Tag: dance

Revisiting Mountain Girl

I don’t talk about my contemporary dance life on this blog much since overwhelmingly my days are spent building my textile work, and mothering. It’s a big shift, but my interest in fibre art waxes of late and it’s not so much that my interest in dance wanes, but she’s had the front seat most of my life and it’s time for someone else to ride shotgun! So my dance commitments are fewer and farther between, but they are still precious to me. Dance is simply a part me, stitched inextricably into my fibres, a fundamental communication form.


That said, I’m happy to report  I’m working on a dance project this month! It is so lovely to spend some time in the studio. Along with my friend and collaborator Brittany Duggan, we are reviving a solo we choreographed together for the 2010 Dance 2 Danse Festival called Mountain Girl. We’ve been invited by Simcoe Contemporary Dancers to perform it on a shared program they are presenting as part of Barrie’s Winterfest in the first weekend of February.

MountainGirlPostcardBrittany is the dancer, the interpreter for Mountain Girl. I’m the costume and set designer. The original concept for the choreography was our consideration of how geography effects the development of our physical and emotional selves and influences our relationships with space and place. We’ve had fun working in Studio B, the basement studio of Toronto Dance Theatre’s soulful old church building in Cabbagetown. We’re resuscitating Mountain Girl, breathing life back into her choreographic bones and it never ceases to amaze me how kinetic memory works – our muscles remember so much with the smallest cues. Plus Brittany kept excellent notes, thank goodness.

Here’s an excerpt of Mountain Girl in our first re-mount rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. That glacial skirt is not easy to dance in!

[vimeo 85308354 w=500 h=281]

Reviving Mountain Girl – a choreographic remount project from Pocket Alchemy on Vimeo.

If you’re around or accessible to Barrie come enjoy Winterfest, the glorious expanses of snow we have here, and some contemporary dance at the MacLaren Art Centre on Sunday, February 2nd at 2:30pm — admission is free and it’s family friendly art! Click here for more info.

Photo credits: top: Lindsay Zier-Vogel; centre: Ömer Yükseker

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

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Michelle Silagy

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.


Michelle Silagy. Photo by Michael Haas.

MICHELLE SILAGY taught pedagogy to me at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She has a magical ability as a dance educator for children, I remember her commanding a huge gym full of grade 3s without hollering, extraordinary! Michelle makes delicate, thoughtful dances and immerses herself in the work of an artist. I think she has a backdoor pass to fairyland as her work on stage and in the classroom often seem dusted by something intangible and delightful, wild and beyond reach for the rest of us. Once I graduated from school Michelle hired me as a teacher in the School’s Young Dancers’ Program. She is a mentor who has become a loyal friend, she manages to be my boss yet works with me so collaboratively she feels like a colleague — it’s a fine, rarely achieved balance. Michelle is deep and wise-cracking and an enduring champion of dance and art and joy, she is a quiet gem in Canadian dance.


Michelle Silagy has her BA (Hons) Drama from San Diego State University, California and is a graduate of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Professional Training Program. She has been active in Toronto as an independent choreographer, dancer, and teacher since graduation. She began teaching in the School’s Young Dancers’ Program in 1989 and is currently its Program Director.

Michelle Silagy in her own dance, “Time Folds.” Photo by David Hou.

Over the past 23 years, Silagy has received many awards through the Ontario Arts Councils Artists in Education program to bring dance to schools throughout the province where her kindhearted approach to working with children has been lauded by educators and parents alike. Michelle has also taught dance to youth at the Canadian Opera Company, the Institute of Child Study and in schools across Ontario. As a mentor artist with The Royal Conservatory of Music’s Learning Through the Arts program, Michelle has worked across Canada and abroad as a creative movement specialist.

