Body Abandoned

Photo by Derek Fowles


Mocean Dance has been playing a leading role in the renaissance of Halifax’s contemporary dance scene, so it’s only fitting they should headline Live Art Dance Production’s season closer with two other bright lights: the stunningly talented Rhonda Baker and hip-hop sensation, The Woods! Recently AE spoke with Mocean Dance’s Sara Coffin about this weekend’s performance (April 24-26).

“…there is something for everyone. A surreal shape shifting digital culture inspired journey performed by Mocean, an insane and physically intense character performed by Baker and some smoking hot hip hop by the Woods.”

When and why did you first become interested in dance?
SC: I have always been interested in dance as long as I can remember and I have been interested in choreography equally as long. I have always considered myself a choreographer even as a young dancer. Choreography, dancing making, and asking questions through physical research is how I make sense of the world.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
SC: Yes, I continue to learn about the world around me through the body. I am a phenomenological being. Communication, inter and intrapersonal relationships, eco-systems, language, intent and legibility, stamina and sustainability its all part of the physical, intellectual, and emotional facets that I use as tools for making dance and to interrogate my modes of experience throughout life in general.   

What are the challenges of the vocation?
SC: There is a fine line between devotion and workaholic… I often don’t know which side of the line I am on.

What are the rewards?
SC: Being in the studio working with incredibly creative people with a myriad intelligence is the greatest reward. It is amazing the dialogue that is generated, where we source ideas from, how different minds with aesthetics, and people with different physical capabilities problem solve together. This is akin to working an “E=MC2” head space with a lot of sweat, theory, and complex problems added in with a bit of music and multimedia work. The studios that I work in have long surpassed the “5, 6, 7, 8” stereotype of dance.

“…for emerging to mid-career artists in Canada…you don’t have to wait ‘to make it big,’ you can do what you love now and offer your creative voice of the present moment.”

 Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
SC: Both! In my work, I am inspired, I sweat, I persist and I am devoted, I repeat this cycle many times within the same creation process and with each new project. I am perspir-inspirational!

How has your work evolved over the years?
SC: I guess that depends how far back you look. In recent years, choreographically I am more interested in designing precise containers that will point the performer to a specific sensibility, quality, restraint, or complex ecosystem to operate within. The goal of the structure is to see the performers negotiating within the restraints or limitations and seeing how the dancers/performers use their skilful adaptability. This results in an emergent event of some unknown …but exciting outcome. This is opposed to choreographing something with precise moves on counts that will look the same every time.

What have been some highlights?
SC: My recent highlight has been going back to school to do my Master of Fine Arts at Smith College (accumulating in the creation of Body Abandoned with Mocean Dance) and immersing myself in a rich environment with incredibly inspiring thinkers and makers in the dance field. I have worked with some of North America’s top dance and music improvisers in the contemporary dance field this year: Chris Aiken, Angie Hauser, Mike Vargas, Nancy Stark Smith.  Mainly though, I plug along and keep pushing the boundaries of my capacity and capabilities either creatively and physically which remains as my constant highlight.

Photo by Derek Fowles


What inspired Body Abandoned?  
SC: Body Abandoned is inspired by the phenomena of disembodiment in the digital age. I was curious to research the fact that one can be corporeally present and temporarily digitally elsewhere and the fact that we have adopted a split dual attention as a way to navigate between the real self and the virtual self. Specifically the piece explores the act of vacating the body in favour of the virtual self. Falling in the act of virtual flight – this work questions the effect of reaching beyond the borders of the skin when occupying the in-between spaces of digital culture.

What can audiences expect to experience this weekend?
SC: The Mocean Dance performance of Body Abandoned is wildly physical with cool video projections. The dancers are rock solid and incredibly engaging- that alone is a good reason to check out the showcase of Halifax talent.  The whole Live Art Dance Production presentation features Mocean Dance, Rhonda Baker, and The Woods. So there is something for everyone. A surreal shape shifting digital culture inspired journey performed by Mocean, an insane and physically intense character performed by Baker and some smoking hot hip hop by the Woods.  

What has the response been like so far to the production?
SC: Mocean Dance and I premiered the work in Northampton, MA in February with rave reviews. People were really drawn into the work, swept away. I have received many comments on the physicality of the dancers, the success in balancing the video projections with the dancing, and the eerie and poetic nature of the work.

“Falling in the act of virtual flight – this work questions the effect of reaching beyond the borders of the skin when occupying the in-between spaces of digital culture.”

What are your thoughts on the current state of dance in Canada?
SC: This is an interesting question as you have caught me at the tail end of spending two years in the states. The grass is definitely greener on this side of the border.  Dance in Canada is rich, beautifully eclectic, the dancing is rock solid, and the inquiry has depth. All of my American colleagues are envious in what the Canadian dance scene has to offer, including the available resources that help make it happen.

Dance in the US predominantly survives in the college system. In Canada the economy of the creative market – from inquiry to presentation – is surviving within its own eco-system, non-dependent on the institution. This is especially true for emerging to mid-career artists in Canada; you don’t have to wait “to make it big,” you can do what you love now and offer your creative voice of the present moment. I am more inspired (and proud) of the creativity and talent that is emerging and supported in Canada. 

Of course, there is always room for improvement similar to any field. Access to more funding is always the most common desirability among art groups. Halifax is full of incredibly talented dance, theatre, music and visual artists. I think the artists per capita ratio might be super huge and imbalanced. As a result, there is a lot of great work being made but it is difficult to spread around the private and corporate sponsor resources needed to sustain the level of work that is being made. The art rocks; marketing and inspiring new ways for engagement is a challenge. Enticing people to notice their local arts and culture scene is surprisingly challenging.

“You might try something new, hate the artwork, and that is ok too.  Flexing your creative mind more often is what’s important. Otherwise we become boring uninspired robot minions.”

What can we be doing better?
SC: Patrons of the Arts, not just in dance, could be a little bolder. We could work on expanding our community engagement beyond our immediate bubble, be audacious, and go see a new show, attend a festival of any sorts (the coming Atlantic cat film festival seems oddly intriguing), hang out in public spaces more often. Engagement is engaging- starting with the simple gesture or desire to shake up the daily routine will inevitably bring new experiences and new perspective. You might try something new, hate the artwork, and that is ok too.  Flexing your creative mind more often is what’s important. Otherwise we become boring uninspired robot minions.

What's next on your creative agenda?
SC: Defend my MFA thesis, sit and stare for 8 days, breathe a little more fully and a little more slowly, and then jump right back into the Mocean Dance season to lead a professional development choreographic research workshop at the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in June.

Body Abandoned
April 24-26, 8pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Halifax
www.moceandance.com