Embrace Adventure with Shannon Litzenberger: Who Says Bankers Can’t Dance?

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!

Choreographer Shannon Litzenberger provides an account of her artistic process for her exciting large-cast piece. Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance performs at On the Stage B on Saturday, May 31 at 8pm in the Co-operator’s Hall at River Run Centre. Tickets are available now through the Box Office!

For this year’s Festival, we are inviting the community to Embrace Adventure with us! One way is through Shannon Litzenberger’s piece, which you will hear about below, and another way is through Across Oceans piece, which is still open for public sign-up! If these bankers inspire you, join the fun here!

Royal Bank of Canada performers in Everyday Marvels. Photo by Kevin Konnyu.

Shannon: A group of enthusiastic Royal Bank of Canada employees will be showing off their moves at River Run Centre this May as part of the upcoming Guelph Dance Festival. Together with professional Toronto-based contemporary dancers, they will perform as part of my large-scale episodic dance production, Everyday Marvels. Developed at the intersection of professional and community-based dance creation, Everyday Marvels is based on a volume of poetry authored by Governor General Award winning poet Lorna Crozier called The Book of Marvels: A compendium of everyday things. The quotidian objects interpreted in Crozier’s poems, such as ‘radiator’, ‘chair’, ‘flashlight’, and ‘sky’, are brought to life by a group of eight contemporary choreographers including Robert Abubo, Julia Aplin, Susie Burpee, Valerie Calam, Peter Chin, Marie-Josée Chartier, Dan Wild and myself. 
Named one of the top things to see at Toronto’s 2013 Nuit Blanche by Toronto Life and the Globe and Mail, Everyday Marvels attracted nearly 10,000 spectators to the Gardiner Museum from dusk ‘til dawn last October. Nuit Blanchers stood in line for over an hour to take in the performances, and the house was still at capacity at 6:30am when the final poem was read. Maybe it was the cozy indoor venue that attracted the crowd, or the great advance press…but maybe it was just sheer curiosity! Can bankers really dance?
My co-directors Susie Burpee, Marie-Josée Chartier and I had the pleasure of working with this wonderful group of RBC employees over a period of six months leading up to the Everyday Marvels premiere. We rehearsed with them on Monday nights at one of the RBC towers downtown so it was convenient for them to participate. Instead of teaching them steps and routines, we engaged them in a creative process that helped them get out of their heads and into their bodies. We practiced moving together as an ensemble, as well as focusing and responding to non-verbal cues.

As part of our creation process, we attempted to capture the experience of the bankers along the way. Take a look:

Everyday Marvels @ Nuit Blanche from Shannon Litzenberger on Vimeo.

As the bankers can attest, participating in dance creation offers considerable benefit beyond the rehearsal hall. Dance, at its most complex is a sophisticated process of creating meaning through the arrangement of bodies in time and space. But at its most elemental, dance is about collaboration and community. I asked the RBC performers what they took away from the experience, what surprised them, what challenged them, and what was most memorable. Here’s what they said:

“I was surprised by the hidden talent we had. Once I saw the complete pieces, I understood that amateurs can do amazing things under the guidance of great choreographers. I never saw dancing the way I see it now. I learned that dance is more than choreography.” – Inez Fernandez

“I am inspired and encouraged to do more and to be part of a group.” –Nisha Rana

“I was surprised to see the fun side of my colleagues. And it surprised me even more to run into them again in suits at meetings.” – Jessy Zhao

“It was a powerful, moving night for me. The energy in the room was so satisfying and it felt great to be a part of something so creative and expansive.” – Dalreen Fobler

“It wasn’t like jumping from a bridge, but there is some free fall to this unexpected journey that makes everyone smile, brings some joy, and a feeling of unrestrained freedom.” – Mark Bilous

“None of us are professionals, but we all have dance inside of us.” – Barbara Hodder

“Looking back at the experience, it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling moments in my life. I feel very grateful to have been a part of this process and wish to continue supporting the arts.” – David Lim

In short, yes, bankers CAN dance! But don’t take my word for it. Come and see them for yourselves on May 31st at River Run Centre as they take the stage with Lorna Crozier and an ensemble of top Toronto dance artists during the not-to-be-missed Guelph Dance Festival.   

Shannon Litzenberger is Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, writer, director, and arts advocate. Over her decade-long career, she has worked with some of Canada’s leading choreographers including David Earle, DA Hoskins, Marie-Josée Chartier, Susie Burpee, Heidi Strauss, Darryl Tracy, Meagan O’Shea, Michael Greyeyes, and David Pressault. Since 2009, she has been creating and producing dynamic multi-disciplinary performance works through the creative umbrella of her company Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance. Her choreography has been presented in collaboration with DanceWorks, JD Dance, Anne Portnuff Theatre, The Registry Theatre, The Toronto Fringe Festival, Gardiner Museum, and Dance: Made in Canada, among others. Shannon was the 2012 recipient of the Jack McAllister Award for accomplishment in dance. www.shannonlitzenberger.com
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