Michelle’s dance work has been presented across the country in galleries and theatres, and at Series 8:08 — a monthly Toronto choreographic workshop — which she co-founded 1992. Michelle travelled to Vienna this summer on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to take the Danceabilities Teacher Certification Course as taught by Danceabilities founder Alto Alessi within the ImpulsTanz 2012 Festival.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Michelle SilagyI am a Contemporary Dancer who loves/seeks collaboration with contemporary artists from other arts backgrounds. My work is largely influenced by nature and by a curiosity in the human form in all its stages of development.  This is what makes up the guts and viscera of my movement vocabulary. I work extensively within Ontario’s numerous communities through education with a vast range of ages and abilities.  The nature of this experience allows me to reflect on how I wish to create within a dynamic, malleable society. This influence finds its way into the dances that I make since my intent is always to cultivate a unique expression with the overarching goal of portraying the beauty of the human form, of humanity itself. Each time I venture into the studio to create anew, I revisit my vision for dance. I invest together with interpreters and collaborators, the most valuable catalysts, since the work unfolds through them. It is through this collaboration, I feel, that intimacies within a given work are revealed, accented and brought forward for the viewer to receive.

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

MS: Nature, people, garden lettuce and books. | The garden – and how life seeks water and light and a place to grow. | Working with Dancers in the Young Dancers’ Program. Having the privilege of working with Patricia Fraser and with all the people who make the Young Dancers’ Program sing. | Being in the studio and finding where the light is landing in the studio that day. | Working with Jennifer Lynn Dick on any day in the studio. | The thought of going to Vienna soon to study for 4 weeks with Alto Alessi and learn everything I can about DanceAbilities. | My family always. | Any and all conversations with the ever-brilliant Sarah Chase. She remains an extraordinary influence in my life and in my aspirations to make something that someone else will love and remember.

Jennifer Dick in “HOME/WORK.” Choreography by Michelle Silagy and Jennifer Dick of The Identity Project. Photo by Ecstatic Photography.

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?

MS: You are the third person who has asked me this over the past 2 weeks. The other 2 presumed that I had this one figured out – how I wish it were true. Still I love trying to make it all balance.

Regarding a plan. My Macro Plan includes – getting enough sleep, sweating every day and eating home made organic food grown as close to home as possible. I am most balanced when the doing of dance is driving the day – when I am rested and not slogging away at the computer too much. As an independent dancer balance is hardest. When trying to do too much myself, it doesn’t work. Working with a creative administrator who knows dance and knows how I work is essential. Beyond that: knowing when to ask for help, when overwhelmed, combined with my own commitment to finding simples/elegant solutions makes for more balance. I also know that reciprocating the generosity extended to me by helping others get things done when ever possible (hard to do with a full schedule) is a lovely and absolutely necessary part of my survival as a practicing artist. Consistently keeping the daily function of my home life as light and simple as possible helps a great deal – as does giving loved ones plenty of notice when work demands more attention than usual.

Michelle Silagy teaching at Kimberly Public School in Toronto. Photo by Sheena Robertson.

Regarding scheduling a career pastiche together with a selection of varied projects and 3 annual contracts, priorities are made easy by being clear and knowing what can be achieved within the timeframe given. I am a big fan of careful and fun planning with whomever I am working with.  That goes a long way in keeping things in balance energy and time wise.  Having said that, when left to my own devises I still come way too close to the wire regarding deadlines. And so now that I’ve got my e-box cleaned up and files almost cleaned up, the new goal is to bring things to completion before the eleventh hour.

Teaching makes up the majority of how I make my living in dance. It is important to me that I only teach where I can joyfully contribute – no one benefits from a teacher who isn’t happy in their environment. I am always making dance work with people who inspire me from process to performance. Any excesses in my dance life fall away, in the presence of being in the studio and working hard with people who I admire and enjoy. Lastly, each part of my life has to feed and nourish the other. If it doesn’t, then a change has to be made. I know that seems cliché, but truly that is how I keep things in balance.

PAQ: What is a current favourite resource or material?

MSSun, Water, Dirt and Love. | Music from all eras, all corners of the world. | A beautifully sprung floor with light spilling onto it. | Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain. | The Poetics of Space, again, read and purchased long, long ago. | The Name of the Tree. A Bantu Tale retold by Celia Barker Lottridge. | Roots to Fly by Irene Dowd (still). | A hoola hoop given to me just last week.

PAQ: Give me 4 great songs to work to!

MSSongs, okay, you mean with words. Hmmm – so many. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday | Smile by Charlie Chaplin | Stranded or Steady On by Shawn Colvin | I Paint My Sorrow by Stephanie Martin and Chad Irschick

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

MS: This is hard since my days are full, making sleep come easily. There are so many artists and there are so many people who help artists whose work is still undervalued. Progress is being made but not nearly enough. And though carrying on against all odds remains second nature, still, I find this a hard reality.

Megan Andrews, Andrea Nann and William Yong in “Necessary Velocity” by Michelle Silagy. Photo by John Lauener.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

MS: I am even more interested in creating works for interesting environments in addition to creating work for stage. Collaboration with extraordinary artists in other mediums changed the way I work. Meeting and working with Kai Chan, a senior visual artist who creates incredibly unique realities with textiles and found objects, altered the way that I view collaboration with artists in other disciplines. Kai is the one that insisted that he respond to and interpret the dance work that I was developing on his own terms rather than acting as a craftsperson who was hired to realize what I was imaging his contribution might be. And since He was not at all interested in crafting a set based on what I was imaging the set could or should look like, through him I embraced a new way of communicating with partners during the making of work. I am also trying to work with live music whenever possible. I feel it monumentally changes the nature of a dance performance – for the better.  In terms of my aesthetic evolving, I have always aspired to foster a process where the interpreter is respectfully revealed to the audience as much as is possible within the comfort and willingness of the interpreter to do so. I wish to continue along these lines and become increasingly fluent at doing so.


You can always find Michelle Silagy at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Young Dancers’ Program, of which is is Program Director. She is also part of The Identity Project with Jennifer Lynn Dick. She presents her dance work regularly in Toronto and teaches in schools across Ontario through the Ontario Arts Council’s Artists in Education program and Learning Through the Arts. If you are a school teacher, I highly recommend getting her into your classroom to share her passion for dance with your students!

Michelle’s blog from her summer at ImpulsTanz Festival in Vienna

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 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 17th: Jennifer Dallas

August 24th: Susie Burpee

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Bess Callard

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.


Bess Callard and her son Edwin.

BESS CALLARD and I were students together at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. We were in different years but I remember watching Bess dance. She had a simple, efficient, calm and sophisticated way of interpreting, she was arresting yet subtle. I think those qualities have travelled with her into her graphic design work. Her charming custom name art graces my sons’ room and her Everyday Objects Calendar graces my kitchen wall, giving me a smile as I walk by and reminding me ever-so-pleasingly of the date. Bess’ blog offered inspiration in my own blogging start up, and I am excited to see how she and shifted from one professional artistic passion to another while negotiating independent work in the midst of early motherhood.


Bess Callard is an illustrator, graphic designer, and sometimes dancer. In 2006, after a successful career in contemporary dance, she began the transition to the world of design.

Going back to school to pursue her new passion, Bess attended The School of Design at George Brown College in Toronto before she had the opportunity to move to Europe. Bess spent three years living in Vienna and travelling throughout Europe.

While living abroad Bess found she had the time and freedom to explore what she was most passionate about and founded her children’s illustration company, English Muffin. English Muffin offers beautiful, fun and educational prints and posters for kids. It was through this venture that she honed her skills as an illustrator and made her initial foray into entrepreneurship.

Upon returning to Canada, Bess was offered the opportunity to illustrate for the online magazine Pure Green Magazine. Since then the magazine has made the leap to print and Bess is an integral part of the design team. Pure Green Magazine is available across Canada, the US and Europe and currently publishing its third volume in print.

Originally from Toronto, Bess is currently living with her husband, new baby boy and miniature pinscher in Montréal.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Bess Callard: I am an illustrator and graphic designer. I create prints and posters for my children’s illustration company and illustrate for a quarterly publication, Pure Green Magazine. 

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

BC: I recently had a baby boy and find my inspiration and imagination wrapped up in him. It’s a joy to watch him discover the world around him and I love the adventures he takes me on. As a parent I don’t think one can help but see the world through the eyes of your child, the beauty in the simplicity of colours, shapes and patterns is something we’re both very interested in these days.  

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?

BC: Oh, Susan, what a question for a new mom! I used to work off of a handwritten daily to do list, I’ve tried online to do lists (my favourite being Teux Deux) but there’s just something about being able to make changes on the fly and apply my own scribbles and notes as the day goes on that I can’t let go of, and, crossing things off is the best part. I would have long-term plans, projects I’d like to accomplish and goals for the shop. It is really important to have at least the next three months planned out when working in an industry where seasonal holidays and themes are so important. These days however, my son Edwin is my fulltime job, and I try to take care of small projects while he’s napping or asleep for the night. It really is a one-day-at-a-time operation around here now.

Bess’s serene, simple work space.

PAQ:  What is a current favourite resource or material?

BC: I love the paper I print on. It took me a long time to find 100% recycled paper suitable for high quality printing, but I did it! The texture, look and feel are just perfect for printing English Muffin prints on.

PAQ:  Give me 4 great songs to work to!

BCThese ones are on my “get your butt in gear” playlist:

Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’ by Mayer Hawthorne | In Spirit Golden by I Blame Coco | Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine | Dance Dance Dance by Lykke Li

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

BC: I love a new project and the anticipation of starting work on something new is usually what will keep my mind busy as I’m trying to fall asleep. Figuring out a tricky design problem or thinking about how best to convey an idea, especially when I’m working on layouts or illustrations for Pure Green Magazine, will also keep me up.

Some English Muffin pieces by Bess Callard.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

BC: I think it has evolved to become more “me”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten braver and more confident in expressing my voice and ideas. I’m less concerned with what’s “on trend”, and what others in my field are doing. It’s great to be inspired by your contemporaries but I’ve found that my favourite illustrators and designers are the ones that have developed their own style. I strive to stay as true to my own artistic voice as possible. 


There you go, Bess Callard/English Muffin, a solid favouite! Bess’s English Muffin blog  is so worth following — I particularly enjoy her recurring perfect pairs. Check out her work in Pure Green Magazine (and support a new magazine, hurray!) or look to her shop for wonderful maps, prints and custom name art using her original alphabet.

The English Muffin Shop on Etsy

Pure Green Magazine

Twitter: @BessCallard

Facebook: English Muffin

Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 6th: Michelle Silagy

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 17th: Jennifer Dallas

August 24th: Susie Burpee

The Final Felting

I’ve been working on a fun and inspiring costuming gig for the past few weeks. You can check out earlier parts of the project here and here. Above are the super charming Peacock Clips that will clip on the front of emerald bodysuit/tutu combos. They’ll be accompanied by the headbands below:

I am in love with the Peacock pieces. Who doesn’t love the rich and unexpected colour combos in a Peacock feather — and it works so well in felt.

Next, Goldfish! They are brooches that will sit at the turquoise hips of each wee dancer. And note the awesome cutting mat and Olfa rotary, dang I’m loving them!

Followed by little tuxedo-inspired bibs that go with top hats and gloves for a tap dance number. I wasn’t sure I liked my idea on this one and then in reality, it’s a contender for favourite, I think it’s totally charming! Could be great in cotton as a baby bib, hmmmm …

Here’s a work in progress shot of the pieces for the elegant grey and cream flowers for the Flower Waltz dance. They will sit against plum coloured suits:

And the finished products. My first “S-fold” flowers were very satisfying to make. I appreciated the fickle pickle’s tutorial. I ended up hand stitching my flowers rather than gluing them and used felt circles rather than buttons in the middle, but she unravelled the mystery for me and got me rolling — and that’s why I love crafty bloggers. Three cheers for sharing!

And lastly, most sweetly, I leave you with a bowl of candy. Felt candies. But don’t them look delectable? I caught Rudi licking them, riiiiiight. They ended up being strung along ribbons and hung shoulder to shoulder and shoulder to hip on little dancers in royal blue. And then one pink and one blue candy each on barrettes in their hair. My teeth are aching from the sweetness.

Thanks to Kitty Ballistic for the joyful, colourful idea and for the tutorial. I see more of these in my decorating future …

More Felt: pinwheeling, flapping, waltzing

I am buried in the costuming job that I mentioned last post. I’m having so much fun! Miles of thread have been wound and stitched and the cuteness continues to reveal itself. Here are some of the finished pieces so far.

Felt pinwheels, one for each shoulder against a red tutu, how cute will that be?!
The Pizzicato Polka dancers get geometric headbands with their pinwheel brooches. This headband is one of my new favourite things to make, so easy. So hip! I kind of want an adult sized one.
Little Flapper headbands — they’ll have black pearl necklaces tied in a knot and big felt flowers at their hip too. My teeth hurt from thinking about the cuteness!
Petal headbands for wee flower-waltz dancers.
Felt crowns for the Aquarium dance — they go with a turquoise bodysuit and tutu, then a palm-sized goldfish will pin on the hip. I think turquoise and orange is one of my favourite colour combos ever! Almost finished, just gotta hand stitch the bottoms closed. Better get back to it …

In praise of dance!

I am going to bypass my usual Rearview Fridays post (where I look at an old craft/dance/sewing/you-name-it project of mine) and simple offer up my absolute love for dance. Because on Sunday, April 29th, before I blog again,  it’s International Dance Day!

This is a picture of me in a solo I performed during the last year of my college dance program at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Titled The Illegibility of This World, the work is by eminent Canadian dancer/choreographer Julia Sasso. She created this solo on me. It was a fabulous, physical, performative challenge, I revelled in each intense performance in December 2001.  photo is by David Hou.

Below I’ve posted this year’s International Dance Day message by Flemish Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. It’s thoughtful, beautiful message that encompasses all that I believe to be true of dance.

I encourage you, as you’re passing through your weekend, to add a little skip or gallop into your walk to the park, to stop for a kitchen dance party or just break it down old school styles in the grocery aisle — make a scene, celebrate dance!


Message of the 30th Anniversary of International Dance Day: Celebrate the never-ending choreography of life                                

By Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Through time, through the ages, what endures is mostly art. Art seems to be everything humankind leaves to its heirs – whether through buildings or books or paintings or music. Or movement, or dance. In that sense, I think of dance as the most current, the most up-to-date history lesson, as it is in a constant relationship with its most recent past and can only happen in the present.

Dance also, somehow, does not acknowledge borders in the same way as many other arts. Even when certain styles try to limit themselves or work within a frame; the movement of life, its choreography and its need for flux: these take over very quickly, allowing certain styles to mingle with other. Everything engages with everything, naturally, and dance settles only in the space it belongs to — that of the ever-changing present.

I believe that dance may be one of the most honest forms of expression for us to cherish: because when people dance, whether in a ballet performance, a hip-hop battle, an underground contemporary show or just in a discotheque, cutting loose, there are seldom any lies deployed, any masks worn. People reflect each other constantly, but when they dance, perhaps what they reflect most is that moment of honesty.

By moving like other people, by moving with other people and by watching them move, we can best feel their emotions, think their thoughts and connect to their energy. It is, perhaps, then that we can get to know and understand them clearly.
I like to think of a dance performance as a celebration of co-existence, a way to give and make space and time for each other. We tend to forget this, but the underlying beauty in a performance is that it is primarily the convergence of a mass of people, seated one next to the other, all sharing the same moment. There is nothing private about it; a performance is an extremely social experience. All of us assembled for this ritual, which is our bond with the performance, our bond with the same present.

And so, in 2012, I wish everyone lots of dance. Not to forget all their problems of 2011, but on the contrary, to tackle them creatively, to dance around them, to find a way to engage with each other and the world, to engage with life as part of its never-ending choreography. Dance to find honesty and to transmit, to reflect and to celebrate it.”

