-Lifetime Modern Dance Experience, and a Bonus Dance Track!!!
Of course most of the humour came courtesy of choreographer/dancer Bill Coleman, who helped put the program together. Bill’s co-creation with Mark Shaub, The Brothers Plaid, is something of a Canadian dance cult classic, first performed in 1984. Bill and Mark are dancers of the highest order, having performed for some of the greatest Canadian and American choreographers, but for the Bros Plaid they adopt a Buster Keaton meets Laurel and Hardy by way of Gene Kelly shtick to portray a pair of pipe smoking, tap dancing RV salesmen from the U.S. Midwest. As the program said, “Bill and Mark have been joined at the hip since birth until an accident with a grain elevator several months ago.” Here is a short clip of Bill telling us more, click here.
The smart side of the program came courtesy of Bill’s partner in dance and life, Laurence Lemieux, and Holly Small. Holly’s solo for Laurence, The Wili, is a beautiful work about a maiden who is jilted on her wedding day and dies of a broken heart. Laurence’s Deserteurs, was a duet for two men (Coleman and Michael Sean Marye) described as "enigmatic, thought-provoking and beautiful to watch" by Paula Citron (Toronto Star). Bill’s change of character - and costume - from that work to the Bros Plaid is remarkable to watch in these clips.
Three other works rounded out the program: Bill’s light-hearted duet for Michael Sean and Claudia Moore called Syl & Ng, set to the music of the Beach Boys; David Pressault’s solo Tanatalus; and a piece from Peterborough artists Phil Kummel (composer/musician) and Dy Gallagher (dancer/choreographer) called Ontario Highway Log.
The final bit of zaniness was Bill Coleman’s insistence that I appear on the program as a dancer/fall guy. First he choreographed my introduction at the top of the show to a tune whose lyrics include the immortal lines “I’m in the mood for something modern / I’m in the mood for something new…/Gracious living / A barbecue.” Later in the program I had to show up at the start of the Brothers Plaid set doing the same thing but in a cheesy gold lame top. Then at the end of the Bros Plaid he got all the dancers who had appeared in the program in on the act by having them return on stage as wacky characters (note Gallager as a hunchback, sniffed at by Mark for being ‘local’ and one of Canada’s legendary dancers, Claudia Moore, in a fat suit) at the end for a surreal finale which morphed out of the Brothers Plaid. See it here. Suffice to say, this was the first and last time yours truly has appeared in a bunny oufit on a PND or PE program. You can watch the entire finale here.
Oh, and as if this wasn’t enough, we took 6 Electrifying Dance Hits on the road to Ottawa for a single performance at the Arts Court Theatre, co-presented by Le Groupe de la Place Royale. This was part of Dancing Across Ontario (DXO), Peterborough New Dance's short-lived (1997-2000) initiative aimed at taking our programs to more cities as a way of extending their life (the programs not the cities). DXO also went to Hamilton; in three years we went to Ottawa and Hamilton twice each and presented local artists on the programs each time. This meant that the Kummel/Gallagher work seen here did not go on the road and, if memory serves, neither did we include the surreal finale in the Ottawa performance. That was definitely a made-in-Peterborough moment that nicely captures our experience over the years with Bill Coleman, who is never content with the status quo and continually keeps us on our toes (or taps).
Editor’s note (wait a minute I am the editor): Bill Coleman’s first Peterborough appearance was in 1987 with his company at the time, Bill Coleman and His North American Experience. The group, which included Mark Shaub, performed Bill’s full-length work Baryshnikov: The Untold Story, the tall tale of a farm boy from Iowa named Barry Shenkov who thinks he is the famous Russian dancer.
1996 was a good year for mixing kickass dance with rock’n roll. This chapter of 20X20 showcases three examples: Tammy Forsythe from Montreal, Holy Body Tattoo from Vancouver and SCAG (Serious Contact Artists Group) from Peterborough.
Montreal choreographer Tammy Forsythe was the first to bring the exhilarating combination of dance and punk to Peterborough. Back in 1993 she and her dancers performed a startling program accompanied by the Montreal punk band Bliss as part of Artspace’s Kicking Habits dance series. That one galvanizing event changed the local dance scene irrevocably, so that by 1996 Peterborough dancers were performing their own pieces with live rock, thrash metal, and punk scores at places like the Union Theatre and the Only Café/Gordon Best Theatre. The quintessential example of this was SCAG’s production of Pent, performed 5 dancers and 5 live guitarists. Pent debuted in 1996, but we have video of the 1997 production in the Public Energy Video Vault (see above link). The description accompanying the video tells you more about the artists and circumstances that brought about this significant event.
