On Friday, October 23, the Yukon Arts Centre will be presenting a multimedia experience that weaves together dance, video, music and costume. It’s called Eunoia and is based on Canadian poet Christian Bök’s book of the same name.
Denise Fujiwara, of Toronto-based Fujiwara Dance Inventions and a veteran of the Canadian contemporary dance scene, heard of the book after it won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002. She decided to adapt it to dance, but soon realized that she couldn’t be director, choreographer and performer all at the same time.
“The production was a big challenge. The piece is so complex, I couldn’t be inside and see the outside as well,” she says.
Eunoia comes from a Greek word that means well mind or beautiful thinking. It is also the shortest English word containing all five vowels.
In the book, each chapter is dedicated to a vowel and uses only words limited to that vowel. For example, Chapter A has words in it using only the vowel A. There are also thematic and other constraints in each chapter.
In keeping with the spirit of the book, Fujiwara decided to incorporate dance constraints as well. While performing Chapter A, dancers could only move body parts spelled with A, such as arms, jaw, calf, etc. The thematic constraints of the book were also included in the performance, which meant thinking outside the box when translating each chapter.
“The most important thing to do for yourself in creativity is to restrain yourself,” says Fujiwara. “It’s the mother of all invention.”
The composer also decided to join in by putting limits on his music. One example is using only instruments spelled with O, such as spoons and gongs, while performing Chapter O. Another involves the piano, which plays throughout the piece. Only one black key is allowed per chapter, while all the white keys can be played at all times.
“It makes for an interesting relationship with all the elements in the piece – choreography to words, dance to words and music to words,” says Fujiwara. “It creates layers of meaning and different worlds. The whole piece, and each chapter, has a journey.”
From first rehearsal to the premiere, it has taken five years to put Eunoia together.
“The constraints seemed impossible,” says Fujiwara. “We had to experiment a lot to find out how to make it work.”
The dancers also went through three years of voice training. Since there are times during the performance when they speak the words of the book, Fujiwara wanted their voices to sound strong, clear and have intention.
“They were specifically trained for this to work,” she says.
Fujiwara also mentions how proud she is that the team of six dancers, a choreographer, a videographer and the lighting director remained solid throughout those years.
“They were really committed,” she says. “We were all hooked on the challenge.”
The cast and crew had no idea what the response would be once the piece finally premiered in 2014. In fact, since everything had been created in bits and pieces, no one involved had even seen the final product until that night.
“It was very surprising and pleasing to everyone,” she says. “And the audience got it – we had a standing ovation.”
They have been playing to sold out venues ever since.
Eunoia plays Oct. 23 at the Yukon Arts Centre. For more information go to www.YukonArtsCentre.com