Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Q&A with Belinda McGuire

Belinda McGuire, whose stunning photo graces our Festival poster this season, took a few minutes to answer some questions about her upcoming performance at On the Stage, Saturday, June 3, 8 pm. We recommend getting your tickets to this show ASAP, as they're selling fast! 

GD: Belinda, why did you make the piece you'll be performing at the Festival?

I commissioned Sharon B. Moore to make Anthem for the Living as a part of “The Heist Project,” which included two other solo works by other choreographers, danced by me. I was driven to immerse myself in work that is meticulously imagined and designed, but ultimately brought to life or achieved through necessary spontaneity in response to the unfolding action. Sharon’s work built a perfect arena for this exploration.

GD: How long did it take to make Anthem for the Living, and what was the studio process like?

We broke ground on Anthem in early 2009 and continued working in 1-3 week-long intensive creation periods every few months until the piece premiered in 2011.  In between the creation periods, I rehearsed on my own whatever material already existed.

GD: How does your piece relate to cultural trends or other works of art or current events or history?

One colleague, upon seeing a run of the work in rehearsal, said something to the effect of “she is every man and every woman and every child.”  It’s also about life and death - two things that, of course, we all face.

GD: What is something you'd like to tell the audience about your piece that they won't be able to find out in the program?

I don’t think there’s anything else they need to know. I’d be happy to talk about it with anyone afterwards, but it doesn’t need any preamble.

GD: Why is dance important to you? Why should it be important to others?

Movement can be an immediate, visceral, complete and efficient form of communication. It’s a powerful and compelling tool to wield and also to behold as the audience.  Not always, of course… like any case of craftsmanship, it needs to be applied in the right way, in the right context with the right intentions, but even still things can go awry.  I’m trying to say that dance has had a huge impact on me (as an audience member), so my artistic mission is to make more opportunities for potentially impactful work to be created and performed for others.

 above and top: Belinda McGuire; choreography: Sharon B. Moore; photo by Jubal Battisti

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Choreographer Kevin A. Ormsby on “FACING Home: Love and Redemption”

Kevin A. Ormsby and his company KasheDance (Toronto) will be performing at our three In the Park shows on Friday, June 2, 6 pm at Hanlon Creek Park, and on Saturday, June 3, and Sunday, June 4 at 12 pm at Exhibition Park. The piece the company will be performing is “FACING Home: Love and Redemption,” co-choreographed by Kevin and his colleague Christopher Walker. We asked Kevin to tell us more about the piece and about his work with KasheDance. What you’ll read here will shed light on the work you’ll see during the Festival.

Thoughts on Dance in An International and Provincial Context 

The speech was written at an event hosted by KasheDance and the previous Lt. GG of Ontario –Michael Onley at the Lt.GG Suite at Queens Park.

As Artistic Director of KasheDance and Co-Choreographer of “FACING Home: Love and Redemption,” my story is like that of many Ontarians. The stories of immigration fostering change, fuelling industries, lives and the demographics of Ontario; it is for me the movement of Diasporas, the dance and cultural sensibilities that informs my work. I have to understand this relationship as an artist in relationship to indigeneity and the indigenous peoples of this land which we as settlers call Home.

KasheDance creates its works in sensitivity to the international influence indicative of the city, province and country I have come to call home. Dance possesses more than the physical capacities that it has come to be known for. It is a catalyst not only for expression but also for understanding, civic engagement and social activism. In providing a space for expression, dance transcends into the hearts of its practitioners and its viewers to highlight our culture, society and inner being. It can at times, with the aide of other mediums unite form, content and context, which leads to unique perspectives of who we are as a people. The power of the art form in Education, Community and Social enterprise highlights possibilities for engaging stories, empathy, inclusion and diversity; important characteristics I believe, required by our consciousness and humanity. It supports creativity, imagination and ultimately innovation.

Dance is a human expression seen in and through the historical depictions of time and in Ontario, dance is an ever-present reality of our province. Internationally, dance in Canada offers many examples of this country’s lasting impressions to the world. Ontario is a gateway to many artists’ adjustment in Canada. Many cultures live here and the smorgasbord of international cultural expressions makes dance in Ontario filled with untapped riches for further exploration, collaboration and appreciation. KasheDance is passionate without a doubt about the possibilities that lie in the conversations of cultural influence at the crossroad. As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, Ontario and Canada are poised for such focused and progressive conversations because dance is one of those catalysts for the engagement of civic societies of the contemporary future. The boundaries then, of cross-cultural engagement steeped in local and international experiences, places the arts in Ontario at the forefront of cultural potential and currency. 

As a creator, I choose not to forget the contributions made by many cultures, ethnicities, races and also persons from international boundaries on the Arts in Ontario.  Such international and local influences have supported the socio-cultural, artistic and economic milieu of Ontario. Dance moves, it ignites, creates potential, insurmountable possibilities for civic and cultural progression. Notwithstanding, civic engagement and community building. Said community-strengthening starts here with the presentation of many artists from diversity backgrounds at the Guelph Dance Festival. 

We had a few more questions for Kevin.

Why did you make the piece you'll be performing at the Festival?

Three years ago Chris Walker (co-choreographer) and I embarked on separate creative research projects. Kevin was investigating the global impact of Marley’s music, while developing a movement language for his company rooted in Jamaican/Caribbean language of the body. Chris had been doing research on contemporizing Caribbean dance and was invited to work on the project with KASHEDANCE as dramaturge/co-choreographer, with a focus on translating the history, philosophy and cultural information embedded in the movement vocabulary. During this same period, Kevin provided artistic support for Chris’ research project, “A Yard Abroad” which evolved into “Fac­ing Home: a phobia.” This project investigated the potential that dancehall and urban popular movement vocabulary has, as language, to engage in conversations around the stigmas of homosexuality and homophobia in Jamaica and the ability to rise above. We recognized the conversation that both projects were having with each other and decided to combine and collaborate to create Facing Home: Love & Redemption.

Over three years, our process included interviews, community discussions, feed­back sessions, movement development workshops, performance workshops with audience talkback sessions, conference presentations and publications on process and project, and curated performances of excerpts. We wanted to dig deep into the consciousness and value system that informed Marley’s work and explored movement vocabulary steeped in the cultural nuances of dances of the Caribbean. In copying tradition we used synchronicity in the choreography. Traditions of masking and subversive texturing also reflect the realities of living as LGBTQ in the Caribbean and in many cases, where Caribbean cultures migrate. Queer Caribbean bodies morph as they are often forced through machinations to get through the day - these expressions provide a dance language palette suited to our curiosities about having contemporary physical conversations with the past, present and future.

Bob Marley’s music galvanized generations with sentiments like “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights” —“I wanna love you and treat you right, I wanna love you everyday and every night” — “Eman­cipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds - “you can’t run away from yourself” —“Africa unite” —”No woman no cry” — “I say fly away home to zion “ — “Exodus, all right! Movement of Jah people!” — “One love, one heart.” This contemporary dance concert investigates the global impact of his music and his message—its expression of humanity’s struggle and inspiration toward love, redemption and hope—and the simultaneous, deep-rooted homophobia in Jamaican/West Indian Culture that results in, for many, a forced exodus from their country and the reconstruction of their identi­ties as a means of survival.

“FACING HOME” is meant to impact migrant populations, generate change and ignite the LGBTQ commu­nity, it’s supporters, and service workers everywhere it’s performed and beyond. We hope, with this work, to initiate an ongoing conversation with you and provide spaces for the LGBTQ narratives of displacement from home.

What was the creative process like?

The piece involved a creation / exploration phase, second phase creation process and then a production phase both in Toronto and Madison, WI. Given it was a bi-national work we spent many time over social media and technological platforms discussing, documenting and rehearsing the work. Research also occurred in Jamaica and New York between the choreographers and in Toronto and Wisconsin with the dancers and lighting designers.  The company is steeped in creation, research and presentation and so we demanded that every artist be invested where the research facilitated the creation and then how those elements could and would be shaped in presentation. All our work requires this framework of artistic engagement by our artists. The investment they have made in the processes been the most humbling experience. The process has been long, emotional and transformative. We had to ground and be psychologically conscious of not just our sexually identified but also heterosexual cast members as well.

