Monday, November 13, 2017

40 years of DanceWorks! A brief interview with the intrepid curator Mimi Beck

DanceWorks is 40 years old. A champion of Canadian choreographers and companies, of artistic experimentation. A organism that has morphed and changed, grown and streamlined, riding massive changes in the dance community within and without Toronto, and political shifts that have rocked the arts over this time.

Mimi Beck, DanceWorks' curator who is kind, thoughtful and rebellious in a subtle, cheeky way answered some of my questions about the upcoming 40th anniversary celebration performance November 16-18, at Harbourfront Centre Theatre.

LR: 40th anniversary!!! that’s quite an accomplishment. what are some of your most proud accomplishments with DanceWorks?

MB: Keeping it going, year after year, sometimes against difficult odds.

LR: And what are some of the most unusual moments for DanceWorks?

MB: In preparing for the 40th anniversary, I’ve cycled through many memories. A poignant and extraordinary experience took place in March of 2009 around the presentation of Provincial Essays created by Vancouver choreographer Lola MacLaughlin for her company Lola Dance. As Lola lived with cancer, she was powerfully motivated to continue creating and sending her work on tour. Lola planned to come to Toronto with the company, but it became clear that she was too ill to travel.

We opened on March 6 with a fabulous, sold-out student matinee of Provincial Essays performed by Caroline Farquhar, Susan Kania, Alison Denham, Ziyian Kwan and Ron Stewart. Sadly, Lola passed away that afternoon.

At the evening program, Company Manager Bernard Sauvé and I came onstage and shared the news of Lola’s passing. Many in the audience were Lola’s dear friends and colleagues, dating back to her days with Desrosiers Dance Theatre. A gasp went through the house. After tears, and a pause, we ran the piece.

LR: I remember that. It was one of the best performances I have ever seen. The dancers were so....just in it. No over-expressing, no tears. It felt like a crystallized performance. Few performances will ever touch that...

MB: It was an honour and a gift to present Lola’s work on that day. She was a cherished friend and colleague who decided that her repertoire of dances would cease at the end of her life. It was the last piece of Lola’s that I saw in performance.

LR: Can you speak a little bit about the founding of DanceWorks? What precipitated it? What were the first few seasons like? 

MB: I'm going to direct you to an interview by Catherine Romano with DanceWorks' co-founder Johanna Householder.

LR: Thanks. Rather than summarize that, I'll just put the link here. What a great read! I didn't know much of the history, even though I worked for DanceWorks for six years! But I love hearing that there was a dose of feminism and rebelliousness from the start. And that there was such a strong relationship with music, composers and experimenters of the time.

MB: The first events were at the Music Gallery. We later moved to St. George the Martyr parish hall on Stephanie Street. The minister’s wife didn’t want us taking down the religious banners, so we decided to find a new space. Many venues followed, with stints at the Winchester Street and Betty Oliphant Theatres and four spaces at Harbourfront Centre. Special events happened at 15 Dance Lab, the Rivoli, St. Lawrence Hall, The Art Gallery of Ontario, offices of the Pilkington Glass Co. and the Friends House, to name a few!

LR: How has your role shifted, grown or evolved over 40 years?

MB: I started with DanceWorks as a member of the collective. A group of independent choreographers were creating works and presenting them on shared programs. It was collaborative and non-hierarchical. As some of the founders shifted their creative focus, Irene Grainger began to curate the programs. Irene invited me to assist, but when Irene took on other responsibilities, as a new mom and photo editor at NOW magazine, I carried on with the series.

LR: What do you like most about your job? What is most challenging?

MB: Supporting the evolution of artistic practice and new ideas captivates me. I really like working with people – creating magic, while cultivating relationships. Contributing to the growth of individual artistry and the art form gives me deep satisfaction.

Making plans when facing many uncertainties is challenging! There are risks involved each season, and with every performance – mental, physical, financial, etc. We work little miracles every day with the resources we have.

LR: What do you see or hope for the future of DanceWorks?

MB: I hope the organization will continue to embrace change and be a relevant, positive part of the community. 

Esmeralda Enrique

LR: How did you choose the choreographers/companies involved in the 40th anniversary show? What do each mean or symbolize for you?

MB: The selection of works is rooted in the past, celebrates the present and invites hope for the future. The five choreographers have all premiered and performed pieces in DanceWorks seasons, dating back to 1981. Each has a strong artistic vision that supports a unique creative practice.

