Luminaries of Canadian dance to lead students in a special studio course

The Department of Dance is hosting two luminaries of Canadian contemporary dance as artists-in-residence in a special studio intensive this month.

Renowned choreographers Danny Grossman and Patricia Beatty, assisted by several professional dancers, have been leading classes for undergraduate dance repertory students for the past three weeks.

Each of the guest choreographers has set a work on the student performers. Grossman has created a new etude for 16 dancers that incorporates movements from 19 of his previous works. Beatty has set a section of her recent solo, High Heart, on three students and has been coaching one of the intensive’s teaching assistants, alumna Nicole Bond (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05), in the full piece.

The works will be presented in a free, informal public showing today at 1pm in the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East Building.

Grossman taught at York in the 1970s shortly after the University launched Canada’s first dance degree program and currently serves as an adjunct professor in the Department of Dance. He established the Danny Grossman Dance Company in 1977 and subsequently presented over 35 original works from solos to large ensemble pieces, touring internationally and building a dedicated following.

Right: Danny Grossman

Now in its third decade, his company’s core activity has become the preservation, promotion, licensing and teaching of repertoire from the signature Grossman Collection. Grossman has amassed numerous honours for his work, including the Jean A. Chalmers Choreographic Award from the Ontario Arts Council, a Dora Mavor Moore Award and NOW Magazine‘s citation for Toronto’s Best Local Choreographer.

Beatty is a seminal figure in the development of modern dance in Canada. She was one of the founding artistic directors of the legendary Toronto Dance Theatre, one of Canada’s oldest contemporary dance companies, and its affiliated (and equally celebrated) training institution, the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

Hailed as both a ground breaking choreographer and an inspired teacher, Beatty’s works include Painters and the Dance, a collaboration of dancers, painters and composers that won the prestigious Victor Martin-Lynch Staunton Award, and Form without Formula, an acclaimed book about creativity and choreography. She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2004.

Left: Patricia Beatty

The creative process involved in mounting Grossman’s and Beatty’s works is being documented by students in the Graduate Program in Dance Studies as part of a course on the methods of dance reconstruction. Alumnus Allen Kaeja (MA ’09), an established choreographer and award-winning dance film director, is leading workshops for the graduate students on filming and editing with Final Cut Express software. Working with Grossman and Beatty, the students are also honing their skills in conducting oral history interviews and learning various methods of reconstructing and documenting dance.

Through their research and studio work, the graduate students are active participants in and contributors to Dance Department Chair Mary Jane Warner‘s ongoing Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded scholarly project: documenting and preserving the work of senior Canadian choreographers.

"Dance is an ephemeral art form," said Warner, a noted historian of modern dance. "In Canada, choreographers are encouraged to create new work, but not enough attention is given to preserving or documenting existing masterworks. The works of many of the country’s senior choreographers are in danger of being lost forever."

The spring intensive with Grossman and Beatty is part of Warner’s mission to address this deficit, while also offering invaluable training to up-and-coming dance artists and researchers. As well as involving graduate students, undergraduate students with a strong interest in dance composition and a specific project in mind were invited to apply to do a choreographic independent study mentored by Beatty and/or Grossman.

Dance major Vanessa Quesnel, who has just finished her fourth year of study, is one of the lucky mentees. She has had feedback from both artists on her latest creation, a quartet called Body Language.

"Danny [Grossman] and Trish [Beatty] helped me find the music when I had no idea where to start, and they have been so encouraging," Quesnel said. "I feel like they are embellishing my creativity. Their positive feedback has really empowered me to confidently move forward with the work."

Body Languag will be part of the May 21 showcase at York. Quesnel premiered the work May 16 at an invitational showing celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Dance Workshop, a studio in her hometown of Alliston, Ont. She has also arranged a few additional informal performances of Body Language to take place in the next few weeks at non-traditional outdoor locations like a children’s park, on the beach, and at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto.