CONVERSATIONs WITH our 2018-19 flowchart artists:

  • Jon McCurley

  • Kate Nankervis & Ann Trépanier

  • Nikola Steer

  • Jasmyn Fyffe & Alicia Nautu

  • Oliver Husain & Anni Spadafora 

  • Carol Anderson

  • Lara Kramer

  • Sarah Aiken

Jon McCurley, you have been a prolific artist working in partnerships, collaborations, and collectives in Toronto. Could you talk a bit about how your work is different when you work solo (if there is a difference), and what it is about working collectively that drives you?

Jon: Ideas of artists like that they have a unique gift, or that they have an individual vision all go out the window when you’re not a solo person, and I think that’s exciting. I like working in groups. Whenever I work alone I tend to think about me and my mood and what I feel. In collaborations that stuff rarely comes up, lol! Personal self expression goes out the window when collaborating, so I like that part too. It has to be “something else.”

I have been in Life of a Craphead for over a decade now, a two person collaboration, and we’ve worked in group projects that have taken years. Mostly I have worked with Amy [Lam] who is a great collaborator. I think a misunderstanding about collaboration is a belief in a perfect intertwining of brains. That if you just are able to find the right people to collaborate with, then your brains will perfectly intertwine like 2 snakes. Like, “I wish I had an art partner too” is something people have said. This sounds like dating advice instead of collaboration advice but listen, there’s no perfect work situation, no perfect people, group work is about you and how good of a communicator you can be! In reality, a lot of the work is supporting someone else’s idea or direction, not doing exclusively what you like. It’s hard. Somewhere I read “working alone you can work faster, working in a group you can work longer.” And I think its true. Sometimes its nice to work fast though.

I like to think about Prince. I think about moments when Prince was on TV and was criticized for staying in Minneapolis and how he didn’t move to LA. In those moments Prince would refuse to speak or refuse to play, because he was so insulted by the TV host guy. Anyways, I like to think about that, the independent music scene around Prince. I’m trying to make a point for collaborative work but I’m using Prince, a successful solo artist, lol, the point of this story for me is that you already have all the great people around you in your life. There is no perfect intertwining snake people out there on the other side of the fence. It helps that he was the most talented musician ever, and it helps that cost of living in Minneapolis in the 80s was 1/100 of Toronto in the 2019, and…

So, l’m a bit worried. Because solo work can be so personally satisfying, there’s no one challenging you, that it could be too self indulgent. You can really selfish as a solo performer. I’m worried about that! In this way the two categories, solo or collaborative, are very different. People have different identities: class, race, gender, etc, and different histories, and all of that comes to the surface when you work with someone. You figure out what you agree on and have in common. When working alone you don’t think about those things, like its impossible to get in an argument with yourself. Alone you can avoid what you’re bad at and convince yourself you never have to change. For example in the past I convinced myself that I’m bad at anything technical, and bad at administration. In a group that becomes a real burden. I become a very annoying group member that maybe shouldn’t work with people if I think like that. Good collaborative relationships make you do more things you’re bad at all the time, and that makes it fun too.
Kate Nankervis & Ann Trépanier, your practices intersect as dancers, participants in projects, and co-directors of the Love-In. Aside from all these proximities, what are the creative similarities in your practices? What drives, curiosities, questions?

Kate & Ann: We are curious about presence that hosts the hyper, soft and ‘still’ body. Body movement that echos and ripples through pleasure, chaos, connectivity and loneliness. Amplifying the body’s energy in what we are creating as residualscape. Exhaustion, duration, conscience and subconscience are helping us navigate through it. We are working on:
- hosting the hyper and still body
- visible and invisible
- human and non human
- reaction relationship
- matching conscious observers
- debordering
- containers

What is energy in stillness and in motion? What does the energy mean to us. Energy is light, heat and motion — and we are performing this transformation. What kind of energy can the body produce? What are the energetic residuals of your body’s experiences ? We are curious where our individual energies meet and where our collective energy takes us?
Nikola Steer: When I first encountered your practice it was in a more classical burleque context under the name “Coco Framboise”. More recently I’ve seen your work under the name “Coco Paradise”, and for Flowchart you are presenting under your given name. Could you speak a bit about the relationship to names and your practice?

Nikola: Coco Framboise is the name I use for my burlesque practice, but that practice was never strictly classic burlesque. I also created works that were neo-burlesque, nerdlesque, and political performance art. Coco Paradise is the name I use for more futuristic, multimedia, performance art and represents and intergrated, forward-leaning self. And my government name is my name. I use it for writing, visual art and as a way to introduce people to my performance identities.
Jasmyn Fyffe & Alicia Nautu: This is the first time with “Flowchart” that I’ve invited two artists whose work I knew but who didn’t know each other. I was excited to think about how your aesthetics would work together because I find there to be similar approaches to boldness, broad imagery, and a kind of use of colour (in as much as it makes sense to talk about colour in choreography). Can you talk a little about the process of coming together to work? How have you gotten to know each other through the work?

Alicia: This is my first time collaborating with a dancer and it’s been such a rich, interesting experience! We had a very intuitive approach, built on improvisation and intuitive response. We’re definitely on the same page when it comes to imagery and themes we are drawn to. Referencing the old world while looking forward into future possibilities of what could be, tapping into feminine energy, the cosmos, the natural world. There are a lot of circles, water and light in this performance. The circle, in my imagery and in Jasmyn’s movements, references ideas of totality, wholeness, the Self, the infinite, timelessness, the earth, sun and moon, and the womb.

Jasmyn: This creative process has been a really exhilarating energy exchange to say the least. Alicia and I had our first meeting/collab/hang at her place where she cooked a beautiful meal for us and we ate and chatted and held some space for each other. The conversation was flowing much like our rehearsal process has been. I find the conversation and collaboration quite rich and refreshing and just very inspiring. We quickly discovered that we have a lot in common including snails and rocks and a curiosity about goddesses. The first day in the studio we talked for a while about the ideas and just let things flow as they did. As we played we began to create an image for the work and started to make magic. We both felt the connection and it was super exciting. I think there is something so beautiful about us collaborating, sharing stories and supporting each other.
Oliver Husain & Anni Spadafora - I know little about what you’ll be doing together at Flowchart which is always so exciting to me. Can you talk about where your practices converge and how you’re coming together for this work?

Oliver & Anni: We’re both coming from two different fields and very different approaches. Anni is a founding member of the band New Fries and a practicing weaver. Oliver is a filmmaker and visual artist, working with eclectic narrations and layered post-production. For our Flowchart collaboration we chose a floral clip of footage from Oliver’s archive as a starting point. It was filmed on a cloudy day at a vista point on a mountain in West Sumatra, Indonesia. We’re using the movement of the camera exploring the location as a score for music and choreography. The clouded vista point seems like a perfect place for our two paths to converge - and we invite the audience to meet us there as well.
Carol Anderson: You’ve had a long association with Dancemakers, as one of the founding members (45 years ago!) and a former Artistic Director. Most recently you’ve been back as a Resident Artist during our winter residency and now showing work at Flowchart. How has this long relationship with the organization shaped your artistic practice?

Carol: Big question Amelia! Dancemakers was foundational to me in many ways that continue to nourish my practice. I am thrilled - and surprised - to be at Dancemakers again … Dancemakers was started in 1974 as a summer project – with an “Opportunities for Youth” grant – these were an initiative of Pierre Trudeau’s government. Andrea Ciel Smith and Marcy Radler started the company – Marcy quickly moved on to other pursuits. After the first summer Andrea travelled to New York City to study – she soon worked with Louis Falco’s company, and later with the Martha Graham company. The other dancers in that first company kept it going. But it always kept this sense of flow and change – which I believe is intrinsic to the company’s character. The 1970s were the heyday of collectives. This was true of Dancemakers. We made decisions collectively about what repertory to dance, who would be in the company, what choreographers to work with, what programs to present, where to tour – everything to do with the company. Our training was eclectic. At the time, the only consistent modern dance training in the city was at York U (many of us were graduates of the dance program) and TDT. As young dancers we frequently travelled to the US for summer dance intensives – I studied with the Limón company, and Jennifer Mueller’s company, as well as with Nora Guthrie and Ted Rotante, and later worked with them in New York. We brought back our newly acquired knowledge – and taught what we knew. This model of study, mining new knowledge and paying it forward stemmed from those early Dancemakers days – I do this still. We had an “all is possible - just do it” kind of curiosity and attitude that was very attractive to lots of choreographers. Bob Cohan – then AD of London Contemporary Dance Theatre – gave us a work he’d created at York U called “Forest” – and later worked with us on a new commission. Norman Morrice, soon to become the Royal Ballet’s AD, also gave us a wonderful work, “Fools in the Palace”. Anna Blewchamp created some of her signature witty work with us – as well as her classic “Arrival of All Time.” So we worked with established choreographers, and also with a number of young Canadian choreographers who were just starting out – among them Karen Jamieson, Jennifer Mascall, Paula Ravitz, Judith Marcuse. I can’t separate what I carry forward from some of the actual works we did – which were very fine and challenging – aesthetic openness, the recognition of and aspiration to high quality, ecelecticism – all these stemmed from these early years. Dancemakers was my ‘dance house’ – a consistent place to be, to work, to take class, to study and perform – a LOT – to work with a group, to make dances, to dance a wide scope of wonderful work – original and remounted - that stretched us all artistically. Working with a company consistently seems for the most part – not available for dancers now – giving the project to project way in which most choreographers work. It’s a totally different experience to dance a work for four nights – or to dance a work time and time again over weeks and years of performance and touring. There are aspects of stagecraft – I believe – that can only be acquired experientially – and I wish there were more opportunities for the kind of long association many dancers enjoyed with Dancemakers. I was a co-artistic director and then artistic director of Dancemakers. I was guided – despite myself! – toward learning how to lead, how to plan – whether a program, a tour, a season - how to make a strategic plan, how to work with a board, management, volunteers, officers of cultural agencies, and other artists – choreographers, dancers, composers, musicians. These are pretty good things to know. Over time the company dancers were younger and differently trained … flexibility, continuity, possibility – eclectic, open, creative ground – lots of work with new music.

Well – I could go on and on …

We danced in a lot of different situations in Toronto and on tour– huge proscenium stages, lunchtime black boxes, many hundreds of school gymnasiums, studios – one year we did a prison tour, dancing in prison chapels and community rooms – on tile, carpet, concrete, beautiful wood floors – the whole spectrum. Ways forward – One of the key ones is a dispensation toward finding new ways to approach things or look for ways to accomplish goals and realize ideas – whether they are creative or practical. I’m coming back now to a more active creative practice after a long time being consumed with teaching in academia. I’m not so interested in production on stages now as in finding alternative ways and places to create and perform. Galleries and gardens have my attention. Garden Dancing is a new passion that combines my love of nature and nurture, and being in motion – integrating music and place and space. The lighting is always great and the audience has agency – it’s not fixed. To me this somewhat democratic ideal, along with my desire to do and see dance in public spaces – have roots in Dancemakers’ collective roots. We were fortunate to often work with composers – Michael J. Baker, Henry Kucharzyk, Ahmed Hassan, all wrote commissioned scores for us in early years. Collaboration and commissions were cornerstones of the company’s creative activity. Dancemakers brought an astonishing array of new works of dance and music to the stage, and this idea of original creation has stayed with me. I yearn to work in this way still. The desire and the doing – not separating these too much. Not worrying about money so much that lack of funds stops a creative desire – finding ways to make things happen. These are in my creative approach, and definitely stem back to Dancemakers ongoing identity as a feisty, creative entity. We danced about ideas – I loved this sense of a group of dancers with shared purpose and ideals. I still do.
Lara Kramer: Your work portrays “the brutal relations between Indigenous peoples and colonial society” and has toured pretty extensively. Could you speak a bit about your experience of performing in different locations? How does it change across Canada and throughout the world?

Lara: Performing my work in different communities in Canada and abroad has allowed me to experience different reactions to my work. Where ever I go I feel a kinship and mutual understanding with Indigenous people and communities. We don’t necessarily share a culture but we do share a colonizer.

When the whole of mainstream culture has been set up it flourish, there is no need to exercise rejecting it. To execute a paradigm shift settler culture would have to fundamentally reject large parts of itself. So it seems. Erasure of Indigenous culture has been prolific in Canada and continues to be. Seeing and working among other colonial systems has made me feel how much more disastrous Canada is. It is an apartheid system. The current notion of reconciliation is a form of continued erasure of Aboriginal title to land. This is the conflict I feel that I’m in, in relation to my work and daily life. Up against multiple forms of erasure. I’m not reconciling myself to Canada, Canada has to reconcile itself to me.
Sarah Aiken: Your work hasn’t been seen here in Toronto before and we have the luck of catching you as you’re coming through the region! I had the pleasure of meeting you at ImPulsTanz and getting to know your curious and distinct work. Could you tell our readers a bit about your practice and what you’ll show at Flowchart?

Sarah: I’m based in Naarm/Melbourne, Australia on unceded Kulin Nations land, I’m so excited to come to Toronto, our countries have many similarities, especially around our violent colonial histories and the conversations around sovereignty, so I think we have a lot to learn from each other, especially from our respective First Nations people. Its so amazing to be able to share work internationally and have the opportunity to meet artists and audiences, I’m so looking forward to it! My work straddles the absurd and representational, playing with perception to reimagine perspective and scale, while revealing the devices that facilitate this manipulation. I’m often trying to shift how we value the body and repurposing objects or technologies & B-grade theatrical illusions. I’m interested in the intangibility of dance, the body’s potential for inconsistency & paradox and I like to focus on this in relation to the literal nature of recognizable objects, so we notice the human amongst the constructed, the ‘real’ within the illusion. By distorting & manipulating perspectives the work balances the delicate divide between abstract forms & obvious & overt metaphors, between the elusive performer & the relatable human being. I’ve also been working for a while on explorations into the extension and expansion of self, as well as how external pressures move body, ethics and identity, attempting to understand, undermine and reinforce the factors influencing these drivers. I am exploring experiences where the body is magnified to become huge, cumbersome, powerful and conversely shrunken, weak, ineffectual or even invisible.

About Flowchart

Flowchart is a series of multidisciplinary performance presenting short works by artists engaging with the choreographic from the perspective of multiple fields; work which pays attention to organizing movement in space and having it be affected by/also itself affect time. By contextualizing non-dance works within and alongside the choreographic, an engagement with these ideas becomes newly visible. Flowchart is interested in works that centralize the body and offers a curiosity about what happens to non-dance works when they are presented in the scope of a field that inevitably does so.

Flowchart encourages artists to approach their process in a way that is new to them, and offers a platform for experimentation.

Flowchart began as a studio series in 2014 and has grown into a robust recurring series, now housed at Dancemakers, offering a critically needed resourced and supported presentation platform for artists.