Several pieces have live music, giving a nod to DanceWorks’ first performances at Toronto’s Music Gallery. These include world premieres by Denise Fujiwara (Moving Parts) and a choreographic collaboration by Esmeralda Enrique and Joanna de Souza (Amalgam). 

The improvisation component of Fujiwara’s work reflects the original intent of the series, when it was titled DanceWorks / Improvisations. Parachute Club’s song Rise Up that closes the piece was performed by band member Lorraine Segato in an early DanceWorks program in a performance with one of the founders, Janice Hladki. 

Fujiwara Dance Inventions in Moving Parts

Enrique and de Souza take their stellar partnership to a new level, engaging us in the rhythms of both Flamenco and Kathak dance. Adding the haunting vocals of Arabic music, they cross cultural boundaries.

Esmeralda Enrique and Joanna De Souza in Amalgam

Holly Small and Robert W. Stevenson have re-imagined Cheap Sunglasses, a solo dance with vocal quartet, shown by DanceWorks at the Art Gallery of Ontario 36 years ago. Others on the bill were Tom Dean and Margaret Dragu (our first curator of performance art) and media artist Jorge Lozano.

Evan Winther in Holly Small's Cheap Sunglasses

Visual projection is a key aspect of Learie McNicolls’ ritualistic solo, The Night Journey, receiving its Toronto premiere. The duet by McNicolls, Dancing With the Ghost, is taken from a quartet performed in November, 1995 by tonight’s brilliant dancers, Jennifer Dahl and Robert Glumbeck, who originally appeared with Marie-Josée Dubois and the choreographer. On that mid-November opening night, a blizzard descended on the city and only the most intrepid patrons made their way to the theatre. On the second night, even more snow fell. This piece is a memory for me and a mini-revelation for those who missed the electricity of that show!

Learie McNicolls


Get your tickets NOW! 
They're selling fast.
And you don't want to wait for another 40 years.

Joanna De Souza

DanceWorks 40th anniversary 
November 16-18 at 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
More info and tickets:

all photos courtesy of DanceWorks

Monday, November 6, 2017

39 Years of Creativity with Janak Khendry

November dance performances in Toronto mark some amazing anniversaries. DanceWorks celebrates its 40th anniversary, ProArteDanza hits 13, Older and Reckless has its 40th incarnation and Janak Khendry Dance Company turns 39. 

Janak Khendry is easily one of the warmest and friendliest people in the Toronto dance community. He is a multi-award winner, he has performed over 1000 times all around the world including performances for Indian presidents and an American Vice-President. He has trained in four distinct styles of classical Indian dance: Bharatanatyam, Khatak, Sattriya and Manipuri, and also Cunningham, Graham and Limon styles of western contemporary dance. He also has a Masters Degree in Sculpture and his sculptures have been featured in solo exhibitions and in private collections around the world. 

I am honoured to share with you a brief Q and A between us in the lead up to his new work Life Eternal, premiering this week at Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre.

Life Eternal

LR: How does it feel to have a 39th anniversary of your company?  What are your most proud accomplishments with the company?

JK: It feels very elevated, an achievement, and at the same time, humbling. The most proud accomplishments are the creation and presentation of several very important dance presentations: Panchkalyanaka (from the life of Mahavir), Gayatri, Women Liberated (about women's acceptance in the Buddhist faith), Upanishad, Ganga (the story of the River Ganges), Kaal-Time (the story of Time), John Milton's Paradise Lost and now, Life Eternal.

LR: How do you stay inspired and motivated, especially in times of turmoil, sadness or upheaval?

JK: Dance has been my very life; it keeps me inspired and motivated by thinking of future creations, which happens constantly. The positive thoughts of new creations keep me away from sadness.

LR: How does the theme of your upcoming show reflect your life or your curiosity or preoccupations?

JK: The theme of my current work Life Eternal reflects every human beings desire. We all want to reach the higher level. Forever, the desire for IMMORTALITY has been the greatest yearning of human beings, and I also wrestle with the question. 

Almost all forms of life, however old they may grow, eventually die – whether from ageing, disease or physical trauma – and even inanimate objects ultimately decay and break down into their constituent elements. But the idea of living forever has fascinated me since I was a child.

