Stretch Your Boundaries with Helen Simard & Margie Gillis

We want you to have the inside scoop, so in the weeks leading up to the 2015 Guelph Dance Festival, the artists will take you behind the scenes and you will hear from the Co-Artistic Directors about their creative vision. You can stretch your boundaries and unleash your imaginations before the Festival even starts! So go ahead, follow your instincts and read on…

This week on the blog, we hear from Helen Simard, who will be performing a piece based on an interview with Margie Gillis, as well as Co-Artistic Director Catrina von Radecki about the curation of the Festival to include Helen Simard in the Park series and Margie Gillis on Stage A.

CatrinaWhy are the arts important to us? Why should we publicly fund the arts?

Helen Simard’s piece On the Subject of Compassion, which will be performed in the Park series, is a response to a contentious Sun News interview by Krista Erikson wherein Margie Gillis was barraged with questions about the value of the arts and importance of public funding of the arts. We feel privileged to have both artists in the Festival this year and hope that their work will speak to the value of the arts in our community.

Margie Gillis is a national treasure and has been widely recognized in Canada for her artistic and diplomatic efforts. Gillis was distinguished as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 2009 and named a laureate of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement. Her work is highly emotional and full of beauty and grace. We are truly lucky to have her here in our community and to have the opportunity to see her work in Stage A, to hear her speak in the talkback session, and to take part in her workshops.

Every time I have seen Simard’s On the Subject of Compassion I have been brought to tears. The arts are important. We need compassion in our society. Everyone in our society needs to be valued and supported, to be allowed to stretch their boundaries, to unleash their imagination, and to follow their instincts.

Guelph Dance is honoured to have the opportunity to present Simard, Gillis and all of the talented and provocative artists that will make up this year’s Festival. We could not do so without both private and public support. This is why it is important for us to lobby the government in support of the arts. It is important to collect statistics and understand how the arts can be an economic generator. Perhaps most importantly, we must engage with the arts and be open to creating a dialogue containing diverse opinions and perspectives. This way we can increase our compassion.

Helen: I was 8 the first time I saw Margie Gillis perform. It was the first modern dance show I ever went to, and one of the experiences that fostered my interest in becoming a dance artist. I was mesmerized by Margie’s long hair, flowing costumes, unearthly presence. My mother convinced the theatre to give me one of the promotional posters after the show. That poster stayed on my bedroom wall for almost ten years. In fact, it’s probably still somewhere in my storage room…

Fast forward about 25 years. In June 2011, I had a 3-week residency and performance opportunity at Bain St-Michel, an abandoned art deco swimming pool in Montreal that regularly hosted theatre and dance shows. The first day I came into the space to work just happened to be the day the now defunct Sun News television station interviewed Margie Gillis about government funding to the arts. I came into the studio enraged, frustrated, but more than anything, feeling lost. It was in this emotional state that On the Subject of Compassion was created spontaneously, intuitively, without very much filtering. At the time, it was my attempt to respond to what I saw as an attack not only on the arts, but on vulnerability, generosity, and compassion. It was my attempt to make sense of my place in a world where we are afraid to open ourselves to other ways of thinking, being, or doing.

Photos of Helen Simard by Celia Spenard-Ko.

So what does it mean to me to present this piece in the same festival as Margie Gillis this summer, with her in the audience watching? Well the short answer is that I CAN’T BELIEVE IT AND I AM SO EXCITED THAT I AM JUMPING UP AND DOWN AS WE SPEAK! I honestly am so honoured that I will have the opportunity to share my work with her and with all the other spectators who will present. Performing in the Park series will allow me to explore the work in a new space, with new audiences, hopefully allowing us to open new dialogues on the vital importance of dance and art in our society. 

Oh, and I might just have to dig that poster out of my storage room, and see if Margie is willing to autograph it for me! 🙂

Tickets for Stage A, featuring Margie Gillis, can be purchased now through the River Run Centre Box Office. The Park series, featuring Helen Simard, is pay-what-you-can, suggested donation of $15. Don’t carry cash? Pay online ahead of time!

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