January of 1996 saw Tammy return to Peterborough after a 3-year absence with a duet called Bu, performed on a shared program with works by Natalie Morin and Yvonne Coutts. And later that year we saw the first appearance in Peterborough of two artists who took the rock’n roll esthetic to new heights by fusing it with sophisticated imagery in the form of the Holy Body Tattoo. Their work called our brief eternity, a trio performed with Chantal Deeble, was presented by Peterborough New Dance (now Public Energy) in October at the Market Hall.
Perhaps it’s too early to identify the impact of the Holy Body Tattoo on dance in Canada. After all, its two protagonists - Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon - have busy individual post-HBT careers that continue to add to their achievements. But their time together as the Holy Body Tattoo produced a brand of gut wrenching, no holds barred dance that raised the bar for the generation of independent dance artists coming of age in the 1990s. While dancers like Louise Lecavalier were throwing around their bodies with highly skilled abandon in big company productions (La La La Human Steps) on international stages, Dana and Noam brought their own addictive mix of dance and pop culture to the country’s small-scale independent dance scene and places like Peterborough, Ontario, which had not experienced this new take on dance first hand. Eventually they too conquered the world.
It’s probably no coincidence that Holy Body Tattoo and Tammy Forsythe came out of the same fertile Montreal dance scene, although HBT had moved to Vancouver by the time our brief eternity was created. On the surface, the similarities between the two - and with Peterborough’s SCAG collective - are remarkable: the angry attitude, extensive floor work, dressing in t-shirts and combat boots, employing industrial noise rock and hardcore punk. In fact, HBT’s move to Vancouver revealed there were probably more differences than similarities in esthetics and purpose. Forsythe employed a relentless DIY approach to life and art that stood in stark contrast to HBT’s high tech collaborations with art stars like author William Gibson, who wrote text for our brief eternity, and poster designer Steven R Gilmore, an internationally renowned album cover artist. Nevertheless, by utilizing the most current musical styles and subject matter drawn from popular culture, Tammy, Dana and Noam pioneered a style of dance that brought a new generation to contemporary dance.
The third edition of the Emergency festival of new dance and performance is my pick for most memorable of 1995. It ran February 8 - 11 at two locations: The Market Hall Theatre and The Union Theatre. Only the Market Hall program, with three works, was committed to video*. You can see excerpts of each one here at our Emergency Minutes page here.
These three pieces treated dance as just one technique in an arsenal of tricks, ranging from the slapstick of Kris Keating to the kitchen sink drama of scooter (aka Wes Ryan) and the acrobatics of Stephanie Corrin and Steacy Harper. Looking back at these works one is struck by the fact that all three share a common feature: the enthusiastic use of staged fights. Peter Ens and John Quinn in Double-O-Bondage; Anne Ryan and Nathan Govier in Kitten on a String with Fish Hooks; and Harper and Corrin in I Kant.
Every piece on the program was a hit but the one that brought the house down was undoubtedly I Kant. Steacy Harper’s dance/Cultural Studies essay seemed to sum up in the performance (and in the title) her feelings toward her academic pursuits at Trent University. As Mary Polito wrote in her story for the Arthur, “too much having to sit with the boys and talk about the boys.” You can just make out the drone of the male voice reading from the assigned texts, juxtaposed to the fun, funky music of Aaron Cavan and Randy Innis. As is made clear from the newspaper accounts, Steacy was determined to salvage something from her studies and this dance hit from Emergency #3 was it.
*The Union Theatre program featured works by Anne Ryan, Nicole Bauberger, Peirre Blin, and Stephen Elliott.
The first event ever produced by Public Energy, back when it was known as Peterborough New Dance (PND), was Debra Brown's Apogée. Apogée was an original work commissioned by the CanDance Network, Canada’s national network of dance presenters that included PND as a founding member.
This performance was the culmination of a relationship between Debra Brown and Peterborough that began in 1987, the year she brought her dance-on-parallel-bars to Artspace’s new dance series. Yes, Debra (she was known as Debbie then) had toured with a full set of gymnastic parallel bars for that show, but this time she had grander plans that involved a full size trampoline. By 1994 Brown had spent a lot of time as the choreographer for Cirque de Soleil (their first choreographer ever I believe) and now she wanted to get back to her modern dance roots. Doing Apogée was a way to do that.
Although it was supported by commissioning funds from the national CanDance Network, Apogée was very much a made in Peterborough project: it was initiated out of conversations between myself and Debra; we presented a work in progress version of Apogée with Artspace in 1993; and we contributed the designer: Peterborough resident Jerrard Smith, whose other major dance work was the famous Blue Snake by Robert desRosiers.
Debra’s other collaborators on Apogée were: dancers Alisoun Payne and Alain Gauthier (Debra also danced a minor role); composer Petit Pierre Laurendeau, singer Chantal Girard, musicians Jennifer Langton and Parijata Charbonneau (who was also a Peterborough artist) and lighting designer Patrick Matheson. Valerie Dean and Don Rieder were assistants to the choreographer.