THE LIGHTNESS OF DANCE: The National Arts Centre in Ottawa Reveals Their 2014 – 2015 Season

The best of National and International dance in Ottawa.

The most uplifting and ecstatic times of my life have been spent in the presence of dance. Dance is the adventure you take to travel to new worlds and find uncovered territories in your own soul.

This week the National Arts Centre in Ottawa unveiled their 2014 – 2015 Dance Season. I am sure this new season will be Ah-mazing! In recent months I have experienced stunning performances at the NAC –  British Choreographer / Dancer Akram Khan’s Desh and American Choreographer / Dancer Kyle Abraham’s The Radio Show. Both shows were biographical in nature taking their inspiration from each man’s relationship with their father – moving accounts of memory, love and loss.

Ottawa is blessed to have such a strong advocate for dance in the NAC–CNA as they showcase the best in international talent as well as the best in Canadian talent. Recently at Carlton U’s New Sun Conference , a symposium celebrating the finest in Aboriginal contribution to the Arts in Canada, Sandra Laronde (Artistic Director of Red Sky Performance) spoke of her own company’s relationship with this great cultural hub in Ottawa.

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Image of book called Musicage with woman's feet in background another image of book opened to poetry with woman's finger pointing at the words.The feet and finger of Peggy Baker. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

The best of National and International dance in Toronto.

Yesterday I was reminicinsing about beautiful dance moments with Nancy Burgoyne (Cultural Planner for the City of Ottawa) a cultural kindred spirit. I was telling her about seeing another national treasure, Peggy Baker, at the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Noon Hour Concert Series. Sitting in the front row Peggy was steps away from me performing Piano Quartet, a work inspired by John Cage’s poetry based on the quotations of one of my favourite American painters Jasper Johns. This is precisely what I love about dance – that it is this flexible artistic medium! Through movements that are abstracted yet powerful visual cues a story can be told to audiences of all backgrounds and every age. It’s not about mental comprehension but about feeling the emotion of the work. Even the most stubborn of hearts can’t help but be transformed when positioned in front of the palpable energy of dance.

This damn cold winter was warmed a few times during by my visits to the COC! I saw Parul Gupta, founder of Montreal’s Infusion Dance, perform and give an informative workshop on the meaning of the hand gestures and foot work of the Classical Indian Kathak dance. The week prior Gadfly, arguably one of this country’s best Urban Dance Company, gave the audience a history lesson in Contemporary Street Dance.

The COC noon hour performances are Toronto’s secret jewel!  For creative types and freelancers these performances offer a chance for a quick inspiration calibration. A great way to take a moment out of your day to feel some lightness!

Also in Toronto the Fleck Dance Theatre, part of the Harbourfront Centre, is where more moving moments can be discovered. WorldStage and NextSteps is their superb programming of established and emerging talent. I can’t recall how many times I have been at Fleck hovering above my seat in sheer joy at what I was witnessing!

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THIS WEEK IN OTTAWA: Tomorrow night and Saturday in Ottawa you can see Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan perform Song of the Wanderers. Get tickets here…

THIS WEEK IN TORONTO: Tonight in Toronto (running until Saturday night) you can see Rina Singha and Danny Grossman perform Circles of Bricks: Rhythms of Kathak Dance. Get tickets here…

NEXT WEEK IN TORONTO: On Tuesday, March 25 you can see Peggy Baker Dance Company perform FREE at the Canadian Opera Company as part of their Noon Hour Dance Series. Show up early to get a good spot in the line!

Whether you are in the capital of Ontario or the capital of Canada you have the best of dance at your (tapping) feet.

For more information on upcoming performances and where to purchase season tickets check out:

National Arts Centre – Centre National des Arts on Facebook & twitter @CanadasNAC

Canadian Opera Company on Facebook & twitter @CanadianOpera

Fleck Dance Theatre on Facebook & twitter @HarbourfrontTO

IDENTITY CRISIS: When Two (or more) Worlds Collide with Akram Khan & Basma Alsharif

When Worlds Collide How Do You Return Back to Home?

Last Friday I experienced Akram Khan’s DESH at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Akram is one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary dancers / choreographers and like so many people in the 21st Century he is attempting to perform a balancing act between two (or more) worlds. There is the England of his own biography peppered with the history of the Bangladesh his parents left when they came from Dhaka to Wimbledon where Akram was born.

Once caught mimicking Michael Jackson dance moves, Akram (who also credits being inspired by the moves of Bruce Lee, Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin) was immediately put into Kathak classes – his parents attempt to keep him rhythmically attuned to the sub-continent rather than the beat of American pop culture.

Eventually though the mash-up masala that London was produced this phenomenon of a performer who brilliantly synthesizes Occident and Orient into the most moving experiences for his audiences. Akram has also worked with other Brits who have built their careers around the psychological space created by cultural hybridity – writer Hanif Kureishi (Sammie & Rosie Get Laid, My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia), internationally renowned artist Sir Anish Kapoor, and musician-composer-producer Nitin Sawhney who has worked with musical ‘fusion-aries’ like Natacha Atlas, Cheb Mami, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and most recently produced the score for Canadian director Deepha Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children – a poignant narrative on the agony and the ecstasy of hovering between many states of being.

“Contemporary dance can have more ambiguity which means it can also have many more stories”

DESH (which means homeland in Bangla) starts in a pre-Partition place then moves forward and backward through memories around the birth of modern day Bangladesh and the genesis of the dancer’s career in Great Britain.

When asked after his NAC performance if DESH is based on the biography of his and his father’s lives Akram replies “it was personal, but not so much to be about me but to be universal.” Akram and his team went to Bangladesh to gather stories they could link to his own and from that experience arose DESH. He went on to say that in contemporary dance there is more ambiguity in the delivery so the interpretation is able to hit closer to home for more people regardless of whether the audience has a historical connection to the story.

The miracle of multiplicity.

A day after viewing DESH I found myself at DOPPELGANGING: A Master Class held at Galerie SAW Gallery and facilitated by Kuwati-born Palestianian-American media artist Basma Alsharif. Basma’s Master Class was based on her struggles as an artist and human being to come to terms with her own shifting identity(s). She relates that when in America she would put on her American identity like a cloak. On the family’s yearly visits back to Palestine she would switch her psychological attire. She would flip flop back and forth with desire for the place she wasn’t physically in “living two lives separated from each other but existing at the same time.” She says she began to “perform” her identities “either defending an identity or denying it” and always trying to find a way to solidify all of herself(s).


The Story of Milk and Honey  قصة حليب و عسل

“I decided to explore the psychology of endless travel, isolation and escapism…I discovered a letter without an envelope or address”

The question she put to us –  is there a way to take this bifurcation of our beings and turn it into a position of strength?

I would argue that many already have.

At a time when we have a multiplicity of narratives these voices did not descend into dissonance, rather they have become a well articulated melody that many hear.

The ability of artists to translate the universality of experience is what helps us remember how to listen to each others words and respect our shared humanity.

We all understand a desire for home, for sovereignty of state, for peace of mind.

Cultural provocateurs, like Akram and Basma, offer us a road map to recover the treasure of deep empathy and a way back to “home”.

THE SPIRIT OF SANKOFA: Looking Back at the History of African Dance with Esie Mensah

“Many dances of the past we are still doing in the present”

Each year Harbourfront Centre hosts the KUUMBA Festival to kick off Black History Month. This year take advantage of Toronto dancer / choreographer Esie Mensah’s “A Journey Through African Dance.”

It was very important for me to showcase Africa over the decades. Being a part of a traditional African group I wanted people to experience where many dances originated from. As I did research I realized that many of those dances from the past we are still doing in the present so I turned to the music. In showcasing the dance I am showcasing the music of Africa over the decades. You will see Africa from the traditional, afrobeat (40-70s) and azonto (present). We see people be inspired by politics, love, and just feeling good. I want to represent Africa in a beautiful light. When we appreciate our history we can continue to be innovative at any point in our lives.”
~Esie Mensah

Along with her evening talk Esie will also be leading an Afrofusion dance class at 3 pm. And if dance classes are your thing why not grab a snack then return at 6 pm for more Toronto dance talent – Jasmyn Fyffe with be teaching a workshop in Contemporary Dance.

All events at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre as part of KUUMBA.
Get the latest on  Esie on twitter @EsieMensah & Jasmyn on twitter @JasmynFyffe.

Female dancer leaping into air on beach with water and rocks behind her
Image of Jasymn Fyffe by Rob Rogers.
Female dancer jumping up into air in studio with mirror behind herImage of Esie Mensah by TOPortfolio.