In the studio with Mocean Dance

In the studio with Mocean Dance
15 for 15 - Mocean's 15th Anniversary Celebration, Photo by Michelle Doucette Photography

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Reflecting on Canvas 5 x 5

Canvas 5x5 is one of Mocean’s most beloved pieces and, among many other feelings, our hearts are warmed immensely to have this piece be shortlisted for the Masterworks Prize. This is only the second time that dance has been on the shortlist, and we are so glad to see that such multidisciplinary juries and the greater public embraces the magic of dance, and it’s power to move the audience with works that are technically rich, emotionally charged and on the avant garde of exploring the mysteries of human potential, ephemeral beauty, and community.

The artists at Mocean have taken time to reflect on the honour of having been shortlisted for this illustrious award and on the process of creating Canvas 5 x 5 all those years ago. Being nominated for something like the Masterworks award gives the opportunity to think about what the piece means and how the process of creating it affected the artists, much more than a remount would inspire. It’s easy, in day to day life, to forget how important it is to take a step back and look at the community that artwork creates, the sense of being and belonging. 

“This is fantastic that Canvas 5 x 5 is shortlisted. The work that we did and the fact that so many have seen it, particularly in the Maritimes is already enough tribute. So to be shortlisted for this fantastic award is truly a gift. It is not often in a contemporary choreographer's career that one's work is recognized to such an extent. It was such a pleasure to make for Mocean Dance and without everyone's collaboration it would not be the work it is.”

-Tedd Robinson, Choreographer

Tedd Robinson, during the creation of Canvas 5 x 5 in 2012.

“As a dancer in Canvas 5 x 5 I am honored to be a finalist for the Masterworks Award.  Canvas 5 x 5 is a very special piece to dance and to witness.  Through performing it I feel a deep connection to my Maritime roots -- It has an extraordinary ability to evoke images, stir feelings, and rouse memories for me as a performer and for many who witness it, like a ‘canvas’ onto which we experience our shared humanity. From performing it in many places it is clear that Canvas 5 x 5 is a work that is deeply moving and inspiring to audiences, so I’m pleased that it is being celebrated through this nomination. I am also very proud that Mocean Dance and its artists and collaborators are being recognized for our artistic work and contribution to professional dance in Nova Scotia.”

- Susanne Chui, Dancer and Co-Artistic Director

“Being a finalist for the Masterworks award is a great honour. I am very proud, not only for my individual role in the piece, but for recognition of the collective achievement of the performers, the choreographer, and the company.

I love the joys and challenges of this particular piece, and I love being a part of Tedd Robinson's body of work. Through this dance, I feel connected to other dances and other dancers across the country and across time.  One of the most rewarding aspects of dancing in Canvas 5x5 is the feeling of truly being part of an ensemble. Without each of us- individually and together- the piece could not exist as it is. For me, this is a particularly meaningful metaphor for our local dance community, where each person's contribution is a vital part of the whole.”

- Jacinte Armstrong, Dancer

“Dance is an artistic collaboration between the choreographer and the dancer. It is the dancers job to embody the choreographer’s vision and artistic pursuit. The dancer then uses their skill, talent, and artistry to interpret that vision into performance. To be recognized as a masterwork in performance is one of the highest honors. The title comes with mastering the artistry and subtle nuance of the choreography. Recognition of this sort is truly an artists/dancer/performers career highlight.”

- Ruth-Ellen Kroll Jackson, Dancer

“Canvas 5 x 5 was my first contract with Mocean Dance. I am almost without words left to harvest from that time, that might allude to how being recognized as a performer in a masterwork makes me feel. Although I am much further from the realities that gave event to what is called Canvas 5 x 5, I am left with a reminder of beginnings and homecomings.

I encountered Tedd Robinson’s work (and the man himself), albeit briefly, while in Nova Scotia just before departing for my professional dance training. While at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre I watched my peers dance his work, and subsequently, travel to Ottawa for the Canada Dance Festival to perform in tandem with schools from around the country. I witnessed him perform his own work onstage in Toronto, and finally in 2012, through happenstance, I was offered a contract from Mocean Dance to work with Tedd Robinson, a Canadian dance icon. “A master, teaches essence” …when this essence is perceived, the master then teaches what is necessary to expand perception. 

Tedd Robinson is a master of his work, and of communicating the essence of that work to collaborating artists. Through a rigorous process at L.A B.A.R.N, Tedd developed this work not only through form, but through laughter, and through acknowledgement and respect of the resonating dissonance between each of us. He imparted a knowledge of form that I could then use to employ my body to speak; how to fold and toss the cloth, how to glide behind a veil of serenity, how to build and burden, and begin again. With each beginning we are ourselves, calling to something else. Held to each other by tradition, held to ourselves by counterpoint. Contained by what we are through form, drawn back to who we are by rhythm. Drawn back to each other, through a calling.”

- Rhonda Baker, Dancer

From L.A. B.A.R.N. creative process in 2012

During the creation of Canvas 5 x 5 I was interim Artistic Director for the company, a creative consultant to Tedd Robinson in the studio, and I have also been the main rehearsal director for the piece since the premiere in 2012. It was an honour to work with Tedd and to support the Mocean dance artists and the creative team in bringing Canvas 5 x 5 to fruition.

