dance: made in canada / fait au canada (d:mic/fac) is a biennial festival entering into its 18th year in existence, with a schedule that runs from august 14th to 18th. the four-day festival will feature 13 artists and dance companies presented across three mainstage programs, including five world premieres and eight toronto premieres. artistic director and founder of the festival, yvonne ng, and her co-curators have once again put together an integrated compilation of programs showcasing both emerging and established canadian artists.
ng exemplifies one of the quotes that i frequent in this blog: if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far---bring others with you. with d:mic/fac, it seems ng has been doing much more of the latter for the past 18 years. not only by curating programs that invite dancers and choreographers to present their works but also inviting other curators to sieve through talents and perspectives she might otherwise miss. ‘On my own I would not have chosen some of the artist that have been selected over the years and that makes our programming really rich and rewarding…’ ng said over a phone interview this week as we had a chance to discuss the history of the festival as well as some of features of this year’s selections. i also had the opportunity to talk to one of her co-curators, choreographer matjash mrozewski, as the latest project in his very busy year is a three-part production, the Mrozewski Series, will feature prominently in this festival.
(interview with yvonne ng)
how did this festival come into existence?
This festival actually began in as a series; there were artists in the city that I was rooting for and wanted their work to be seen more often; my company at the time had enough resources and experience so I just thought to go for it. The goal of turning the series into a festival was to include more creatives, from emerging to established, with different career levels living in the same platform. So it really was about expansion of something that already existed. A festival was also a way to bring audiences familiar with a particular artist but not with another in the line-up; a platform to cross-pollinate interests.
what are some of the themes that run through the selection of productions for the festival?
When I decided to expand to include more artists and invite guest curators, I didn’t anticipate what a learning experience it would be for myself. I’ve learned so much working with other artists programming for the festival. Because the proposals come in from across Canada, artists who may be in the same age-range may be making different works---that really speaks to where people live, and play and work. So drawing the curators’ attention to the geographic diversity, the effects and influence of living across different cities and how mobile our arts are already and to not shy away from placing artists who may be emerging with somebody who is more established. I also wanted the curators to be attentive to the history of a particular artist. You don’t have to have a theme before you curate but in reading all the proposals some themes may emerge that we find appealing or gravitate towards because it matches our individual aesthetic. Keeping ourselves open usually forms the programming. On my own I would not have chosen some of the artist that have been selected over the years and that makes our programming really rich and rewarding.
how many seasons have you had guest-curators?
[laughing] Because we’re biennial...5
that’s basically over 10 years right?
Yes! It feels like a long time but when I look back at it, it’s only been five festivals that has had this co-curation format.
where do you see opportunities for growth in the near future?
Growth is something that is often asked of me by funders, but I believe expansion should come organically, not because of a grant deadline...and so I don’t think of the festival as ‘growing’, I just think of the needs of our community. For example, there are pieces are take up the full lenght of an hour, but then there are artists that make shorter works---usually artists don’t go into the studio thinking ‘I’m going to make exactly this length of choreography’---I try to design a festival that accommodates both. So growth comes from what I feel is happening in our field...at the same time I like to challenge the funders, they want us to grow, but it has to be matched. I’m really grateful for all the support that we get but the cost of living and being in Toronto for artists goes up much quicker than the support that can match it. I don’t have a problem paying for an increase in cost in venue, or staff, or labour or union wages, but it’s really hard to do it when you don’t get an increase in support...this support determines the growth.
As well, to me growing doesn’t always have to be up, it could be sideways, it could be a redevelopment of an idea.
do you foresee it becoming a yearly festival?
One reason that it’s a biennial festival is that I’m also an active dance-artist in the city and it would be really challenging to do this every year. And I also didn’t want to diminish the meaningfulness of it...which leads me to the something a bit corny: ‘we’re not big but small’ (Stuart McClean). The very first time we launched this as a festival, an art-critic asked me “So in three years this will be really huge right?!”--No, I don’t think that’s what this is. Artists usually want to know that when they put their work on a stage or on a platform that they will get a chance to meet their audience. Sometimes when a festival gets really large, you can get lost in the mix; I’ve been in festivals where you show up and do your piece and you feel like afterwards you don’t get a chance to have that dialogue with your audience. It’s not that I’m resisting being big, but I’m also trying to keep the festival’s ability to keep connecting with the people that we are sharing the work with. Sometimes when you go to a big festival, it’s so overwhelming you don’t remember what you’ve consumed, and it just becomes a blur, like watching too many movies in a day...
how does What You See is What You Get (a lottery-based platform) work?
Do you remember years ago there was a program called fFIDA (the Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists), that was lottery-based system. It developed and people loved it because it was a little bit like a potluck, and if you’re really open to it, anything can happen to you. So we took that inspiration, and we’re doing a small version of that: people send it their proposals and we literally pick numbers and we kind of hope for the best.
you’re the creator of the Morrison Series, what’s that about?
Oh boy, the works are made by men and women choreographers that are part of the Morrison Series and for the sake of not giving too much away, I’ll leave it at the hint that there is a special feature to the demographic of the dancers on stage that I was really curious about. Each work embraces life and the beauty of life, and I was really curious if anyone would notice the aforementioned special feature.
(interview with matjash mrozewski)
how did you become involved in the curatorial process?
Yvonne reached out earlier this year and asked me if I’d like to participate. The model is that there are three programs and two guest curators--each responsible for one (a program is about an hour long)--and then there is a program that is curated by the festival as well as a fourth program which is ‘What You See is What You Get’. Lina Cruz, who’s the other guest curator, myself and Yvonne went through all the submissions and the negotiated the top choices and programs we were excited about…
was there a theme or message to your selection process?
No, when I looked through the many submissions, my first instinct was to look for works that intrigued me or that I responded to, and it could have been on an idea level or any number of fronts … once I sort of had a list of artists that interested me, I looked at which works spoke to each other, I sort found the thread that way rather than to go in with an agenda.
how did you arrive at the Mrozewski series?
The two works that I’m showing are, to me, studies in contrast...there were a number of works in the application pool that I liked, a few jumped out at me immediately. One thing that excites me is the idea of virtuosity, and one of the pieces really challenges the idea of what is impressive to watch by virtue of its stillness and minimalism, it really challenges the viewer to realize that what is actually happening on stage is incredibly difficult even if it appears on some level to be simple. Whereas the other piece, Leftovers, has non-stop movement and lots of density. So one piece has an abundance of movement while the other has a scarcity. This work that is very still and photographic still has a fullness, but that is sort of a fullness that viewer has to provide, whereas in Leftovers, the audience is engaged in a very different way. Good work forces you either to enter in to the work and try to meet it, or it comes at you at you receive it---and at different moments, each piece does both.
dance: made in canada/fait au canada runs from august 14th-18th at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. many thanks to yvonne ng, matjash mrozewski and MPMG arts.