Category: Business

Raising a Knee

Christa Couture KneeraiserI have spent the last month building a crowdfunding campaign to get a new, microprocessor prosthetic knee for my dear friend Christa Couture. She happens to be a childhood cancer survivor, though the disease left her without a  leg. As a musician without extended health care, the prosthetics available to her are serviceable, but there’s a world of microprocessor technology out there that helps immensely in balancing an amputee’s weight, allowing stair climbing and descent leg-over-leg (as we with 2 legs generally do) and backwards motion, among other things. As a musician who tours Canada and Europe regularly, Christa is often hefting gear and this knee component will make an enormous difference in her life — both day-to-day and professionally.


And we have been so mind-blowingly successful! In just over 72 hours we have exceeded our initial goal of $15,000! A true testament to her wide reach as an excellent person and musician. This means we get to go for our stretch-goal of $25,000, allowing even more options for Christa. Check out our Kneeraiser!

The limited edition, guitar-toting Folk Matryoshkas I made for the exciting, raising funds for a microprocessor prosthetic knee for folk musician Christa Couture.

A number of Christa’s friends have offered their artistic work as perks for the Kneeraiser. I myself made some little felt matryoshkas and some exclusive Folk Matryoshka dolls, larger guitar-toting mama matryoshka dolls. I think there are a few still available — if you act fast you can get yourself a gorgeous doll and support a most worthy cause: Cheers!

Hanging My Proverbial Shingle

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Well, it’s been brewing in my head and hands for ages but I am finally, truly open for business on Etsy! Last week I did my first craft fair, a small affair here in Barrie, Ontario, but it lit a fire under me that I needed lit and I built up a stock of Baby Burping Cloths, Soother/Toy Straps and added these charming Littlest Matryoshka dolls to the Pocket Alchemy family!

The Littlest Matryoshkas. Get 'em while they're hot!
The Littlest Matryoshkas. Get ’em while they’re hot!

These little ladies caused a bit of a sensation when I posted them on social medial last week. I’d been concocting them in my head for a while after making their bigger mama earlier this year. They are decorations or broochs, coming with a loop to hang and a pin back. I currently have about 27 dolls commissioned right now an am still accepting orders, so message me if you’re interested! The fun thing that people are doing is personalizing them for recipients, choosing hair and eye colour and the belly flower or emblem.

My first Etsy sale, appropriately to a childhood friend's mom.
My first Etsy sale, appropriately to a childhood friend’s mom.

And so fair friends, go go to my Etsy shop! Finish your holiday shopping with me. If you know someone having a baby I am your lady! And please tell your friends, spread the word far and wide, Pocket Alchemy is open for business.

My first craft fair table, hurray!
My first craft fair table, hurray!
My first white-background product shoot. Very cobbled together but it did the trick.
My first white-background product shoot. Very cobbled together but it did the trick.

Oh my gosh, I just realized that this is my 100th blog post. How appropriate.

Room of My Own: The Pocket Alchemy Studio

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A number of years ago I saw master crafter and blogger SouleMama’s home studio space, probably around the time it was originally posted in 2007. And since that fateful day I have not been able to get her gorgeous room out of my head. It was the workspace of my dreams, turquoise walls, stacks of fabric, chockablock with whimsey and inspiration. It was as if she’d actualized the room I’d create given, well, the room. I checked in on it often.

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Fast forward to 2013 and now I have a proper room of my own! A studio, a workroom, a dreaming, concocting, making place that’s just mine, full of the colours and busy, eclectic-ness  that I adore. The first thing I did was paint it turquoise, a very retro shade that I find inspiring.

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I have a  beautiful White sewing table, circa 1910, courtesy of my thoughtful in-laws. I love all the drawers and doors, it’s Arts and Crafts sensibility. The original machine sits upstairs on a bookshelf so I can enjoy her out of context.

