Irma Villafuerte in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
The spotlight over the past years has turned towards the under-representation of female choreographers in the established dance companies. In the press and social media, I have seen a repeat of the same sort of questions and thought processes in regards to this issue that goes something like this “… where are all the female choreographers?” or “why aren’t there more female choreographers” or “If only there were more female choreographers then we could hire them”. While it is great to see the press and dance community having these discussions, I would like to counter by saying we are not that hard to find. We are mostly finding our way, on our own terms by starting our own companies and self-producing. They should concentrate on finding us, seeing our shows and writing reviews. This would shine a spotlight on our work that can help even out the gender inequalities we face. Roshanak Jaberi is an Iranian-Canadian female choreographer whom I had no trouble finding. I would like to shine some stage-light on this talented and brave creator.
I just came home from Jabari’s production “No Woman’s Land”, created for her company Jaberi Dance Theatre and presented by DanceWorks at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto. Jaberi Dance Theatre is a multi-disciplinary performing arts company that explores socially relevant content and highlights the lived experience of racialized women. “No Woman’s Land” tells stories of refugee women fleeing their homelands due to acute starvation, poverty, natural disasters, armed conflict and war. Roshanak engaged in an intense research phase with the support of IRIS (Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society) and scholar Dr. Shahrzad Mojab. The work that arose out of the stories and information collected is a weaving of dance, visual images, text and sound. Pre-show, the stage is set with something that looks like the frame of a tent. Light shines through the frame casting shadows that look like bars of some virtual prison. Or perhaps they are a net that will hold the audience together while we witness the stories that are about to unfold. One of the beautiful aspects of Jaberi’s work is that the images portrayed hold multiple meanings and tones, creating a richly layered tapestry.
The work starts at high velocity with the frame turning over to become a boat. Images of a storm are projected over all surfaces of the stage. We witness refugees fighting for their lives in stormy waters. The choreography is direct in its movements, but the nuances are complex and cut deep into the heart. The cast (Irma Villafuerte, Nickeshia Garrick, Victoria Mata, Denise Solleza, Drew Berry, Ahmed Moneka) are fully committed. One can sense they know the importance of the job they have in bringing these stories to the stage.
Victoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte & Drew Berry in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
The program includes a fold-out pamphlet that educates the public about the world-wide refugee crisis. We learn that 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes and that one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds. We learn that approximately one in five women in refugee camps are sexually-assaulted. This statistic is brought to life on stage through Irma Villafuerte’s solo that depicts unwanted hands reaching for her body through “bars”, and through a voice-over of a young girl’s story of a brutal rape. The pamphlet also describes how refugee women become shrewd survivors through their lived experience, finding strategies, cunning and independence. In a fierce solo by Nickeshia Garrick, sharp movements cut through the air with grace and speed. Every cell of her body exemplifies pride and beauty that dismantles the stereotype of the helpless, passive victim.
Victoria Mata in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley
In another scene, dancers frantically fight for limited buckets. The rattling sound of hollow metal clanging reverberates on stage, a music score that gives the audience a felt sense of the panic of thirst. The buckets then become stepping stones across minefields or seats at a social gathering that gives relief from the worries of being displaced. Text and projected images deliver story and setting, but dance is the element that delivers the emotional world hidden behind the words and statistics. This embodiment is what brings the stories home to those witnessing. Throughout the work a repeated poem delivers the message that people flee their home when fleeing is safer than staying. This made me think of what it would take to make me grab my kids and flee. A vital aspect of “No Woman’s Land” is that it invites the viewer into an immersive art experience that encourages the viewer to imagine what it would be like if those circumstances unfolding on stage happened to them. Jaberi’s states in her program notes that “No Woman’s Land” does not attempt to present solutions to systemic systems of oppression that lead and influence the refugee crisis. Rather, she hopes the work will start discourse amongst those in a position of influence.
Roshanak Jaberi is a brave and articulate choreographer with a strong vision. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.
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.
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