Partnering at the Heart with Sylvain Lafortune

Sylvain Lafortune (PhD) has performed all over the world, is a regular teacher for professional programs in dance and circus, and is publishing a unique and comprehensive textbook on dance partnering. As a new faculty member with the Dance Educators' Seminar (August 7 - 10, 2018), and August Intensive (August 13 - 17, 2018) teaching Partnering, we asked him a few questions about his work.

Q&A with Sylvain Lafortune

 photo: Laurent Theillet 

photo: Laurent Theillet 

How do you know Peggy?
Sylvain Lafortune: I met Peggy in New York where we both worked at Lar Lubovitch Dance Co. [1980’s]. Aside from being the Canadian contingent of the company, we had a common friend, James Kudelka, which made our acquaintance even easier. 

Can you tell us a little about your current or upcoming work?
SL: I am part of three projects with Montreal Danse: "Prisme" from Benoî Lachambre, "Instant Community" from Peter Quanz and a new creation "Beside" from Marie Béland. I will create and perform a full evening duet entitled "L'un l'autre" (One and another) with Esther Rousseau-Morin. It will be performed in Montreal in the Danse Danse season in October 2018. This project is very personal and I am freely using my knowledge of partnering to bring out the poetry of two bodies being mutually dependant. I am also creating a full evening contemporary show "Horizon vertical" for a stilt walker company that will be premiered in Moncton in November 2018. I am also finishing the writing of a comprehensive textbook on partnering work in dance, which should be published (in French) by the end of the year. I am also a regular teacher in dance and circus professional programs.

 sylvain lafortune and esther Rousseau-Morin in "l'un l'autre", at danse danse montreal october 2018.

sylvain lafortune and esther Rousseau-Morin in "l'un l'autre", at danse danse montreal october 2018.

How did you develop your Partnering technique? What were you responding to? Does this directly relate to your choreographic work? 
SL:
Partnering has been at the heart of my dancing career. I have always preferred dancing with a partner than in solos and the most significant works I have danced and created have been duets. If I have had any impact as an artist, it would be as a partner. This particular talent, sensitivity, and interest have led my to teach and to research the subject through Master's and Doctorate studies. This experience as an artist, a teacher, and a researcher has given me a unique and comprehensive understanding of partnering, combining both the practical and the theoretical. 

 sylvain coaching, courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

sylvain coaching, courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

 courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

What kind of tools do you work on with dancers in your class? What kind of development and improvement do you see through this work?
SL:
What is important for me in my classes is to gain understanding of the mechanical principles that determine the success or the failure of a movement. For too many, and I was one for many years, the main approach to partnering has simply been by trial and error. This approach may produce some good results, but at what cost? How much fatigue, frustration, and injury could be avoided with a better understanding of mechanicals laws! When we don't really know why some things work or not, often succeeding one day and failing the other, we are simply puzzled. So my goal is to teach a method as much as a technique. How to acknowledge and name the difficulties to better solve them?

 courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

courtesy of sylvainlafortune.ca

What do you think is most important for teachers approaching partnering work?
SL:
For teachers, the important thing is to be able to observe and to name what their students are doing. Some basic mechanical knowledge can help explain why some lifts are easy or hard. Also, to be aware of the variety of lifts that exist so they can choose or help their students choose which ones are most appropriate for what they are trying to do, or to express. 

What are you looking forward to about teaching this August with us in Toronto?
SL:
It is always exciting for me to work with fellow teachers, to understand what they know and what they need to know. I feel this method and knowledge I am developing would be useful for teachers who will often create pieces for their students in which there will be, almost invariably, some lifts. I feel the most impact I can have in the dance community is through the teachers who will spend much more time with their students than I will ever do.

 
 

The Dance Educators' Seminar (Aug 7 - 10, 2018) offers 4 full-days of workshops for dance educators.
The August Intensive (Aug 13 - 17, 2018) offers full stream, workshop, or drop-in options.

constant state of evolution: summer training

As a masterful dance educator, Peggy Baker invests deeply in the on-going practice of dance pedagogy and in artists honing their craft. With her upcoming annual Dance Educators' Seminar (August 7 - 10, 2018), and August Intensive (August 13 - 17, 2018), we asked her a few questions about what participants can expect.

A Q&A with Peggy on the Dance Educators' Seminar and August Intensive 2018

 photo: jeremy mimnagh, dance educators' seminar 2017 

photo: jeremy mimnagh, dance educators' seminar 2017 

Can you tell us a little about what you enjoy about the Dance Educators’ Seminar? And the August Intensive?

I love the wide open exchange with colleagues during the Dance Educators’ Seminar – the refreshing stimulation of new materials, approaches, and points of view around working with students at different stages of training. It is also exceptional to have technique classes designed for practitioners who are primarily teachers rather than active dancers – classes that work with a high level of nuanced and sophisticated information, and well-considered physical demands. The August Intensive attracts a wide range of dancers concerned with expanding their physical and expressive capabilities. The mix of backgrounds and objectives creates an exciting context for coming together.

 photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

 photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

What sort of needs are you addressing when you develop the curriculum with the invited faculty?

Dance is in a constant state of evolution but fundamentally the underlying concerns are: how to develop capability and expertise; how to prepare for and recover from the extraordinary demands of class, rehearsal, performance; how to expand and deepen our artistry as teachers, performers, creators.

 photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

What kind of personal development do you see happen with participants in these programs?

Whenever we apply ourselves with awareness, intensity and a sense of purpose we make good progress. That’s why intensive workshops are so powerful – we all set aside the time and invest the energy.

 photo: jeremy mimnagh, january 2018. peggy directing who we are in the dark, which will be taught in her repertoire workshops at the august intensive

photo: jeremy mimnagh, january 2018. peggy directing who we are in the dark, which will be taught in her repertoire workshops at the august intensive

What are you looking forward to about this year’s programs and your classes?

I am especially excited to have Sylvain Lafortune teaching partnering at both workshops this summer. A great dance artist, a masterful teacher, his approach is singular, and highly refined through many years of exploration and development, including a doctoral thesis on partnering. I look forward to Jennifer Bolt’s presentations on student transitions into and throughout high demand / high intensity pre-professional training as part of the Dance Educators’ Seminar. It is always a huge pleasure to welcome participants to the gorgeous studios of Canada’s National Ballet School, and to be able to offer classes by Christine Wright, and to work alongside dancers from my company.

 photo: georgie donais, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: georgie donais, dance educators' seminar 2015

Are there any tips or advice you would share with anyone who is interested in either program?

Don’t be afraid to jump in! There is a huge diversity in age and training among the participants, and the breadth of approaches is what makes these workshops so exciting and powerful.

 photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

 photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

The Dance Educators' Seminar (Aug 7 - 10, 2018) offers 4 full-days of workshops for dance educators.
The August Intensive (Aug 13 - 17, 2018) offers full stream, workshop, or drop-in options.

who we are in the moment

We recently sat down with composers and musicians Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire, and chatted about their experience working with Peggy on who we are in the dark for the upcoming Canadian tour in 2019.

 
 Jeremy and Sarah

Jeremy and Sarah

 

1. How did you become involved with who we are in the dark?

Jeremy Gara: Sarah mentioned ages ago this wonderful collaboration she had done with Peggy, and as her excitement grew and morphed into future plans, she brought me in to collaborate as well. Sarah and I play in a band together and have also worked together as a duo, so we have a pretty easy and natural way of playing together - and now I’m spoiled to be brought into this amazing project with PB!
Sarah Neufeld: I collaborated with Peggy a couple years ago; a short piece with the two of us performing side by side [fractured black]. It was incredible working together - so much fierceness and grace. Peggy brought up the idea of doing a full length collaboration with her company and I jumped at the chance.

2. What do you enjoy about working on a dance performance? How is it working with Peggy and the other collaborators?

JG: It’s amazing to be able to work in the moment with the dancers: it’s incredible what the choreography and the movement can do to push and pull the music in different directions. Peggy is wonderful to work with…she has a clear vision and purpose but is at the same time SO open to ideas and open to change, both with us as musicians and with her dancers. She has total trust in their instincts and respect for their artistry and it’s really, completely in the moment. It’s a wonderful, positive work environment.
SN: My music has always been informed in some way by movement, by the body, by a kind of kinetic aliveness. Writing with and for dance feels very natural, challenging but in such a good way. I feel it pushes me in all the right directions. I’m inspired by Peggy’s process, her energy, her focus, and the general amazing attitude and openness of her entire company.

 
 Sarah in rehearsal at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Sarah in rehearsal at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh.

