York choreographers premiere seven dance works

York choreographers premiere seven compelling works in New Light/Ancient Light, running Feb. 10 to 12 at York University’s Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre. A highlight of the program are original dances created by MFA candidates Nikolaos Markakis, Allison McCaughey, Suma Nair and Michelle Silagy. The performance is the final component of their practice-based thesis research — new choreography conceived for the proscenium stage.

Above: The York Dance Ensemble performs Michelle Silagy’s Snowlight. Photo by Craig Chambers.
Above: The York Dance Ensemble performs Michelle Silagy’s Snowlight. Photo by Craig Chambers.

“These dance artists embody a rich diversity of geographic roots, dance backgrounds, age and experience,” said Professor Holly Small, artistic director for New Light/Ancient Light. “Their work ranges from modern, contemporary and experimental forms through musical theatre, classical Indian and traditional Cretan dance styles.”

New works by Small, faculty member Susan Lee and undergraduate student Kiera Shaw round out the program. Featured performers are the York Dance Ensemble, the Dance Department’s pre-professional resident company, and guest artists from the broader Toronto dance community. Professor William Mackwood is the director of design.

Above: This ‘360 Video’ puts you in the middle of a rehearsal of Allison McCaughey’s Beyond the Line. To experience it fully, make sure your YouTube app or browser is up to date. To change your view, swipe your touch screen or move your mobile device up/down/side/side. In desktop, click & drag or navigate with the arrows.

In Beyond the Line, an ensemble piece for eight dancers, McCaughey explores performance aspects of musical theatre, jazz and contemporary dance to illuminate her overarching thesis theme of “the woman behind the chorus” in Canadian musical theatre.

With a 12-year professional career in musical theatre as a chorus member, choreographer and understudy, McCaughey recognizes how different the reality of people working in the industry is from the public stereotypes dating back to the Follies and Rockette dancers of the 1950s.

“Chorus members often have as much training and experience as the lead actors they understudy,” said McCaughey. “Not only are they ‘triple threats’ with dancing, singing and acting chops – they’re also entrepreneurs with businesses on the side, and mothers raising families.

Beyond the Line is about how ‘the show must go on’ despite whatever personal tragedy or stress may be happening in one’s life. It’s a glimpse behind the scenes of chorus life, and it ends with a parody of performance.”

Returning to school has been incredibly rewarding, McCaughey said.

“Pursuing my MFA has allowed me to step back and reflect on my career so far, and also to expand my world,” she said. “Choreographing for a musical theatre show is creatively stimulating, but it’s also regimented, fulfilling the director’s vision. It’s been really amazing to take this time to delve into my own work and ideas in a different setting.”

Inspired by her own circle of female friends and lifelong confidantes, Nair’s quintet Kindred explores patterns of attachment between women through a re-imagining of the classical Indian dance vocabulary of Bharatanatyam.

Silagy’s Snowlight is a paean to the quiet experience of winter made more enjoyable in the company of friends and loved ones. The choreographer uses 17th century Feuillet notation as a point of departure: deftly penned dance notation evoking purposeful footsteps, like tracks etched in fallen snow.

The figures on a classical Grecian urn were the inspiration for Markakis’ Μεταξὐ (between), which looks at the relationship between Cretan folkloric and contemporary dance practices. Can two worlds survive the pressure of hybridity or will one prevail over the other?

The York Dance Ensemble performs Susan Lee’s The Birds. Photo by Don Sinclair.
The York Dance Ensemble performs Susan Lee’s The Birds. Photo by Don Sinclair.

Shaw’s contribution to the program is The Maze, a choreographic inquiry into the potential of creative processes and the power of choice. Small’s haunting duet Apparadiant, set to an original score by John Oswald and performed by professional dancers Jessica Runge and Brendan Wyatt, speculates on the enigmatic connection between two beings re-united in a possible after-life.

Lee, artistic coordinator of the York Dance Ensemble, presents an excerpt from the work she is creating with the YDE for The Birds – a choreographic response to First Nations playwright Yvette Nolan’s adaptation of the play by Aristophanes. It explores thematic material ranging from the tragedy of missing and murdered Aboriginal women to the strength of the community. The full work will be featured next month as part of AMPD’s collaborative, interdisciplinary production of The Birds, bringing together theatre, dance, digital media and music.

New Light/Ancient Light is dedicated to the memory of Canadian dance pioneer Grant Strate (Dec. 7, 1927 – Feb. 9, 2015), who founded the Department of Dance at York University in 1970.

Performances take place Feb. 10 to 12 at 7:30pm in the Sandra Faire and Ivan Fecan Theatre, located in the Accolade East Building on Yorks Keele campus. Admission is $18. Tickets may be purchased online at ampd.yorku.ca/boxoffice, by calling 416-736-5888 or at the door.