Brianna began her training in Ottawa before moving to Toronto to gain a BFA in Performance Dance at Ryerson University. Her creative practice centers around storytelling and how musical, physical and textual narratives shape characters onstage. At Ryerson, Brianna performed works by Hanna Kiel, Hassan El-Amin, Alysa Pires, and Dylan Crossman of the Merce Cunningham Trust. She has worked with Near&Far Projects as a company artist, has judged for dance competitions across Ontario, and was on teaching faculty at the highly-praised Elite Danceworx. Participating in intensives has helped Brianna further develop her technique. She has recently studied Gaga in NYC, attended The Performing Arts Project in North Carolina, and trained in the Metamorphosis Method of Spain. Brianna is certified in ADAPT Jazz and has passed her RAD Advanced 2 Ballet examination. She is an Aquarius and dreams of working on Broadway.

RECENT PROJECTS

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

“Not with a bang, but with a whimper” by Alysa Pires (Ryerson Dances 2019)

My classmates and I performed this piece for 8 different audiences, and each time I found new discoveries and opportunities in the movement. It was enjoyable to work on a piece for 2.5 months before sharing it with the Toronto community. I am grateful to have had this piece to close off my final year at Ryerson.

Photo by Deivan Steele

Miranda & Caliban workshop

I have been collaborating on a project with my friend Deivan Steele for about half a year now. We organized a 3-day workshop to finally put our concepts into fruition and invited some of our good friends to help. Using material from The Tempest by William Shakepeare, we developed movement for each character and began writing original text. We both exercised the idea of “complete theatre” wherein music, dance and acting can mutually exist onstage. Huge thank you to Maddy Hodges, Sarah Nelson, Judy Luo, Rumi Jeraj and Bobby Markov for being our generous guinea pigs!!

GALLERY

All photos by Alvin Collantes

A look back at November 2019…

Thoughtful and committed decisions instead of feelings by which I am overwhelmed.

Beautiful Anonymous Podcast Caller

This is another quote from the Beautiful Anonymous Podcast. The caller talked about how our vices and addictions can overbear our minds and make us decide on bad choices. When I heard this I realized it has a lot to do with anxiety. If I can help it, my thought processes should come from a relaxed place rather than a place of worry. The best thoughts are the ones that make me feel good.

Spring has been awakened

I hope that is the correct grammar for awaken… At the beginning of this month, I began choreographic rehearsals for a May 2020 production of “Spring Awakening”. This musical is being produced by Precipice Productions, directed by William Flood, and being presented at Dancemakers in the Distillery District of downtown Toronto. I am the choreographer and already, I feel so attached to the process. I leave each rehearsal with a sense of accomplishment while also having more questions that need answering. The cast is impeccably chosen and I truly enjoy watching the choices they make for their characters. It’s a playground. ALL PLAY.

Ryerson Dances 2019

Back in September, we started rehearsals for our first semester show and we finally got to present our work to the Toronto community. I was lucky enough to be in “Changing Steps” choreographed by the legendary Merce Cunningham (and staged for our cast by the equally incredible Dylan Crossman). As well, I performed in an original work by Alysa Pires called “Not with a bang, but with a whimper”. Both pieces came with their respective challenges and performing them back-to-back on some nights was tough. In the end, I learned that meditating before a show is the best thing I can do for my mental health onstage. I felt much more present onstage than I usually am and I am grateful for the opportunity to practice that. I was never perfect or close to it, but I felt that I gave my best. Having my family in the audience was the highlight for sure.

No days off…

Looking back at my calendar for this month, my phone displayed to me a month full of dots. I couldn’t believe I had let this month get so crazy especially because I like to give myself at least one day off if I can… It was not a healthy decision to take on so much and I’ll admit that my work lacked in quality because of it. I have learned that saying no to some opportunities, while can be disappointing, is crucial.

Bangs

SO I HAVE BANGS NOW! I got my hair cut immediately after Ryerson Dances ended and I decided on the spot to cut my usual bob into a bob with bangs! I’m not sure I will keep it this way forever, but I am excited to try a new style. Growing up, I had to keep my hair bang-less for competition dance routines and so now, I wanted to take advantage of my freedom. It’s funny how our hair can say so much about us.

A look back at September/October 2019…

“Knowledge is power but powerless if you got it and you do not acknowledge it.”

