Joyce MacPhee is an Ottawa writer and editor with a passion for the arts, and a habit for staying up far too late!
The Power of Possibility! That is the slogan of Propeller Dance, an Ottawa dance company with a difference and more than a few twists. The group, established in 2007, embraces integrative contemporary dance. This art form features professional dancers of all abilities, including those with a variety of disabilities. The dancers move together, create meaningful new works for the stage, and explore new dance vocabulary.
“Integrated dance moves beyond traditional ideas of technique and physical beauty to a place where virtuosity is defined by the ability to connect with an audience through presence, passion and human spirit,” said Renata Soutter, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Propeller Dance. The group has been Dance Company in Residence at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company since 2014 and reaches approximately 5,000 people each year.
“All moves are good moves, so bring what you have” – Shara Weaver, Co-Director of Propeller Dance
The company’s multifaceted approach has two pillars: professional work and community-engaged work. The professional work includes public performances of works in theatres with seven professionally trained company dancers. The community engagement piece involves dance training programs for all ages, and educational and outreach programs in schools and community settings.
Sometimes the two pillars combine. On July 16, Propeller Dance hosted an Inclusive Dance Party at the newly renovated National Arts Centre in Ottawa facilitated by company dancers Amelia Griffin and Sylvain Bouchard. A cross-section of the public ranging from babies to seniors danced together in a joyful celebration of movement and music. The company’s dancers led dance exercises with themes such as Balance/Counterbalance and Dancescape. Participants mirrored and built on each other’s movements, having a lot of fun in the process.
“All moves are good moves, so bring what you have,” advised Shara Weaver, Co-Director of Propeller Dance, at the outset of the dance party. Movement was off-balance, wobbly, explosive and beautiful. The participants clearly enjoyed moving and interacting with each other.
“Propeller Dance is one of the cultural treasures of Ottawa,” said participant Nicole Zuger. “The Inclusive Dance Party is an awesome gathering and helps people with disabilities to dance,” said Ashley Atherfold, who particularly liked the dance moves that incorporated wheelchairs.
Musical accompaniment was provided by Jesse Stewart, an innovative musician, composer and educator. Stewart played a variety of percussion instruments, and provided sticks and pails for audience drumming participation.
Stewart also used iPads running a motion-tracking software, allowing him to sync recorded music to the movements of the dancers. As well, he played the Octamasher, an impressive eight-keyboard musical machine that generated samples of Canadian music.
“The importance of music, and especially live music, is integral to our work,” Weaver said. “Our dance training classes feature live music played by professional local musicians, and most of the company’s choreographies have been co-created with professional composers.”
On Canada Day, Propeller Dance performed a section of the dance performance Living the
unDesirable Life for a prestigious audience. The crowd included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire, Governor General David Johnston and his wife Sharon, and some royal visitors: Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Propeller Dance has achieved success through hard work and a supportive community. Alan Shain, Renata Soutter and Shara Weaver founded the dance company in 2007. In Propeller Dance’s first year, the company held a premiere of original choreography and went on to present works across Canada, sometimes collaborating with other organizations.
Varied programming has resulted in a diverse audience base. A thriving extended family of supporters including volunteers, family members, recreational students, board members, sponsors and audience members has created a nurturing community.
The group’s “Ten Years of Triumph!” celebrations began in May with an outdoor moving sculpture-dance parade along the sidewalks of Hintonburg directed by Shara Weaver. In June, the premiere of Renata Soutter’s large-scale, full-length choreography Living The
unDesirable Life played to full houses at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. The dance piece Wild Life was performed September 9 in the Experimental Farm Arboretum. Finally, an annual Community Celebration will take place on December 3 at the Glebe Community Centre.
The sky’s the limit for Propeller Dance. Weaver is beginning a creative process with the company on the theme of madness. And emerging choreographer and dancer Robert Chartier is busy creating a work inspired by his Wendake-Huron heritage. “We are also deepening our existing repertoire to tour nationally and internationally, and are keen to begin documenting both our teaching and creation methodologies,” Weaver said.
To learn more about Propeller Dance, check out their website.