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The Art of Dance

Lisa Phinney Langley's Grand Hotel
Photo by Scott Munn
Live Art Dance kicked-off its 31st season this past weekend in Halifax. Recently we spoke with the organization’s Executive Producer, Paul Caskey, about how the group has evolved over time and what audiences can expect this coming weekend (Thursday to Saturday) and in the months to come.

Live Art Dance's
Executive Director, Paul Caskey
When and why did you first become interested in dance?
I got into dance in University (Simon Fraser): I was aiming for a BA in Psychology and was taking some theatre electives. One term we had a month long contact improvisation workshop that really turned me on to the physical and emotional aspects of dance.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
Yes, absolutely! I love how a single audience can interpret dance in so many ways: some people see a narrative or connect to the architectural beauty while others may have a visceral response. We need to bring our imagination to the experience and be willing to go on a journey. When it works well it is magical!

How and when did you get involved with Live Art Dance?
Live Art Dance has just launched its 31st season, which is pretty amazing. Not every arts organization survives so long or can transition into a post-founder era. Diane Moore founded the organization as an offshoot performance series that was born out of Eye Level Gallery. She was a community builder for dance in Atlantic Canada. Sadly, she died in 2003. She was a mentor to me so it was very special to join the organization in the wake of her passing.

What is the organization's mandate?
Our mission is to be recognized in Canada and internationally as the leading provider of and advocate for contemporary dance and movement related art in Atlantic Canada; Live Art is an increasingly important catalyst for creative exchange, innovation and expression.

“I love how a single audience can interpret dance in so many ways: some people see a narrative or connect to the architectural beauty while others may have a visceral response. We need to bring our imagination to the experience and be willing to go on a journey.”

What are the challenges of the gig?
The biggest challenge is coordinating productions with access to performance venues. Most of our shows are touring and often have fairly inflexible schedules. Halifax does not have an abundance of performance venues well-suited to dance thus it can be quite a puzzle to book each season.

What are the rewards?
The best reward is putting on an amazing show and then seeing the public get turned on by it. A lot of our productions are at the leading edge of the contemporary performing arts spectrum so we provide a fairly unique outlet to access this kind of work.

How has the organization evolved over the years?
Steadily! Diane Moore was always motivated to represent the here and now of contemporary dance so Live Art earned a reputation for bringing risky, challenging, provocative work to the table. Since I joined the organization in 2005 we have continued to honour that mandate, but it has been tempered with balance. Diane never would have programmed Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, but I see such programming as a response to another appetite in our community. Contemporary dance is wonderfully diverse and I want to represent a broad swath of what’s out there.

What have been some highlights?
Oh my, the highlights are many: This year’s season opener, Running Sushi, Kidd Pivot’s The Tempest Replica in October ‘12, the World Premiere of Cayetano Soto’s work on BJM Danse in Nov ’11, every show Compagnie Marie Chouinard brings… Beyond these audience favourites there are the premieres that are paving the way for something special. I’m thinking George Stamos on Montr√©al Danse in 2011: the work we premiered was rough and raw and not hugely successful. But it gave the artist a huge amount of information to transform the work into something that became quite extraordinary. Live Art supports this research and our audience is willing to go on the journey with us.

What can audiences expect to experience this weekend?
A world premiere! It’s been a while since I was in the studio with choreographer Lisa Phinney Langley and her Phin collaborators so the work will be as surprising to me as it will be to the audience. What I know is it involves three incredible dancers (Sarah Rozee, Miriah Brennan, and Nicolas Labelle), a pair of cellists (Colin Matthews and Catherine Little), poet Ardath Whynacht, composer Sandy Moore, and a rather striking set by Peter Dykhuis. It’s a dance work with strong multi-disciplinary roots inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Mask of the Red Death.

“I would love to see a new generation of artists begin to step up and lay a claim to a share of the limelight.”

What's on tap for the remainder of this season?
Following Grand Hotel we have a dance/music ode to the amazing Lhasa de Sela, the highly anticipated return of the 605 Collective, a drop dead gorgeous work by Toronto Dance Theatre, deliriously good dancing by BJM Danse, and a powerhouse shared program featuring Mocean Dance, The Woods, and Rhonda Baker.

What are your thoughts on the current state of dance in the region?
Dance in Atlantic Canada is on a roll right now. Our community has just gone through some significant changes and there are new voices taking responsibility for the health of our community. I would love to see a new generation of artists begin to step up and lay a claim to a share of the limelight.

What can we be doing better?
We need a professional training program pure and simple. Training only goes so far here and those who are serious leave. If we want to retain our local talent they need quality education and resources to make stuff happen. Dalhousie recently announced the creation of a School for the Performing Arts but dance is not part of the program. Music, check; Theatre, check; Dance…? Until there is a professional program in the region our dance community will remain small.

What does the future look like for the organization?
My motto has been slow and steady wins the day. If we can hook a few more people each year I’m confident we can keep them interested; if we can help our local artists develop new projects then we contribute to sustainability within the sector. This is our focus and we’ll keep building at it, one show at a time!

Grand Hotel (world premiere)
by Phin/ Lisa Phinney Langley
October 3-5, 8pm at Sir James Dunn Theatre, Halifax

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