Spotlight: Composing with Sarah Neufeld

The incomparable Sarah Neufeld is the co-composer (along with Jeremy Gara) for Peggy’s upcoming major work who we are in the dark. Sarah is best known as a member of the Juno and Grammy award-winning band Arcade Fire and is also a member of the post-rock band Bell Orchestre. She has a number of solo albums to her credit, and we cannot express how excited we are - the whole company! - to be working with an artist of this calibre.

In a recent newsletter sent out to her subscribers, Sarah says: “I've been working on a capital P Project. Something I've always wanted to do: scoring an entire piece of contemporary choreography… I'm really proud of this show. It's tender, emotional, fierce, and dark. It's the start of a new body of work for me, and, an entirely different ocean to swim in as a composer, collaborator and performer.”

This week, Sarah and Peggy were interviewed by Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning. Below is a short excerpt where Sarah discusses her process composing the music for who we are in the dark.

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Matt Galloway: …You wrote “it was an entirely different ocean to swim in as a composer, collaborator and performer”.

Sarah Neufeld: Oh! You saw my newsletter. Yeah – because you know I get asked what’s it like to work on this project a lot and it is completely different. Writing to something that’s not fully formed but on its way to being fully formed. And I like it because it provides a totally different container in which to pour your energy and efforts, you know everything – internal language. I love something that’s challenging and completely different from, say, how a band creates music or how I compose music on my own or how I collaborate with others. We started off at the Banff residency last January and I loved how awkward it was as well because it was me and my instrument and this team of amazing dancers who were already rehearsing material. I was just responding really from a pretty unconscious place which I also love to do, I’m an improviser, so I was improvising in the room with dancers which I have done before but this was so much more of like, ok you’re doing this and then you are creating a piece.

Matt Galloway: That is a lot of trust to put into somebody Peggy, you have to trust that what they are going to come up with is going to suit what you already have in your mind.

Peggy Baker: So I am choosing fantastic people to work with! That is the secret, that’s the magic of the whole thing! And honestly every single person who is working on this project has that much agency because they are not just learning steps they are creating steps with me and with each other.

Matt Galloway: Do you think of movement when you’re composing?

Sarah Neufeld: I do! I feel it. I grew up simultaneously studying violin and dance and I don’t know if that is why I feel movement when I am hearing music but I do. It is always internally part of the same thing. I am a physical composer.

We are one week away from the world premiere of who we are in the dark. Do not miss out on seeing this thrilling show featuring stunning dance, as well as breath taking music composed by Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara. Head to our website for more information about tickets and our upcoming National Tour! We cannot wait to share this show with all of you!

Movement and Music

It’s December now, and we’re really close to the world premiere of who we are in the dark next year. Peggy has completed choreographing for our seven fantastic dancers; and composers/musicians Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara have completed their original score.

In this series of ultra-sneak peeks at this incredible new work, we’ve taken four short excerpts from the latest archival video, and asked Peggy to comment on the movement and the music in each one.

movement and music #1
”This is an early scene from the piece, and choreographically I’m working with the idea of form arising out of darkness. Energies funnel, eddy and swirl as ‘particles’ collide and coalesce; orbital pathways and rotational forces seem to be arranging the dancers. The sound is open and spare with a melody line threading through it. There is a sense that the music and the movement are in a state of emergence.”

movement and music #2
”In the aftermath of a violent and chaotic scene, two dancers – Kate Holden and David Norsworthy – are  suddenly thrown together. The push and pull between them reveals tensions and desires that cannot be resolved. Sarah Neufeld’s violin line feels to me as if it arises from their bodies.”

movement and music #3
”This scene is a bit of a rampage. The dancers advance in a single confrontational line that explodes and reforms. The music pushes forward with a tremendous pressure fuelled by Jeremy Gara’s playing. It makes me think of a mob advancing downhill and gaining a momentum they can’t control.“

movement and music #4
”These four women – Sarah Fregeau, Mairi Greig, Kate Holden and Sahara Morimoto – are linked together through an acknowledgement of losses suffered. They are there for each other. The deep listening among them offers condolence. The music offers comfort, its beauty is healing.”


The final step before our debut with Canadian Stage at the Bluma Appel on February 21 is a 6-day residency at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, where we’ll incorporate all of the design elements into the show: the set drops by John Heward, projections by Jeremy Mimnagh, costumes by Robyn Macdonald and lighting by Marc Parent.

All the details for performances of who we are in the dark in Toronto and on tour across Canada in February, March, and April 2019 are here on our website.

2018/19 RBC Emerging Artists Project

We are very excited to announce our NEW 2018/19 RBC Emerging Artists Project participants! We chatted with the four incredible individuals: Micha Baltman, Sierra Chin Sawdy, Jessica Germano, and Kathleen Legassick to learn about their careers as young dance artists and what they hope to gain from working with Peggy and her dancers.

 
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Micha Baltman. Photo by Daniel Malen

Micha Baltman. Photo by Daniel Malen

Sierra Chin Sawdy. Photo by Alvin Collantes Photography

Sierra Chin Sawdy. Photo by Alvin Collantes Photography

Jessica Germano. Photo by Drew Berry

Jessica Germano. Photo by Drew Berry

Kathleen Legassick. Photo by Shakeil Rollock

Kathleen Legassick. Photo by Shakeil Rollock

How did you get your start? 
Micha Baltman: I was lucky to attend the Etobicoke School of the Arts starting in music theatre and slowly transitioned to dance. Although I had never trained or taken a proper class before, I was taken under the wing of Gabby Kamino, Colleen Friedman, and Shari Teichman. They taught me all the first things I know about dance and even though I was technically behind everyone else they allowed me to do as many classes as I wanted and supported my creative work. From there I attended the School of Toronto Dance Theatre for a year before being accepted by The Place (London Contemporary Dance School).
Jessica Germano: I can’t remember an exact moment when I got my start dancing. According to my family, I danced constantly which was a sign that at the age of 3, it was time to enrol me in classes. Once I was immersed into that world, I could not picture a world without it. I have never stopped since. I started ballet at a small studio in Oakville, then another small studio in Welland where I was exposed to other forms of dance, and continued on to professional training at Ryerson University.
Kathleen Legassick: I started dancing at the age of 2. I attended the Canadian School of Dance in Barrhaven, Ottawa where my training had a strong focus in ballet, jazz, and tap. I completed my Advanced A.D.A.P.T jazz and tap exams as well as earned my Solo Seal Award for R.A.D. I began taking a serious interest in dance at the age of 8 when I competed in dance competitions across North America. I continued to compete until I was 17 years old. When it came to post secondary education I could not imagine myself not dancing. I decided to continue my career and attend Ryerson University’s Performance Dance Program. It was at Ryerson that I first studied modern and contemporary dance. I furthered my training by attending the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, ProArteDanza, and Kenny Pearl’s Emerging Artist Summer Programs. Throughout my post secondary training I further developed my technical skills as a dancer but more importantly I discovered my passion and voice as an artist.

What training regimens do you follow?
MB: My training regimen involves a mix of contemporary and ballet professional classes. It also involves a combination of yoga, running, cycling, and climbing. Alongside all this the most important aspect of my continuous training is the time I devote to my personal practice of improvisation, flying low & passing through, and investigation.
Sierra Chin Sawdy: As a dancer I have always tried to expose myself to as many different training regimes as possible. I began my training in classical ballet, jazz, and tap and later developed an interest in modern dance. From there I was exposed to contemporary dance and all the different techniques within that world. Once I realized all the different training methods out there, I began to attend as many different workshops as I could. I often travel to different countries to train with choreographers and teachers that have created their own contemporary technique, in order to expand my dance vocabulary.
JG: My training regimens are a combination of explorative research that often involves human connectivity, sensorial qualities of moving, and impulse reactions/improvisation, as well as physical strength and technique. I like to stay in shape and maintain a strong technical form by conditioning and keeping up with modern, ballet, and contemporary technique while immersing myself in other projects and workshops that feed my curiosity and further develop my artistry.
KL: Since graduating from Ryerson I continue to train at various drop in facilities across Toronto including GMD, TDT, Dance Teq, Metro Movement, and Underground Dance Centre. I participate in modern, contemporary, ballet, improvisation and jazz classes. I have also participated in intensive programs including Transformations in Montreal as well as Heidi Strauss’ Adelheid Intensive. I have experienced a few major injuries in my career as a dancer and because of this I have become adamant about my cross training. I stay fairly active through weight training, pilates, yoga, cycling and barre classes. I have certainly noticed the benefits of strength training in my overall health but in my dancing as well. It is important to me to maintain a high level of activity throughout my day in order to feel balanced and centred.

What inspires you as a dance artist?
MB: I am first and foremost inspired by the friends I have danced with that are now spread around the world. As I work I am constantly connecting to them and the different inspirations I get from each one. It is linked to a strong aspect of memory and sensation. Another big inspiration is my experiences in exploring the world. A part of my practice involves being stimulated by the places I experience and people I meet while traveling and making connections to concepts I encounter in dance. Whether that be experiencing the vastness of space on the steppe in Mongolia or soaking in the layers of life and activity that happen as the sun sets on the main square in Marrakech.
SCS: I love going to see as many shows as possible. Whether it be dance or theatre, I am always inspired by watching performers that are so committed to their work and doing something they are passionate about. It constantly motivates me to continue in this field and reminds me why I love doing what I am doing. I find it especially inspiring to watch those that I admire as artists up on stage, sharing their talent with others. As an audience member I am able to observe what makes each performer unique and utilize those things when I am performing.
JG: As a dance artist, I am of course, inspired by art that challenges me to see and think differently, including music, literature, visual, dance. I am particularly drawn to art that is a response to our society and deals with the crisis of what it is to be human. On a more general scale, I am most inspired by people - what makes each person unique, the ways in which we think and feel, how different people lead different lives, how people react, think, and feel, and overall, the things in our lives that connect people to one another, no matter how many differences we may have. I am fascinated by the realities and struggles of being human - the ways in which our experiences develop us into who we are and shape the paths we choose to take. I love ideas and concepts that challenge my opinion of what it means to be human, and the entire realm of qualities, traits, and characteristics that make each individual inimitable to one another, and I love seeing this kind of human expression and conflict portrayed in dance.
KL: Over the past two years I have worked closely with seniors both through the Dancing with Parkinson’s Organization (DWP) as well as the Meighen Retirement Residence. As a dance artist, I am inspired by the beauty found in simplicity and articulation. This is demonstrated in these classes as there is a strong focus on increasing awareness of the body through movement and stillness. From this, I have further seen that movement is accessible to people of all abilities and ages. Dance is supposed to be freeing and should allow you to be your truest self with no judgment. That is what I hope to achieve for myself. As I grow as a dancer I am inspired by authentic and honest work that uses limitations as a way to discover endless possibilities in movement.   

At what point did you feel you had come into your own, and you knew that you had to pursue this career path?
MB: In 2014 during a break in my training, a team of two friends and I took matters into our own hands to produce and perform a show in a gallery in Finland. We managed to create and deliver a performance to around 400 people from the community that reflected their culture and clearly reached them in a unique way. Producing and creating a dance work for the town of Kouvola, Finland, reaffirmed for me the value of generating innovative dance and delivering it in ways which broaden the impact of the sector. The creative autonomy this experience provided made me feel that I had come into my own. And engaging this incredible power and independence of being a dance artist made me realize that I needed to continue on this path.
JG: It is difficult for me to pin point a specific moment in time when I felt that I had to pursue dancing as a career. There have certainly been ups and downs, but there was never a time where I could imagine my life without dance. As I continued to train, make new discoveries, and grow as an artist, I only became more and more sure that this was something I had to do, because I would never feel like my true self without it. Although I am still in the beginning stages of my professional dance career and feel that I still have a lot to learn, the first time I felt I had come into my own as an artist was during my first year at Springboard Danse Montreal. It was an overwhelming experience, being surrounded by so many talented emerging and professional artists who came from all over the world. At first I was a bit intimidated, and therefore timid. The nature of the work I ended up performing was - at the time - completely out of my comfort zone. It quickly became a form of movement that I now find very natural to me. Because it was a quick creation process, I was forced to conquer my insecurities for the benefit of the piece, throwing myself into this new way of moving. This, combined with all of the artists around me who inspired me to push myself is why I consider my experience at Springboard a pivotal moment. It was an experience that helped me to learn how to accept my weaknesses and work on them while recognizing my strengths, stay open to new ideas, and to remain inquisitive. This new found confidence in my ability paired with admiration of my colleagues is what guided me to come into my own as an artist.
KL: The moment where I knew that I had to pursue this career path was when I performed with Bill Coleman, Marc Boivin, and Jimmy Coleman in Victoria, BC for a remount of his work Convoy PQ17. It was a Remembrance Day Performance at the University of Victoria, Farquhar Auditorium. For this work we collaborated with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and the Victoria Philharmonic Choir. Working with these musical artists opened my eyes to the interdisciplinary approach to performance. This was my first professional job and I remember sitting on the stage after our dress rehearsal and saying to myself, “This is what I need to do”. I truly believe this is where I came into my own and saw what my future could hold.  It was such a thrill to be working with esteemed artists and feel like I was apart of something special.

What are you most excited about in regards to working with Peggy?
MB: I have always admired Peggy’s work - how it keeps a connection to the past while still curiously exploring and being open into the future. I believe the program will allow me to enter a new phase of my development while becoming reconnected to dance here in Canada. I want an environment where I can be provoked in different ways and challenged to draw together the different methods I have for approaching dance.
JG: In regards to working with Peggy Baker Dance Projects, I am most excited to be immersed into a professional environment where I can make new discoveries with Peggy and her dancers. It is going to be a pleasure to share the space with Peggy, her professional company, and the other three Emerging Artists where we can all share exchanges of insight in our craft, and take away new qualities and concepts influenced by one another. I look forward to absorbing new perspectives on movement, artistry, collaboration, and creative process. I imagine that Peggy and her artists have a great deal of professional knowledge that will nurture my curiosity and help me progress into the seasoned artist I am aspiring to be.
KL: I am constantly intrigued by the quality and precision of Peggy’s work as a whole. As an audience member I am in awe of the power that every element of her work brings to a performance. Whether it be the movement, instruments, vocals or set design.  I am drawn to Peggy’s keen eye and use of space, in conjunction with her dancers and vocalists. The beauty in simplicity is evident in her work. I am excited to be working alongside her and have an inside view of her creative process as a choreographer. I look forward to Peggy’s mentorship as I contribute my personal experiences and dive deeper into my artistry as a performer.

All four of these wonderful artists will work with Peggy and her company dancers in our 2018/19 season!

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 creating a full evening contemporary show called "Horizon Vertical" for a stilt walking 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 rather 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. The particular talent, sensitivity, and interest has led me 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 an 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 mechanical 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 in order 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 the most appropriate for what they are trying to do or 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 will be useful for teachers who 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.