A look back at April 2019…

Connect your thoughts to your voice.

This month has taught me, in a very heightened way, the value of communicating exactly what you mean. There is no point in beating around the bush sometimes. I found this when dealing with professional situations but also when I am speaking to the ones I care about. I think I am the type of person who likes to speak in metaphor sometimes, and while that is creatively interesting, it can get confusing for the people around me.

Finishing third year.

I wrote my last exam, danced my last tendu, and said goodbye to third year with a huge sigh of relief. This year was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions, but I feel so lucky to have my classmates, my teachers, and THE BEAT to get me through. I am ready to tackle my final year of my BFA with the same expectations that it’s gonna be rough, but it’s gonna be magical. Most interesting classes: Improvisation with Kate Hilliard, Modern with Arsenio Andrade, and Production with Michael Bergmann.

Full circle moment.

I was given the opportunity to judge two dance competitions this month with the competition DanceFest. Being on the other side of the theatre and watching young artists give their all, really made it surreal. I had worked so hard during my early training to perform and choreograph to my best, and being able to share my knowledge with the dancers now is a true gift. It felt like a dream, and I hope I get the opportunity again.

The clouds have cleared.

April may bring showers to our sky, but I felt like the sun had come out during this month. My depression was very much gone and I am not sure why. I won’t question it because I feel very relieved to be lifted of it, but it definitely feels like it may come back. No matter, I must be present and not worry about what my feelings will be in the future. I am grateful for the sun shining down on me and the deep breaths that have gotten me through this month.

A look back at March 2019…

Be focused, but joyous.

I counselled this to a student of mine and it was also a great reminder for my own practice. Dancers can often resort to a very serious attitude when it comes to our training, due to the rigorous demands and the countless number of body parts to engage. On the other hand, I think it will serve the mental body to remember to enjoy the physicality and share that joy with the audience. An outward expression of the inward.

Chasing rabbits.

At school, our class and the fourth years have the opportunity to choreograph and perform in a show called “Choreographic Works [insert year]” (such a great title….). In all seriousness though, this show was so exciting for me because I got to experiment with musical theatre movement and learn about lighting. My cast was so hilarious and generous that I would be tearing up every performance from the wings. I have so much appreciation for my teachers who allowed me to play around with the style I love so dearly. The entire production team was amazing part of this experience for me as well. Their dedication and positive attitudes helped me feel welcome in the theatre again, and I hope to work with them again!

Broadway, here I come.

Around the same time as Choreographic Works 2019, I was accepted into a musical theatre program called “The Performing Arts Project”. This 3.5 week long intensive incorporates all my loves: music, movement and storytelling. I will be spending this July in North Carolina learning from Broadway alumni and talented young artists, and working my ass off to improve my singing, dancing and acting skills. I want to really milk this intensive for all its benefits and I hope I will return feeling like I am ready for Broadway. That’s the dream.

Conversing my life away.

Similar to last month, I have been recording podcasts with my peers from school and I am so pleased with the results. I feel so expressive when I have conversations with talented, emerging artists, and share them with the world. It isn’t like many people listen to my channel but I don’t really mind having a smaller audience. It feels more home-y. So grateful for the artists who have come in thus far!

Realizations and relapses.

About halfway through the month, I came to a realization that I have a problem with my own success. This brought me to relapse into a bad depressive state for the last part of the month. I have not been looking at success in a healthy way due to my obsession with failure. Strange as it sounds, my brain feels more comfortable making mistakes and analyzing them. It is as if my brain rejects the idea of my own success, and it has to stop now. I am exhausted trying to one-up myself every GOD DAMN time. I used to think that was what would consistently make me a better artist/person, but there has to be balance. I must be able to acknowledge the things I have accomplished while also being able to examine my weaknesses.

Come as you are.

Life has the audacity to swing every which way when you are not looking. Take every day as a new journey and come to the table with exactly who you are. As long as you are not hurting anyone, you are enough to change the world.

Revisor (Contemporary Dance show)

Post-show reflection.

This cast was sublime together. Each dancer made their talent known and committed to each gesture, pose, slide, lift, etc. I am floored by their execution of this narrative. The timing of their lip syncing to the narrator’s lines was spot on each time. That gave me so much relief to see because I knew I could relax into the intensity of the story rather than trying to understand why the performers were moving their mouths. If I could go back and rewatch this, I would have screamed “Shantay, you stay” to each performer (Drag Race reference, if you were wondering).

Specifically, I’m so glad I got to see Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, Ella Rothschild and Doug Letheren. I have been fortunate enough to take classes with each of these amazing humans, and getting to watch them work through this show was such a treat. Doug was the first person who introduced me to the training of Gaga and the first teacher to help me understand how to stand on one foot. His performance as Director of the Complex was comically excellent.

Let’s talk about lighting. One of the most memorable moments for me was when the lighting was so quick that it made the dancers look like they were creating stop motion with their bodies. It threw me completely off guard because of the delicacy that the dancers used to time out the lighting shifts. Such genius. As well, the backdrop played with digital drawings that resembled a  computer screensaver. The brushes of light would fade in and out as the dancers moved, almost in coordination it seemed. 

All in all, if you are looking for a little bit of everything, go see this show. It is so well-rounded. With the addition of playwright Jonathon Young, who developed the story so effortlessly to fit the ideology of Crystal Pite’s movement, my theatre juices were bubbling the entire time. He has worked with her as a performer before so seeing what he can do with his words was awesome! I really admire when creators involve storyline into their work. It was so mesmerizing. I had to remind myself to stop moving my head so much because I kept being entranced by the dancers. My inner thighs remained engaged for the whole 90 mins. 

Thank you Kidd Pivot! You are constantly a Canadian masterpiece in my mind!

Training and Makeup Go a Long Way

When comparing performance styles, it is difficult to find similarities between them without diminishing the cultural and unique qualities that each country brings. Years of historical and socio-economic change have shaped these styles into the art of today’s landscape and so, it is essential to realize that each performance aesthetic merits its own exploration. Nonetheless, there are themes that tie these styles together when discussing international performance.

For example, in the Sacred Dances of Balinese performances, referred to as Wali, the dancers must use their bodies to display certain hand gestures while balancing headdresses atop their heads. This movement takes hours of practice to build the dexterity and posture required and in all honesty, a regular person off the street would not be able to perform this. The dancers need their bodies to be perfectly aligned, and therefore, they require a level of physical capability. This concept of well-defined performers is equally shown in Kathakali training throughout India. Learning exercises for the hands and face, sometimes starting at the age of ten years old, and developing an intense scale of athleticism ultimately leads these kinds of performers to mold their bodies to fit the demands of the training. They must work hard to reach this level of performance quality, often getting up early, and that is very admirable.

On the other hand, there is a common thread among entertainment performance, particularly the Balih-Balihan of Bali and the Jingju in Chinese Opera. Due to the requirement of exaggeration, the onstage performers must use makeup to shade and contour the outlines of their faces. The audience is so far away, and therefore, will not be able to view the interesting facial expressions or changes in emotion if the performers do not involve the use of excessive makeup. From up close, this artistic choice may seem hyperbolic and “clown-ish”, but it is crucial in guiding the audience towards understanding the piece of art. Balih-Balihan performers use makeup to express a more charming quality of movement, but it is still very important for the overall picture they are trying to present. Likewise, the Beijing Opera incorporates a character named “Painted Face” wherein the performer presents elaborate face make-up covering everything but his eyeballs. Each colour represents important characteristics for the narrative, and without this added feature, the character’s heroic attitude would just fade into the backdrop.

In terms of parallels to the Western notion of theatre, there are many traditions that have been translated overseas to North America. In the Sacred Dances of Bali, specific hand gestures and wrist movements are akin to the gestural forms of Western contemporary dance. Many contemporary dances will display dancers standing relatively still while they use their forearms, fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders to create movement. This concentrates the rhythm to only a few body parts rather than the entire body and helps the audience know where to put their focus. Wali dancers exhibit their hands to show musical interpretation to the audience, and this kind of performance reminds me that simple gestures can engage an audience just as much as a complicated piece of choreography. As well, in Balih-Balihan, the Balinese dancers are trained at a young age to be double-jointed and flexible in their hands, back, and legs. In a like manner, young ballet dancers are taught to have lean, agile bodies to meet the technical and physical requirements of ballet. Considering this, Balih-Balihan introduces the young dancers to maintaining a strong disciplined attitude towards their training due to the detailing of the choreography.

Throughout these past weeks, I have been immensely inspired to create my own work with this amount of care and dedication that has been shown. My piece that is being presented in Choreographic Works this coming March is about telling a narrative. I choreographed this piece by pulling from the Broadway musical “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown”, but making sure to personalize the story of four kids trying to write a book report. I was inspired by the Indian performance style of Ramayana to allow theatricality to be displayed onstage from the primitive source of text and literature. My dancers and I have been researching the various fables of the Peanuts characters to try and find ways that movement and acting can evoke moments of comedy and relatability for the audience. I plan to dive more into this concept of narrative, and I am excited to learn about other cultural and aesthetic performance styles as we continue on in this class.

A look back at February 2019…

Be greedy for what you deserve, not what you desire.

This month, I tried to find a productive amount of greediness. When I become too focused on my wants, I tend to develop selfish qualities in my daily life that hinder my sense of community and teamwork. I can’t always put energy into myself because then I lose the respect of my peers and friends. Making time to listen, respond and acknowledge the people around me was the goal.

My little sister is my light.

My family visited Toronto for Family Day weekend, and as soon as I saw my little sister, she ran up to me and I ran up to her with so much passion and excitement. Even though I don’t get to see her much, we have a great bond that always grows stronger each time we reunite. We share a love for music (I’ve helped her expand her music tastes over the years), a love for sports, and a joke or two about our parents. She also shares a birthday week with me (hers is four days after mine), so we got to celebrate with our whole family and it brought me so much happiness. I love her to bits!

Live and in stereo.

I was lucky enough to sit down with some friends of mine to discuss a show we worked on this month. I love listening to podcasts, so getting to host my own show has been a real treasure for me. I am trying to upload a podcast each Monday from now on, and if I can achieve this I believe it will help me build a portfolio and learn from others! Link here.

Winter is coming, has come, will come again.

I am in the process of rewatching the entire series of Game of Thrones to welcome in the new season that starts in April. Revisiting the character arcs of these beloved lords and ladies has really been enjoyable after a long day of dancing. Each storyline is so intensely complicated that I have to pay attention to the details. I can’t wait to see where the writers are going with each character in the new season… My bets are on Tyrion to win the throne, even though I can totally see the White Walkers winning. Also, I totally forgot that Sam killed a White Walker in season 3! The things you see when you actually engage with the art you are viewing!

Too much to do.

Recently, my brain feels like there’s not enough time to do the things I want to do. I love saying yes to opportunities because I know that it will benefit me in the long run, but in the short term, it can be exhausting to accomplish everything on my list. I’m even late to post this monthly reflection! In mid-February, I fell off the map and spent 3 consecutive days in bed, watching tv and eating whatever I wanted to. It was so needed, although it probably wasn’t very healthy. I rarely had time for myself this month, and so I decided for my own happiness to stay inside under my comfy covers. It was a greedy moment, that’s for sure. I tried to balance it out by seeing other people and getting out of my apartment, and that just made me tired again… where is the balance?! My depression was back this month, mostly because of exhaustion and feeling sad that I can’t make time for all of my endeavours. As well, my anxiety lingers still, but I’ve been able to channel it into my physical activity at school. I’m getting better at that. 🙂

A Piece of Salt for the Soul

Selina Thompson’s performance in salt. was breathtaking to say the least. She delivered each line of text with such grace that it was easy to forget how incredibly sad her story was. The piece touched upon harsh themes, but Thompson allowed for moments of comedic light to keep the audience from pulling back. She described her unforgettable journey that took her across the world in the bottom of a cargo ship, handling many instances with sexist and racist men. A major portion of the performance included the use of a sledgehammer to smash a huge chunk of pink salt. She kept breaking it down that eventually, the salt turned into miniscule pieces of dust as she listed all of the governmental issues in our society. Each time she swung the sledgehammer, the intensity increased making this a helpful concept to accurately display Thompson’s anger. As well, it is clear that she has a background in spoken word because her rhythmic projection of voice was still audible even when she smashed the hammer on the ground. It was brilliantly executed.

The best moment in my opinion was when Thompson paused half-way through an emotional part of her story to lie down on her side. At first, this choice seemed too casual for such a profound moment, but I found myself to be blown away by this change in orientation. Putting herself at the same level as the stage created a strong relation with her and the audience, and The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre is constructed to provide a deep closeness for the audience and the performer. She then continued speaking about the horrible men that constantly bothered her during her trip, remaining on her side. These men gave her enough stress to cause her to miss her menstruation cycle throughout the trip, and Thompson used her charm to reveal this private piece of information. Her bravery to be candid with the audience heightened the performance, and I will never forget how powerful it was to watch. She brought a unique sensation to the piece, inspiring me to choose the adventurous life over the boring and mundane version. No matter how isolating it can be to travel away from home, Thompson reminded me that the best stories come out of the most anxiety-ridden experiences. Also, the piece of salt that each audience member received was a memorable way to finish off Selina Thompson’s esoteric story.

Candles on the card game table

When I was growing up, my family and I were lucky enough to have a cabin located alongside a cute river. We travelled there to find serenity probably about 3 times a year and every time we were there, I would find solace on the makeshift swing set my dad constructed between two trees. It was placed adjacent to the only pathway we took to get around the property. So essentially, I was always in the way. I swung back and forth watching my family dodge me as they needed to get somewhere, listening to my digital mp3 player that was stocked with every Disney Channel soundtrack. Camp Rock and The Lizzie McGuire Movie pushed me to swing higher and faster so that I could fly off the Earth. I remember this experience to be so exciting as a kid. Then, my mom would call me in to the cabin to have dinner. We didn’t have use of electrical power, so candles lit the way for us to eat and play card games before bedtime.

Tonight, I sat in my room during a power outage at my apartment and reminisced about what it felt like to enjoy an evening by candlelight. It seems I haven’t been away from electrical light enough because I felt completely relaxed. There’s something so natural about a soft light that only gives you a small diameter of vision. I read my book, listened to old music, and almost fell asleep at 7pm. 

Of course, as soon as my power came back on, I instantly opened up my laptop and connected to the internet. I can only dream.