Rearview Fridays: Knitted Organs

Today I think it’s time to share another knitting project for Rearview Fridays, 3 dimensional internal organs! I made them as costume pieces for a dance I choreographed last year called Organ Stories. The story of the dance itself will be  one for another Rearview Friday, I have to upload some video and want to give the dance it’s due here. And these organs deserve their stand-alone own entry.

This first shot is of The Uterus, with me and dancer Krista Posyniak getting organised for a rehearsal in June 2011. I was super-duper pregnant with Gene!

Inspiration: The Heart

In 2009 I knitted an anatomical heart for my husband for Valentine’s day, which he thought was weird, but I also like to think he secretly loves that I do such things! I sought out a pattern online since I didn’t really know where to start and was amazed at all the anatomical patterns people had come up with. Here’s the heart pattern I used, it’s by Kristin Ledgett of The Knit Cafe in Toronto.

I also knitted a heart that year for a wee boy named Ford, my friend’s son who was in hospital with complications from Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Sometimes when I’m at a loss when those I cherish are in a hard spot, making something is the only way I can think of to show my deep love. I pour my thoughts and goodness and hope into my hours of work, and I hope, I believe, that the object carries the weight of that love. Ford is no longer alive, but I’m glad my knitted heart sat beside him and his mom, who is so dear to me, for a while. So this piece is especially tender for me.

The Lungs

I chose 4 organs that I’d make short solos about. The dancer spoke about facts and emotional associations of each organ and then danced a little organ-specific solo — like a lecture-demo on physiology through dance!

Here are the lungs, they tie around the neck and have super-strong earth magnets on the back that stick to a blouse with magnets sewn into it. I developed my own pattern from a few different ones I looked at online, but I didn’t write it down since I modified as I went, argh! Ah well, there’s next time.

The Uterus

This one made me giggle as I made it. And it was great when people would ask me what I was making, particularly because I was obviously pregnant while I was knitting! It was a highly appropriate organ to be knitting in my condition. I worked directly from a lovely, easy to follow pattern on Knitty by MK Carroll. I’ve also made this as a gift for my midwives, the lovely ladies that saw my boys into the world. Best midwife or obstetrician gift ever!

The Brain

The Brain I concocted myself. I used a great little Blue Whoville Hat Pattern as a base, though I modified a lot of things, made it bigger, alternated knit and purl for the earflaps so that they’d be more smooth than the original and did away with the ribbed band in the original.

Then I made miles and miles and miles of i-cord that I sewed onto the hat like a brain. It was fun to tell people that I was knitting my brain, have them look at the looooooooog cord, scratch their heads and walk away wondering about my sanity … but my plan worked! Here it is:

And lastly, I leave you with a shot from the performance of Organ Stories in July 2011. Here’s the slightly frazzled Professor Posyniak with her spectacles on and her Judy covered in organs. You can see the magnets sewn onto her blouse that the organs stick to for each solo. She was just finished lecturing about the brain and was about to dance it, which as mentioned before I’ll share in video form on another day:

This photo by Andréa de Keijzer, the dancer is Krista Posyniak.

Happy Friday everyone, hope that you’ll never look at your organs the same now that you’ve made it through this post …

Dancing Semaphore

A late afternoon session at my sewing machine, buried in piles of netting, finishing the costume for my current dance project Semaphore:

I’m excited to be presenting this new wee solo Semaphore tonight and tomorrow, at a coffee house presentation put on by students of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre (my Alma mater). I’m friends with Megumi Kokuba, one of the current graduating students there, and we decided it would be fun to work on something together for her last student coffee house. We settled on Semaphore Flag systems — in both English and Japanese — as an inspiration point.We choreographed together, Megumi is performing and I’ve made the costume and set, comprised of giant paper airplanes (it was fun learning how to fold them online. I was never a big on making paper airplanes as a kid, so I had to look ’em up, now I’m hooked).

