Stretch Your Boundaries with Janet Johnson

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 Janet Johnson of Portal Dance Project, who is remounting a favourite piece to be featured at our Festival Kickoff and In the Studio offering. Get your tickets for the 4pm or 7pm performance on Saturday May 23 through our website! Entrance to this event is free to Festival pass holders, and tickets include the drinks and snacks provided at the reception. 

Janet: First off I want to deeply thank the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival for approaching me to bring back my piece, The Hands of the Beautiful Swimmers, for both the Guelph Dance Festival as well as the EMWF this September. It was a lovely surprise to be asked to remount the work created 16 years ago when I was in a different space, place, and time: in 1999, The Hands of the Beautiful Swimmers was performed in Toronto as part of DanceWorks at the Enwave Theatre, as well as part of Peterborough New Dance and in Guelph. This remount also gives me an opportunity to finally have the exquisite poet, Steven Heighton, come to Guelph to deliver his poetry live.

So hand in hand with dance comrades Kelly Steadman and Julia Garlisi, both of whom I greatly appreciate and admire, we jumped in on this journey to remount this piece, for which I only had vhs and cassette recordings. I knew how it felt but not how to get back to that place 16 years later. 16 years was a lifetime ago…I had just given birth to my second baby, Kieran and like when I had had my first baby, Dakota, I felt a huge surge of creativity and a strong need to delve into a creative process. 16 years ago I had just left my dance partnership with Denise Duric and our shared company, Pedestrian Waltz Dance Project and had recently moved from Toronto to the Guelph area. With The Hands of the Beautiful Swimmers (originally called Surrender), I was finding my choreographic footing, working out of my new community, and melding my two favourite art forms: dance and writing. How to start this journey, how to find a re-entry point? 

Photos of pieces by and with Janet Johnson, from bottom left: The Chrysalis Project, Lynette Segal’s Spontaneous Order, David Earle’s Ray Charles Suite, and This Side of Light.

I decided to ask my dance partner of many, many years, who has seen me through thick and thin and watched me weather many dance challenges, to help me unveil the work. Catrina von Radecki, improvisation teacher extraodinaire and one of the ORIGINAL The Hands of the Beautiful Swimmers dancers, lead us through an absolutely riveting, intense, and shockingly truthful journey into the heart of the piece with great clarity and poignancy. In that hour-long improvisation, time as we commonly know it altered and the selves that we exist in regularly slipped away, revealing the beauty, heartache, and wonder of the work. I think we all, mouth agape, spent hours afterwards trying to digest this great manner of stepping into the work, being part of a story that was waiting for us. I am immensely grateful for Catrina’s key, the dancers’ ripe enthusiasm and this opportunity to move back into The Hands of the Beautiful Swimmers.

Tickets for the Festival Kickoff/In the Studio event are very limited! Get them ahead of time through our website to avoid disappointment at the door!

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