During our time, we have achieved great strides in philosophy and religion, science and technology, and reason and rationality. In all scenarios of progress and problems, life has survived. This concept of the mission of life expands from India’s ancient Vedic times and diversifies through Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. One theme in all these remains the same: the search for immortality in spite of death, a state of life in which Death itself would die.

Janak Khendry

LR: When you create a new show, what is the path that takes you from the idea to the production?  How do you build the choreography and story?

JK: For the creation of my new work, I follow the path of total understanding of the subject thoroughly, intensively researching and living in the theme. The subject is developed step by step. The inspiration of the choreography depends on the subject, the music and the language. I listen to the music for weeks at a time before I choreograph a step, then I begin to write steps on paper. These I transfer to my dancers in the studio.

LR: How do you dream or envision the future of your company? (Let’s hope for another 39 years!!)

JK: I dream of a very bright future for the Janak Khendry Dance Company and to achieve that, I will keep working very hard. My hope is to spread our message around the world as we travel abroad as Indo-Canadian Cultural Ambassadors to propagate the Diversity of Cultures and the Unity of Canadian society.

Janak Khendry Dance Company's world premiere of Life Eternal, a captivating classical Indian dance work featuring 14 dancers that explores Immortality and Freedom

November 9-11 
 Harbourfront Centre's Fleck Dance Theatre.
Tickets are available by calling the Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416-973-4000

or visit Janak Khendry Dance Company's website at

photos courtesy of Janak Khendry Dance Company.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Do You Know: Dr. Nazanin Meshkat, flamenco dancer and ER doctor

I had the great pleasure of being asked to interview one of the artists involved in Flamenco Sin Limites -- coming up November 10th and 24th at Harbourfront Centre. If you haven't encountered her before, Nazanin Meshkat is a whip-smart, fascinating woman and the best thing to do is just read below on her work, her art and her vision.

image courtesy of Flamenco Sin Limites


LR: I am really interested in your two paths of life: flamenco dance and medicine. I wonder if you could speak a little bit about your path to each, your history with them, or what drew you to dance, what drew you to medicine?

NM: That’s a question I still ask myself. I am always so curious to hear people’s stories of what drew them to their chosen career path, and I listen intently on the radio and documentaries, I read and re-read articles and blogs, in search of a clue that may lie in other people’s descriptions. 

I guess, I simply think it was circumstance, and yet the question, and many answers out there to the question, seem to hint that there is something “meant to be” about it. I am more pragmatic in that I think there are many paths for most of us, and that by circumstance we end on one instead of another. I don’t mean to diminish how intricately dance and medicine are intertwined in my fabric, but if I am honest, I can see myself, under different circumstances, drawn to other paths.

For as long as I can remember, I loved to dance, to move, to close my eyes and let movement sway me, to feel rhythm. I could go on and on about how passionate I am about dance. Equally as long as I can remember I was fascinated by the anatomy of living creatures, and after being hit by a car at the age of 9, it translated into a dance with medicine. 

I walked away from dance for a few years, and when I was pregnant with my daughter the rhythm of her heartbeat drew me back to it. I walked away from medicine once, and I floated back to it.

LR: How have you approached interpreting these two passions through your work for Flamenco Sin Limites?

NM: One of the pieces in “B-side: Looking in” (my act in Flamenco Sin Limites) deals directly with the duality of having two passions, and the opposing, yet intertwined forces that pull you in different directions. 

Dance and medicine have pulled me in very difference directions. That duality, I think, is in great part created by societal expectations, and societal obsessions with “categories” – you are an artist, you are an academic, you are a doctor, you are a scientist etc. From childhood to adulthood…it’s everywhere. 

After years of internal conflict, and being seemingly pulled in different directions, I am learning to embrace myself as who I am. Multifaceted! Part of being human is revelling in art, and in science. There is so much beauty in both. Let’s let it be!

LR: A medical researcher I know likened his work to mine, as an artist that is,  in that revelling, as you put it. He said we both take on the job of exploring the unknown and that with each discovery, we try to go a little further into the unknown. What was the exploration or choreographic process been like with your work "B-side: Looking in"?

NM: “B-side: Looking in” is an introspection into emotions. The act is set up to invite introspection, and then delves into 4 pieces that look at different emotions. These emotions are personal to me now, as it relates to me individually, deepened by reflections on the human condition from a doctor’s point of view. The emotions in B-Sides are presented as separate entities, with the ultimate reckoning that they are deeply connected and make up a “whole”.

I have been reflecting on emotions since the time that my daughter was growing in my womb. There is a deep connection that occurs with motherhood, to your child, to your ancestry, to your personal past, to yourself, to other humans, and it is that connection that has been the fuel/research for this project.

I knew that flamenco dance limited me in the narrative that I wanted to tell, and so during the creative/choreographic process I have been searching for ways of morphing flamenco into telling the story I wanted to tell. The dance presented in “B-side: Looking In” is definitely a departure from traditional flamenco. 

I was lucky enough to enlist Karen Lugo as a mentor early on in the process.  A few chance encounters along the way with Ana Lia Arias Garrido, Sophia Gudiño, Francesca Nardi and Derek Gray helped the work morph into what it is. I am truly grateful to them for their contributions to the work.

LR: I have a deep passion for talking to people in science about the connection between and integration of science and creative processes, or the parallels between the decision making and problem solving in dance and medicine. Could you talk a little bit about that?

NM: I don’t see parallels; I see them as one! There is science to creative processes, and creativity to science. The more I reflect on it in myself, I see them as deeply intertwined. One ends where another begins. There is a connection that you have to establish with other human beings as a doctor that is very similar to the connection you make in making art. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but my understanding of that connection has deepened in the last few years, and at the same time my work as a doctor, and as dancer, have both reached a higher ground.

LR: I am sure there are really hard moments as an ER doctor. I had a good friend who was an ER doc, I met him through birdwatching. He would come all the way from California to Ontario every spring to witness the spring migration and he would not speak at all about his job over the three weeks he was here. It was a complete retreat..what is the most challenging aspect of working as an ER doctor?

NM: I am so incredibly fortunate, and in such a privileged position, to be an ER doctor. For so many reasons! Are there challenges, yes! The shift work and the toll it takes on your body; the inherent amount of anxiety, sadness, stress, uncertainty, frustration and anger that we absorb from our patients and colleagues; the sheer force of demands on us as a front line medical professional; the lingering memories of those we could not help despite our best efforts; living with the vulnerability of knowing that we are human and make mistakes.

LR: How do you find relief from the demands of the job?

NM: Relief? Dance. Being a mother. My daughter. 

LR:  I feel like sometimes I need a complete retreat too, from my life as a dancer/choreographer…in fact that is what birdwatching and reading about science are for me… do you feel the need to retreat from art as well?

NM: Yes, at times. But my time is so scarce -- being a mother, a doctor, a dancer, and an academic, amongst other responsibilities -- that by the time I want to retreat from one aspect, I have to anyway! And once I am done my “other” responsibility, I am ready to come back.

LR: I like this way of thinking about it. We all carry multifaceted identities and responsibilities with us. We are always us, it is difficult to compartmentalize internally, but externally we can more successfully. We can walk out of one room into another place or space and find the retreat there, in whatever responsibility or pause might be waiting. Is there anything else you would like to tell me about yourself or your work in Flamenco Sin Limites?

NM: I can’t wait to bring “B-sides: Looking In” as part of Flamenco Sin Limites to stage. It has been such a enriching journey. The seed started as far back as four years ago when my daughter was born, and it has taken shape in the last 6 months.

Flamenco Sin Límites 
at Harbourfront Centre

Flamenco Sin Límites is a dance series that stretches the boundaries of what this dynamic art form is – and what it can be. The series sits within the NextSteps 2017/2018 programming at Harbourfront Centre on November 10 and November 24, 2017.

First up is B-Sides – a double bill featuring two exciting Toronto flamenco groups: Triana Project and a collective led by Nazanin Meshkat. B-Sides will be performed for one night only on Friday, November 10 at Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre. Featuring Toronto artists, Alison McDonald, Pam Briz, Iryna Gordon, and Nazanin Meshkat, these groups have brought together local talent including 2017 Dora award winning guitarist, Benjamin Barrile. The evening offers live dance and music that will appeal to flamenco aficionados, dance enthusiasts and music lovers alike. Both groups will showcase works that while firmly rooted in flamenco language, explore new ways of expression.

About Flamenco Sin Límites Series
Harbourfront Studio Theatre
Tickets: $27 - $33
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Tickets: $35 - $48.25
Book online, by phone at 416-973-4000, or by visiting Harbourfront Centre’s Box Office at 235 Queens Quay.

Flamenco Sin Límites is produced by Sonia Muñoz and featured as part of NextSteps, Canada's contemporary dance series at Harbourfront Centre. Produced with the generous support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council.

For more information, please contact:
Jessica Whitford / / 647-701-3242

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The soulful Andrea Nann: Dual Light October 19-21st

Andrea Nann is sending little voice memos over the course of the afternoon. I am too booked up to interview her in person...and Andrea, well "booked up" doesn't even describe her reality right now. She carves a few minutes at a time out of her technical rehearsals for her upcoming premiere, Dual Light, to answer a few questions I sent her in an email.

Below are Andrea's words and my reflections on them. I wish I could include all her beautiful answers (and those of her scenographic animator, James Kendal -- you'll have to go see the show to figure out what that is; it need only be said that James -- dance artist and technological building wizard-- is one of few people who could possibly take this role) but alas time and space are running out. Luckily we have light...

photo of Andrea Nann by Chris Randle


"The word has been with me since the first day in studio four years ago to explore and research a new piece. Two words actually. Light and dual. They were working words. I intended to have a wonderful new title, these were just abstract words." Andrea says.

But they stuck. They became essence and essential.

Andrea is looking at the spectrum of definitions of light: the electro-magnetic transmission that allows us to see, what illuminates the physical world, the ideas that spark in the brain, levity in humour, sensation of the body in relation to gravity, a quality of touch, sense of discovery.

She started research with exploring the idea of the dancers' electro-magnetic fields interacting, an image to charge what she calls the metaphoric body, an engine of creativity, spirit and the personal.

"It is very important to me, finding the images in the first step of a process. If I can activate the artists' imaginations, then we can tap into something on an experiential level. I start with universal, natural-based and organic images..."

Andrea uses this starting place to connect the artists to themselves through an image or idea larger than themselves, and by these explorations their bodies "unravel" as she puts its. They reveal what might be hidden, the blockages or vulnerabilities that exist.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


She is careful to create a safe place for this. The object is not to get artists weeping or working through their neuroses, rather to gently open, to trust so that new possibilities emerge in their movements, and then to build strength and stamina for more vulnerable performances that are supported and safe. By plugging them into their personal resonances, they respect and preserve all personal stories and that can build a bridge to the audience and their stories.

Dreamwalker Dance's tagline is "our bridge to the soul."

"Bridge-building is a core value of the company," Andrea says, "and for me in life."

She describes her youth as an experience, among other things, of a visible minority in an academic setting dominated by white males. She felt a lack of connection. And she felt motivated.

"The ways I make, create, share my work in community and theatrical contexts are informed by this. Not just a connection between A and B, but how it relations to translation, conversion, transformation."

A change happens as you go over that bridge.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh


Dual Light marks a cycling back to what Andrea describes as Yin energy, and holding onto the elements of her first major multi-disciplinary work "The Gleaners" where music, visuals, poetry and dance intermingled.

"I'm going at these things with different values now, our art form, our considerations have evolved, but stem from that same place." she says. 

A big part of the process of Dual Light has been looking forward and backward through her life and seeing cycles and patterns, seeing things in oppositions and dualities. These tensions naturally play out on stage, creating strings of energy and vitality that drive the imaginations of both the performers and the audience.


Dual Light is collaborative to its core. Through a process in which dancers created their own movement, conceived, directed and shaped by Andrea, collaborators layer themselves into the content of the work. Collaboration in fact becomes part of the content. Andrea refers to a darker, more feminine energy, no doubt also influenced by her dramaturg Sarah Chase.

"One of the best dramaturgs in Canada." she says.

Sarah Chase is a whiz with words and movement, with wiring together song, live and recorded sound, text and singing and movement. With Andrea's sensitivity and curiously innate ability to see ancient light through contemporary lenses, I can only imagine this a magical partnership.

As Andrea speaks more about this collaborative process, her certainty and confidence is evident, all with the gentility and passion that she possesses on and off stage. With a work that is narrative, autobiographical, conversational and theoretical all at once, with multiple layers of technical and technological elements, her voice memos answering my questions are calm and sure.

The key to this apparent calmness may be in the gestation period of Dual Light. Begun over 4 years ago, it has been visited and revisited in small pockets of time since 2014, often with rehearsal processes occurring during solstices or equinoxes, coincidentally. 

Making a dance is a big investment, financially, temporally, energetically. Sometimes timelines for projects drag on simply because the money isn't there to make a production happen. But sometimes too, that is a boon for the project.

