The Force at work / La Force en action

The Force at work / La Force en action
Read the whole story now being read around the world! / Lisez toute l'histoire maintenant lue autour du monde!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Dance to Heal! with Dena Davida

Jeff Hall performing FALLING © Anthony McLean
Last September 9 2016, I went to the opening night of the annual event Festival Quartiers Danses. Jeff Hall was a prolific and well known dancer and choreographer when he had a serious accident on stage that put an abrupt stop to his career and life style. He was told he may never walk again. He was presenting his latest creation Falling. He had continued working in dance but not as a dancer. He wanted so much to dance that he fought to regain his strength and flexibility especially with yoga. He began the show by recounting what he had experienced in his life as a dancer who underwent years of therapy until that night where he would perform his triumph over the disability that had stopped him from dancing. I was taken aback by his Spirit and the extraordinary lesson his dance had taught me about the power of the human Spirit. So I wanted to know more about the power of dance. Dena Davida, an anthropologist who wears many hats, among them art director at Tangente, agreed to be interviewed so she could share her deep understanding of dance with us. She has also graciously assisted in the editing of the article.

Choreographer : France Geoffroy
Title : Confort à retardement (2007)
Photographer : Jean-François Déziel 

LG-what is dance?

DD- The largest question that might be asked on this subject is philosophical. I am an anthropologist. That’s my research and training. The simplest possible answer is: Dance is defined by those who do it, and so recognize and name what they do as dance. That is the anthropologist’s eye view. The traditional dictionary definition of dance is unsatisfying. They always have some variations of “rhythmic movement to music” or something that is very old school and only provides partial answer to the question. So what is dance? It could have a variety of definitions depending on the point of view of the person whom you
Choreographer : France Geoffroy
Title : Confort à retardement (2007)
Photographer : Jean-François Déziel 
ask. Philosophers go as far as asking: Do bees dance? Can any kind of movement by any living thing be thought of as dance? When we say: “We are dancing,” in various societies, we might consider different genres of dance. One interesting topology of four genres of dance proposed by anthropologist Andriy Nahachewsky is about the motives for dancing: presentational (we watch others dancing), participatory (we all dance together), dancing for a higher power, and private dancing. In my thesis I made a distinction between those who dance professionally, in other words, those who create and present dance as an art form versus the kind of dancing we do that is social or recreational dancing. I am thinking here of dancing for fitness and well-being or even perhaps traditional dances which are kind of social, a way to socially solidify a community by dancing together for various reasons. Among my favorite answers to “what is dance?” is: when we move expressively, say that we are dancing, recognize that what we are doing is dancing and also understand that we dance for different reasons. Social dancing is often is often a kind of courtship for instance. Recreational dancing is often aimed at self-expression or fitness for instance. My favorite ideas about “what is dance” is that when we move expressively, I would say, I would say if
Choreographer : Marie-Hélène Bellavance
Title : S'ancrer dans la suspension (2007)
Photographer : Adrian Armanca
“we say so” we are dancing, if we recognize that we are dancing, and then we dance for different reasons. There are different reasons and motives for dancing. Social dancing is often a kind of courtship for instance. Recreational dancing is often for purely self-expression or for fitness for instance. In the field of contemporary artistic dance, in which we dance to reflect, critique and to ask questions about society, to shift and change people’s perceptions, it is a very idea driven art form for instance. We wouldn’t only dance to display beauty, to offer a pleasurable experience. We want more than that. We want dancing that
is meaningful.

LG- I would like you to tell us more about physically and mentally challenged dancers some of whom are professionals. 

