Embrace Adventure with Mocean Dance: Susanne & Lesandra’s 3rd Festival

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2014, some of the Festival artists will share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions and engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Embrace adventure with us in 2014!

Susanne Chui shares a bit about her experience working with choreographer Lesandra Dodson for the third time. Mocean Dance performs at On the Stage A on Friday, May 30 at 8pm at the Co-operators Hall of River Run Centre. Tickets are available now through the River Run Centre Box Office!

Susanne: In preparation for writing this blog post, I reflect that this is actually my third time performing in the Guelph Dance Festival, and each time it has been in work by Lesandra Dodson. I further reflect that each time Lesandra and I travelled to the Festival, we have been at very different stages in our lives, and in our work as dance artists. In fact, the Guelph Dance Festival has acted as a kind of marker in the ongoing flow of time.

Photo of Mocean Dance by Holly Crooks.

Susanne: Our first appearance at the Festival was 2003, when we performed the quartet Kuere, with TILT: sound + motion dance company, where I was a dancer, fresh out of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, and Lesandra was choreographer-in-residence. The second time, in 2011, we presented a solo I commissioned from Lesandra, called Her blameless mystery.  By then, both Lesandra and I had moved from Toronto and were living out east, myself in Halifax, NS and Lesandra in Fredericton, NB. I had made the transition from being primarily a ‘for hire’ dancer in the ‘big city’ to a wearing the many hats of being an independent dance artist in a smaller city. Lesandra had kids and built a family life in New Brunswick, while becoming immersed in that community and continuing her choreographic practice.

Now in 2014, I am returning to the Festival as Artistic Director of Mocean Dance company, having made another big ‘move’ from independent dance life to running a company. Lesandra also took on a leadership position in her community, as Executive Director of the Charlotte Street Arts Centre.

Photo of Mocean Dance by Holly Crooks.

Susanne: Inasmuch as our lives have changed over the past 11 years since Sandy and I first came to Guelph, her choreographic work has also shifted, evolved, and changed with time. Over this period I have been in a fortunate position to sense this shift, literally through my body, by performing her work. So how has it changed? Well I would say that the biggest shift is a  ‘distilling towards the essential’. Where Kuere was highly physical, dense, fast paced, layered with text, the work we will be presenting this year, A leash for two hounds, is sparser, less ‘dancey’, more pared down. In creating this piece, Lesandra wanted to challenge herself to work within limits. The first was how to create a duet on a man and a woman that is not a traditional male-female “relationship.” The second was to not use text or video, two elements that were becoming common in her work, and played a large role in Her blameless mystery. The third was to use props, but also with the limitation of using them outside of their intended way. As she worked with Darryl and I, she further began to impose limitations, including the significant choice to have us face the back for almost the entire piece. The question then became what can be expressed when the face is taken away?

Photo of Mocean Dance by Lesandra Dodson.

Susanne: To me, these limitations are part of Lesandra’s search for the essential. She has always been a huge ‘editor’ of her material, she’s not the kind of person who is married to the movement: if it’s not speaking to her, it’s cut! (So much so that we joke that all her pieces end up only being 12 minutes long!) But I think this shift towards essentialism goes beyond editing. I think it speaks to a deeper desire that is surfacing in Lesandra. She appears to be at a stage in her life where less is more, where depth trumps breadth, where the ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what’. I see this in her life as well, having survived the amazing circus of independent dance life, raising a family, and running an arts centre, she is taking a step back and looking at what is essential to move forward. I’ve seen this shift in many of my peers and I’m starting to feel a pull in this direction as well. To me this is what makes following an artist’s work over the long term so exciting: you get to see the work evolve as a reflection of the evolution of the artist herself. I’m pleased be able to witness this process and be part its’ expression through dancing Lesandra’s work. I wonder if audiences in Guelph will remember the other two times we presented at the Festival, and if they too will experience this subtle shift. Looking forward to finding out!

See you soon,

Susanne Chui

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mocean Dance is nationally recognized as a leading company from the Atlantic region. Led by Artistic Director Susanne Chui and Artistic Associate Sara Coffin, Mocean brings together artists to create, produce and tour exciting new work annually, collaborating with some of North America’s finest choreographers. Now in its thirteenth season, Mocean is committed to its home base in Nova Scotia, contributing to the province’s growing dance and arts community by providing opportunities for creation, performance, collaboration, development and education. www.moceandance.com

1 thought on “Embrace Adventure with Mocean Dance: Susanne & Lesandra’s 3rd Festival”

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top