New stories emerge over four years, collaborators carry the ideas with them through the down time, little dormancies that awake later. As years pass you grow more comfortable with being yourself.

Andrea says, "The dancers are playing themselves, no transmitting, no interpreting something else. They have been invited to just be themselves."

And maybe in witnessing them, we will all be a little more at ease with being ourselves too.

photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

October 19-21st at 8pm
at Harbourfront Centre Theatre

More info:


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The gentle wisdom of photographer Melanie Gordon

Melanie Gordon is an old friend. A friend made through art. 
She has photographed many of my productions and I have collaborated with her on some of her art projects through photography. One time she built me an exquisite chandelier made almost entirely of branches for a strange and wonderful show I produced  with no stage lights only lamps. 

She also photographed my family – Dennes, Pablo and me – when Pablo was just 5 months old. That photo has hung somewhere in our various living quarters ever since and always will.

I have always admired her calm and thoughtful presence while she has shot my creative process, amazed at how she captures the moments I didn’t know existed in my choreography or in myself as a performer. Most startling is her ability to walk into a dress rehearsal, neither having seen the work before nor knowing much about its content, and to catch its essence.

This interview is long overdue, we sat down for this more than a year ago. But I release it now as a celebration of a tremendous talent and a heartful lady.

It goes without saying that all the photos in this article are by and courtesy of Melanie Gordon. This is the beautiful woman below...

LR: My blog is basically a place I try to interview and write about how artists make their work. I am always curious about the many ways and means artists get it all done. To start, what are you interested in artistically these days?

MG: What I’ve been really interested in lately is creative process and documenting the creative process. I’ve done that for many years – for dancers and artists of all different kinds. But I’ve started doing it for families now, documenting them playing and being creative together.

LR: Your “Imagination Sessions”. You’re offering families a safe place to engage in the creative process. And to document it is so beautiful. Those are the memories you want to hold onto…’remember when we painted that painting together and when we played in the woods.’

MG: Yes. What I’m really interested in giving children experiences and triggers for memories through photographs of being creative people. I don’t necessarily have research to back this up but looking at photos and hearing stories of me doing creative things in the past…it creates a string of memories that lead me back to who I am. I think a lot of adults forget that they are those people. 

LR: Yes.

MG: We all start out as creative people. It’s so natural for kids to be creative and to play. The Imagination Sessions give families the opportunity to play imaginatively and to connect through creativity and curiosity in nature or in their homes. Part of my purpose is to give children memories of their own creativity, but also to give parents a reminder of who they are. Photographs are powerful identity forgers. 

LR: It could be therapeutic in a way. I know expressive arts therapy has some of this as its basis, but how valuable it is to be photographed and captured playing, not performing, if you know what I mean. There is a tangible product to say “I was that, I did that” but it is purely for keepsake, for memory, not necessarily for an audience.

Your artistic processing of their artistic process.  And the imagination is so important to trigger compassion. 

MG: It opens your mind in ways you haven’t thought of before and you see things differently. 

Adults need to be reminded that children are naturally open and loving. And that we are always children inside. We just have to remember that part of ourselves. After having a child, I started to see the world through her eyes. My hope is that making honest and inspiring photographs of children as they play and discover and imagine can help us all see the world through the eyes of children. 

LR: I don’t see the world through my son’s eyes. Being his parent is really visceral for me. I feel his experiences in my body….Either way this is what we want for society: to see through someone’s else’s eyes, feel their experiences.

MG: Yes. Empathy. We want people not to be afraid to express their emotions. Art is so important for connecting people. Although sometimes words are the art, we don’t always need words to connect in an intimate, emotional way.

LR: It requires vulnerability. Something I consider a lot, the need for the artist to be vulnerable. Performative or not. It’s one of our greatest strengths as artists. But often the societal message is the opposite: vulnerability is weakness. 

MG: I feel like in kindergarten you are given this opportunity to play and be creative and follow your curiosity, and then bit by bit, school funnels you in. Your heart gets closed down, narrowed. The heart should be the main source for learning in school and the main launch pad for creativity.  

The irony is that business is craving creativity and innovation now, but we’ve taught this out of people.

LR: Taught that it’s not as worthy….There’s a disconnect for sure. I think we’re going through some growing pains…The industrial age is over and people are not letting go because it’s hard to change.  It’s challenging. It makes me think of Richard Florida’s writings on creativity as the new capital in the information age….