DD- I worked on a doctorate dissertation in which the research question was “why do we dance in this particular way in our culture?,” in reference to Montreal contemporary dance.  One of the many ideas I nurtured, and I am quite certain of my theory right now, is that some of us are born to dance, that there is a biological imperative; in fact there are some theories that we are born as art-making creatures which Ellen Dissanayake terms homo estheticus that we are art making creatures. You might think of musicians who sit at a piano at 3 years old and produce some form of music before they can barely function in the world. I think some of us are born with a particularly acute kinesthetic sense that really allows us to be more sensitive to the movement of our bodies in space so we have the potential to become professional dancers. Of course everyone dances at some time, in some way. The idea of dedicating one’s life to dance, which I call professional dance, is something we may be born with. It’s embedded in our sensory system and it isn’t part of having two hands and two legs and all of our body parts in place or working a certain way. It is about moving oneself expressively, and that can be done with any body we have. In New York City, it is now possible to see a good number of physically challenged dancers on professional stages. There is Menka Nagrani here  in Montreal who has been working with the mentally  
Choreographer : Menka Nagrani 
Title : Le temps des marguerites à la folie ou pas du tout
Photographer : Mélanie Fordham 
challenged in a school called Les Muses for mentally handicapped artists in training. This idea of being “born to dance” means that one has the potential and that if they are nurtured and encouraged; they can and do become professional dancers. We have a community in the dance world, and particularly in classical ballet, that has been reticent to integrate anything other than the “perfect” body. 

Choreographer : Maïgwenn Desbois
Title : Six pieds sur terre (2013)
Photographer : Frédéric Chais
Working through these prejudices has taken a while. It wasn’t until 15 years ago that the Tangente dance presenting organization, for which I was co-founder and am now curator, offered to the public for the first time a duet with France Geoffroy a paraplegic dancer from Montreal and Kuldip Singh-Barmi from the Candoco Dance Company in Britain a mixed ability or integrated dance company for able bodied and handicapped dancers. My recollection of that time was that the audience was perplexed, wasn’t quite certain whether to admire or to pity. We had a long way to go in terms of looking at expressive dancing by handicapped people. But since that time we have gained a lot of ground and there are several local companies that have been presenting professional work by handicapped dancers and for many years already. Our audiences have moved forward in their thinking, and there are now university researchers thinking about, for instance, deaf and physically challenged performers who have proposed that every body, proposes a certain aesthetic because of whom and how they are. They examine: What is the aesthetic of a paraplegic dancer in a wheelchair? What can she say and do that characterize her particular way of moving in the world? Contemporary dance leaves a lot of room for individual voices. We ask people to develop an original point of view, and a physically challenged person begins with a very singular point of view because of their physical limitations and possibilities.

 •An update on the dancer France Geoffroy, she is currently collaborating with Marie-Hélène Bellavance on a research project in integrated dance called Quadriptyque. "The web platform Quadriptyque has the mission of documenting the integrated dance practice and we display video / photo from our reasearch but also artcle and historic facts."

Here are some web sites to inform you on various programs:
National Centre for Dance Therapy General   514-849-8681

LAST WORD meet Jess Thom

Jess Thom, an artist/super-hero! 
Last February 3rd  the Conseil des Arts de Montréal invited us to a round table conference where the cultural milieu was present to learn more about how the British Council is collaborating with Canada to assist artists with challenges to overcome. Jess Thom was the invited artist-speaker and we fell in love with this bright gifted and daring London artist. Although she battles with the neurological disorder known as Tourettes Syndrome where people have uncontrollable tics that impede regular daily activities and "normal" self-expressions, she is a stage performer. She is witty, eloquent and explosive! She gave me the keenest insight about how to deal with handicapping situations, because, as she said, we all face them sometime. The analogy concerns the dilemma of a person in a wheelchair trying to access a building without a special ramp and common attitudes that person faces:

• The Medical approach would tell the person in a wheelchair "you are handicapped, you cannot access the building."
• The Charity approach would say "let's have a fundraiser and make her walk again!"
• The Creative approach "let's build a special ramp that any handicapped person can come up on and into the building."

She introduced us to a form of theatre that is growing world wide where the shows are presented in Relaxed Performance. That is if you have a special need child that would otherwise disturb other theatre goers you will find yourself at home with families just like yours. SEE!

In this video, she is expressing how humor is part of her coping tools. However she told me she was working on a dramatic piece at this time.

For me discovering the talent and Spirit of the artists who must overcome a panoply of personal challenges has been a great source of joy and inspiration!


No comments:

Post a Comment