In the Belly of Nuit
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May 2014

Literal or Non-Literal Dance?

Should a full length dance production be a series of experiences or should it tell a literal story or even a third choice; should the series of experiences be linked into a story? 

Should artistic ideas and messages be spelled out literally?

Just as there are many art forms and within each, there many different artist's interpretations, thus there are many audiences that respond to the different artistic visions.

If I only had a dime for every time someone suggests to me that the Arabesque productions should tell a story that the audience can relate to and follow, or the program notes need to be lengthier and more in depth or there needs to be an MC explaining each choreography. I usually smile and acknowledge it is an interesting idea but I know in my heart, it is not my artistic vision and even when I have told "stories", they were so abstract, you could hardly call them stories.

Arabesque is not a traditional ballet company, nor does it aspire to create commercial work. It asks its audience to engage their own active imagination. Each choreography I create is a world or an experience that I hope causes a subtle yet real shift in the way one sees themselves and their relationship with the universe. I hope audience members travel a unique journey in each choreography; a journey that forges new paths into areas of ones mind and emotions they have not yet discovered. Each choreography is meant to be effective, leaving plenty of space for every audience member to make it their own and breathe their own life story into it.

I love it when everyone has a different answer as to which was their favourite choreography in the production. I love it when they each have a different interpretation of what the choreography meant and revealed to them.

Personally, I get bored and feel cheated when I am an audience member and I am being dictated to. Just let me sit back and enjoy the feast of artistry. Give me food for my imagination to create its own story. Aside from Choreographer's Notes, I often don't read the programme on purpose so that I watch with no preconceptions. I like to let the work speak to me unfiltered. I feel that without the explanation, the artist's vision is connecting with me directly through their work.

I have come to realize my inspiration may be Middle Eastern dance, music and culture but perhaps I express myself as a contemporary artist. I love dance companies like Momix or Joffrey Ballet and the work of choreographers like Jiri Kylian and Robert Desrosiers who are not known for telling literal stories. All of my choreography comes to me in a vision inspired by music, an abstract concept or an emotion. Literal stories do not come to me as a rule. Using someone else's already used story does not inspire me unless it has special personal meaning or is the perfect vehicle for offering a more abstract idea on many levels like Majnun and Leila.

Explicit story telling and explicit explanations are great vehicles for some as creative artists and their audiences. Then there are artists like me who want to offer up a a three dimensional Rorschach test and I believe there are audiences for those artists as well.

Although I tire of the literal storytelling suggestion being made to me. I am grateful that after seeing one of my works, the audience discussion is often about meaning and not about how good the dancers are or which costume is prettier. The fact that the audience asks for more explanation just makes me happy that their curiosity has been aroused. I like to leave them hungry and perhaps inspired to search on their own to answer the questions, thus making my work part of their own story.

Sawah = Banadi - Nomad

Amateur to Pro

There are so many ways one can define the difference between an amateur artist and a professional like skill level, experience, fees charged, recognition, etc. I believe the number one defining factor is an attitude and relationship with the art form.

Amateur dancer seeks and enjoys approval.

Professional dancer seeks and enjoys critique.

The professional craves feedback that offers further challenges and forces ever deeper learning journeys into their beloved art form. Approval feels good at first and informs a student they are on the right path but eventually it wears thin and does not lead anywhere new.

I just came off of directing Arabesque's latest production Sawah. It has received almost unanimous rave reviews. Even our biggest dance critic Michael Crabb (Toronto Star) who has had very little good things to say about our previous productions seems to really like Sawah as well. I am still receiving emails two weeks later with people exclaiming they are continually moved by it. Funny though, while I am thrilled and in some ways ecstatic, I feel more empty than after any other production and very little desire to continue to create.

In 1992, Arabesque presented for the first time in a main stream dance festival and were bascially booed off the stage. It hurt and was extremely embarrassing. However, I loved my dance form so much, it made me more than ever determined to find a way to translate and offer this art form in a manner the main stream dance world could appreciate. Consequently I set about on a difficult learning and discovery path that has been invigorating and obviously led to the creation of this latest production Sawah.

I remember the advice of a famous actress once who said an artist is finished if they start to believe their own publicity. Kinda think this quote is along the same lines. A thriving professional needs to be forever seeking learning opportunities.

ADC at CNE 2012