Catalysts of Creation: The Canada Dance Festival and the NAC

Girl in dress edited
Karina Champoux in Paradoxe Mélodie, LE CARRÉ DES LOMBES © Photo: Luc Senécal

Canada’s National Arts Centre (NAC) has a long history of co-producing work with Canadian dance artists, acting as a catalyst and partner in the creation, development and performance of new work.

“Co-producing allows the NAC to be one of a series of important organizations around the world in the creation of dance,” said Dance Executive Producer Cathy Levy. A striking example of that was the creation of the Canada Dance Festival (CDF) in 1987. The NAC was the founding co-producer of the Festival, and remains so to this day.

Not only does the NAC co-produce the Canada Dance Festival, it regularly co-produces a number of works on the lineup. Six NAC co-productions featured in the 2014 Festival includes a powerful new work from indigenous artist Michael Greyeyes (A Soldier’s Tale); a new duet from Fortier Danse-Création and Robin Poitras (Misfit Blues); a national collaboration by Vancouver’s Noam Gagnon and Toronto’s Nova Bhattacharya (DVOTE); 7th Sense by NAC Associate Dance Artist Wen Wei Wang; a new creation by Ottawa’s own Bboyizm (Music Creates Opportunity); and a world premiere by Montreal’s Le Carré des Lombes (Paradoxe Mélodie).

The CDF, which this year runs from June 9-14, celebrates the voice of contemporary dance artists while looking to the future of Canadian dance. By investing in dancers and choreographers, the Festival and the NAC build relationships across physical and generational boundaries, spark creative ideas, present and honour a broad range of work, and set the stage for this country's most contemporary, innovative and leading edge dance artists.

Guest blogger Gerald Morris spoke to Festival Artistic Producer Jeanne Holmes about the festival’s role in the creation of Canadian dance, its partnership with the NAC, and about what audiences can expect from this year’s dazzling lineup.

GM: The CDF commissions work (six co-productions this year) and showcases lots of new work. How important is the Canada Dance Festival on Canada’s dance map?

JH: The CDF is the only dance festival in Canada that focuses on contemporary Canadian dance artists. It’s a great opportunity for the Festival to invest in the art form, in the creation of new work. It’s important that we can play such a foundational role – supporting artists with money and resources to make new work literally invests in the foundation of dance. Also, this a big country with a small dance community. Distances are huge, and travel is expensive. The Festival gives artists from across the country an opportunity to see each other’s work, mingle, talk and just hang out together. What happens offstage is just as important as what happens onstage.

GM: Several NAC Associate Dance Artists are represented this year, and there are six NAC co-productions. How important is the National Arts Centre in the development of new Canadian dance?

JH: The relationship between the NAC (our co-producer) and the CDF is a long one, and a strong and important one. The NAC’s investment in the CDF and the artists we support is unique, rich and really quite special. And the CDF is important to the NAC because the CDF carries the NAC banner to artists across the country, and brings Canadian dance artists to the stages in Ottawa. It’s a mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship. Our success is their success, and the partnership benefits the entire national dance community.

GM: The Canada Dance Festival celebrates passion, creativity and extraordinary dance artistry. What can audiences expect at this year’s Festival?

JH: One of the most exciting aspects of this year’s Festival is that so many diverse artists’ voices are represented. These voices are individual and vastly different from each other. They express distinct creative perspectives geographically and generationally, from both established and emerging artists, and from artists who are in transition.

There has never been a lack of good work in Canada, but artists are now changing how they work. A generation ago, dancers were often simply vessels for a choreographer’s vision, but now dance creators are making work that celebrates the individual voices and personality of the dancer with true authenticity.

GM: Three works take place in unconventional settings, or in the round. Have you found that performances like these create a more intimate bond between dancers and audience?

JH: Oh yes. Changing the relationship between the audience and the artists changes the way people see the work. The audience becomes just as much a part of the piece. It’s a collective experience, but it’s also a highly individual experience. Audience members can invest in the piece in different ways – and it becomes more about what you’re experiencing and seeing and feeling, not what you’re looking at.

GM: Contemporary dance is a snapshot of our history, culture, and Canadian stories and experiences. What are some current dance trends for 2014?

JH: I’ve seen a return to physicality, whereas work tended to be more conceptual in the past. Contemporary dance artists, like all artists, are always trying to find the new thing, to tap into the zeitgeist, to express ideas in an authentic way. I’d say there is more collaboration among artists – dance artists working with creators in other media, such as theatre, music, colour, lighting or the visual arts. I think also now there is less resistance to “telling a story,” and an emphasis on exploring or incorporating personal histories, which really allows audiences to connect with the artist and the work on an emotional level.

GM: Do you have any advice for someone new to dance who is attending the Festival?

JH: The great thing about a festival is that many varied and interesting works are available in just a few days. It’s easy for audiences to see a lot of shows at once, to compare, contrast, and find a dance work or an artist who really speaks to them. People can enjoy most shows on many levels, developing their own context and understanding of what THEY like. Some pieces are stories, some are more abstract, some are accessible and easy to understand. And some are just spectacular, such as our closing night performance, the world premiere of The 60 Dancer Project by Tedd Robinson | 10 Gates Dancing. I can also recommend a short CDF film, A Very Dangerous Pastime: A Devastatingly Simple Dance Guide, directed by Laura Taler (2000). It’s perfect for anyone who may be new to dance. The film makes it clear that we all have an innate ability to relate to and appreciate dance. The secret is that you simply have to be open to it.

The Canada Dance Festival, in partnership with co-producer the National Arts Centre, has been presenting, advancing, and celebrating Canadian dance excellence in the nation’s capital for more than 25 years. The CDF’s mandate is to ignite passion, inspire creativity, and unify community and this year’s Festival is truly a don’t miss event – six days of dazzling dance that will set Ottawa ablaze!

Learn more about the Canada Dance Festival 2014: June 9-14

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