How does your piece relate to cultural trends or other works of art or current events or history?

I would be curious to hear from audience members, presenters and participants what and how they think this piece is relevant. Our diversity framework as a company has always been reflective of the Jamaica in which both co-choreographers grew up and still practice. It’s about the diversity of not just the techniques from which we create but also the artists with whom we create with. It’s live experience that one-day Canada will come to appreciate and understand fully. We are a contemporary company forged in the interplay of many dance techniques, rooted in the African Diaspora.

What is something you'd like to tell the audience about your piece that they won't be able to find out in the program?

Dear Audience Members, 

The work you will experience is created with the sensibility that you too are experts in what you see and feel! 

You BREATHE, FEEL, and in turn DANCE. (KasheDance’s Philosophy)

Your thoughts, emotions and expressions during the work is equally important to it.

Dance and the Arts can change society…it starts with you.

Every nuance, look, smile, is rich with the celebration that you are here with us. 

Our last piece “ONE" was written as a speech by Haile Selassie's address to the United Nations, 1963.
Then made popular by Bob Marley, the version you hear is by a Caucasian Jamaican. 

If indeed as Alvin Ailey say "dance came from the people and it should be given back to the people” If so,

Then “ this is my message to you oo oo” - Bob Marley

Hoot, Holler, Let us know that you are moved by what you experience; it’s a small portion of what we want to give back to you 

You mean the world to us because we are the world right here, right now…

Why is dance important to you? Why should it be important to others?
I feel the speech at the beginning speaks to this and now we have gone the full circle of life…

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Five Co-Directors. One Collective: OURO

OURO Collective member Dean Placzek shared his thoughts on what it’s like to be part of this unique Vancouver-based dance collective. OURO performs at our In the Park series: Friday, June 2, 7 pm at Hanlon Creek Park and Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and 4, 12 pm at Exhibition Park. PLUS – for teen dancers, they are teaching a workshop using their approach on Sunday, June 4, 9:30 am.

Take a look at the video posted below to get a taste of how they work.

OURO Collective here.  We just like to start by saying we are delighted to be a part of the Guelph Dance Festival and look forward to sharing PACE  with audiences at the festival.  While we look forward to hearing people’s reactions to our show, we’d like to take this opportunity to give you a bit of a behind the scene’s look at what it’s like to work within the collective. 

So what’s it like?
Well, imagine yourself as a creative individualWith five heads. All trying to create the same thing with radically different ideas.

We strive to meet the true essence of a collective where everyone has a say in the direction of the work. There isn’t one main director, but instead five co-directors.  Every idea is considered and tried out. We feel that you never know if something is good or not until you actually try it out and put it to the test.  It also allows us to consider some ideas that on an individual level we would never have thought of.  Given that we all come from different dance backgrounds, we can get a wide variety of ideas be they from waackinghip hop, contemporary, or breaking.  We then take these ideas reshape and rework them with the context of the various styles we work with. We might create a breaking combo utilizing waacking arm movements as inspiration, or a contemporary phrase with the feel of popping movement aesthetic.  Not only has this allowed us to create many new and interesting movements, but it has also fundamentally changed the way in which many of the collective’s members approach dance.  Many of us no longer consider ourselves simply a “waacker” or a “bboy.” We are practitioners of movement and most would just consider ourselves dancers.

While it’s extremely rewarding to have this freedom, it does have its challenges. With five co-directors, we have a lot of ideas but that can mean we also have the burden of choice. A lot of what we create just ends up unused and saved for some mystery performance in the future.  One other challenge is that while it’s great having many ideas and many contributors, it can also get crowded with ideas and direction.  We sometimes explore random tangents to see what’s possible but this leads to longer development times for our shows. It can be difficult to keep things flowing and we often catch ourselves on these tangents and try to steer it back on track. Since we all have different specializations, it can also be difficult to keep it interesting while finding movement that works for everyone. Ultimately, we resolve these challenges largely through everyone having an open mentality towards movement.