There’s something about having children as an artist…I’m not one of those who says you have to have a kid to have these break throughs or understandings, certainly not….but having a child in the school system has illuminated issues  I might not have noticed. Artist lie largely outside those more conventional and sometimes narrowing ways of working or educating and you feel that pinch when it starts happening to your kid through school.

My parents, for whatever reasons always insisted my sister and I had activities of physical exertion and artistic exertion.

MG: Using your complete person, your body, your heart your mind all together to communicate who you are …

I really love the focus on creative process because there isn’t the pressure to be good at anything, you are just exploring your creativity. This is one other peeve of mine in looking at the education system. A lot people seem to think of creativity or art as only visual art. In elementary school you’re not given a lot of opportunities outside visual art. For a lot of people if they are not technically skilled at that they are shut out. There are probably other ways they can explore creativity and feel accomplished and expressive. It’s a little too skill-oriented. It should be more about process

LR: There’s a new thinking around STEM education and that is STEAM. Inserting Art in there.  Education researchers have noted the value of creativity process, problem solving, creative thinking, imagination. Not just the old ideas that you get social skills or teamwork from doing drama or some other performance art.  

At my kid’s school there’s a great primary teacher Mr. Corbin who teaches drama/dance/interarts/music. I would ask Pablo “which class did you have with Mr. Corbin today? Was it music or drama….?” And he’d say “I don’t know.” Because the teacher mixed it all together. It was all so interrelated…

MG: And then they realize the connections and not have to compartmentalize themselves. I still feel like I have to resist compartmentalizing myself even in photography: oh I’m a family photographer, I’m a portrait photographer, I’m a creative process photographer….

But people want to know in bite-size pieces what you do and I understand the need for it. Still I find it hard to describe in such a bite.

LR: I was actually thinking about that when considering our meeting today. What I think is interesting about your work ….Other photographers might do headshots, landscape and have a different approach to each kind of photography….but… maybe because I know you…there’s something about your work that is the same no matter what kind of photography your doing. There is always action. Even when it’s a production shot from one of my shows. You catch the action.

Elke Schroeder and Sky Fairchild-Waller in rehearsal for Blue Ceiling dance's "dead reckoning"

MG: Yes I’m really interested in the in-between moments and the momentum in an idea. I’m also really interested in movement and capturing movement, time in a still image. Stillness within movement.

What’s always drawn me to photography was that you can capture time that you cannot see, but you feel it in the photograph. I used to use longer exposures to capture the movement of light in motion. I just love the idea that you are catching an experience that you can’t see.

LR: Exactly! You capture what you actually don’t see, if you were an audience member at the performance.  The less obvious moments. That’s what you do so well. Some of the best photos of my work are from my least favourite piece of choreography because you caught what I didn’t see.  Aspects of the movement or the feeling. I could see it through your lens. It was there, and that’s what I wanted but I couldn’t see through my choreographer’s lens.

Lucy Rupert and Caroline Niklas-Gordon in Blue Ceiling dance's Days of Mad Rabbits

MG: My lens has always been a lens for emotion. Photography for me is emotion plus light plus time.

LR: Ah, that’s beautiful.
MG:  That defines it for me.

LR: Emotion plus light plus time….maybe that’s the next level of understanding the fabric of the universe….

MG: It’s untapped. People have this incredible capacity for emotion but have been conditioned not to tap in to it but to control it. What about a world where we could give ourselves the gift of feeling what we feel? And feel what others are feeling?

LR: I was talking with a Gestalt therapist a few weeks ago, and she was talking about allowing kids to have their tantrums. When they are feeling so much emotion, to just push the furniture aside and say “Go ahead, let it out.” When we tell them to stop their emotions or tell ourselves to, we create a dam on the waves of our emotions and eventually the pressure of those waves building up will break the dam and be more dangerous and messy.  She said usually kids wind up being upset for a much shorter time if you let them have their tantrums.  So probably that world you’re describing would ultimately be calmer. 

MG: More grounded.

LR: Yes. You’d be allowed to ride those waves of emotion and get off the ride easily when the wave dwindles.

Have you always felt fairly confident and sure of your vision as a photographer?

MG: You know, I’ve always felt confident in my identity as an artist. My vision as a photographer? That’s where art and business get a little intertwined for me. My vision as an artist is very clear.  It is to help people connect through art and to help people explore their creativity and see the beauty in the world. That’s why I do what I do. 

