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Future of Ottawa: Is a new era in dance on the horizon?

By Apartment613 on April 26, 2015

This is the final part in our week-long series The Future of Ottawa (arts and culture edition).  In this guest column, Julie Houle Cezer,  the coordinator of the Dance Network from 1995-2006 and a longtime observer of Ottawa’s dance scene, offers her thoughts on the local dance community.  Twitter users: use hashtag #futott if you want to discuss this series on Twitter.

If you are a dance aficionado, you have every reason to feel hopeful and optimistic about the future of the local dance scene in Ottawa.

As a past coordinator of Dance Network, I have had ample opportunity to observe the Ottawa dance landscape over many years.  While predicting the future of the entire multi-layered local dance community is impossible, I do detect some significant changes occurring.

Here’s one: there are a few  organized clusters of generative dance activity emerging in Ottawa. Local in origin and focus, these diverse experiments are evolving from the bottom up.  As they do, they reflect their community’s specific conditions as well as the particular artistic objectives of the organizations.

These dance initiatives are decidedly not isolated groups pursuing insular goals.  Rather, they are dynamic groupings of people who, while interacting with other professional artists, are also making a concerted effort to maintain ongoing communication with the community out of which they have emerged.

If we wish these organizations to succeed in growing into sustainable and dynamic centres of dance that can become game changers in their respective communities, we will need to find creative solutions and resources to assist them in their capacity building.  With their success we may well usher in a new era and a welcome coming of age for Ottawa’s local dance making community.

Acknowledging the restricted scope of this inquiry, I have chosen to highlight Ottawa Dance Directive and Propeller Dance Company – both of which produce contemporary forms of dance in downtown Ottawa – as different examples of such organizations.  It is also notable, however, that Anik Bouvrette’s Tara Luz, in residence at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans, belongs in this category and deserves a closer look at another time.

Ottawa Dance Directive

Photo by Ben Wellend.

Photo by Ben Wellend.

ODD is a growing hub of dance activity that has been housed at Arts Court since being founded in 2010 by seasoned artists Yvonne Coutts, Sylvie Desrosiers, Lana Morton, and Natasha Bakht.  A hybrid structure by design, it balances artistic programming with resource sharing and “community outreach in many directions and at many levels.”  For example, for community groups and independents, ODD’s low studio rates actually enable peer practice groups, teachers of recreational classes and independent choreographers to continue to do their work.

ODD Box Studio Theatre, meanwhile, also operates as a very busy venue for the resident performing company (Compagnie ODD) and the presentation SERIES DANCE 10.  It hosts artists-in-residence, and co-presents visiting artists whose work is well suited to an intimate space and a small audience. This was the case earlier in April, when ODD co-presented Bulletins From Immortality by Canadian choreographer Margie Gillis and American actress Elizabeth Parrish.

In the same space on June 11-13, ODD, will also co-present with one of its many partners, Canada Dance Festival, SERIES DANCE 10 # 19  – a very different interactive audience experience and live-choreography by Shannon Cooney entitled every one everyone.  And everyone is welcome.

Forging many such partnerships over the last five years has allowed ODD to expand its outreach into the local community, to raise its profile as a presenter and co-presenter of international artists and to perform company works.  But, for all its burgeoning success, Artistic Director Yvonne Coutts points out that ODD’s three-year plan to develop emerging choreographers, increase outreach and  develop audiences while maintaining community support is still running into a very real challenge – “limited potential for increased operational funding and limited resources to engage private sponsorship.”

It’s important to find a way either to turn this around or work around  this constraint on development.  How might another round of creative and strategic re-thinking come up with a plan both for targeted investments and a longer-term solution?

Compagnie ODD performs at Arts Court Theatre on April 30 and May 2 as part of Ontario Scene.  Showtime is 8pm.

Propeller Dance Company

“We value all minds and bodies and all forms of diversity” – Renata Soutter

DSC_0388 - Copy

Photo of Deliverables, a Propeller Dance collaboration, by Erika Ferrarin.

Founded in 2007, Propeller Dance is an integrative dance organization providing accessible dance training, education and performance opportunities for people with and without disabilities.

It has been expanding by leaps and bounds over the past eight years throughout the City of Ottawa.  From its initial launch, volunteers have played an important role in supporting its programming and outreach, and communication with community continues to be its lifeblood.

As an integral part of the larger organization, Propeller Dance Company with its seven dancers and two co-directors, Renata Soutter and Shara Weaver, is creating quite a repertoire and gaining a lot of performing experience with which to animate outreach workshops and performances in schools, community centres and social organizations.  New choreographers with fresh perspectives are emerging from its ranks and broadening everyone’s horizons.

The company not only raises the profile of Propeller but, in performances across Canada,Weaver notes  that it has been  “bringing[to the public] new aesthetics that contribute to broadening people’s acceptance of diversity while promoting a holistic view of the body.”  Indeed, their collaborative creation process seems to be yielding a very human dance vocabulary.

While comparing video docs, I notice changes – the dancers’ bodies seem stronger, movement less tentative and physical relationships more direct and risky. That comes with working together and trusting each other. In terms of the movement research, the line between ability and disability seems teeming with creative potential, and its resolution into a mixing of abilities speaks volumes about our humanness.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2SV8WpHWBQ[/youtube]

Understandably, as Weaver remarks, “Audiences often speak about recognizing something in themselves on stage.”  In my view, it’s not about overcoming disability; it’s about unearthing the movement language that has been lying beneath fixed attitudes, waiting to be discovered and liberated.

Although quite happily in residence at the GCTC for 2015-2016, Propeller Dance may eventually need a permanent home for the organization and its dance company.  But what they “desperately” require right now is an office to accommodate all the administrative work that must go on behind the scenes for Propeller Dance to operate day-to-day and to achieve its potential as a sustainable and dynamic dance centre in Ottawa.  Not a glamorous input, but strategically an office could be just enough to ensure a new trajectory in the future.

Propeller Dance Company will be performing at the Great Canadian Theatre company on May 8 and 9 at part of Ontario Scene.  Showtime is 7:30 pm.

Former choreographer and performer, Julie Houle Cezer, was a co-founder and coordinator of Dance Network from 1995-2006.  Since then, her writing and editing practice has included coverage of the local dance scene.

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