We also truly enjoy trying to find weird and abstract movements and try as much as we can to let our personalities shine through in the shows. While it’s important for our collective to produce interesting and thought-provoking work, it’s also important that we convey the essence of dance that is in all of us. That simplicity of movement and enjoyment in the moment while always striving to maintain connection with the audience and with each other is something we try to incorporate in all of our work.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Local Dancer Focus: Guelph Dance interviews Heather Finn

Heather Finn is a Guelph-based physiotherapist who is also a life-long dancer. She will be performing in Suzette Sherman's new work "Falling into Footsteps" at the On the Stage performance, Saturday, June 3, at 8:00 pm. Suzette's appearance with her company is a much-anticipated event, and hearing Heather speak of working with her makes it even more so! Tickets are available online at the River Run Center box office or by phoning 519-763-3000.

Rehearsal photos below by Ellen Snowball.

GD: Can you tell us more about your background in dance?

HF: I took my first dance class in a church basement in Elmira at age 3. I danced with Carolyn Zettel at her studio in Waterloo throughout my childhood years. In university, I studied at McMaster because I could balance my studies with my dance training. I took technique classes at the Centre for Dance, where I first met Janet Johnson, and became a member of the contemporary dance company. The company director Dave Wilson helped us to develop and share our own choreography both locally and at the American College Dance Festival. After I graduated I danced with Hamilton Dance Company (Hamilton) and Caroline Barriere Danse (Ottawa).

GD: What do you do when you're not rehearsing or taking class?

HF: I have three children aged 6, 3, and 7 months, so life is full of little routine and rituals. I will soon return to my work as a physiotherapist, where I use manual therapy, acupuncture, Pilates, and core exercise to help my clients perform at their best, whether they are students, parents, runners or dancers. I serve on the Board of Directors for Guelph Dance and I'm a founding member of Healthy Dancer Canada.

GD: What brings you the greatest joy when you're dancing?

HF: I love how dancing challenges my brain and my body simultaneously, so it requires me to live in the present moment. I love how dancing informs my work as a physiotherapist, giving me a "body of knowledge" I can't acquire by studying an anatomy book. I love spending time with people who love to move. I love that I've been dancing my whole life and there is still more to learn, still room for improvement.

GD: Can you tell us about how special it is to be working with Suzette on this project?

HF: In class, Suzette is a window through which I can clearly see those dancers that danced before me. With this expertise she offers honest constructive feedback, and she is equally generous with her praise when she sees good work. While we have very different movement backgrounds, I love seeing how Suzette's cues intersect with my own understanding of the body.

Working on "Falling into Footsteps" with Suzette has been an opportunity to challenge myself as a performer. Suzette dances with a depth that can fill you with joy or bring you to tears, as the situation demands. Since Suzette's choreography has developed steadily over the course of a year, we have had the opportunity to work with her both on the structure of the piece (to complement the original music by Adam Bowman), the intent of each movement, and on the interactions with each other and with the audience.

GD: What does the dance community in Guelph mean to you?

HF: I moved to Guelph on a beautiful weekend in June 2010. I unpacked a few boxes and then walked over to Exhibition Park, just in time to see the In the Park series! Since then I've connected to the dance community in Guelph in many ways, taking classes at Dancetheatre David Earle, treating dancers at my clinic, working behind the scenes at Guelph Dance, and forming lasting friendships along the way.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Leap of Faith

This is the second in a series of writings by Michele Green on enduring friendship and returning to dance later in life. Michele performs with Artist in Resident Suzette Sherman 'On the Stage' on Saturday, June 3, 8:00 pm, at the River Run Centre. 

by Michele Green

Never say never.

At 64 years old, one would think it safe to conclude that one’s journey as a dancer has truly ended. Especially considering that I haven’t danced professionally since 1976 and have been retired from a twenty-year career as a dance instructor for sixteen years. But things happen.

Happily retired and living northwest of Toronto, I re-connected with longtime friend and college Suzette Sherman who lives in the area. We enjoyed various classes in yoga, pilates and other fitness adventures together over the ensuing fifteen years while Suzette continued working with DanceTheatre DavidEarle in Guelph as instructor, teacher, mentor and performer. But, other than the period when I was writing the book ‘David Earle, a Choreographic Biography’ and spending hours at the studio interviewing David, my shadow has never darkened the studio door.

Over the years, Suzette has expressed an interest in dancing with me again. A ‘bucket list’ type of interest. My answer was always a slightly hysterical ‘my dancing days are over’.

And then, last summer, Suzette received funding for a residency with the 2017 Guelph Dance Festival during which she could collaborate with someone of her choice to create a work. Suzette discussed this with me from the beginning and I supported the names on her ‘possibility’ list. She mentioned putting me on the list a couple times and received my stock response.

But something happened over the summer. We were both approaching our 64th birthdays and I woke up one morning thinking ‘why not?’ Worstcase scenario I would try one class and one of us would say ‘this isn’t going to work’. So after Suzette weathered a few unsuccessful attempts to work out schedules with others on her list, we settled on a plan.

On Friday, October 21st, 2016, I warmed up in the studio for an advanced class after a forty-year hiatus with the understanding that I would only do what I thought I could and then slip over to the corner like a wounded animal to watch. My personal goal was to make it through half of the floor work – fifteen minutes.

The body is a wonderful instrument. Although this instrument felt like it was critically in need of a tune-up, the movement I remembered and loved flowed back into my muscles; adrenaline flooded my brain. I made it through the entire class, jumps included. It was a glorious moment. Suzette hugged me and told me she couldn’t believe it. She was not alone. Dance fever was running through my veins and I knew it would take a lot to put the brakes on this journey now.

It is very intimidating to watch a seasoned professional like Suzette instruct a class. I’ve had several opportunities over the last few years to watch her teach, but participating is, of course, an entirely different experience. She has honed her skill to a level where the movements come organically, looking effortless and exquisite. She teaches with such attention to detail and love of the art form that every correction to the class is like the gift of a precious jewel. I had so much to re-learn, re-train and rejuvenate. It was all a bit overwhelming. But I like a challenge.

The next morning I woke up and could hardly move. Despite being in what might be considered excellent condition for my age, there were muscles I hadn’t used in years. My lower back was screaming at me from the contractions and spirals. My legs ached from fan kicks and grande battements. The bottoms of my feet felt raw from turns and jumps. It was great. I couldn’t wait for the next class.

We spent many hours listening to music that might be appropriate for our piece. Suzette has worked previously with pianist Emilyn Stam, and we eventually settled on a beautiful piano piece of hers entitled ‘Dusk’. With a theme based loosely on the forty-two years of our friendship, we set to work.

Two-hour weekly rehearsals started on November 8 at the local racquetball club where Suzette had rented space for us. We immediately loved working together again and the rehearsals breezed by much too quickly.

Suzette was generous with her praise and gentle with her ‘suggestions’ to lead me away from the years of habits I had built from teaching and motivating children. We videoed the number as it progressed and, although watching myself came with a fair share of grumbling on my part due to the disappointment between what I looked like in my mind and what reality was showing me, the videos proved endlessly helpful.

I added a second weekly technique class around the time that rehearsals started and we tagged short rehearsals on to the end of those two classes. In total I was doing about five hours of rehearsals and three hours of class time each week. It was not long before this old body started to protest. Other than basic stiffness, my foot protested for a few days, then my hip and then my back. It seemed there was always something nagging at me. I was still finding it difficult to pick up combinations in class and the combined frustration built to where I questioned this decision.
My biggest fear was to disappoint Suzette – either by backing out or (even worse) by not backing out of the project. This project was an opportunity for Suzette to spend studio time doing something she loved other than teaching or directing. Pure creative ‘fun’ and I began to doubt if I could rise to the challenge and to meet her expectations.

As good friends, we talked it out and I had to accept that the limitations I felt were not showing as much as I imagined. I was improving, gaining strength and renewing technique and our rehearsal time was truly enjoyable and creative. So we motored on.

Before we knew it, Christmas break had arrived and, although I begrudged the time off, my body was grateful for a three-week break. We had loosely finished the five-minute number and felt a real sense of accomplishment. Suzette seemed pleased with the results, although, considering that we both love the rehearsal and cleaning process, we used up every second of rehearsal time changing, tweaking and polishing each movement.

And so, into January. I was eager to begin, but, sidelined by the vicious flu that was running rampant through the country, I slithered rather than leapt back to classes and rehearsals.

Over the months I had become acquainted with the core of advanced dancers who attended most classes. Every young woman was gracious, kind and willing to help an old woman struggling with combinations across the floor. In the short time I had participated in classes I could see their technique improve, their grace and understanding of the movements clarified. All of course, because of Suzette’s relentless desire to not just ‘give a class’ but to truly ‘teach a class’. The difference lies in her deep understanding of the technique and her ability to explain in detail the essence and focus of the movements. Her standards are very high, just being in the class and following along is not good enough. Those listening could not help but improve and I hoped I was one of them.

Suzette began reviewing the two solos that would bookend our duet in the show. As the only other person in the room I became the critical eye, watching for moments or movements that could be improved. Of course, those moments were virtually non-existent as her movements flowed so organically it was difficult to imagine any other path than the one she pursued. The seed of doubt resurfaced inside me. What was I thinking planning to be on the stage with this icon of modern dance? But Suzette could see the changes in my technique, my movement and the toning of my body, although it was more difficult for me to assess, and so we continued.

In early March we began teaching the duet to four of the senior women – Kelly Steadman, Megan O’Donnell, Georgia Simms and Jenna Oxley. The process was exciting to see how each couple changed the physical shape of the work. But the larger challenge would be how they would interpret the emotional context of a dance that was built around a forty-year friendship. Learning steps and timing is only a stepping stone to actual ‘dancing’ and finding their own individual meaning to make the piece their own would be critical.

A third installment in this series is forthcoming. For tickets to see Suzette and Michele perform, visit the River Run Centre box office (519-763-3000).

Bottom photo: Ellen Snowball

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Suzette Sherman and Michele Green: True Friends

Read the first installment in a series that highlights the friendship between Guelph Dance Artist in Residence Suzette Sherman and Michele (Presly) Green. Kindled by dance, nurtured over the years, and now finding a new and life-giving path, their friendship is truly a treasure. They will be performing On the Stage, June 3, 8 pm. We recommend getting your tickets soon as so many people can't wait to see Suzette back on the stage in Guelph!

It is said that true friends can be apart for years and, upon reconnecting, are able to continue where they left off. So it has been with Suzette Sherman and Michele Green. A friendship that has spanned forty-one years and culminates in a reunion of dance on stage at the 2017 Guelph Dance Festival.

Their paths narrowly missed connecting in the early 1970s when Michele was dancing with Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers. The year she left to start Saskatchewan Dance Theatre with husband, Jim Green and former teacher Lucia Pavlychenko, Suzette arrived in Winnipeg as an apprentice. Two years later Suzette was called upon to join Saskatchewan Dance Theatre and the connection was made.

Already a seasoned dancer, Michele was a mentor for Suzette, leading by example as they toured small-town Saskatchewan.  By 1976 SDT had disbanded and, although Suzette and Michele both relocated to Toronto, Michele moved away from dance as Suzette climbed the ranks of Toronto Dance Theatre, remaining for nineteen years. They stayed in occasional contact while Michele raised her two children and ran a successful dance studio.

In 2000 Michele retired from teaching and, having seen the beauty of the area northwest of Toronto on visits to Suzette and Glenn’s property, decided, along with Jim, to move to the area. A close proximity immediately renewed their connection and they began taking yoga classes together while Michele delved into a writing career. Hearing how passionate Suzette was about her continuing career with Dancetheatre David Earle in Guelph and David’s impressive body of work, Michele eventually found herself working for Dance Collection Danse writing a catalogue of David’s choreography. This work eventually expanded into the book David Earle, A ChoreographicBiography (published 2006). Suzette’s massive involvement in David’s choreography as both dancer and teacher, along with her arsenal of programs, press releases, tour schedules and photographs was an immense part of this project.
In 2016 as both were entering their 65thyear, the opportunity came to return to the dance studio together. This time Suzette the seasoned mentor, gently guiding Michele back into dance as they collaborated to create a piece for the festival. The experience has strengthened a bond of friendship and brought their journey together full circle.