Megumi models the costume in studio B (I have spent many hours of my life in this room, taking class, rehearsing, teaching class, choreographing, sigh):

The work literally uses Semaphore Flag positions to spell out the words “remember” and “solitaire” in English and Japanese. We created choreography using the flag symbols as a starting point, tracing their lines through the space. We also walked the points used in semaphore flagging across the floor. Megumi and I worked fast (we spent just 3 hours in the studio together, yikes!) due to mad schedules for both of us and I’m really pleased with the result. The music we used is by Buck 65, a fantastic Canadian artist. Both his music and lyrics in the song Paper Airplane speak to me of longing and reaching across space and time. A beautiful, lilting song, it felt like the right fit for this dance.

Check out a 3 minute clip of Semaphore I’ve compiled on vimeo. It was filmed during the tech run, first time under lights and with the “living set” of 3 dancers that walk with paper airplanes across the space and around the dancer throughout the work.

Rudi and Gene (3 1/2 years and 6 months respectively) both came to some of our rehearsals and also sat through the technical and dress rehearsals — they are superstars with focus and patience that belie their years and months. They actually enjoyed sitting in the dark theatre (for the most part, Rudi was a bit freaked by the super-dark between dances and the cheering from the fellow performers attending rehearsal) and watching the magic unfold under the theatrical lighting. Rudi’s quiet little wonderings were so charming, “Where’s the music?” (a legit question, oh contemporary dance in silence!), and “I see ghost shadows!” (oh massive shadows thrown by theatre lights!). As a mom it’s so rewarding to still be able to practice my craft and involve my wee kids in what I do. I love that they won’t remember the first time they attended a theatre event, it’s just part of their lives.

Well, as we say in dance before the show, merde (instead of break a leg, that’s for the theatre folk) and may your weekend be gorgeous.

Click here for details on the show Coffee House: Dark Roast.

Rearview Fridays: Dresses for Cedar Stories

In August of 2001 I had my first professional gig as a dancer. Freshly minted from The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Professional Training Program, I felt a 50/50 mix of apprehension/excitement about life in dance. The choreographer and employer was my dear friend and regular collaborator (to this day!) Lindsay Zier-Vogel. [ASIDE: you should check her out, her writing and crafting and sheer verve are intoxicating. I’m sure she’ll come up on this blog often! Her Love Letter Project is particularly awesome.] The piece was called Cedar Stories.

I costumed Cedar Stories, resulting in some of my favourite original costume work to date. Lindsay actually still wears one of the dresses around socially!

We found some fantastic fabric that stretched in all directions but was somehow not spandexy. It was dark green on one side and light on the underside, which was fun design-wise. I measured and drew and patterned up a storm. And the costume-faeries were with me because they worked like a charm, timeless.

Cedar Stories was performed in fFIDA (aka the now defunct Fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists). I shared the stage with 2 fellow students from The School of TDT, Jennifer-Lynn Crawford and Kate Holden (centre and left respectively in the above shot) — both women who have gone onto active, inspiring careers as dance artists. The music was live, a cellist named Rachel McBride. Her skills were remarkable and haunting, it was magic working in studio and on stage with her.

Lindsay and I got to know each other at The School of TDT. I actually remember her choreography at a student coffee house before I really remember her. It may or may not have been to Ani DiFranco!  She’s got a rare choreographic sensibility. I still remember running backwards in a big arc in this work, feeling rather kamikaze, imagery — such as a hand gesture mimicking the way Chestnut leaves fold down. A pair of my Fluevog shoes also featured in Cedar Stories, I think I had to toss one behind my back, and I may or may not have clocked another dancer at some point *ahem*.

I’m not sure if there is video footage of Cedar Stories available, 2001 being the dark ages before little digital gadgets with more memory than I can conceive of were readily available. I don’t even think we have photos from the actual performance. But I do have these backstage pics. And great memories.

Oh, 2001 was also the summer I met and fell in love with a boy named Adam. Now I’m married to him. Still in love, actually way more than I was at first blush. ‘Twas a good summer!