My dance practice is rooted in uncultivated, wild, outdoor spaces. I often perform site-specific dances outdoors for audiences and/or camera.
However, my latest collaborative project, Ramble (45 min), was performed last month inside a black box theatre in a busy city (Toronto), within a busy theatre and dance festival (the 25th edition of SummerWorks).
I decided to create an outdoor dance for the indoors. I also wanted to create a work that reflected my relationship to the North and the South in a shared (and possibly uncomfortable) space within the body, within memory, onstage and onscreen.
I wanted to bring “foreign” elements to the intentionally artificial black box theatre space – the waters of the Yukon River, the surprising wild things that thrive in and around Toronto, the stones of Miles Canyon, the boreal forest.
Bringing images of wild landscapes into the theatre, I felt, would give audiences a moment to reflect upon their own relationship to the land, in juxtaposition to the heavily concreteized world of Toronto, where I had lived for 17 years, creating and witnessing tons of artwork.
Soon after Amelia Erhardt, SummerWorks’ dance curator, called to ask me for a new work, I invited my long-time friend and collaborator Renée Lear, from Toronto, to create a “video set” that would explore these themes, giving her carteblanche over the video material.
Lear has a longstanding practice of combining and manipulating video imagery live, in realtime. Her approach shares elements with my dancing (which is typically improvised)
Lear’s work also delves into the material and “matter” of video. For example, she sometimes degrades video footage beyond pixels to reveal the surprising moving shapes deep inside the image. She also applies analog processes to digital footage, and works with video created through camera malfunction/s.
From early spring until early July, I shot and sent video footage of Whitehorse and surrounding areas to her, while she collected footage of wild areas in Ontario and Toronto. Lear also added footage of icy Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands to the mix.
This winter footage was taken by Whitehorse’s K Scott Maynard, in bursts hundreds of photographs, which he later reassembled using stop-motion software.
Maynard also contributed live and recorded musical score to the piece.
As he puts it, Maynard is drawn to the sounds of both technology and nature. “Often have I found myself singing songs over the drone of a boat engine, or brought to silence by, for example, the complex tapestry of voices in the wetlands of Ontario.”
For Ramble, Maynard recorded drones from his daily life in Whitehorse: from the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (where he works), the Yukon River, a dishwasher at home
In some sections of the performance, he sings overtones with these drones to haunting effect, as well as covering the song, “Downhill is Downtown” by Toronto musician Alex Lukashevsky (and his band Deep Dark United) on guitar and voice.
Another layer of Ramble is my relationship to my heritage on my mother’s side, from the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén region in northern Hungary.
This area is home to both nomadic and sedentary Hungarianspeaking gypsies, and is where my grandfather, a cobbler, crafted beautiful traditional boots for dancing and horse riding.
The complicated politics of ancestral memory and forgetting inspired my improvised dances at each of our seven performances in the festival. While dancing, I sang part of an old Hungarian love song as a call to my ancestors to dance with me.
As some audience members pointed out to me, though, the ancestors were there with me right from the beginning.
The costume also supported these themes of ancestry and nature.
Combined with clothing my sister, Gretchen Robinson, helped me select, I danced in a fringed apron of turquoise deer hide embellished with jingledress cones, silver beads, moose hide, rabbit fur, goose and other feathers, abalone shell, beads, and lace.
I’m honoured that multi-talented artist Heather Bell Callahan, from Whitehorse and Haines Junction, contributed this costume element to Ramble.
Callahan was inspired by the Yukon River while creating the garment, and I felt I was wearing a bit of the North each and every show.