A Conversation with Karen Kaeja

We had the opportunity to chat with Karen (and briefly Allen) Kaeja from Kaeja d’Dance over the phone. They have both been involved with Guelph Dance since the first days of the then Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival. Their Guelph Dance bio is quite rich and can be found at the end of this article. Kaeja d’Dance are definitely a Guelph favorite and we are thrilled to be welcoming them again this year with Crave!

Karen Kaeja

Karen first came to Guelph in 1999 as a dancer performing in Broken Saucer, a piece choreographed by Claudia Moore. This was one of the first lifeDUETs that Kaeja d’Dance had commissioned over the years. In 2008, Karen worked with local dancers and community partners in Birds’ Eye View which featured an audience inclusive Flock Landing at the end at Exhibition Park. In 2012 Karen was the first Guelph Dance Artist in Residence, meaning that she spent a lot of time in the city working with local artists as well as dancing and choreographing and collaborating with Guelph Dance.  We last saw Kaeja d’Dance in 2016 at the CSA nooner with .0 and Taxi.
When asked how she felt her worked had evolved or changed over the last 20 years, Karen says that she is now more open and receptive. She doesn’t walk into the studio with a firm idea of what is going to happen or delivering steps to the dancers. A dancer who she is currently working with on a new commission recently addressed her as a creator who is a “collector”. As such, she collects what she is offered or observes in the room, in between dancers juxtaposed to what she intuits, be it movements, feelings, emotions etc. She shapes these through the lens of her theme.

Karen in Armour/Amour 2012

For Karen every aspect of her career has challenges. The very essence of being in the studio is challenging as she is very sensitive to the energy of the space and its inhabitants, depending on what phase of the process she is in. Navigating the intensity of the ups and downs of the system, from getting and not getting funding to instigating creation and performance platforms. It’s a career of constant uncertainties. On the other hand there are very many highlights, her whole career is a big highlight. One of the biggest gifts is when she is offered commissions and having the opportunity to immerse herself in the dancers as intellectual, emotional and physical vessels; to create something from the empty spaces and being invited to excavate the essence of who they are.
Awards and accolades are also a great highlight and it is warming to know that people like her work. She never imagined, coming from a fairly conservative family, that she could make a career out of something so obscure as dance. Working with older dance artists is a great highlight for her as she ages and reality presents younger generations. Herself and Claudia Moore run Cloud 9, a company that works with olders artists. Conversely, working with non-dancers is always rewarding for Karen, as she is able to see the transformation of these individuals as they open up through dance. Karen describes it as an “incredible experience.” Finally, working with Allen, her husband, over the last 30 years continues to be fiercely important.

Past Midnight GYDC 2012

Then we moved to discuss what she hopes for the future of dance, which can be summarized in continuing to nurture the future generations, respecting all ages, abilities and genres of dance and collaboration. Seeing that the traction that the Ontario dance community is gaining is also reflected on greater funding for artists, which is something that is currently gaining more and more momentum.
Last, but not least, we talked about Crave,the piece Kaeja d’Dance is bringing to Guelph this year. Originally performed in Toronto in 2014, Crave took around 1.5 to 2 years to develop. At that time Karen was going through a personal transition that informed the work. Crave explores how people dream, fear and struggle in a relationship and the ability to flip perspectives upside down and leave space for openness and change. The piece is also about longing and longevity. After performing in Toronto, Crave toured six Mexican cities and went to Ottawa in 2016. In 2017 Karen revisited the piece with a live string quartet performing the original score, which was presented in Toronto and was subsequently nominated for four Dora Mavor Moore awards winning Outstanding Male Dancer. Since then the piece has inspired a new creation which is in the works.
You can catch Crave on Saturday, June 2nd as part of the On the Stage B series at the River Run Centre at 8pm. If you feel like joining Karen and her dancers on stage, we are looking for volunteers to slow dance in a Prelude to the performance. For more information about this opportunity, contact [email protected] for details.

Crave – Photo by Ken Ewen

Karen Kaeja Choreography at the Guelph Dance Festival
Cold Beneath Me choreographed (and performed) a work including Guelph musician Sue Smith at the MacDonald Stewart Art Gallery
BIRD’S EYE VIEW with local Guelph dancers and community dancers with an audience inclusive Flock Landingat the end at Exhibition Park
Wedding Threads at Exhibition Park
1st Resident Dance Artist, Guelph Dance Festival:    
GDF Commission – Crave to Tellfor Fall on Your Feet Dance Lab. Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival, Women’s voices
GDF Commission – Past Midnight for Guelph Youth Company Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival  Youth Moves
Taxi – CSA nooner at Guelph University
Karen Kaeja Performing in Guelph
Broken Saucer by Claudia Moore (lifeDUET commission for Karen and Allen) at the River Run Centre
Abattoir co-choreography w/Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre
Armour/Amour by Allen Kaeja at River Run Centre
Guelph Dance Festival Fundraiser improvisation with Allen Kaeja, Ben Grossman and others
X-ODUS by Allen Kaeja, CSA nooner at the University of Guelph
.0 (point zero) by Allen Kaeja,  CSA nooner at the University of Guelph

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