It is an honour to be a finalist for the Nova Scotia Masterworks Award, both for the company and for the recognition of the individual Mocean dance artists who have contributed to the creation and performance of Canvas 5 x 5 over the years. All of these creators contribute to the continued vitality living within the piece. It is particularly fitting that a nomination celebrating Mocean’s artistic work comes this season, as the company celebrates its 15th Anniversary in 2016-2017. 

Mocean has work tirelessly, fueled by our passion for performance and the potential of the creative gesture to spark the imagination, to craft and hone our skills as dance artists, and to become a sustainable anchor organization for the region for dance. Most importantly, we strive to bring contemporary dance, the power and delights of embodiment and imagination, to many Atlantic Canadian communities. Canvas 5 x 5, with all of its delightful and moving images, has been a key vehicle for this exchange, and we are pleased to honour the strength of this work and the company. 

- Sara Coffin, Rehearsal Director for Canvas 5 x 5 and Co-Artistic Director

Photos by Holly Crooks

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Looking Back as We Move Ahead

I’m writing this post in the Mocean Dance office that is...not huge, but which is a lot bigger than the one we had when I started, where the three of us would spin around in our chairs for a meeting and be centimeters away from touching knees, but still close to bumping the desks behind us; I can’t help but like this image of physical growth, of taking up more space, in tandem with the less tangible place Mocean has grown into in the last 15 years. 

fifteen, though it is a celebration of where we are today and what we’re looking toward, also has a strong pull back; we’ve been digging through the archives all summer and asking everyone from the founders to today’s emerging dancers what they think, hope, and remember about Mocean. We’ve got a crew downstairs filming interviews with the community as I type. What I’ve seen this summer, and what I’ve noticed in my short year and a half with the company, is a truly inspiring and humbling growth. I have the immense pleasure and privilege of working with a group of artists (mostly kick-ass women, just throwing that out there) who are pouring so much passion and talent into this community, and in the legacy of five founders whose dedication to this company and place truly blows me away; 15 years of dreams and dedication, fun and sacrifice in equal measure, have created a growth with such momentum that I cannot imagine a force on earth strong enough to stop it.

Here are some highlights from the community reflection on Mocean’s 15th Anniversary, when asked to share or comment on a moment from Mocean’s history:

A decision to proceed with our first show knowing that none of us would get paid for the rest of the year. - Carolle Crooks Fernando (Co-Founder)

The day that this lovely group of young women came into Live Art to talk about their formation of a company! I think it must have been 2002! - Sally Morgan

When Sara Coffin and Susanne Chui took over Mocean Dance people could feel a change was coming. Suddenly the professional dance community began to grow, stay and permeate. Sara and Sue committed to the incentive of their outreach program leaving Halifax dancers hopeful for a dance future in their city. - Olivia Aubrecht

[Seeing Canvas 5x5 upon moving back to Halifax:] Some amount of that performance comforted me, helped me realize that Halifax was a different place than when I had left, helped me realize that I was a different person than when I had left. The community had shifted, the resources were available, you just had to reach out and find them. Dancers were making room for themselves, and Mocean was paving the way for that. I felt empowered, I realized that I could make things happen, I could be a part of these dramatic shifts, in my own ways and through supporting others. - Kathleen Doherty

During the CLEAR Forum 2015 in which I participated as a dancer, we were discussing the future of dance in Halifax. I was gracefully invited into the community when Sara turned to me saying “You are the future of dance in Halifax” This statement inspired in me a new responsibility to carry on the tradition of contemporary dance in Atlantic Canada. Now I view the community with a much larger lens, understanding that Mocean Dance stands for surviving as a dancer through this gritty and unforgiving Environment, not for individual glory but for the importance of representing our culture through dance. - Kara Friesen

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Our lungs push - I am still here, we survive and thrive

When we created Sable Island, it was my first big foray back into the studio since having my son. It would be my first time working with both Mocean and Serge. I was nervous and excited all at once about putting myself back into such a physically demanding role.  As expected/hoped, the work was intensely physical, the creation process was inspiring, demanding and rewarding, the finished product was truly something to be proud of. 

Photo Credits - Michelle Doucette

I remember walking onto the stage on opening night, lining up alongside the other dancers and thinking "I am still here. I still get to do this." And in that way, I find Sable Island so beautifully relatable. In the same way those wild horses keep surviving and thriving, so does our dance community and its artists, and so do I, even within this new dynamic of dancer and mother combined.

