Tag: Jennifer Dallas

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

Rearview Friday: Costume Dolls

I was talking about dolls with a friend last night and my mind wandered in it’s dusty reaches to recall some of the dolls I’ve made in the past. I think it’s time to share these little ladies for today’s Rearview Friday!

I made them, wee versions of us, as a gift for my co-choreographer Lindsay Zier-Vogel on the premiere of our dance work Edith and Eliza in the spring of 2006. The dolls are based on Waldorf dolls (that’s right I was a Waldorf kid! And I have a deep sentimental fondness for these little dolls with the simple faces). If you want to know more about Waldorf dolls, I found a lovely how-to here by Amber Dusick, who also happens to be the brilliant lady behind Parenting. Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. I am a big fan. You probably should be too.

Anyhoooo, back to the dolls: in addition to sort of looking like Lindsay and me, the dolls are dressed in tiny versions of costumes from 2 of our collaborative dance projects, seen in full size and context below. As you can see they each have an envelope. This is because part of our creative process for Edith and Eliza was to actually write and post letters to each other as “Edith” and “Eliza”, fictitious war brides we created to develop a story behind the dance. Some of the text from these letters was woven into the soundscore as a narration. Each letter snaps onto the dolls hand and actually has a wee letter in it. Because I am awesome. And obviously humble. But seriously, it was a really fulfilling creative process. The the doll making was a cherry-on-top project in the fun department.

The dances that the doll’s costumes were made to honour:

Susanne Chui and Jennifer Dallas in Whistling Matilda, a dance film by Rhys Brisbin, Susan Kendal and Lindsay Zier-Vogel, 2004. Photo: Linsday Zier-Vogel.
Susan Kendal in Edith and Eliza by Susan Kendal and Lindsay Zier-Vogel, 2006. Photo: Ted Zier-Vogel.

And lastly, our lovely selves with the dollies. Just before we went into the theatre for the premiere. Edith and Eliza and the costume dolls were the last major dance and crafty-sewing projects I worked on before becoming pregnant and a mommy. Feels like a lifetime ago, but not in a bad way. Just a “huh” way. Life was so utterly different then!

Susan Kendal and Lindsay Zier-Vogel outside the Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto. Showing off the costume dolls just before the premiere of our work Edith and Eliza, part of the Series 8:08 Season Finale, May 2006. Photo: Andrea Roberts.

Cheers to art, all kinds of it, making our lives so full. Happy Friday folks.