 

3. How is this collaboration different from your other artistic processes?

JG: Well, I usually just work on musical collaborative projects or completely on my own in my solo pursuits, so it’s always different! Different people, different energies, different city. Always a fresh look!
SN: This is the first time I’ve ever worked on a full length dance piece. I’ve worked on lengthly projects before; film scores, albums etc, but this is totally different in the way the work emerges and evolves. A lot of the music is being created for already choreographed scenes, so that’s giving us a lot of different information than the type of imagination palette when starting from a solely musical jumping off point. It’s actually allowing Jeremy and I to find new ways of playing together that we might not have ever found otherwise.

 
 Jeremy in Rehearsal at Canada's National Ballet School

Jeremy in Rehearsal at Canada's National Ballet School

 

4. Have you ever performed live with contemporary dancers? If not, what do you think about it? What kind of rush does it give you?

JG: I have, actually. I used to work frequently with Le Groupe Dance Lab in Ottawa when I was younger. It’s actually where I first explored composing music that wasn’t in a traditional “rock band” sort of environment. It’s really a whole different world, on an artistic level, all the way down to the technical and logistical level. 
SN: I have as well, and it’s always totally unique and super satisfying on so many levels!  

 Jeremy Gara. Photography by Brantley Gutierrez

Jeremy Gara. Photography by Brantley Gutierrez

 Sarah Neufeld. photography by Lisa Fleischmann

Sarah Neufeld. photography by Lisa Fleischmann

5. What excites you the most about who we are in the dark?

JG: JUST GETTING STARTED! It’s all pretty exciting because it’s just taking shape! The dancers are amazing and the work is really, really strong. There are moments where I get really lost in the moment and that’s the best feeling, honestly. 
SN: Yeah, me too. Some of the music I’ve been really immersed in the working of already, but there’s the whole of it still very much unfolding, so there’s this wonderful tension between feeling like we have a handle on something tangible, and being in a very raw unknowing state of creation.

 

who we are in the dark has its World Premiere with Canadian Stage / Fall for Dance North February 21-24, 2019. Tickets are on sale now!

Fashioning A Body of Work: A Map By Years

By costume designer Caroline O’Brien

Caroline is curating a beautiful costume exhibit at The Theatre Centre as part of Map by Years from Feb 21-25.

I first met Peggy Baker when she arrived to the stage of the Betty Oliphant Theatre for a rehearsal with a group of ballet students.  I remember that day in the fall of 1989 as though it were yesterday; fast forward a few decades and now we are engaged in a project aptly entitled Map by Years.  That first meeting marked the beginning of an important collaboration that saw the fashioning of many one-of-a-kind costumes created for Ms. Baker over the arc of her 20 year solo career.

 
 Peggy in  Brute . Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Peggy in Brute. Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

 vivian reiss.  Peggy,  2001 .  oil on canvas.

vivian reiss. Peggy, 2001oil on canvas.

 

Ms. Baker has always had a deep respect and appreciation for her collaborators, and the costume designers are no exception.  Now, as she maps the years with a beautiful array of dance, she has chosen to offer a retrospective of some of the singular works through some of their designers: Susan Macpherson, Denis Lavoie, Jane Townsend and myself, Caroline O’Brien.  During the 2018 performance at the Theatre Centre a spotlight will shine on some of the exquisite one of a kind costumes created for Ms. Baker, installed in the spacious second floor gallery that leads directly into the performance space.

 
 Peggy in  Strand.  Costume by  Caroline O'Brien. Photo By V. Tony Hauser.

Peggy in Strand. Costume by  Caroline O'Brien. Photo By V. Tony Hauser.

 

The main narrative of the exhibition uses dressmakers’ stands to show finished costumes on display, as a way to emphasize the comprehensive design process with stages in the birth of each costume according to the style of each designer.  It follows a number of pieces from inception and initial design through cutting, sewing and after life.  This opportunity to showcase a collaborative process through different designers will include renderings, photographs, and archival documentation in addition to the garments themselves.

 
 Peggy in  Non Coupable.  COstume by Susan Macpherson. Photo By Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Peggy in Non Coupable. COstume by Susan Macpherson. Photo By Cylla Von Tiedemann.

 
 Peggy in  In a Landscape . Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Peggy in In a Landscape. Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

 

The intent of the exhibition is to offer elements of a creative process and the craft and making aspects that are often withheld from the audience’s purview.  It will offer new perspectives on the development and construction of singular and traditional dressmaking techniques and the skills required to fashion them, through the work of several designers.  Using a combination of visual and prose narratives, the exhibition is intended to deepen and broaden the viewer’s understanding of the creative and technical aspects of creating dance costumes.  The objects on view illustrate a valuable contribution to Canadian theatrical dance history.