I am enormously proud of this piece. We all are. There is no doubting the physical demand of Serge's work. Our lungs push hard and our bodies sweat. In the final image of the piece, in the moment before the lights fade to black, when I am standing alongside the other four dancers, there is always a sense of accomplishment and gratification. Our bodies can do this. We can push them this hard, ask this much of them, and they respond. We are so incredibly fortunate to be allowed to work in these dancing bodies. I am grateful for this work, with its complex imagery and its steady drive, and I could not be more excited to share Sable Island with our friends and colleagues from across Canada at CDF this year.
Photo Credits: Holly Crooks

Immersive and Demanding: where is my weight and the internal landscape of imagery

Returning to Sable Island this year to prepare for CDF I have been reminded over and over again how this is the hardest piece I have ever done. So physical, and always demanding more- more weight, more risk, more lunge, more cells involved in the action, more power, more sensitivity, more pushing, more letting go. You have to dig into it. Peel away the layers of yourself, and face it, as Serge says.  We have been rehearsing for about 3 hours a day, but it takes me another 7 to warm-up and cool down (a constant process), and I'm still sore everyday. The muscles are working,  pushing, digging. I am thankful for being involved in this piece that is so immersive and demanding of my every attention.

Photo Credits: Michelle Doucette
What a beautiful thing to be completely wrapped up in, together with an ensemble of wonderful, complex, dedicated dancers, and Serge. But it also frustrates me, because being in this piece is so demanding of me that I have little capability for attention to anything else while we are working on it.
Photo Credit: Michelle Doucette
My favourite part of dancing the piece is actually the internal landscape of imagery that gets created by doing it. I like when my body is dancing, and my mind, like a bird flying over a canyon, is free to see and feel around me. I love when the imagination of where I am, where we are, what elements are driving us, just appears through the words, sounds, movements of the piece. I have an elaborate and colourful inner narrative that is my own. But we're also a herd, a pack, an ensemble. Every flinch, shift, flicker felt by all. 

Photo Credit Holly Crooks
Right now it's the morning. I'm about to have a coffee and begin the warm-up process for today. I've already started filtering through- how are my shoulders, back, hips? Where is my weight today? How are the feet? the mind?  I will wake-up the core, attend to my neck, put on some rain gear and walk to the studio. Happy Monday.

Photo Credit Holly Crooks

Monday, 23 May 2016

To keep living, to keep pushing - to have courage

Before an event occurs, there is a unearthly quiet. A deep vibrational hum can be felt as forces press upon once seemingly unrelated elements; thrusting a new existence into the front of consciousness. Sable Island is a transcendence, a survival from one moment to the next. It is a place where the vast intensities that dwell inside of me can speak. 
Photo by Michelle Doucette, Rhonda Baker in rehearsal with Mocean Dance

Sable Island lives in a mythical place and time. It is a harsh reality of elemental and undeniable forces, that reminds me of how our existing realities play upon and affect each other. That we can be hard or we can be kind, but eventually we all compile into something much larger than I can speak of. 

Photo by Michelle Doucette, Rhonda Baker in rehearsal with Mocean Dance
Sable Island gives me hope. To keep living, to keep pushing, to keep resisting, to concede, to continue breathing, to have courage. To erase myself, until nothing but the purest of form is left. It is continually humbling to have this body, this life, and this dance. 

~Rhonda Baker

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The time is here, being present where you are exactly needed

About 18 years ago I saw a piece of Serge Bennathan at Maison de la culture du Plateau Mont-Royal, and I wanted to do that work, the room was small but the dancer transcended the space.

Then time pass by, life got busy, and I did not pursue that idea.

Then about 5 years ago, Sheilagh Hunt brought Serge to Halifax to do a workshop with Kinetic Studio.  I enjoy to be in the studio with him, he gives 200% no concessions, he is very generous, his movement are full nervous system and elastic.

Then I was suppose to dance in a creation that Serge did a couple years later, I was very excited, finally!  But I got pregnant with Camille (4 now), then I was suppose to be part of the creation of Sable Island, but I had a schedule conflict with my work with Danièle Desnoyer... It is like if I was never going to collaborate with Serge.

But at last Oscar saved me, and I am replacing Susanne, because he wants her fully to himself.

So I am very looking forward to put all of those moves in my body, and mostly sharing the studio and work with Serge and (almost) all of my Haligonians friends. Also I do love the Canada Dance Festival and Ottawa, and we are going to rock the stage over there with a powerful work, danced by the cream of Halifax!

Elise and her Haligonian friends in the studio!

In studio prep before the arrival of Serge!

Little Oscar, Mocean Baby #12 taking Susanne aside for Elise to dance with Sable Island

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

waves beating my heart like a drum

Re-Visiting Sable Island:

a year later, aging cells that still hold together, tenacity persists, a deeper understanding.

I remember the poetry of images that floated through the studio, the rhythm of vocal love, the question of hanging on, and the feeling of being a part of something that is larger than me. These are gifts, and gifts that return to me.

The timing of working with Serge initially within my personal path was very transformative.

I had just returned home to Halifax after being away for two years doing my masters. In that time I had never challenged myself so much mentally, physically and creatively, but I was also always in my front brain, driving the search forward. Within Sable Island I had to transform myself into an energetic and spiritual vessel that was larger than myself. I was in my back brain, earth body, a place of deep visceral necessity and beauty. This is the magic of the piece and its gift for me as an artist.

What is the now? Well its still fresh and the door opening.

But I feel a sense of groupness that is one breathing lung versus five individual s.o.s signals occurring at the same time. This excites me, I want to feel more of this. Time and distance - yields wonders for perspective. 

Photo by Holly Crooks

Photo by Holly Crooks

~ Sara C.