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 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.
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 Silagy: I 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.
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.
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?
MS: Sun, 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!
MS: Songs, 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.
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.
THE WRAP UP
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!
Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews: