I recently performed the final show in the “Thread Bound” run as a relaxed performance and many people asked me what that means. Some thought it meant the audience needed to participate. Some thought it meant performers only perform at 2/3 their regular energy level. Some said they did know what it meant and it sounded a bit scary so they decided to avoid it. So today I am going to tell you what a relaxed performance is.
To clear up these misconceptions, I’d like to say that audience participation is NOT something that is added to a relaxed performance and the performers WILL still go all out and perform at their usual full intensity and artistry!
A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules and expectations are relaxed and/or presentation is specifically designed to make theatre more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically different from the norm. Relaxed performances are sensitive and inviting to theatergoers who may benefit from a more relaxed environment, including, but not limited to those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette’s, concussion syndrome, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.
People who are neurologically different may have sensory-processing challenges that make light, sound and touch feel different: Sound might seem extra loud or a bright light cue might feel painful for them. Differences in processing speed might mean that it takes a while to understand what is being said on stage. The emotional intensity of a play may seem unbearable without access to their regulatory stims such as rocking or making sounds. They may experience claustrophobia at the thought of having to sit still in a theatre seat for an hour. They may feel anxieties about audience etiquette as they strive to figure out what the social theatre rules are. All these different types of experiences may feel overwhelming and make theatre in a traditional setting not accessible to them.
Every production company will design their relaxed performances differently. Whatever the choices they make, it is important to remember that a relaxed show will never make a production 100% accessible. Nothing is every 100% due to competing access-needs. I will give an example from my personal life to help define competing access-needs. Both my son and I have high functioning Autism. Sometimes he needs to makes a clucking noise to feel right in his body and sometimes I need to repeat a specific sentence over and over to feel right in my body. The thing is that both our self-regulating stim methods drive the other person to distraction and irritability and thus represent completing access needs. What is helpful to one person might interfere with access for another.
A vital aspect of relaxed performance is that the artistic excellence of the production and director’s vision remain unchanged. Rather it is everything else that surrounds the production that may be adjusted to be more welcoming.
So what are the type of things might be involved in a relaxed performance?
- House (audience) lights may be kept at a dim level rather than completely turned off
- people may be invited to leave the theatre during the show and the re-enter of they want or need.
- audience members may be asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise.
- sound and lighting cues may be adjusted to be less startling or intense
- “fidget” devices such as hand spinners may be welcome and yes this may even include the use of cell phones or other devices as long as they are kept in quiet mode.
- self-regulation support items such as weighted blankets may be welcome or provided.
- a copy of the script may be provided in advance so people can prepare or gain an understanding of the content on their own time.
- description of possible triggers may be explained to the audience prior to the show.
- earplugs or sunglasses may be provided.
- people may be told its okay to plug their ears whenever they need to.
- people may be given advanced entrance or a longer time than usual to leave the theatre to help them avoid crowded theatre aisle or lobby.
Since all relaxed performances differ in how they provide a more relaxed setting, it is vital that what is being provided is outlined at the time of ticket purchase. This enables theatergoers to get a sense of whether the production will be accessible for them. For instance, sometimes a director will decide that turning down the music or light level will not work for a particular scene because the performers need that level of intensity. So earplugs may be provided instead of lower music levels. If you cannot stand the feeling of earplugs you may decide to bring your own noise-canceling headphones or decide not to go.
Production companies should not shorten their program by cutting out scenes as part of a relaxed performance. By doing this, they are making choices based on what they think is best for a disabled theatergoer. I offer that production companies put the choice in the hands of the theatre-goer. Present your full production and let the theatergoer make their own choice to self-edit by leaving the theatre for moments if they need or to want to.
Recently, my dance company REAson d’etre productions did a relaxed performance of “Thread Bound”.
This is how we designed the show to be more welcoming to those with neurological-difference:
- Music was played slightly lower than usual.
- “Stim” gadgets were welcome, including cell phones or devices as long as they are in quiet-mode.
- audience were asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise
- people could leave and come back in as needed.
- script was sent to attendees ahead of time so they could process the meaning of the text and work-through/prepare for possible triggers on their own time.
- ear-plugs and sunglass were provided at the box-office to be worn in sections in which blinking-lights and sound levels might be painful for some.
- description of possible triggers was given prior to the performance.
After the performance, the box office manager said, “providing earplugs was a waste of money as hardly anyone used them.” He guessed that people who needed earplugs had brought their own and suggested that for the next relaxed performance we forgo supply them. I explained that even if no one had used our earplugs that they were still an important relationship-building tool. As a person with Autism if I arrive at a show and saw that earplugs were provided I get a sense that who I am is visible and my needs are being considered. This is a wonderful moment of being seen that builds a positive relationship between me and the producing company even if I had brought my own earplugs.
Photo credit: Suzanne Liska and Kathleen Rea in Thread Bound
Guru Suraj with Marielle Gerke
Guru Suraj, a dance artist living in Chennai, India is visiting Toronto to present his film Contact Improvisation Lab Goa, co-created with Rahul Varma and Hari Choudhary, at the Contact Dance International Film Festival. Their film was selected by the festival jury as a Silver Award winner. Guru will be accepting the award for his team at the July 1 Gala screening at the iconic Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles Ave in Toronto.
Guru Suraj is a painter, dancer, theatre artist, Yoga trainer and more. He graduated from one of the most established Art Institutions in India – The Government College of Fine Arts (Chennai) and has a master’s in the philosophy of Yoga. He started practicing Contact Dance Improvisation 10 years ago and fell in love with the form. Guru has taught Contact Dance in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and UAE and is a teacher and team organizer at popular Goa Contact festival. He has been instrumental in building the contact dance scene in India through his group Contact Improv India Organization, which focuses on spreading Contact Improv around India and making it accessible for everybody. Guru explains, “I see dance as not only everyone’s birthright but one of the greatest tools of awakening one’s consciousness and awareness. Dancing can be a mirror to look deeply into our self.”
Contact dance improvisation is a social dance involving touch, in which momentum between two or more people is used to create and inspire dance movements. Similar to martial arts like Aikido, momentum is harnessed through weight sharing and rolling point of contact. Contact dancers use these techniques, not to defend themselves, but to dance. The form requires a deep awareness that allows dancers to respond in the moment to their partner. There are no pre-set roles and the role of leader and follower interchanges and blurs together. Contact dance is accessible to people with no previous dance training and to people with physical disabilities.
The Contact Dance International Film Festival celebrates films featuring momentum-based dance created by some of the top creators and dancers in the field of Contact dance improvisation. It provides an opportunity for both film and dance lovers to experience the joy, chaos, and intimacy of human connection through physical movement. The Festival runs every two years on the odd years and is presenting its fourth season in Toronto, June 29 to July 1, 2019.
The Contact Dance International Film Festival was founded by local Roncesvalles, Toronto area resident Kathleen Rea through her dance company REAson d’etre dance productions. Kathleen, a former dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada, switched ship from ballet to Contact Dance when she tried it for the first time twenty years ago. At that moment, she decided to dedicate the rest of her life towards supporting and promoting contact dance. Kathleen explains, “Contact dance is just about the furthest form of dance from ballet. They are both beautiful but really are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Ballet is about control and exacting technique, while contact dance is more like surfing a wave that you do not have control of. One does not have control the momentum of another decent but it takes a practiced level of awareness and skill to this harness kinetic force ”
Kathleen goes on to describe her philosophy in creating a contact dance film festival. She says, “Contact dance is really an all levels dance form in which experienced dancers get just as much joy from dancing with a beginner as with more advanced dancers. I really wanted the Contact Dance International Film festival to have the same feel. So, we program all level films! This means that films with high production values are screened right next to Instagram clips filmed on someone’s smartphone.”
Dancers Guru Suraj, Marielle Gerke and Hari Choudhari
The festival has always received submissions from around the world, but Kathleen noticed during the submission phase this year that there was an increased level of diversity. Since Toronto is such a diverse city, she was excited that the festival content was starting to come close to matching the level of diversity in the city in which it is occurring. Contact dance improvisation is not a codified dance form and as such every part of the world practices, it in a different way led by their community’s curiosities and interest. When different groups meet there is a chance for a rich and inspiring exchange of new ideas can that invigorate the community.
This increase in diversity of films submitted to the festival is partly due to the growing contact dance scene in India and the draw and history this community has to dance filmmaking. This season CDIFF is screening 4 films by Indian filmmakers. The popular Goa contact festival has in particular been the springboard for the creation of numerous contact dance films. A documentary on the Goa festival won an award in the 2015 festival. Two of the four Indian films this year were created in Goa and both have won festival awards. Guru’s filmmaking team has won the CDIFF silver award and Rohit Prem is a co-winner of the CDIFF emerging filmmaker award.
Film-still from Rohit Prem’s film Contact Improvisation Goa India with dancersRosolind Hogate Smith and Ariane Bernier
Possibly Bollywood culture plays into the fact that so many contact dance films are created by Indian filmmakers. Dance in Indian films has had a large cultural imprint both in India and on the world and Indian contact dancers may naturally gravitate towards creating films focused on dance because of this cultural history.
The Contact Dance International Film Festival invited Guru Suraj to come to Toronto to pick up the Silver Award on behalf of his filmmaking team and to network and share knowledge with the Toronto Contact Dance community. After a lengthy and involved visa application process, the Canadian Government initially claimed that they did not believe Guru would leave Canada after his visit and denied him a tourist visa.
Kathleen says, “as Canadian citizenship, international travel is a relatively easy thing for me. I was shocked at how involved the application was to apply for a tourist visa to Canada for many of the festival’s filmmakers from countries targeted with strick and involved travel visa policies. When two of our filmmakers received visa denials, I came to understand better how access to travel can affect a person’s career trajectory. The Canadian government’s belief that Guru would not leave Canada was unfounded. He is teaching in Germany later in the summer. He is a well-known and respected dancer who has made it his life work to bring contact dance to India. Why would he want to stay in Canada?”
Guru Suraj and Maite Moreno Martínez
Both Kathleen and Guru did not want the rich cultural exchange to be swept aside by travel policies that target certain regions of the world. In one week, they raised enough funds to hire Bondy Immigration Law to reapply for Guru’s tourist visa. A petition was also started that garnered 1440 signatures. Federal MP Arif Virani got on board as well, writing a letter of support for Guru’s re-application. The Contact Dance International Film Festival was moved by the level of support from both the Toronto and the international contact dance community. The team effort paid off as Guru received his Canadian travel visa on his third application.
Guru says about this visa application process, “…What a start for a journey, journey before the journey itself. I have never been involved in such a fight or had to ask for so much support or have received so much love. And as I receive the visa… I feel a lot of gratitude for everything that happened. I’m grateful for the determination … of Kathleen Rea to try every way possible to make this happen. I remember her saying: “you are coming to pick up this award!” But also to make this case as loud as possible. It’s such an eye opener for people who were not aware of this regional discrimination and travel politics. This goes far beyond my personal opportunity to travel and teach. What I received will be shared with my co-artists here [in India]….. And this is also about carving the paths for Artists from all parts of the world to have equal opportunities to share their work. And about the strength of this nomadic CI community that truly backs up its members when needed.”
Kathleen says, “I am late in the game in terms of realizing how much access to travel imbalances have shaped the international Contact dance improvisation community. The fact that many contact dancers have to go through months of rigorous visa applications and frequent denials creates an imbalance in terms of who can build their career through international travel. I wanted in some small way to repair this imbalance by supporting Guru in obtaining his travel visa, but it is not enough actually. What I would like to see is that a global discussion starts in the contact improvisation community around this issue that leads to practical solutions. Festivals could have a travel access fee added to registration to be used to support those having trouble getting visas. If those of us with travel privilege can pitch in to support those without the privilege then I hope things can become more balanced. Money raised could be used as well for education about the issue and on lobbying countries that have unfair travel policies targeting certain regions. As a Canadian, I am ashamed to say that Canada is one of those countries.”
Come out and meet and learn from Guru Suraj at the Contact Dance International Film Festival occurring June 29 to July 1, 2019, in Toronto.
Interview date: June 2017
Olya Glotka, a self-made filmmaker based in Toronto, is transforming the contact dance improvisation community she is a part of. Contact dance improvisation is a social dance involving touch, in which momentum between two or more people inspires dance movements. Like martial arts, it uses a rolling point of contact and trains the ability to sense one’s partner’s movements. There are no set gender roles which enable a fluid exchange of lead and follow. With limited resources, Olya decided to embark on a self-training program to become a filmmaker. Her goal was to make one-hundred dance films. Currently, she has just finished her fifty-eighth film and has already started to win awards. Her films showcase a range of people from beginners to professional dancers. In several of her films, Olya has chosen to showcase dancers using wheelchairs. When watching her films, one starts to see the beauty that she sees in all people. You start to see that dance is for everyone and can be done everywhere.
Kathleen Rea, director of the Contact Dance International Film Festival, recently sat down with Olya to find out what drives her as a filmmaker.
KR: When did you first fall in love with contact dance improvisation?
OG: I was at my first contact dance improvisation workshop and we were doing an exercise in which one person is lying on the ground and the other person practices balancing their weight on their partner. As I felt the compression from my partner’s weight on my back, I suddenly realized that I had a body. I know that might sound strange. Analytically I knew I had a body, but this was the first time I understood from the inside out that my body existed. This was such a new feeling for me because I was a sickly child growing up. There was so much fighting, anger and negativity around me and I think my body reacted by being in pain. I was in and out of the hospital. Being sick became my identity. But in that first contact dance workshop, I started to see myself in a new way… one in which my body was strong and was something I could depend on. I started to see my body as a source of creativity. These realizations changed everything that came next.
KR: What else is it about contact dance that is healing for you?
OG: For me something fundamental changed inside me when I, this “tiny, little, pretty girl” learned to pick up a full-grown man and carry him across the room! You see, for me contact dance is my life’s lab. It is a playground where I can try out things or ways of being that I am scared to do in “real” life. Dance improvisation helps me face my demons and in so doing learn to face myself, to fall in love with all that is in me.
KR: I understand. I use contact dance in that way too. So, when did you become interested in dance film?
OG: Four years after my first encounter with contact dance improvisation I went to Allen Kaeja’s dance film workshop. That experience answered a question for me: “why can’t I stick with anything?”. You see, as a kid, I would do all kinds of arts and crafts. I went to art school, studied piano, guitar, creative writing, songwriting, did crafts, sewed my own clothes and went to theatre school. I was good at everything I tried yet I never ever stuck with it. I would quit after a year or two and I always felt like a failure. When I made my first little dance film in Allen’s workshop, I had this “Aha!” moment. The skies opened, I heard the angels sing and my life finally made sense. All the art forms I had ever loved were encapsulated and merged into one – filmmaking.
KR: You did your first contact dance workshop just before the 2015 Contact Dance International Film Festival. Did that festival influence you?
OG: Oh yes. I was so inspired by the films I saw I couldn’t sleep for two days. When I took Allen’s film workshop I knew I wanted to make dance films, but I didn’t know if there was a place for them. Then I went to the Festival and I saw there would be a place for my work. I knew the next Festival was in 2017, so I decided to get busy.
KR: How did you go about pursuing this new-found art form? Did you enroll in a film school?
OG: No. I didn’t have the resources that would allow me to get any long-term professional training. So I decided to do it myself. I set a goal of making one hundred dance films.
KR: Kind of like Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. How many hours have you logged so far?
OG: I’ve filmed about seventy dance film projects and completed fifty-eight of them. So I only have forty-two films left to reach my goal.
KR: From your first dance film to your fifty-eighth what has been your progression?
OG: It is very entertaining to look back at my first films and see the quality of them. Very basic. Very boring. Very self-centered. I think I am now better at engaging the viewer. I understand that I need to edit in service of the film instead of in service of myself. This has helped me tighten up the pacing of my films. I have learned the technical aspects of the craft and this has improved image quality. I have cultivated my voice and artistic vision and I think it is now more direct, meaningful and thought-provoking. When dancers and artists ask me for advice about how to “turn into a filmmaker”, the only thing I can say is, “go make 100 films”.
KR: Besides making one hundred films, what else was involved in this progression. How did you teach yourself all the different aspects of filmmaking and find your creative voice?
OG: For a year, I woke up every Monday two hours earlier then I needed to, and participated in free online courses on all aspects of filmmaking. First, I learned editing, then production, then camera movement and so on. I had four part-time jobs at the time and I didn’t even own a camera and somehow, I managed to work on over sixty film projects that first year. I would study in the morning and then go to my nine-to-five retail job where I’d listen to hours and hours of film-related podcasts. My evening job was babysitting and when the kid would fall asleep, I’d open my laptop and edit, edit and edit. Then I’d run home to sleep. I would repeat the whole cycle again the next day for the rest of the work week. Then I had the whole weekend to shoot! I had lots of friends in the contact dance improvisation community who were eager to dance and help. Because I was making so many films, I was able to explore the medium and quickly get results by trying different things and learning lessons from my mistakes.
KR: That’s intense.
OG: Whether watching dance films or editing my own work, when something would catch my eye I would always ask myself the same questions: “why do I like this?” or, “why do I not like that?” I would look at it over and over, trying to figure it out and I would either try to recreate the effect later or try to avoid it if I didn’t like the effect. I was in a loop of learning, try, analyze and then repeat. I fed back into the loop everything I learned and figured-out, as well as feedback from others. I was exhausted by the pace but also happy.
KR: I know that you were born and raised in Ukraine. Can you tell us the story of how you came to Canada?
OG: I never planned to move to Canada. In fact, I always dreamed to dedicate my life and art to my home country. I grew up in Ukraine, and when I was eighteen I left so I could learn life by traveling the world; just myself and a few dollars in my pockets. During my travels, I fell in love with a Canadian and after several trials of getting my partner adapted to the life in Ukraine, we gave up and ended up here in Canada. I really had planned to live my life in Ukraine. I had always imagined that I would be able to help my troubled country. To be one of the young people fighting for human rights. I think this fight for human rights still lives in me. All my dance films are a celebration of human rights. A celebration of people.
KR: How else does being Ukrainian influence your work?
OG: I think Ukrainian people have this ability to work hard for the things they want in life because that is the way of life there. Also, growing up in Ukraine I learned the value of family and community. When things are tough these two aspects of life are the only solid ground that enables survival. After I came to Canada the relationship that brought me here ended. I was alone in a new country. I had not been dancing because my ex was not comfortable with contact dance improvisation. Leaving the relationship meant I was free once again to pursue dance. I came to a Toronto contact dance jam and met my new “family” that would provide me with solid ground. Knowing how vital this was for me strengthened my drive to build community through dance. I started a new Contact Dance Jam in the east end of town for this reason as well as to get more dancing in.
KR: Does your queer identity influence your work?
OG: It makes me question a lot! It inspires me to create something different that will challenge the norm of, if there is a man and a woman on the screen, they must be in love, have been in love or are about to fall in love. It has always upset me to see the lack of other types of relationships on TV and film. A man and a woman don’t have to only be lovers, they can be siblings, family members, best friends, soul mates, opponents, business/dance/sports partners. Two women don’t have to be either friends or competitors. They can be lovers, muses, partners in crime, sisters for each other. And men can be nurturing and sensual with each other.
KR: So you feel that people would benefit from seeing gender roles represented in a more fluid manner.
OG: In terms of gender stereotypes, I grew up in a world where everyone was telling me that girls are stupid, mean and catty. Once I discovered this belief in me as an adult, I spent years healing from it. I am committed to doing anything I can to change pop-culture and the message we put out there so people can see the infinite range of possibilities.
KR: Can you tell us about your recent 30 Days of Contact Dance project?
OG: I made thirty films in thirty days. Over fifty dancers were involved in the project, most of them from Toronto. It was a tribute to the Toronto contact dance improvisation community. It is my way to thank the community for being there for me when I was struggling. My partner, Kim Simons, who is also a contact dancer was an integral part of the project. She alternated between camera person and dancer and offered support and encouraged throughout. It felt great to find a creative outlet that we could share. The first film in the series involves Kim and I dancing everywhere we could think of: the beach, a dollar store, the gym, a couch, a swamp, leaves, snow, hallways, living room floor.
KR: Now, ten films from this project were selected by the jury for screening at the Contact Dance International Film Festival, which is coming up at the end of June. I was overseeing the jury and remember a big discussion they had about whether it was fair to program so many of one filmmaker’s films. Finally, one jury member said let’s not think of that question and instead think of the merit of each film separately. Also, of note is that Allen Kaeja, your first film teacher is staring in one of the films, Farewell to Honest Ed’s with his wife Karen Kaeja. How did that feel?
OG: It definitely gave me a feeling of coming full circle. I felt that by appearing in one of my films he had recognized me as a fellow filmmaker and that felt really good.
Another one of the films in the festival, that especially moves me is Contact Dance Every Body, which features Luke Anderson, who dances using a wheelchair.
OG: I met Luke at a party. I was contact-dancing with someone and he came up after and asked, “what was that?” I started telling him about contact dance but then I realized that none of the regular Toronto contact dance spaces were wheelchair accessible. I felt terrible seeing how eager he was to try it and knowing that it was not accessible to him. Meeting Luke inspired me to start my own all accessible monthly contact dance improvisation jams at Artscape. Later I asked Luke and his friend Laura if they wanted to make a dance film. We met at their favorite place, the Art Gallery of Ontario. Luke was very nervous because he hadn’t done much contact dance. But when they started to dance, his nerves melted away. When I edited the film, I frequently had tears in my eyes. Their dance was so tender and the look in Luke’s eyes was so alive. I have been told by the Festival that this film has been selected for a prize and to prepare a speech. We are so excited about the attention the film is receiving because it has such potential to break down barriers faced by people with physical disabilities.
KR: What is your vision for contact dance improvisation. Where do you see it potentially heading?
OG: I really see contact dance in a much broader sense than most. I think contact can be a way of living a life in which there is more connection and touch. It can teach mothers how to playful interact with their kids. It can give elderly people a much-needed sense of community and connection. I really want contact dance improvisation to move beyond the dance studio and offer its healing properties to all. For me, ensuring that this dance form is accessible to people who can benefit from it is a human rights issue.
KR: Now that I think of it, not one of your dance films are filmed in a studio. They occur inside and outdoors in public spaces. They occur in people’s homes. They occur in the rain, in the snow, and in the blazing sun. Your films really do show that we all can dance wherever we are. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it can inspire many people. And a warning if you run into Olya at the film festival she might just convince you to star in her next dance film.
OG: [laughs]. Yes, there is a chance that will happen! Thank you, Kathleen.
This interview was done in June 2017.
Here is our update. The Contact Dance International Film Festival returns for its fourth season, June 29 to July 1, 2019, in Toronto Canada. This festival, produced by REAson d’etre dance productions, celebrates films featuring momentum-based dance created by some of the top creators and dancers in the field of Contact Dance Improvisation. Four different screening programs will be presented alongside dance workshops, jams, and parties. The upcoming June 29 to June 30, 2019, Contact Dance International Film festival will screen two new films by Olya. Visit www.contactdancefilmfest.com to see the line-up.
Olya is now working full-time as a filmmaker.
On Friday we performed our final studio run-through before we move over to the theatre. Here is what our small audience that attended has said about Men’s Circle.
Laura Bisoc wrote:
I loved watching Kathleen Rea’s new dance theatre production, Men’s Circle. It tells several stories of emotional vulnerability and unfettered expression with a seamless integration of singing, dancing and spoken dialogue. The dancers are brilliant and combine virtuosity, playfulness and clarity of expression in their fresh and fast paced acts.
A dead patient (most likely killed by the ineptitude of his therapist!) haunts the entire production and is one of the most endearing and mischievous characters I have ever seen. In his defence, the therapist is a wonderful singer and I hope his signature song, Appendicitis, will make it to the top charts. Performed while the therapist is wrestling with his dead patient, Appendicitis is full of emotional ardour and physiological urgency.
The white canopy that represents “our brain waves” is almost a character in itself, and so is the violin case with wings.
Definitely a not to miss event!
Evadne Macedo wrote:
Men’s Circle by Kathleen Rea is brilliant, surprising and touchingly funny. As a work of theatre, the stories reveal the hurts that lie beneath the surface of smiles and the hidden fears that separate us from ourselves and others.
As a work of dance, we are treated to a showcase of male strength, beauty and vulnerability as the characters struggle to heal and to find authentic connection through movement. In watching these courageous men reveal themselves in their acting, dancing and live music, we are challenged to reach into and beyond ourselves to find belonging and understanding in our own lives despite the risks of pain and rejection.
With the spectre of death ever present, and represented on stage as a character who confronts and soothes each man, Men’s Circle reminds us that we each have the capacity to live with grace and humility, and that we are never alone in this incredible human journey.
MEN’S CIRCLE – dance theatre by Kathleen Rea
DRAMATURGE: Tristan R. Whiston
ORIGINAL SONGS: Ariel Llama
DATES: November 2 to 5, 2017.
LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto.
BOX OFFICE: http://menscircle.eventzilla.net/
FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/150598895531063/
PRODUCED BY: REAson d’etre dance productions http://www.reasondetre.com/
FILM STILLS from footage by Drew Berry
Kathleen Rea is a registered psychotherapist and the creator of Men’s Circle, a new dance-theatre work that follows the story of a men’s therapy group. She speaks out about the current “Me Too” movement and rape culture in general.
In Canada, 80% of suicides are men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Canada for men aged 19 to 35. It’s clear that men’s mental health issues are in a state of crisis. And this is in context with what I call a “rape culture” a social concept used to describe settings in which sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to attitudes about gender and sexuality. I believe the epidemic of men’s mental health concerns cannot be separated from the predominance of rape culture in our society — they are two sides of the same issue. The rape culture cannot sustain unless there is an ever ready group of men who lack emotional awareness and compassion. This process starts at a very young age when we tell boys to be strong and stop crying because “boys don’t cry”. Many boys and men are themselves abused, but have no cultural context within which to even start talking about what happened. They often feel great shame at the thought of showing weakness. When we teach people not to feel, to supress their natural emotions, they become unable to have conversations that can be healing. They become emotionally empty human shells that feed our mental health hospitals and our morgues. They also may become people capable of supporting and propagating a rape culture in both overt and subtle ways. This emotional suppression has become so ingrained in society, we don’t see it. Men are expected to not show weakness, and that means they remain silent. The Movember Foundation is currently running a men’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign, and one of their main tag lines is telling men to “Unmute”… to start talking. For me, the movement happening right now is just as much about saving men as it is about saving women.
Acclaimed intellectual, feminist and cultural critic, Bell Hooks wrote:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
Fellow colleague Mathew Remski, wrote in his article Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex:
With this patriarch indoctrination comes a subconscious reflex to equate a woman’s (insert “gay man’s” or ‘transperson’s”) voice or ideas with irrationality, anxiousness, or lack of understanding the real issues of life. This is the baseline emotional reality of heteronormative men that the #metoo movement is charging at on the open field. It’s a vicious feedback loop. Dehumanization escalates to outright rape, and minimization – the most socially-acceptable dehumanization tool – neutralizes the call-out of injustice….
The Me Too movement flows against the attempt to neutralize the call for justice. Waves of stories of sexual harassment and abuse are sweeping social media. They are a call-out to listen and begin the process of unmuting for all. I posted my Me Too story yesterday. It took five days of building up courage to step past the wall of silence and finally post it. The response has been touching and supportive. Even just one day later men in my life have started conversations with me about how they may have supported the rape culture in which I had these experiences. Others, both men and women, have told me their heart-breaking stories. For me, it feels like a movement towards ending the silence for all of us wherever we are on the spectrum from female to male.
I am currently working on my new production, Men’s Circle (premiering Nov 2-5, 2017 in Toronto). It is a dance theatre work that tells the story of a men’s therapy group. I was inspired to create Men’s Circle by the many men I have seen in my private practice who have come to see me seeking to connect with their emotional world and heal from trauma. Through it, I hope to support a culture in which men can be free to feel vulnerable. One of the characters, Joe, starts off completely disengaged from his vulnerability and ends the piece by weeping. Other themes, such as sexual abuse, self-medication through drugs and suicide are explored. This brave cast of men (Allen Kaeja, Bill Coleman, Mateo Galindo Torres, Kousha Nakhaei, Deltin Sejour, Rudi Natterer and Harold Tausch) break down barriers to men’s mental health by showing up and telling the stories of men. I am gathering together 100 male volunteer performers to take part in the production. I want to reach as many men as possible.
My other job is as a mom, raising two boys aged three and seven. In this job I don’t have to undo old habits, but rather have a chance to teach emotional health and respect for others from the start. There is something I always do when my kids cry. No matter how silly their reason for crying (like for instance if a carrot has fallen on the floor), I put my hand on their heart and say, “Cry. Let the tears flow”. One of the most important things in life is to learn to grieve well. I allow my child to take a moment and grieve for that fallen carrot. From what I see, they have a good cry, the wave of crying comes to an end, and they get on with their day. From my experience, it seems they actually get through their emotional wave quicker than if I were to try to stop them from crying. I think this is because they are only grieving the fallen carrot rather then having to grieve both the fallen carrot and the grief of having ones emotional world minimised. In this way I hope to bring up boys who are not frightened of their emotions, who are well practiced in their flow. I hope to raise men who do not shy away from vulnerability.
By telling my own Me Too story, by helping men feel their emotions and by how I bring up my two boys I hope to be part of the humanistic movement that is shaking the foundations on which rape culture exists.
a new dance theatre work by Kathleen Rea that tells the story of men in a therapy group.
DATES AND LOCATION
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto
Thursday, November 2, 2017 @ 8pm – Pay-what-you-can preview
Friday November 3, 2017 @ 8pm – Opening night
Saturday, November 4, 2017 @ 8pm
Sunday November 5 , 2017 @ 3pm
To volunteer to perform or to attend the performance see info at
For most of his life Vivek Patel was terrified at the thought of dancing. He couldn’t even dance when he was alone in his living room. In this inspiring interview, Vivek tells us how he eventually overcame his fear and went on to become a dancer and dance filmmaker
Director of Toronto’s Contact Dance International Film Festival, Kathleen Rea, speaks with dancer Vivek Patel, upon the world premiere of his film “Contact Improv from the Inside Out” at the film festival on May 13.
K: How did you first become involved in Contact Dance Improvisation?
V: I started doing Contact Improvisation ten years ago. I was thirty-six when I started. I had been afraid to dance all my life, but inside I really wanted to. A friend of mine told me about Contact. He thought that because I do martial arts, it might be right up my alley. He said, “You know, there’s this guy who’s really friendly and really awesome and he’s teaching a workshop. His name’s Allen Kaeja. You should go check him out because even though I know you’re terrified, this guy can help you get over your fear”. And so I went to the workshop with Allen at Harbourfront, and I was just blown away by it. I’d never seen people move like that. I’d never seen people interact like that. You know, in the martial arts world, we pretty much punch and kick each other all the time [laughs]… I’d never been around people before being physical without that competitive nature. They were being cooperative and bonding, and it was just so beautiful. It touched my heart. From the very first day I was hooked but also terrified, because I felt like I was too old to get into something like that. But it touched me so deeply I couldn’t stop.
K: What martial art did you do?
V: I did, and still do, Ninjutsu, which is an ancient Japanese martial art. I was one of the first Canadians to study this martial art and I’ve been doing it now for almost thirty years. It’s a beautiful martial art that has a lot of flow. The principles are similar to Contact Improv, in terms of being in connection with the other person… connecting your own center to their center… feeling the connection to the ground and the strength and power the ground gives you. In both, Ninjutsu and Contact Improvisation, rather than trying to use muscle to force things, we try and use connection, flow, momentum, gravity, and relaxation.
K: What do you think your fear of dance was based on?
V: When I was very young, like maybe eight or nine years old, or even younger, I used to love to dance. And then one day, I had a few friends over and we were dancing in my living room. One of the kids started teasing me, saying “you dance like a girl”. Now, if somebody said that to me at this point in my life, I’d consider it an honour. But when I was seven or eight years old, it seemed like they were telling me I wasn’t masculine enough. I was being laughed at and derided for my dancing.
I didn’t have any kind of emotional foundation to deal with that kind of insult at that age. One of the main reasons I’m so passionate about teaching conscious parenting workshops at this point in my life is that I want to teach parents how to give their kids the tools to deal with things like that so that they’re not so devastated by it. It closed me up for thirty years. I couldn’t even dance when I was alone in my living room. It seems irrational, but that’s how the mind works. My fear of dancing went so deep, it terrorized me. When I went to my first [Contact Improvisation] Jam, I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up all over the floor. I just sat on the side of the room, watching. I didn’t even have the strength in my legs to get up. You actually came over to me and grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the dance floor. You were the first person I danced with at a Jam.
V: I’ve always been grateful to you for making that initiation on that first day. That’s one of the reasons I make an effort to go over to frightened-looking people myself and give them a gentle and welcoming dance as often as I can.
K: What was it about Contact Improvisation that helped you get over your fear?
V: To be honest I don’t think there was anything in particular about contact Improvisation that helped me get over my fear. In fact I found it quite terrifying. It activated a lot of my insecurities. In some ways it still does! I think the thing that really made the difference was that I just decided to keep going no matter what. I knew this was something I wanted in my life and I could feel that there was no shortcut. So no matter how afraid I was I just kept going every week.
At first the fear would outweigh the joy, but I just kept going. Eventually the joy started to catch up to the fear and eventually overtook it. Now ten years later the fear occupies a very small corner of my brain. It is still there but doesn’t make quite the racket that it used to. These days when I leave after a couple of hours of dancing I feel happy, nourished and high.
K: What has changed for you since you started dancing ten years ago?
V: Hmmm… good question. It’s a question with a lot of answers. I think in my own personal self-development, I’ve learned to accept myself more. I’ve learned to accept myself in whatever state I’m in. In Contact, I’m finally starting to learn not to worry about how I look. Not to worry about whether something seems to be working out or not. But just to love the moment regardless of what it is. The more I love the moment, the more I experience and experiment. The more I play and become curious, the more joy I get out of it. This transfers to my life and transfers to my self-image, which is the thing that was damaged when I was a child. Also my physical capacity has increased dramatically as a dancer and as a martial artist. I am able to engage more with my daughter who is very athletic.
K: Some might say you were already embodied as a martial artist. What did Contact Improvisation give you above and beyond, or in addition to, what martial arts gave you? [long, silent pause] Are you still there?
V: Hmmmm… [further pause]………I’m thinking. I’m listening to the answers bubble up…
The first thing that comes to my mind, most obviously, is that Contact Improvisation allowed me to express a deeper feminine side than martial arts usually does. It allowed me to be softer. My martial art is very fluid, but it does have the intent to destroy my opponent [laughs], I’m merging with them with the intent to rip them apart in some way. Contact Improv is decidedly not like that. It provides the opportunity to express my physicality without that violent side. Now, I do love the aggressiveness of martial arts, but being able to explore my softer nature in a dance is also valuable to me.
I’ve been on a personal journey of developing my feminine side for many years. When I was twenty, I saw women as a collection of body parts and not actual human beings with hearts, minds and souls. That’s largely how men are conditioned. I’ve worked very hard to change. Over time I fostered a more feminist approach to politics and philosophy and my relationships with women. Although I was on a personal journey towards exploring the feminine I didn’t connect to my feminine side through movement until I started Contact Improvisation. And then when I brought that learning into my martial art, it just amplified how powerful I was as a martial artist as well….It has even made me be a better lover.
K: How did you have the idea to make a dance film? When did that seed start growing?
V: I was doing martial arts in the park last summer. This guy approached me out of the blue and told me he was a film professor at York University, and he wanted to film me doing martial arts. I said no, because I am camera shy when it comes to my martial art. But I said, “you know, I do this other beautiful movement form that I think you’d be interested in”. I pointed him toward the Contact community. He works with film and he uses chemical processes to create interesting colours and effects. He wanted to include the Contact Improvisation community into his work. And so we organized a day to dance in the park and about ten to twelve people showed up to dance while he was filming. At some point, somebody mentioned that you were looking for submission to the Contact Dance Film Festival. The moment I heard that, the whole idea for a film just popped into my head.
Another reason I love doing Contact Improvisation is that it’s connected me to a community of people that I care about and resonate deeply with. It’s given me a place that I feel is like home for me. So I wanted to honour and showcase that community and the depth that I see in these people who are my friends. I decided to give them a chance to express their authenticity and their relationship to this dance form. And so that’s where I got the idea to create a dance film where the people I dance with every week would write a piece of poetry that expressed how they experience Contact Improvisation and what the dance form does for them. Then they would dance while reciting their poem. This vision popped into my head and I knew I had to make it happen.
I’d never made a film before. I’d done some filming and editing of wedding videos and seminars, but I had never made a film. But I just said to myself that I’m going to throw myself into this and do it.
K: How did you feel when your film was accepted and to discover that your film was scheduled to be on the program with Allen Kaeja’s films?
V: Yeah, for somebody who’s never made a film before I was thrilled and at the same time, I feel like it’s hardly just me that’s been accepted… it’s the community I represented. And I’ll tell you [laughs], when the Film Festival accepted my film, it was a conditional acceptance. The film was twenty-two minutes long and they said that in order for me to have my film in the Festival, I had to cut it in half. When I heard that, I nearly passed out. I couldn’t imagine cutting this work of art that I had created in half. The process of doing so was really, really hard at first. It hurt. But the more I did it and the more I had to change things and let go of things that I had thought were really awesome, the more I started to feel the difference between what was essential and what was extra. What was really necessary to express the message and what was more like the wrapper on the candy. And that process, although it was hard, taught me a lot. Since then I have started to work with that same feeling in my writing and even in my dancing. I’m trying to keep more of what’s essential and less of what’s just the wrapping.
Come out and see the world premiere of Vivek’s film Contact Improv from the Inside Out on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm at Dovercourt House – 805 Dovercourt Rd Toronto. More info at www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Visit Vivek’s blog at www.meaningfulideas.com
What is Contact Dance Improvisation? Contact dance improvisation is a social dance involving touch, in which momentum between two or more people is used to create and inspire dance movements. The form is similar to martial arts practices such as Aikido that use momentum and rolling point of contact in defensive actions. Contact dancers use these practices, not to defend themselves but to communicate, dance and express. In Contact Dance Improvisation there is no set lead and follow as is common in other social dances. The dancers will sometimes follow and sometime lead and interchange between these roles seamlessly. With no pre-set roles, deep “listening” and responding in the moment, to one’s partner, is central. Techniques include rolling point of contact, balancing over a partner’s centre of gravity, following momentum, and “listening” with one’s skin surface. Contact dance improvisation is accessible to people with no previous dance training and to people with physical disabilities. It is typically practiced in a jam situation in which a group of people gather to improvise together. These jams occur around the world and include people of all ages and training levels.
2015 Contact Dance International Film Festival The Contact Dance International Film Festival returns to Toronto, May 13 to 15, 2015 for its second season with a program of 27 films from 12 countries. This festival, produced by REAson d’etre dance productions, celebrates films featuring momentum-based dance created by some of the top creators and dancers in the field of Contact Dance Improvisation. Three different screening programs will be presented alongside dance, classes, workshops, jams and parties! The festival is a unique opportunity for both film and dance lovers to experience the joy, chaos and intimacy of human connection through physical movement. From the expansive peaks of British Columbia, to the streets of Kiev, to the Festival Interplay in Torino Italy, prepare to be moved as dancers fly and bodies collide with force, grace and tenderness. More Info at www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Want to learn Contact Dance Improvisation?
Fundamental Skill Contact Improvisation Workshop
Teacher: Kathleen Rea
Date: Wed, May, 13, 10:00am – 11:30am
Location: 805 Dovercourt Road (third Floor)
Description: In this workshop, that is part of the part of the Contact Dance International Film Festival, Kathleen Rea will teach fundamental skills such as balancing weight over centre of gravity, sloughing and following momentum. This workshop is specially designed to be welcoming to beginners. Beginners and all levels are welcome
Registration Information: www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Film Still Captures
Dancers: Morgen Ross, Vivek Patel, Kim Hunter, Michael Nickson, Olivia Proudfoot, Matilda Carlsson, Puja Jones and Micheal Haltrecht
Photographer: Jim Bush
Dancers: Vivek Patel and Phil Wackerfuss