As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the last week of Tara Luz Danse’s residency at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health was to create meaningful transitions and pathways from each improvisational dance concept to the next. We had the basic order of the concepts in place, great accompanying music from François Gravel (our musician). I proposed a few ways to link them together, along with ideas from the group using everyday movements, movements from our yoga warm-ups, concepts from Tara Luz Danse, and from pow wow steps.
The first question that came up was, ‘How do we start?’ The beginning and endings of a choreographic work are very potent parts of a choreography. Anik Bouvrette, Artistic Director and choreographer of Tara Luz Danse often says that the beginnings and endings are the majority of the impact of your piece. The beginning serves as an introduction of a theme, and the people involved.
Since the first concept Word-Image was developed to be seated, we started the choreography with a circle of empty chairs in the centre, and the group waiting around the circle. To enter, we decided to use a game that I presented earlier on in our sessions as an icebreaker. I call it the Shoulder-Meet. Two people from across the circle tiptoe to the center of space (like Grandmothers would do at a pow wow, I was informed by a participant), connect each other’s right shoulder, and turn in a circle looking at each other. After two or three turns, you choose a chair to sit in. We repeated this until all participants were seated in the circle. You can imagine that coming at staring at each other is both powerful and vulnerable, and sitting still together in a circle is grounded and steady. The group took their time with this entrance, which created the powerful, calm environment we wanted for our beginning.
Once everyone was in the seated circle, and the music softened, we started the Word-Image game where each participant embodies an animal and uses movement and animals, then the group repeats it back to each other. Animals are found in the Northern direction of the Medicine Wheel where we also find the element Air. This was represented by the laughter and breath (or being out of breath from laughing!) that was brought about by committing to the animal movements and sounds.
Next we needed a fire element for the Eastern direction and some way to clear the space for the Line concept. I proposed that we incorporate a breathing technique that lifts the arms on an inhale, and lowers them on an exhale – it is similar to a birds wings flapping slowly, or the beginning of a Sun Salutations in yoga. This felt to us like a firebird, a phoenix, or like the flames of a fire starting to grow. We repeated the breath and arm movements until it brought us to standing, for those of us in the group who do stand. From there we thought to take the arms overhead, then drag the chairs to the sides of the room, walking softly as before. As soon as the chairs are at the extremities of the space the group could set up in a Line on one side of the space one at a time.
The Line concept had an interesting overlap with the Mirror concept in the final choreography, which came out of something that was seemingly a hiccup! When we practiced the Line during our sessions, one of the participants who gets around in a power wheelchair, was using a new chair. Being in a new chair, the participant had less familiarity and therefore had less dexterity than usual and felt more comfortable sitting on the side making wave and ripple-like movements with her arms. As was explored with Anik Bouvrette during past session, we proposed to walk back and forth in a line like a wave or the ocean tide with sweeping, ocean arms. Each person could stop at any time, and restart again with the line. If you stopped, you had to follow the wave and ripple-like arm movements of the lady in the wheelchair; like a Mirror, or group exercise Flocking that we also tried. It was a perfect combination of the ripples and tide and brought the ocean in a poetic display of connection to each other, and the Water element in the South.
For the fourth and last component we decided because it was the West, which brings the Earth element, then perhaps we should display the four corners of the Earth, and the Four Directions. At the end of the Water section, we slowly walked into groupings of three at the four directions, and repeat the same Shoulder-Meet together, connected at the right shoulder and walking in a circle looking at or towards each other.
Since we had completed representing the four elements, the four directions, and the improvisational dance concepts, we decided it seemed like a natural time to end. Coming back to the breath that we worked on together in our yoga warm-ups, and the connection of breath to life-cycle, or taking your first and last breath, we came into a circle in the centre. There we held hands, and breathed deep breaths as François brought his responsive and haunting music to a silence. It was a truly powerful piece on life, nature, and connection.
For the last performance we had a small, but appreciative audience of Tara Luz Danse and Wabano staff, cultural officer at the City of Ottawa, and members of the Seniors Program at Wabano. The audience was very touched and reflected and connected to themes of nature, breath, and connectedness. The memories of this time are rich and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to create an improvisational dance piece with such powerful and funny elder ladies.
Founded in 2006 by choreographer Anik Bouvrette, Tara Luz Danse is a contemporary dance company in residence at the Shenkman Arts Centre. The company’s work is twofold: we create and present dances for audiences of all ages, and we work in schools and in the community, fostering the discovery of contemporary dance.