And why yes, that is a fairy door on the lower left of my sewing machine. They’re excellent neighbours, occasionally checking in, but mostly keeping to themselves. My boys are utterly enchanted by it! Day-to-day I work on my schmancy new Janome with which I am still acquainting myself.

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I  did a major clean up and decided it was  time I photographed my studio-room to share here. Naturally the space vacillates between being about this tidy and looking like a crafty bomb exploded in it. Of course this is how I prefer it! When my space is clear(ish) I feel calm inside and the possibilities for creation are not drowned out by the thousand things to pick up or deal with.

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My walls are covered in things that inspire me. Old buttons, sewing bits and bobs, art made by friends so that I am not only surrounded by beautiful things to look at but those pieces are attached to dear, creative folk. I never feel lonely.

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Historically I’ve been one for a subdued, autumn pallet of colours, but lately, increasingly, bright colours are appealing to me. After using colour sample cards for programs in one of my dance shows, I decided to make some bright, happy art from the leftovers. Flanking my recently acquired Underwood typewriter sit a turquoise Singer I rescued from garbage day and sweated home on the Toronto subway system many moons ago, and my grandmother’s singer.

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Jars of curios and little-boy treasures sit beside useful items like machine oil, a pencil sharpener and my craft-sized Tiny Serger. Since it’s a basement room, there used to be another window, but a kitchen was added to the house years ago on that side. The renovators cleverly created a little shelf in the old window cavity. Naturally I made this into my own wee gallery. Currently on display: some early Anne of Green Gables editions and hand-bound art books by my friend Lindsay Zier-Vogel. I’m thinking next year I might curate a monthly mini art show that I share on my blog once per month. So stay tuned. And keep inspired!

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The Really-Real-Make-Believe Collective

SusanKU_VVmugI am up to my neck in 5th birthday party preparations, but I had to stop and say, nay SHOUT, that this week marks the second anniversary of my lovely, indispensable editing/sanity-maintaining/friendship-over-miles collective The Veggie Vag! I wrote about it last year, so if you’re curious, hit the link and read on, the VV continues to be all it was a year ago, but better, deeper: solid goodness. I doff my hat to fellow members Christa Couture and Lindsay Zier-Vogel. And to our imaginary assistant Dane.

This year Lindsay wrote about the VV and you should check it out here, we are a charming trio if I do say so! She says of the VV: “We are each other’s backbones and backup dancers and I don’t think there’s a single word I send out that these two brilliant women haven’t read / edited / weighed in on.” 

Fron L to R: Christa Couture, Lindsay Zier-Vogel and Susan Kendal (that’s me!) cheers-ing their awesomeness and 2 years of formal Veggie Vagging.

Christa sent us a photo of herself cheers-ing with her 1st anniversary mug, saying, “It’s more than a mug – it’s a reminder every morning I’m home of the dearest friends, the biggest laughs, the quickest rallying of support/bat signal replies, the best edited grant applications, and the feeling of shrinking the geographical spaces between us.” Which of course meant that Lindsay and I had to promptly stop what we were doing and also Instagram photos of ourselves cheers-ing … the best kind of procrastination!

Cheers VV.

Threading the Needle, Hitting the Floor

A month ago I got moving again. It was about 16 months post-baby and I was suddenly so ready to move, stretch, find my body again beyond the cozy curl of nursing and snuggling and nurturing my wee boy. Funnily enough, it was the same trajectory with my first son, 16 months curved around him and his wee yet all-encompassing world, which was all I wanted to do, but then it was time, and now again, it is time. I’ve been taking classes with the lovely Sarah Lochhead and her Barrie dance company Simcoe Contemporary Dancers, remembering that I love to dance, simply and truly, it is my first and longest lasting passion.

photo (4)I’ve also been taking Moksha Yoga, hot yoga. Which, if you know me, is pretty amusing. Because til now I’ve liked yoga but never gone way out of my way for it, and I h-a-t-e heat. Being overheated is just about my worst nightmare. But I thought I’d give it the old  college try for the introductory month and (in my face) I love it. Absolutely. It’s been a revelation to find myself so fully and quickly, strength and flexibility roaring back into my limbs and core. It’s also resulting in some mental serenity here and there, a good balance with the mothering all day and the sewing in stolen moments.

photo (6)So I’ve been threading the needle on my machine and also “threading the needle” (a tangled-leg hip-opening stretch!) a lot of late and feeling good for it on both fronts. Stay tuned, the needle threading is resulting in some lovely burping pads for my Etsy store, due to open next week!

First Product Labels Ever

I am slowly, surely, finally working towards the opening of my Etsy shop. Now that we are moved and relatively settled and the blur of the past year is settling into some kind of calm, I’m getting myself into a schedule of work so that production is happening on a regular basis. Then to apply for craft fairs. Then to take over the world one burp pad at a time, ha! It’s anticipated change, terrifying, procrastination-inducing and  new. Time at last to dig in.

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And part of that prep is tagging and labelling, so I ordered my first-ever product labels. Lovely, half-inch cotton twill fold-over labels with my round pocket-watch-ish spiral logo. Went without words to keep it small. Which might end up being a rookie marketing mistake, but I just like them so much as they are, simple. But I was torn, maybe I’ll try the whole worded Pocket Alchemy logo next time. Opinions about and experiences with labelling are most welcome, please.

And they arrived yesterday! In time for my whole Friday child-free work day. I ordered them from a lovely gal I sourced on Etsy, a working mom herself who does short-run custom labels, and I’m delighted. You can check her out at Green Beans N String. And now to stitch some of those labels in …

Happy 1st Blog-Birthday!

Today I am 1! Or rather, this blog areI are 1. I find that my usually-verbose self is quiet, not much to say of late, lots of percolating. And having moved to a new city and a new house over the holidays, I seem to have a moving/displacement hangover that’s taking a while to lift — probably the time of year too, I just want to hibernate, sigh. But alas, I am not a Bear and so I solider on!

wall painting

I am putting the finishing touches on my work space, the room-of-my-own that I am still silly with excitement over! Here’s Rudi helping me put paint to wall. I’ll share when it’s all done. And once it’s done, then the work really begins, creating stock, opening shop, joining craft fairs. It’s a big year ahead, I’m scared and excited and ready, especially since I put this plan on ice in September for the move. So I am ready to work … if I could only get over this hibernation hump : )

Rearview Fridays: Loulou Magazine Ripped Us Off

Rearview Fridays is a regular post in which I share an artistic project I completed sometime in the past. This one reaches back 20 years and is a co-pro with my childhood friend Christa Couture. It goes something like this …

Our slogan, settled upon early on in the process, was, “if it’s not a Lu-Lou then its a tacky Bu-Bou.” I’m not kidding. Born marketing geniuses.

Circa 1991 Christa was in the midst of a 3-year battle with cancer (deadly and serious). I was being homeschooled through junior high (socially deadly but not quite as serious). She was often in the hospital or home sick. I was able to visit or hang with her because of my loose schedule, plus she was by best friend, it went without saying that we had to hang whenever possible. We were very crafty (still are) and inevitably a project emerged: Lu-Lou. I have no memory of how Lu-Lou developed, or why we chose a periodical format, but it was an imaginary empire that grew, made us laugh hysterically and filled a lot of awesome, creative hours of companionship. Lu-Lou gripped our early teens.

We had and have very different artistic styles. But we shared a common love for the, ahem, extreme when it came to our designs. That’s my work on the left, Christa’s on the right. I still giggle at the disproportionately long and skinny femurs on my model.

In fact we published, er “published” 14 issues with about eight pages per issue. And this was in the days before computers and desktop publishing were common in the home. We drew each page, wrote every bit of copy by hand. It’s quite a feat, by true magazine publishing standards and in terms of sheer dedication to a purely fantastical, creative project. It represents some serious perseverance.

An assortment of Lu-Lou covers. Note the colour themes. We’d choose five colours to be the focal point of a month’s fashions by the great Lu-Lou (because Lu-Lou was more like Martha Stewart in that everything was “by” her. Yes, she was a living entity to us.)
Bikinis. Wow. We always set the price, as you can see here, this one was $75. Designer pricing in early 90s terms! I love the density of colour on the surf board.

And Loulou Magazine SO ripped us off! I was shocked when, in 2004, a Rogers Media publication showed up on newsstands called Loulou. So blatant. So obvious. Clearly someone had been into our secret Archive of Awesome. They. Ripped. Us. Off. We are currently suing for copyright infringement and various damages. They think they can add an “O” to the first “Lu” and get away with it?!

This “Galactic Hit” piece is a favourite. Back in the day I was jealous I didn’t draw the Jem-esque model or design her spectacular dress. Remember Jem and the Holograms?
Christa laughs, hard, whenever she sees or recalls this gem (gem. Jem. Get it?!). And she’s right. Really, just take a look. I love the librarian-chic of the model and setting that I’ve chosen. I don’t think I entirely understood the connotation of “worldly woman,” oh innocent self! And note how I carefully priced the socks and shoes separately, but the dress, belt and tank top, those are ONLY sold as a package bitches.

Okay, back to reality, I really was shocked when I saw Loulou, had a laughing fit in a Toronto subway station near the newsstand and immediately emailed Christa. What a coincidence! Who would have thought we had had such foresight, that we were so ahead of the curve?

We were so organized that we drew some of the same models from month to month, the ones that we liked. We tracked them on the back of each page with first and last name, age and tracking number. We should have had an agency. These were our faves: Christa’s on the left, Summer St. James, age 16, #15357, and mine on the right, Karen Salmon, age 16 (we weren’t 16 yet so 16 was the coolest age to be), #92007.
I was not joking when I said we tracked our models. Back of each page. Boom.

The funny thing is that, until last year, I worked in magazine publishing for 10 years and for a Canadian fashion designer for four years. I could never have predicted that at 14! And Christa works in electronic media and graphic design with panache and success.

We held a contest. We advertised it a few issues before we announced the winners. It was the “Lu-Lou-ist Girl in America” (modeled on Sassy magazine‘s Sassiest Girl in America, Christa was a dedicated Sassy subscriber, I wished I was). We profiled finalists and the winner. We created interview articles with them, drew head shots and photos.

The other funny thing, though not so surprising, is that we have both turned out to be fiercely, professionally creative. I’ve spent most of my independent career as a dance artist while she works as an independent musician. [Shameless plug: Christa’s got a fantastic new album out this month called The Living Record. You can get it on Bandcamp or iTunes. And you should.]

We created Lu-Lou products. There was a lipstick line, Dr. Zigma’s skin care, and these perfumes. The Essence of Life line. Daily, Funky and Romantic. And here are the slogans, I cannot make this shit up folks: “for any day and every day to feel good and smell great use Essences of Life Daily to put that extra spice in your life” | “For the exciting and fun moments in your life use Essences of Life Funky to put that extra pizazz in your life” | “For that special night or moment use Essences of Life Romantic to put that extra love in your life.” Note also my struggle with the spelling of “essence” yet I doggedly wouldn’t use whiteout, something about the Waldorf-kid in me I think!

I murmur this into the past: oh 13 and 14-year-old selves, you were utterly, absolutely awesome. Cheers to exploding creativity in our genes and excellent friends with whom to share  and cultivate it. You grow to be amazing women if I do say so myself.

Even a mail-in offer for Lu-Lou jewellery for the dedicated subscribers of 1991.
Of course we had a special bridal issue. We were teenage girls after all. And since then we have both gotten married. And if I do say so we were both turned out genuinely stylishly. But neither of us thought to consult our bridal issue for ideas. Maybe a do-over for an anniversary is in order … I could get behind that blue number on the right, and I’ll never tire of Christa’s extravagant head pieces.

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Susie Burpee

I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a series of interviews with some lovely creative types I want to share with you. Since I’m heading to Alberta this summer maybe I have gold rush on my mind, but truly, each of the women I’ll feature here is a golden nugget of excellence in the career she’s carved out for herself!  Therefore, I am delighted to present the inaugural:

Pocket Alchemy Nugget of Awesome Interviews: eight  interviews with eight inspiring, artistic, self-starting women over the eight weeks of summer. I am proud to call each of them friend and am delighted to share them and their work here. Please note that I am replacing my regular Rearview Fridays posts with these interviews over the summer.


Susie Burpee. Photo by Omer Yukseker.

SUSIE BURPEE is someone I knew as a performer first. I remember her joining Dancemakers (a contemporary dance company in Toronto) in about 2000 while I was still at dance school and being mesmerized by her performances. The intriguing lady with the blond bob, gorgeous calves and insane technical and interpretive skills. In 2005 we presented dances on the same program at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. I was totally intimidated to meet Susie having kind of totally revered her for her stage work. Yet she turned out the be the most lovely, down-to-earth lady ever! I loved watching her work on the very beginnings of the fussy, hilarious, heartbreaking character who would grace her work The Spinster’s Almanac. In fact I often ignored my own studio time to quietly tuck in beside the piano and take in her thoughtful creative process, the best kind of education. Since then we vaguely knew and circled each other in the Toronto dance community until we managed, conveniently, to be pregnant at exactly the same time and to have the same midwives, fortuitous coincidence all around! So we decided we should start hanging out. And it’s been the best. Our 11-month-olds play in one another’s vicinity and occasionally grab the other’s ear while we share parallel motherhood victories and woes, ideas and hopes. 


Susie Burpee creates “fully human characters, struggling for connection” (The Toronto Star). Her work has received Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Outstanding Choreography and Performance, and she is a recipient of the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Dance. Her performance works have been commended for their skillful use of contemporary movement to transform individuals on stage and showcase human complexity.

Susie Burpee in her own work “The Spinster’s Almanac.” Photo by Deborah Hickey.

Susie Burpee was a company dancer for Dancemakers, Le Groupe Dance Lab, TRIP dance company, and Ruth Cansfield Dance. She now performs in her own works and continues to work closely with innovative choreographers Serge Bennathan, Lesandra Dodson and Tedd Robinson. She completed her professional training at the School of Contemporary Dancers (Winnipeg), augmented her studies at the Limon and Cunningham schools in New York, and trained in character and Bouffon at L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier (Paris).  She teaches technique classes  and workshops for professional dancers and students across the country, notably, 10 Gates Dancing La B.A.R.N. Summer XIntensive, Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre, and Dancemakers.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Susie BurpeeI work in contemporary dance.  It’s been 20 years now.  I started in ballet as a kid, and by the time I was 12 I was doing ‘modern dance’ at Winnipeg’s School of Contemporary Dancers.  So I’ve been rolling on the floor, running in circles, and falling (purposefully), for a very long time.  I did professional training, danced for some great Canadian contemporary dance companies and choreographers, and now work as an independent dance artist. What does that entail, you ask?  Well, I wear a backpack and ride a bike, which gets me from pilates to dance class to the studio.  My studio work varies from contract to contract.  Sometimes I choreograph commissions for other dancers; sometimes I teach dance class or a workshop.  Most recently, I’ve started to work in theatre, choreographing and sourcing movement for contemporary plays.  I also perform in my own choreographic works.

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

SB: I have a new full-length production called Road Trip, which premieres October 18th, 2012 at Enwave Theatre in Toronto. It is created in collaboration with my longtime colleague Linnea Swan, and the two of us perform the work together. What sparks my imagination about the work is the fact that our longtime-colleague-ness means that we can do things other performers can’t.

Linnea Swan and Susie Burpee in their work “Road Trip (je ne regrette rien).” Photo by David Tilston.

We can anticipate each other’s actions, and respond in a way that elevates the work to a place of intimacy that is rare.  And it means we can do weird and wonderful things that make people laugh.  There are few things I enjoy more than making people laugh.  It’s really difficult and really easy at the same time.

PAQ: How do you structure and manage your days/weeks/months to get it all in? Do you have micro/macro plans that you stick to?

SBI have an almost-1-year-old now, so organization is key.  Being an indie dance artist is already full of multi-tasking and planning.  Adding Alice in the mix has actually clarified things and made me streamline what I do.  I have lessened my activity because I’d like to stay home with her more than less.  I am fortunate to have the option to do this.

Susie Burpee in her own work “A Mass Becomes You.” Photo by Omer Yukseker.

Macro: I think about what projects are desirable and feasible and might have an extended life.  If they are self-initiated projects, I think a couple of years ahead and organize funding strategies, as well as potential partners, well in advance.  I have a part-time administrator that I pay out-of-pocket/project to help with things.  Other projects that I’m hired for usually come to my door a couple of months to a year before they take place.  Training is difficult to fit in these days.  I have worked up my “kitchen barre class,” and head off to Pilates before the girl wakes up.  I have never been that great at MACRO MACRO.  I’ve never been one of those people who could say “In 10 years I want to run my own company”.  I’m not sure anymore if that’s because my personality is a bit go-with-the-flow, or if I’m too scared to dream like that.  It’s funny because I AM a big dreamer.

PAQ: What is a current favourite resource or material?

SBPeople. People watching. Thinking about the people I’m watching. Always has been.  I am just so interested in people and what they do and why they do it.  Ask my husband.  We’ll pass someone on the street, and when we’re out of earshot he’ll turn to me and say, “Ok, so what’s his story?”  I think I would have been a great hire for CSIS.  My work has always been about people.  A lot of people call it “character work.”  I find there’s still great value in illuminating humankind through live performance.

PAQ: Give me 4 great songs to work to!

SBDon’t Stop Believin’ by Journey | Requiem in D Minor by Mozart | Afterword by Christine Fellowsanything by The Weakerthans

Susie Burpee and Dan Wild in “Fidelity’s Edge” by Burpee. Photo by Omer Yukseker.

PAQ:  What about your work keeps you up at night (for good or ill!)?

SBOne quality about myself that’s not so compatible with creating work for audiences is that I really love to please people.  And when you make work, you can’t please everyone.  A small but big vulnerable part of me always wants to make people happy.  So the nights I’ve laid awake all night are the nights I’ve felt that somehow, through performance, I’ve let people down.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

SB: Oh jeez. Well, let’s look at the two ends of the spectrum. My first performed piece, at 14, was choreographed to Dead Can Dance, and had lots of running and drama and bum rolls. And this latest piece, Road Trip, has, let’s see … lots of running and drama and fainting. I’ve evolved from bum rolls to fainting.


Susie Burpee and Linnea Swan’s show Road Trip is being presented by DanceWorks in Toronto from October 18th to 20th. For more info on that you can check out DanceWorks site, I wager it’ll be a worthy show to attend! For more info on her performance and teaching work, check out Susie’s website, she is a gem.

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Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 20th: Bess Callard

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 6th: Michelle Silagy

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 17th: Jennifer Dallas

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Jennifer Dallas

I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a series of interviews with some lovely creative types I want to share with you. Since I’m heading to Alberta this summer maybe I have gold rush on my mind, but truly, each of the women I’ll feature here is a golden nugget of excellence in the career she’s carved out for herself!  Therefore, I am delighted to present the inaugural:

Pocket Alchemy Nugget of Awesome Interviews: eight  interviews with eight inspiring, artistic, self-starting women over the eight weeks of summer. I am proud to call each of them friend and am delighted to share them and their work here. Please note that I am replacing my regular Rearview Fridays posts with these interviews over the summer.


Jennifer Dallas. Photo by John MacLean.

JENNIFER DALLAS is true colleague and friend — for nearly a decade now. For instance, she danced in a show I choreographed and co-produced in April of 2008 for 4 nights, then (because of course I went into labour on closing night) she stood with me through the 30-odd hours of labour and delivery for my first son Rudi. She is simply above and beyond in my life professionally and personally. Jen is a profoundly dedicated artist, she has stamina and curiosity to beat the band! She’s a prairie girl who’s found artistic truth in a number of African countries. She travels, creates, performs and teaches between Canada and Africa regularly. I think she is courageous yet delicate, serious and silly, an artist to the core. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of her company. I really believe in the  work and art and intention of this woman. Jen is also a champion knitter, sweaters and blankets and scarves, oh my! And I think I helped her fall in love with pedicures and bright toenail polish this spring, we may or may not already have a spa date for the fall, ahem. 


Jennifer Dallas is a Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and costume designer. Hailing from the Canadian Rockies, she began her formal dance training at a very young age in ballet and contemporary dance and is a graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Jennifer is the artistic director of Kemi Contemporary Dance Projects, which she founded in 2008 after her first trip to Lagos Nigeria. Since then, trips to Africa have been a focal point of her dance research and include teaching and creating in Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Jennifer Dallas and Bienvenue Bazie choreographing together in Burkina Faso, July 2012.

Jennifer’s dance work has been presented by the Nigerian festivals Truefesta and Dance meets Danse. In Toronto she has been co-presented by DanceWorks and has presented numerous productions of her own. She has created commissioned dances for the Scream Literary Festival, The Crazyfish Collective and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Jennifer has performed in dance works by Tedd Robinson, Marc Boivin, Susie Burpee, Adedayo Liadi and has created two works with dancer/choreographer Bienvenue Bazie of Burkina Faso. She performed solo with the Juno-nominated afrobeat band Mr. Something Something from 2005 to 2009 and has presented movement workshops coast to coast. Jennifer is the resident costume designer for The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and has done costume design for Kaeja d’Dance, Princess Productions and Blue Ceiling Dance. She currently sits on the board of directors for the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists – Ontario Chapter.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Jennifer DallasI am a contemporary dance artist, which for me right now means that I am a dancer, choreographer, teacher, arts administrator and a costume designer.

Jennifer Dallas in her solo “Zetetica”. Photo by Andréa de Keijzer.

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

JD: People in their habits, idiosyncrasies, languages, relationships and physicality as they move through the world.

Sound natural and created. Currently I am interested in the sounds of peoples’ voices and the different intonations within a personality and a voice. The changes in tone when communicating with different people reveals relationships, histories, desires etc. As I write this I am in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where the European language spoken (French) is not my mother tongue. I have learned to hear  and understand the language through tonal nuances. Often the conversation shifts to a native tongue such as Mossi (most commonly spoken on the streets of Ouagadougou) I find myself following threads of speech to hear the song of the words. I try to stay awake to these nuances which reveal and inspire at the same time.

Jennifer Dallas. Photo by Anthony Taylor.

Spontaneity and physical reactions, habitual and instinctual are also filtering through my sieve of creative input. How does one’s culture affect the way they walk into a room, the physicality they present, the rituals of greeting and social generosity. Alternately, if I present you with a cold glass of water on a hot day – what does your body naturally do. What moves first? Your face your hands? Is it that you lick your lips, salivate, or do you reach for the glass immediately? Do you hold it in your hands for a while and feel the cold on your skin before you drink? I like to draw a parallel between the instincts we use everyday and new movement research [for dance creation], new language. They overlap more than you might guess.

