New Animal

Vancouver’s 605 Collective returns to Halifax this weekend with three performances of high-energy, hip-hop infused dance. With choreography by Dana Gingras, New Animal features a beast of a cast that devours the stage with urgency and defiance. Recently AE caught up with the troupe’s artistic director Josh Martin.


When and why did you first become interested in dance?
JM: All of us became interested in dance between the ages of 5 and 10. I started because my brother was in dance (and then quite shortly after I joined). Lisa was put in dance because she was so shy and her parents wanted her to explore physicality as a means of communication, and to be more extraverted. We all ended up in studios doing all forms from ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, modern, to musical theatre. 

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
JM: We all started at a very young age, so the reasons have evolved and changed, but fundamental ideas like self-expression, imagination and creativity are still very present. With these particular dancers I think that there is a constant interest in what the human body is capable of, that has stayed with us all from the start.

What are the challenges of the vocation?
JM: There are so many challenges to being a professional creator/dancer, compounded by trying to run an actual company. One of the constants is simply the limited financial support from funding bodies on all levels. It really is a task of always trying to do more with less. Dance doesn’t yet have the same widespread audiences as other art forms like music, and so finding support to share your work, even with great projects, remains an uphill battle for dance artists. The second is workload, both physically and administratively. You have to play many roles to run a company. The difficulty is getting all the “office duties” in order while still trying to leave space for creative time in the studio, which is what we want to be doing in the first place. For us, scheduling is a major hardship, as we work with some amazing dancers that are in such high demand across the country. And then the obvious is taking care of your body. Injury is a fact of life in the dance world, and it’s devastating when it happens.

What are the rewards?
JM: Of course, for every challenge there is a reward and we are so lucky to be doing what we are doing. We get paid to be creative daily, doing what we love, and meeting and being inspired by other artists all the time. The ability to have such talented and amazing people surrounding us is uplifting, and it pushes us to keep doing what we are doing. We also get to travel and perform at some incredible venues and festivals, seeing new parts of the world and the art that is made there. Other rewards are in the challenges for our bodies and minds, being forced to stay healthy and fit, and gaining new skills all the time. Art making is often problem solving, and it’s a practice that makes us more capable in other aspects of our lives.

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
JM: Depends on the day! Our company has a nice balance between the two, I think. We certainly get sweaty every day.

“Athletic, animalistic movements, survival mode, bizarre fight scenes, visceral reactions, building tension, discomfort, hopefully some empathy, and lots of lemon juice and fur… Think of us as human animals, ready to unleash and behave the way all of us would if we were not socialized…”

How has your work evolved over the years?
JM: With each collaboration we make evolutions, great or small. With 605 Collective, each work brings together new groups of artists and together we push ourselves into new territory. The mandate of our collective is to constantly evolve through new partnerships and collaborations, and this is mainly achieved by constantly bringing new perspectives into the creative process. While we are constantly pushing the physicality of our work, we are also striving to make evolutions choreographically, thematically, and more recently, dramaturgically. The experience of each project informs and changes the next.

What have been some highlights?
JM: People. Working with Dana Gingras, the choreographer of New Animal, has been a big highlight. She is such an inspiring artist and we have learned so much from her. She is so generous and supportive, while at the same time, knowing how to challenge and push us to extremes. We’re major fans. Our recent full-length work, Inheritor Album, featured work by animation artist Miwa Matreyek, and she designed animation we used as projection in the piece on top of the dance. She is so incredibly talented, and her contribution only just scratched the surface of her abilities, but even at that, her work really fueled us to push for imaginative and playful movement.

What inspired New Animal?
JM: The beginning of this project was the desire for professional development for 605 Collective's members, and we commissioned Dana Gingras to come work with us. New Animal stemmed from Dana's inspiration to use the extreme physicality of each unique dancer. There was an interest in considering the domestication of the human species – what we come from as evolving creatures vs. how we restrain this in society, unleashing some of the instinctual responses still embedded under our skin. We worked with ideas of survival, fight or flight adrenaline, and territoriality…The way our physical language still holds these feral tendencies. She wanted to use this physicality to blur the lines between what makes us human and what beasts still live inside of us. 

What can audiences expect to experience this weekend?
JM: Athletic, animalistic movements, survival mode, bizarre fight scenes, visceral reactions, building tension, discomfort, hopefully some empathy, and lots of lemon juice and fur. 

What has the response been like so far to the production?
JM: The themes of this work are so accessible that I think most people were really able to sink their teeth into it, and just enjoy the strange ride without looking for simple narrative. A lot of audiences have wanted to know more about which animals we were "trying to be", but we are essentially just trying to be truer to our innermost instincts and impulses. Think of us as human animals, ready to unleash and behave the way all of us would if we were not socialized. People have also had a strong reaction to the lemons, their scent, the response created through the action of ripping them apart. 

“…many would-be-audience members are afraid of dance, especially contemporary dance, because they feel they know so little about it, or think it’s some puzzle they have to figure out… [go see dance and then] talk about dance with each other, about what you experienced, whether it was terrible or beautiful, and form opinions about specific works/choreographers, not just about dance as a general whole. We don’t go to a rock concert we didn’t enjoy and then decide we hate all music!”

What are your thoughts on the current state of dance in Canada?
JM: That's a big question. I think Canada should be proud of its dance community. There are some amazing artists who make their home here, many known internationally around the world for their work. That said, it’s sometimes disheartening to know that those artists are often more recognized and supported/appreciated elsewhere/overseas than in their own country. I often think that because we’re such a big place, and touring is such an expensive endeavor, I’m unsure that all cities/communities get the proper reflection of all of the incredible world-class creativity found across Canada. With dance especially, there is perhaps a tipping point for exposure, as it’s clear that in many places many would-be-audience members are afraid of dance, especially contemporary dance, because they feel they know so little about it, or think it’s some puzzle they have to figure out. I think Canada is a wonderful place for dance, we just need to fight for increased exposure in our own communities.

What can we be doing better?
JM: Support! Not just financially, but by encouraging everyone, our families, friends, neighbours, and colleagues, to go see dance. And afterwards, we need to talk about dance with each other, about what you experienced, whether it was terrible or beautiful, and form opinions about specific works/choreographers, not just about dance as a general whole. We don’t go to a rock concert we didn’t enjoy and then decide we hate all music! We have to build audience that isn't just other dancers or dance enthusiasts. We have to work on this together, as there is no quick fix. 

What's next on your creative agenda?
JM: There is a lot in the works. 605 Collective is working on a new collaborative piece with Theatre Replacement (Maiko Bae Yamamoto and James Long) in Vancouver. We will also be re-working and touring Inheritor Album, our recent full-length work. The tour kicks off in Vancouver at the PuSh Festival in January 2014, and it is extremely exciting to be representing dance in Vancouver at this International, multi-disciplinary festival. 

New Animal
December 5-7, 8pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Halifax
www.liveartproductions.ca