-Royce Da 5’9” on Eminem’s track “Not Alike”

I often come back to this line from Royce Da 5’9” because he was able to sneakily insert a very philosophical concept into his verse that is so abundant with insults. It shows his abilities as a rapper are backed up by reason and thought rather than just spitting verbal abuse for the whole song. I tried to implement this recognition of knowledge into my lifestyle over the past two months to help me remember my own worth. It seems that most times in my training, I singularly work to obtain knowledge but when it comes down to proving my intake of information, my throat closes up. I am bad at showing my work. Which is weird because in high school math, I was always the one to show each step…

Getting better at self-discipline

I realize I have not released a monthly reflection in awhile, but it is because I have been focusing a lot of my energy on my studies at Ryerson. I am proud of myself for showing up to class even on my bad days and in doing so, I have noticed that my self-discipline is much better than it was a year ago. Treating my training with a balance of seriousness and amusement has rewarded me with a greater love for movement these days. I love to be physically exhausted again. It is orgasmic in some ways to be so full-out. In the dance world we have a saying that dancing “full-out” is the only way to go, but I never realized until now why that is so important for the audience and my own physical health. I am lucky enough to be cast in two pieces for our upcoming show in November: a piece from Merce Cunningham and a piece choreographed by Alysa Pires. Each rehearsal process has been different but they balance each other out. Learning fast, precise and legendary modern phrases from Cunningham is perfectly the opposite of Alysa’s collaborative, emotionally-driven, contemporary piece. I make sure to switch my brain when I leave one rehearsal to go into the other and it is really enjoyable to have both. All in all, by spending time on myself, I have found a selfishness that doesn’t feel like I’m being a bitch to other people.

My generous grandfather

In the beginning of October, my grandfather sadly passed away. Our relationship had been flourishing in the past few years and I am grateful to have had the time I did with him. He had many skills simultaneously and I never comprehended how. He was a maestro, an astronomer, a grump when he needed to be and a saint when it mattered, a husband of 50+ years, a lover of theatre, and a generous human. My entire family came together to celebrate his life, and his generosity came up countless times as we remembered his legacy. He always supported me in my dancing, and understood the value of education. I would have never been able to visit Greece, North Carolina or New York without his financial help and I can’t come up with a better word for gratitude towards him. I was just starting to get back into my piano practice when he died and my new goal is to play as well as he did by the time I’m 80. I’ll have to really work on sight-reading because he had that skill down pat! Love you always, Grandpa.

Barely making it through

While my academic mind-set has been growing, my mental health is a bit f u z z y… Both in September and October, my anxiety levels continue to ride up and down based on the busy schedule I create for myself. I am noticing that the more opportunities and tasks I take on, I need to also allow time for rest, reflection and removal. I tend to say yes too much and that causes my productivity to decrease in quality. I will get the job done but it won’t be my best work. Then, I get upset and label myself as a failure. I still believe it is crucial to never let any opportunity pass you by, but without a proper mind-set my achievements happen because I barely made it through. I don’t want to create art or make pasta or ride an elevator or laugh at a friend’s joke if it means that I am half-committed. Especially in my creative practice as an artist, my worst work occurs when I am rushing to get it done. To be present and uni-tasking is a constant battle for me as someone who likes to multi-task my way through life. I want to be alive in the world. Anxiety ceases that from happening.

Reading

Getting back to my love for reading physical texts has been extremely successful to my overall well-being. I can actually expand my attention-span and I can actually take in words on a page again. Yes, I am reading 5 books right now and that is completely counter-productive to the previous paragraph, but I am happy to have literature as my main pass-time.

To finish

To finish off, I want to congratulate myself for staying strong these past two months. I am in a much better place than I used to be but I know that I still have work to do. I want to open my heart to others because I feel more like myself these days. Let’s see how that goes in November.

Instead of a photo to capture these two months, I leave you with a poem my grandfather had on his fridge:

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendour of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.

-Kalidasa, Indian Poet

Have swear words become a part of the vernacular?

I find it very chilling when a dance student of mine has complete knowledge of adult swear words. Many times, I will explain to a kid that these particular words do not belong in our dance class. And it baffles me that I even have to address this problem when parents should be in charge of this. Words and phrases that are generally censored in our public media have somehow made their way into the brain of an 11-year old. When I was about that age, it was absolutely FORBIDDEN in my family to swear. My parents didn’t even accept “Shut up” as an exclamation. Looking back, I feel as though it helped me understand the meaning behind the word/phrase so that if I really did need to use it, it would be for an appropriate reason. But that wasn’t even until I was in my teens.

It begs the question that maybe swear words have lost their intensity? Maybe, these words and phrases have no meaning anymore and are similar to the way we use the word “the”. If that is the case, we should probably do more to make sure children are aware of the definitions of these curse words so that they can use them properly. Right? I mean, you wouldn’t want a kid to be calling another one a… nevermind.