Stay tuned for the second installment on the story of these true friends which will be posted soon! 

Suzette Sherman performs alongside Belinda McGuire and Dreamwalker Dance Company, On the Stage, Cooperator's Hall, River Run Centre, Saturday, June 3, 8:00 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the River Run Centre box office or by phoning 519-763-3000.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Festival Artistic Director Tells You What She's Excited About this Season!

We asked Catrina von Radecki, Festival Artistic Director, to tell us what excites her in this season's Festival. Here's what she told us.

As Artistic Director of the Guelph Dance Festival, I am so excited to tell you about the upcoming 19th annual festival, May 31-June 4! This year, we are celebrating Canada’s incredibly diverse culture with dance from Halifax, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Guelph. Contemporary, urban, Indigenous, and Chinese dance will all be represented in our events that include On the Stage, In the Park, In theStudio, and Youth Moves. This year’s festival highlights the life cycle of birth, growth, death, and renewal. You will see in this year’s festival that we are nurturing dance artists from various generations and doing our part to keep the Canadian dance ecology healthy and vibrant.

An important aspect of putting on a dance festival is getting to know dancers from across the country. This year, I traveled to the New Dance Festival in St. John’s and to the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival in Vancouver. Among the passionate discussions between dance presenters from across the country was one about the presentation of Indigenous Dance at our various events. At both Festivals that I attended, I made new relationships that are already bearing fruit. In Vancouver, I participated in a hoop dance workshop led by Jessica McMann, a Cree native from Cowessess First Nation. I realized right away that her incredible teaching skills would be a perfect complement to the In the Park performances that will be done by two-time world champion hoop dancer Lisa Odjig (Toronto). Jessica will be in Guelph in mid-May to teach five full day workshops at five elementary schools! We are thrilled to offer this and are hopeful that the youth will then make plans to attend the Park performances by Lisa (who will be giving a hoop workshop for the general public following her Sunday performance).

And speaking of cultural diversity, I am also delighted that KasheDance (Toronto) will be performing In the Parks! Led by Jamaican-born Kevin Ormsby,the company will perform “Facing Home: Love & Redemption,” a piece that draws on Jamaican reggae and dancehall culture, while coming face to face with issues around homophobia. KasheDance works in the idiom of Afro-contemporary dance; its dancers are technical, virtuosic, and deeply committed to the depth of human expression.

Our local focus this year is on Guelph-based dance icon Suzette Sherman, who has worked with David Earle for over 30 years as dancer and Associate Director, and is beloved by many local dancers here. After meeting with a broad range of dancers in the community, it became clear that they are interested in ongoing professional support in the form of residencies and performing opportunities. To that end, Suzette is our Artist in Residence this year. She has taught a group of dedicated teen dancers in a masterclass, will be doing talks and demonstrations at two area senior centres, will be teaching 3 masterclasses for the public during the festival, and is working with a group of local professional dancers including her longtime friend and colleague Michele Green (whose journal will be posted on our blog soon) in the creation of new choreography that will premiere On the Stage on Saturday, June 3. We recommend getting your tickets soon – today even – as the show is more than half sold!

I am also looking forward to OURO Collective’s unique blend of contemporary and urban dance that will be performed In the Parks, Throwdown Collective’s tight and intricate performance In the Studio’s three performances, Belinda McGuire’s virtuosic and athletic solo On the Stage, the exquisite and eloquent Andrea Nann of Dreamwalker Dance Company, also On the Stage, and the numerous youth who will descend upon Guelph for the always invigorating Youth Moves performance as well as the performance by the 40 dancers of the Young Company of Halifax Dance and the Guelph Youth Dance Company, performing in the beautiful outdoor spaces of Hanlon Creek Park and Exhibition Park.

There’s more: workshops, talkbacks, and receptions! Get all the details at our website. Guelph Dance kicks off the Summer festival season – so make sure to attend as many events as you can! I look forward to seeing you at the theatre, studio, and parks!

Photos top to bottom: Lisa Odjig (courtesy of artist); KasheDance (photo by Stuart Reeves); Suzette Sherman (photo by John Lauener); Throwdown Collective (photo by Jeremy Mimnaugh)