With the family photography my mission is to help children be seen and heard and empower them to trust their voice and vision.  Letting them be creative and making images of them doing that so they can see themselves as art, they can see the beauty in themselves. They become more valued when we can make art about them, when they are more represented in the world.

LR:  The art is an extension of themselves. It could hang anywhere and still be art and still be beautiful and has value because of them.

MG: Yes and it’s not something they’ve done or achieved, but their quality that makes it valuable.

LR: Not the winning goal in a soccer game. But something that frees them from quantifying their accomplishments, in a way.

MG: It’s funny because I’m a photographer and I’ve taken a million pictures of my daughter, but the ones I have up at home are more fine art. They are more about her soul than how she looked at 3 or 2 or whatever. She’s a timeless being in them. It’s really important to me to do that. To give her identity more dimension than just what she looks like. She’s more than just her body.

LR: When I think back on the most memorable photos from childhood, I immediately think of one of my sister, my dad and me sitting in a field at Point Pelee National Park. The whole story comes back. My sister and I are doing homework because we were taken out of school to go to Point Pelee, our cat is out of frame but was there, because she would walk through the woods on a leash. My dad is staring at the sky,hawk watching in the clear blue with his friend Ross. My mom must have taken the picture. The whole thing comes back.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Rupert

MG: The story of that moment in your life.

LR: And what do you think about all the instant, smartphone photography? Our kids are so used to having all their moments caught on smart phones. For me, it’s fun. I take a bunch and delete later. The fun is the process of taking the picture, the act, not the image. 

MG: Smart phone photography can be mindful. People taking time to consider what moments to capture.

LR: That’s an interesting way to look it, that it can be an act of mindfulness. 

MG:  Finding those bits of beauty in between the other things that may not be so beautiful. Or finding beauty in those things.

LR:  Are the Imagination Sessions your primary focus, not just as business but creatively?

MG: Yes. I’m most interested in photographing children and dancers, or performing artists. I’m curious about how creativity moves through us. I’ve also been doing this project ‘The becoming of dance”…I’m interested in the imperfection in the creative process. In capturing the making of it and not the performing of it. Capturing the messiness. I love working with dancers but it is hard to make a living at it. That’s more of a personal process along side photographing families.

So I feel like the Imagination Sessions are a merging of everything I’m interested in: creativity, art, childhood, families, telling stories, photography. 

LR: As you’ve been speaking, what I know of you, it feels like it’s all coming together. Not hierarchical, rather than moving higher in your art, it’s going deeper.

MG: Having experienced being a mother, I feel like photographing that love within families is so meaningful, to me and to the families I photograph. 

LR: Something particularly special about you is that you don’t go for the big obvious movements in your image creation. In dance photography you don’t necessarily go for the static image, the big kick or suspended jump…Do you have a sense of why you’re good at it?

MG: I’m working on being more mindful and being more present in the everyday moments and appreciating them. I feel like the everyday and the in-between moments tell more about the person and the story than the big kicks or rites of passage because they are more vulnerable moments. I connect with that vulnerability I guess. 

The word that comes to mind is hope. Hope that in the in-between, the just-after or just-before there’s hope that something good is going to happen and I can see that. I’m a hopeful person and I always feel like something good is going to happen. 

Capturing that energy is more real to me, but maybe it’s the ambivalence [of those moments] too. I’m also a super indecisive person and I can see both sides of everything. 

I get stressed in my own life when a lot of plans have been put into place for one big thing to happen. Everything is leading to that big thing and what if that big thing doesn’t happen how I want it to happen? Or what if I don’t feel well? Or.... As a kid I used to feel sick at birthday parties because there was so much energy. I connect better to what’s between big moments, there’s more space to breathe and grow.

LR: It makes me think of how choreographer Doris Humphreys described dance: the arc between two deaths. It was an approach to technique to swing and catch, suspend and release, but also the metaphor that dance is what is between two fixed points not the fixed points themselves. This is what now really is.

MG: That really resonates.

LR: I think this is a wonderful place to stop. With the idea of hope and that something good is going to happen.

Melanie will be doing a day of Mini Imagination Sessions in October to raise money for PINE Project’s Bursary fund. Join her email list to get the details.

Melanie will also donate $50 from every full Imagination Session to Stretch.Heal.Grow, a yoga and meditation retreat for young women affected by breast cancer.

You can see Melanie’s work here:

And contact her here: