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Photo: Ben Welland.

Future of Ottawa: Contemporary Dance with Yvonne Coutts

By Apartment613 on April 13, 2021


This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s dance community—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Yvonne Coutts on the future of professional contemporary dance in Ottawa, or read posts from Alea de Castro and Arnaldo Bettencourt Silva on street dance and Cathy Levy on dance creators at the National Arts Centre.

Yvonne Coutts is the Artistic Director of Ottawa Dance Directive (ODD) and resident choreographer of Compagnie ODD. Her works have been featured at national festivals and many local events. She received the Bonnie Bird Choreographic Award from the Laban Center (UK) and the commissioned work toured Europe, Asia, and the USA. Yvonne was a member of Le Groupe Dance Lab for a decade. She has presented work nationally and received commissions from artists across Canada. She is the 2015 recipient of the Ottawa Arts Council Mid-Career Artist Award.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of professional dance in Ottawa?

Yvonne Coutts: The professional dance community in Ottawa is filled with artists who have dynamic visions of what dance is right now. Adaptation, resilience, perseverance… these are skills that a dance artist embraces throughout their career but now, more than ever, the ability to live and work with large-minded creativity is essential. The Ottawa dance community is comprised of fiercely independent artists and organizations, yet they work together to collaborate and share resources. The community may be modest in population in comparison with larger dance centres in Canada, but the drive and artistic intention is steadfast. Plus, the National Arts Centre Dance programming contributes a huge wealth of influence on the community.

New generation artists are pushing boundaries and establishing identities faster than ever, self-producing their own work while piecing together contracts with other organizations and choreographers in Ottawa, Montréal, and Toronto. This is not an easy path. Contracts and employment opportunities for dance artists have continued to shorten and with the pandemic, many have been postponed or cancelled completely.

This region of dance artists is absolutely resilient and committed to a strong, vibrant, and inclusive dance community. And the three-year Contemporary Dance Diploma Programme at The School of Dance now offers a joint diploma degree with York University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours B.F.A.) in Dance. This is a tremendous opportunity for emerging dancers in our city to continue their artistic practice while pursuing a post-secondary education.

It can be tricky to know and find out about the Ottawa dance communities’ performances. Thankfully Apt613 is the go-to place to see listings and articles about a wide range of dance in the community. These works are being shown in intimate venues, in site-specific locations, and also on large stages. The dance community would definitely welcome a boost from more visibility and interest by the mainstream media!

Interior of the ODD BOX dance studio at Arts Court.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is dance going in Ottawa in 2021?

2021 is certain to be uncertain with regards to dance performance in a theatre. Ottawa Dance Directive is crossing every single body part in hopes that we have fall performances back in the ODD BOX. Through the spring and summer, I can imagine that innovative outdoor dances may pop up as well as a new round of online experiences.

Where in your wildest dreams could Ottawa Dance Directive go in your lifetime?

I think my wildest dream for ODD is continually happening. ODD just finished a three-week online residency with 30+ artists from all over Canada and the world. The exchange and dialogue proved to be transformative at a time when connection is difficult. Practices and discourse around resilience and attention, and the environment gave the opportunity for fundamental shifts in perspective. This directly affects artistic intention and that is what ODD is all about. When a dance artist transmits this profound sensitivity through performance, audiences experience it too.

What is the best innovation to take place in dance since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

The best innovation is anything and everything dance artists did to make it through this past year (Zoom performances, outdoor classes, performances for one, film works). The immense loss of employment in this art form is staggering and can’t be overstated.

Who is the future of dance in Ottawa?

I think that the notion of future is a fluid one and exists in the creative minds of all artists at any time. It is in the hearts and souls of the choreographers and dancers who are rigorously approaching innovation and taking risks. There are heaps of styles, traditions, and cultures of dance in Ottawa and the future takes hold when everyone is visible and has a voice.

The professional dance community in Ottawa is filled with artists who have dynamic visions of what dance is right now. The community may be modest in population  but the drive and artistic intention is steadfast.

A sampling of companies… Propeller Dance, Aroha Fine Arts, Dorsale Danse, Ten Gates Dancing, Compagnie ODD, Moov Ottawa, Upasana The Spirit of Dance, Bboyizm, Take Up Space, Tara Luz, Flava Factory, Al-Arz, Galitcha, Just Alissi, Indigenous Experiences, Luv2Groove, CI Jam… and of course each company has a group of dancers working with them.

A sampling of independents… Natasha Bakht, Sonia St Michel, Alan Shain, Takako Segawa, Armel Mzaliwa, Vanessa Lovell, Geoffrey Dollar, Lana Morton, Cathy Kyle Fenton, Melissa Flerangile, Surraya Dawn Aziz, Stephanie Sarazin, Céline Richard-Robichon, Malini Guha, Samyuktha Punthambekar, Allison Burns, Jerry Longboat, Chelsea Passmore, Lola Ryan, Fana Soro, Ken Emig, Suzan Richards, Josée Bourgeois, Amelia Griffin, Maria Miigwans Smith Chabot, Angela Jackson, Sioned Watkins, Keir Knight, Rhonda Doxtator, Christine Friday, Allison Blakely, Jocelyn Todd, Alya Graham, Sarah Hopkin, Amanda Bon, Jacqueline Ethier, Jordan Samonas, Robin Treleaven, Mary Catherine Jack, Myrielle Bernier-Acuna, Maggie Shew, Lois Chan, Alix Latour, Brad Lafortune, Laura Taler… and more…

Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in dance.

Stretch more.

Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on