Pop songs are generally targeted to a specific audience with the interests of the listener in mind. When Eminem raps about being a young father, he wants to reach out to the 20-somethings that deal with similar experiences. But, he uses swear words A LOT. Currently, I am very interested in this kind of expression because when I am with my friends, we use swear words to liberate ourselves. It’s f**king awesome. However, I didn’t particularly listen to Eminem until I became the age of his target audience and I think that was because my parents refrained from playing those songs. I am not saying every household should be doing this, but I recognize that young kids are not able to relate to mature songs. Their concept of sex and alcohol is very different, having less experience with it. So, if they are learning from the music they listen to, it will change the way they speak. I find myself having to always find a “clean” version of Top 40 Songs to play in my dance classes and that saddens me. Where did the innocence go? Are my students being influenced by music that is making them age too quickly?

It is important to realize that the words children hear can be interpreted however they choose. Ultimately, it would be impossible to censor everything but we should do our part as role models and think about how we use our words.

Things 2019 has taught me so far

I used to think that if I was in my best shape/weight, other people would dislike me. Almost as if my physical accomplishments were taking away from theirs.

I used to think that if I wanted people to feel better about themselves, I should never talk about me and only ask about them. Almost as if my personal thoughts/stories/opinions were pointless to their growth.

I used to think that food was mainly for pleasure. Mouth pleasure. Almost as if I only listened to my taste buds and not my stomach and full body.

I used to think that being alone was the best thing in the world. Almost as if independence is the most productive and fruitful way to live.

I used to think that eye contact was creepy when having a conversation. Almost as if I should never deserve someone’s full attention. 

I used to think sleep was the worst part of my daily routine. Almost as if I didn’t require a recharging of my brain and body and I could run on empty like a superhero forever.

I don’t believe these things anymore. I found a way out of those dark and idiotic thoughts.

A look back at August 2019…

“Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on.”

This Beatles quote has been getting me through this month. Even made a little cover of it here. Having more time for myself, I was frequently in my head and over-analyzing decisions. I planned to spend time working out and feeling physically settled, however, on August 31, I hated the results. BUT, life goes on and I have chosen to stay along with it. 

Friends! I love my friends!

A wonderful thing about summer is the opportunity for outside hangouts. And my friends were too good to me this summer. I felt so loved and attempted to give as much love back. It really is important, as an adult, to feed your friendships the healthiest energy you can. They are the life supports when times are tough. They know who they are.

Teaching at new spaces

I was invited into a bevy of different studio space this month, either as an individual teacher or on faculty with Fresh Dance Intensive. Each space had its specific architecture, colours, and ambiance. My goal was to adapt into the new surroundings so that I could present myself in the best way. It was crucial that I stayed present and focused on the students in front of me. I definitely was not perfect and each day was a challenge but I am glad I can be more present nowadays. Teaching will always remind to be aware of others and that is something I forget most days.

My demon, Depression.

Although there was sunshine and laughter, this month brought on a real presence of my demon, Depression. I feel very connected to the character of BoJack Horseman, not because I am a middle-aged has-been celebrity, but because I search for love in the wrong places. I expect others to give me anything I want and then put myself down about my greediness. I want to be neutralized in my emotions without becoming a phony robot. Can’t I have a perfect life?!?! Time to let go of that. Time to work hard with kindness and gratitude.

Body Image

As I mentioned above, my body was a main focus for me this month and even though I was proud to set that goal, I am still not satisfied with how I look. I seem to spend a lot of time looking at Instagram for models and role-models that I want to look like, and I realized that maybe I really DO care about how I look. I don’t want to become too shallow though. It can be a little bit selfish to only care about your appearance but maybe I am just THAT selfish?? I hope I can find a way to enjoy my body image without losing touch of reality. Been hoping since I was 13, but what’s one more year? Hahahahahahahahahhahaahahahha.,,..

A look back at July 2019…

Doing things means doing things.

Either sung or not, this quote sums up exactly how my July went. I heard it from the dream duo themselves, Susan Blackwell and Laura Camien, during their SparkFile workshop at The Performing Arts Project. I immediately thought, yeah it does! It’s simple but effective when you are in the process of something creative. Just do it!

Cottage Time

I spent my first week of this hot month at my cottage, soaking in the sunshine and swimming with my little sister. We had so many laughs and moments, the two of us, and she truly is the light of my life. I spent nights by myself at the smaller cabin on my family’s property and one night I even sat with fireflies buzzing around me. It was the most magical thing I’d ever seen. I kind of always thought they weren’t real creatures but the bioluminescence was a-brewing! My family were wonderful to be around and it served as a great break after working a lot in June.

TPAP is a magical place

I then spent three weeks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for a musical theatre program called TPAP. It was days of non-stop singing, dancing, acting and I couldn’t be more proud to have been there. Only finding out about it through Instagram, I didn’t know what to expect before I went there, but I am so pleased to have been a part of such a talented and hard-working group of artists. Every day, I would try something new and fail and try again. It was so scary but so worthwhile. The faculty were incredibly knowledgable and able to pass along information to us in such smooth and effective ways. One of the highlights for me was working closely with Gavin Creel whom I’ve looked up to since I first heard him on the soundtrack for Millie. He is a genuine soul with too much talent; it blows my mind. I also got to take class from Krysta Rodriguez and other Broadway veterans. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to process everything I learned there but I’m going to try. 🙂

The Zone has been breached

During a ping pong match at TPAP, I figured out something very vital about how to be present and in the moment. Weird to say, but I figured out how to access my “game face” or “the zone” as they call it. Nothing matters except this moment. Before a show or before I’m about to face off a player in ping pong, I need to find the feeling where my body, mind and heart co-exist on one plane of energy. It’s a very subtle difference but it works wonders for my artistic abilities. If I can pin-point exactly where my body is in space, I am able to remove myself from the idea of being “onstage” and just exist. It’s cool for anxiety too.

Photo by Ali Gutierrez

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

TPAP Day Zero (Travel Day)

Failed Transportation: 7:30am flight to Charlotte; getting on 12pm flight to Charlotte (You were 8th on standby, calm down sis); 1:46pm flight to Charlotte (left around 2); getting on 4:10pm flight to Greensboro; 7:20pm arrival in Greensboro (stayed on tarmac for an extra hour)

Succesful Transportation: bus to airport at 4:30am; luggage came at GSO airport; getting to Wake Forest from GSO

-> What was supposed to be a 6-hour travel day turned into a 12-hour disaster. Thanks, American Airlines. You royally sucked at everything you tried to accomplish for me.

TPAP Day One

We did a peculiar exercise at the end of the day today. “Crossing the Line” meant that everyone stood on one side of the room without talking while an announcer declared statements for us to agree/disagree on. You could also decide how much you agreed/disagreed by distance travelled across. I found myself very alone, and emotionally up and down. It makes sense that I felt alone though because each of us, faculty included, stood as individuals. I rode the wave of being completely uncomfortable and completely obsessed with the exercise. I wanted to stop some questions but others made me intoxicated with the gossip of it. “I am funny” was a nice and easy one while “I have been called a faggot” brought the whole room to silence (even more than already). “I have had suicidal thoughts” brought me to shed one tear while “I am an adult” had me totally proud of my decision to stand at the complete other side of the room. We were tasked to find eye contact with others once making a decision and that was very difficult for me. Some people cried, some stayed stoic. Reminded me of Leadership Camp at St. Matt’s and it made me feel part of a community. We finished off with writing our fears on a wall. What a long day.

TPAP Day Two

I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. I don’t understand the reference. But I can get my leg up…?

TPAP Day Six

This morning, my thoughts are racing with speed and confusion. I feel conflicted. I want to try and plan everything so that I take control of the situations I’ll be faced with each day but I also want to try listening to the director’s suggestion of being flexible to surprises. I hate surprises. They bore me and make me feel like I don’t deserve them. The other thought in my mind is that I am slowly becoming someone different than myself due to simply being around these people for 3 weeks. I don’t see anything wrong with them it’s just that I don’t want to be persuaded in any way. I can be/talk/dress/eat exactly as I am while co-existing with other unique people… Right?

TPAP Day Ten

One of the things I’m battling with is staying present. There are so many interactions happening in my daily routine here that I don’t really have time to re-play these moments after they occur. So I find myself thinking about them during class or during a scene when I’m supposed to REALLY be in the moment. I guess I am not used to this level of extrovertism because back home, I only spend about half my day with people; the other half travelling alone, in my room or just by myself. Also I don’t think I’ve spoken this much in my life. I’m being asked to give my opinion on every subject and that is really new to me. I am used to shutting up, moving silently, listening first, making sure I don’t interrupt… This kind of personality is scary to me because I could say something I don’t mean. On the first day of classes, my teacher told me I eloquently described the most beautiful thing in my life, but I was just making sure my words were concise, articulate and meaningful. I patiently spoke. Now on day 10, I feel very impatient and like I’ve adopted this conversational habit of always starting a sentence and not knowing where it’s going… like now…

TPAP Day Fourteen

As I looked out from the top right bleacher of the Ring Theatre, there was so much chaos. Hyper-reality took over and people screamed while staying in character yet. Oddly enough, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I don’t have the skill set or the confidence (really) to stay so committed to an improvised role while there is no audience to watch. What’s the point? Why would it serve our art form to act/pretend to be a character with a full backstory if not for an outside eye? The only people watching are also in character and therefore not active audience members. I guess it shows me how ensemble-based theatre people can be. They want to work with others.

One thing I managed to get a hold of was “the zone”. So that’s neat.