Map by Years is running at The Theatre Centre Feb 21-25. Get your tickets here.

Mapping a Journey

Sarah Chase is a Canadian independent dancer and choreographer and has established her reputation as a solo dance artist, presenting her works on tour across Canada and Europe. Sarah has choreographed and directed unmoored, which Peggy will be performing as part of Map by Years February 21-25, 2018 at The Theatre Centre.

1. How did you and Peggy meet?

I first met Peggy when I was a student at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 1988.

 

2. Tell us about your first experience dancing for Peggy.

Her teaching and presence were a revelation. She was dancing in New York at the time, and was our guest teacher for a week. She blew our minds: this striking, brilliant, tall, totally articulate woman, both in the way she moved and in the way she spoke. Forthright, full of light, with the passion, vibrancy and clarity of all that she had been inspired by in dancing in New York and internationally. She had been dancing for Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, and had been developing new ways of considering movement and kinesthetic anatomy with Irene Dowd. She made me feel like dance language was an illuminated manuscript sending paths of light through space. In fact she spoke this way about movement, extending imagery beyond the body into the architecture of the room, of the studio. We were invited to dance across the studio like flocks of birds tipping and tilting as we arced through our paths, or to consider that we were leaving light trails in the volume of the room and that by the time we had finished our dance we had left a kind of lit up architecture floating and resonating in time.

 Sarah Chase and Lev

Sarah Chase and Lev

And these weren't just words, she was able to totally embody the tasks and imagery she offered us, firing our mirror neurons to new fresh experiences.

There was also the feeling in her dancing of having grown up in the open generous spaces of the high Canadian prairie, this understanding of big swathes of landscape and open sky were indelibly understood and carried by her. 

I felt like a door opened for me. She responded to my dancing with excitement, affirmation, and acceptance. I had that intense and wonderful sensation of really being seen, and amazingly she offered to help me design a path of further study in NYC after graduation.

I would continue to study with Peggy whenever I could, in workshops and intensives in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. And I did end up in NYC for a year where I was able to study with some of Peggy's incredible teachers and influences like Irene Dowd and Christine Wright, and to be immersed in the company of the dedicated extraordinary people dancing in the major companies there at the end of the 80s.

In preparing for further creation on unmoored I was reading Rumi and Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky. In his introduction he writes: "I was recently asked if I could explain the Rumi phenomenon in the Western world in just one line. I thought for a few moments, then replied, "Well maybe but could I quote Hafiz? The line was 'The wing comes alive in his presence/ I think that is it, something of the answer. The wing, the soul, the heart, comes alive in the presence of a real teacher...'"

 
 Sarah  in  Garland , 1997. Choreographed by Peggy. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Sarah  in Garland, 1997. Choreographed by Peggy. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

3. In 2003/04, you and Peggy created The Disappearance of Right and Left. What inspired you to return to develop this follow-up piece now?

When Peggy and I worked on The Disappearance of Right and Left it involved unearthing many compelling stories from Peggy's life and looking at their relationships with each other. There is always a major process of elimination, looking for stories that somehow resonate together and create a greater whole. In The Disappearance, the stories chosen all seemed to illustrate times when perception was turned sideways and changed or opened.

 
 
 Hornby Island

Hornby Island

 Peggy on Hornby Island, 2017, working on  unmoored

Peggy on Hornby Island, 2017, working on unmoored

Often, when creating work it helps immensely to have some distance on past events and to know that it is safe to share the stories we are working with. We both knew that at the time of creating The Disappearance that Peggy was right in the middle of some excruciating life choices and fully immersed in taking care of Ahmed [Peggy's late husband]. We thought that one day we would return to this story, so central to her life, and around two years ago, it felt like the right time to begin.

It was an event when Ahmed would play for our classes when I was a student at STDT. He often sang while he played his array of instruments. I couldn't believe that one person could bring such a landscape of sound to the studio. So, I knew him before I met Peggy. And I was thrilled when these two people I loved got married to each other. At first, Peggy and Ahmed did some touring together and I would stay with Ahmed's daughter Shireefa, as a guardian; later on I would stay with Ahmed to help out when Peggy was away.