The French language, and playing with words to find clarity. As a person learning a new language I often use the same, safe word choices (also because I still get so tongue-tied on conjugations…) but this uncertainty can translate to the studio too. The body is comfortable with certain movements, now I’m talking about words, even this movement is part of what gives a choreographer a signature. It is important to have a signature but I am currently shaping the dialect of my physical language while I am finding my way with an entirely new voice, a French one.

Improvisation, life is full of it. I almost always use it as a starting place when I am researching a new idea. I will give myself parameters to work eventually, but I always film my improvisations because the freshness of that moment can sometimes contain so much information. Occasionally I look at the film to see if something interesting has arisen or I look at it later in the process to remind me why I have chosen an image or where I might like to go with that image. 

Jennifer Dallas teaching and choreographing in Burkina Faso, July 2012.

PAQ: How do you structure and manage your days/weeks/months to get it all in? Do you have micro/macro plans that you stick to?

JD: I have just finished a rough draft of a 3 year plan. I am learning that the dance world works at least 1 year in advance with bookings and funding applications etc, so instead of running alongside it I am trying to get in front of it. This is a great challenge for me as I am an improviser. I have been assured by various people that a 3 year plan still has room for improvisation!

Generally my work is structured on a project to project basis. I have 1 or 2 major projects each year, usually the creation of a new dance work and/or mounting a full-length production. Of late, my projects have been structured so that I have a creation period that is all-consuming and requires me to block off a specific period of time. I may not have very much time in the studio prior to or after the fixed period. Most administrative work and slotting-in of commissions or costume design happens around the major projects. I think of it like a pond of lily pads, including the balancing act involved in crossing it.

I have come to accept that I need a lot of processing time in my life. I used to think of this as procrastination but now I revel in it.

Irit Amichai and Erin Shand in “Knot” by Jennifer Dallas. Photo by Krista Posyniak.

PAQ: What is a current favourite resource or material?

JDMusic of all kinds though generally I return to some old faves to get the engine going. I feel strongly about the connection between music and dance. I almost always work with music first then the dance. Hmmm, maybe this is a challenge for my next research period: sans music a la debut!

Photographs of people and places that I know and don’t know.

Fabic and clothing: I love to work in costume as soon as I can. I like to see how the costume informs the work, to allow it to become fully integrated in the work.

PAQ: Give me 4 great songs to work to!

JD: Abdoulaye kone: Djeli. I love the playful use of traditional sounds from Mali and full bodies brass sounds. | Duke Ellington (particularly the 1920’s era). I am currently researching a new work with music inspired by the Jazz great. | Feist: Metals. Love the play she has with her voice on this album, it is full of surprises. | Toumani Diabate with Ballake Sissoko New Ancient Strings. I always spend some time with this album when I am researching. It’s like a first love for me.

PAQ:  What about your work keeps you up at night (for good or ill!)?

Jennifer Dallas and Bienvenue Bazie perform in Toronto, spring 2012. Photo by Omer Yukseker.

JDIf I am creating I generally sleep very little. I like the tired energy that it produces. My mind is open somehow and I have less energy to spend on filtering and questioning. The energy and ideas come from an instinctual place when I am tired. What it is exactly that keeps me up I can’t necessarily pin-point. Images of where to go next with the work is something.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

JD: While I still like to work with line, rhythm and timing, I have stopped placing so much importance on finding and reproducing exact steps. Dance is a living art and I seek to create and enjoy an experience on stage rather than something constrained.


Jennifer Dallas returns soon from a trip of teaching and creating dance in Burkina Faso and Israel. Her company Kemi has an event in Toronto in November where you can check out her latest work in progress. Jennifer will also return to her costuming work at The School of Toronto Dance Theater so watch for her thoughtful work, both textile and choreographic, coming soon!

Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 20th: Bess Callard

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 6th: Michelle Silagy

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 24th: Susie Burpee