 
 AHMED. Photo by v. tony hauser

AHMED. Photo by v. tony hauser

 Sarah, Ahmed, and Tonto, 1994

Sarah, Ahmed, and Tonto, 1994

 

One thing that was a great pleasure about Peggy's teaching was her interaction with the musicians who played for class. She was deeply appreciative and aware of the choices they were making and her exercises were built around their musicality and sometimes involved unusual time signatures. There was a feeling of complete engagement both musically and physically. When Peggy made the solo, Garland, for me in 1997, it was an incredible experience to dance live to Arraymusic: four musicians playing violin, piano, vibraphone and tom toms, who shared the stage space with me. Over and again, Peggy has chosen to bring the musician right into the centre of her performances. Her solos transformed to an intimate duet.

4. Your career has been grounded in combining storytelling and dance, how does this inform your art-making process?

I think we are all in the middle of a mystery, and each of us experiences in our lives some kind of intricate predicament. In hearing other people's stories I often feel a deep sense of relief to know that I am not alone in feeling bewildered or overwhelmed by experiencing love and loss, which is inevitable in any life well lived. When I make work I am hoping that by arranging personal stories in a careful constellation, they become universal. A kind of poetic logic and rigour takes place, making sure that not more is said than needs to be said. I am always interested in specific details.

In the meantime I am creating movement patterns and loops that can speak emotional subtext or say what can't be spoken. These danced patterns also serve as a grounding task that keeps the performer in the moment and therefore safe to speak about personal emotional experiences.

To see unmoored, get your tickets to Map by Years, here.

reflections on dance by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Aleksandar is a photographer based in Toronto and was commissioned to take the company portraits that you see across this website and in the Map by Years campaign.

 
 Peggy Baker by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Peggy Baker by Aleksandar Antonijevic

 

During my time as a Principal Dancer with The National Ballet of Canada, the name Peggy Baker was always there, floating around in my consciousness. I did not know Peggy personally or her work, but for some reason I had an image of a uniquely gifted dancer with an established career in New York City. I was already interested in photography and I remember seeing images of an incredibly stunning body and face, taken by Cylla von Tiedemann, a renowned dance photographer.

I also remember going to a performance of the Spring Showcase at The National Ballet School and seeing a piece by Peggy, choreographed for the talented Jamie Tapper who later became a Principal Dancer with The National Ballet of Canada and Royal Ballet in London, UK. At the time I was impressed with how Peggy achieved such a mature statement from a young 16-year-old dancer.

 
 KATE HOLDEN IN  PHASE SPACE.  Photo   by Aleksandar Antonijevic

KATE HOLDEN IN PHASE SPACE. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

 

I was thrilled to be asked by Peggy to capture her wonderful company for their campaign (the individual portraits of each dancer, found here). What a treat to be collaborating with a humble, generous and open person as Peggy! It felt like a true dialogue, in which we could exchange ideas and create a space where these artists would allow an intrusive photographer with a big camera to enter a sacred, creative, and personal space and I felt that Peggy and myself created something really special together. We captured human beings at their most vulnerable and authentic, in the moment of truthful and honest creative expression.

 Sahara Morimoto by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Sahara Morimoto by Aleksandar Antonijevic

 
 mairi greig by aleksandar antonijevic

mairi greig by aleksandar antonijevic

I have had the privilege of capturing Peggy for a personal and very intimate portrait project as well, where I sat there with my camera, speechless and in awe of a wonderful and delicate and strong human being, who wasn’t afraid to share her life experiences, so openly and proudly and in the process allow me to feel stronger and more connected with life.

 
 Peggy performing in Lisa Park's Eunoia II, nuit blanche 2016. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

Peggy performing in Lisa Park's Eunoia II, nuit blanche 2016. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

 

Last spring, I again witnessed something extraordinary at The National Ballet School’s Assemblée Internationale: Peggy created a piece for female students that I shall never forget! She, in her quiet, understated way, allowed the women to embody sensuality and space and take the audience to a place where time didn’t matter. The atmosphere we felt emanating from the stage was of established ballerinas working as a group, breathing as one, and mesmerizing us with their beauty and femininity.

What a gift to have an artist such as Peggy Baker amongst us in the city of Toronto, gracing us with her spirit and talent and letting us witness her lifelong dedication to art, music and expression!

Our featured image for Map by Years is of Peggy and was taken by Aleksandar. Get your tickets here to see Map by Years in February at the Theatre Centre!

www.aleksandarantonijevic.com