CA: Carol Anderson
BC: Bill Coleman
LL: Laurence Lemieux
Q: Questions and comments
CA: I'll be very brief. It is my pleasure to introduce Laurence Lemieux and Bill Coleman who are going to talk about many aspects of their work as choreographers, dancers, commissioners of new dance work and bringing choreography back to the stage.
BC: (jokes) There's Juliette in the back. We also have a son, Jimmy. They both attend the National Ballet School. That's the family, so it's all intermingled. Really briefly: Laurence and I have had a company since 2000. The principal activities of the company are to present Laurence's work and to present my work and to be involved in, encourage, and present the work of other artists – whether they are choreographers or visual artists or composers – work that we find compelling. James Kudelka is our “resident” choreographer, and we work regularly with visual artist/media artist John Oswald, as well as with the Métis visual artist Edward Poitras, who's from Saskatchewan.
Laurence and I are both dancers. We met at Toronto Dance Theatre; we had come from very different places. Later, we were both choreographing, and in our time together romantically we were also spending a lot of time creating. So, it was natural for us not only to get married, but to start a company …
LL: That sounds pretty funny!
BC: There was a certain point where we were both in the same house, both applying for grants or trying to present our work. It made a lot of sense to do it together, to make a company, so it would act as an umbrella for whatever creative or artistic pursuits we found we wanted to do.
We started the company in Montreal; we left Ontario when Mike Harris came in as Premier. Timing is everything – and location, location. We knew we wanted to create work and we knew we wanted to present the work as fully as possible. I think we intuitively felt that really, really hard times were coming in Ontario. Our intuition was right. We are now back in Ontario, and the Ontario Arts Council funding is back to where it was when Mike Harris came in. He had cut arts funding and it was a very hard time – for those of you who weren't there – for dance.
We had Juliette two weeks after arriving in Montreal and we formed a company that started to present. We presented ambitious things. We collaborated with some Russian veterans and produced a piece in Russia; we did my work and Laurence's work; we were interested in working with James Kudelka; so the company has progressed. It's still a pretty “Ma and Pa” kind of company, but it has grown from just us self-presenting things to the point where we are now presenting and producing quite large works. And we tour, which is great. We have an agent in the States. We have done excerpts of the Kudelka show at City Centre in New York. We've been to China and Mongolia; so the company has blossomed.
With the transition of the move back to Toronto, the company has grown as well, and we're investing in a permanent place for the company and are working with the community across the street, Regent Park, that is going through a big revitalization.
That's the company. That's who we are and what we do. Now I'll briefly talk about me as a dancer.
I was born in Nova Scotia. My parents were actors and writers and they drove around Canada and had lots of children. Just as I was born, they decided to move back to Scotland to provide better education for the children. So I principally grew up in Oban, in Scotland, a little village in the Highlands, which was really great. It was very beautiful, but unfortunately then we moved down to England and we lived in Hastings – where the Battle of Hastings was. Which is okay – though people drink and fight a lot.
I started dancing quite late. My mother didn't discourage me – I think I just saw some Fred Astaire films and decided I wanted to tap dance. So at the age of fifteen I went to Esme Child's School of Dance in Hastings. I took dance class with little girls about my knee height and learned to tap and then I got interested in tap and thought, “I want to continue dancing.” My mother decided I could train full-time. So when I was seventeen, I went with my mother to London and I auditioned for several schools – I learned a little bit of ballet, you know, all three positions. They weren't the standard positions, we just made them up. She dragged me around London and I auditioned for all these schools. I didn't know what the hell I wanted to do so I auditioned at theatre schools – schools that did theatre and dance. You had to send photos and learn a soliloquy, and speak, and you had to dance. My mom took a picture of me that's sort of legendary at the school that I finally went to. It was in my room with me standing in these grey tights – which I didn't know how to wear. We got a mail order dance belt – I thought the tears were just natural when you put those things on. I'm standing in front of my bed. The bed behind me is unmade and there's a Peter Fonda poster from Easy Rider in the back, and I've got this weird hair and this nylon shirt.
So before I'd ever arrived at school I was a legend because the students would go up to the office and start laughing at this picture. The school was called Doreen Bird School of Theatre Dance. We did lots of kinds of dance, and many girls went off and did cruise ship shows. Some people did end up going into the finer arts of dance. Luckily there happened to be a really good ballet teacher from the Royal Ballet – who for some reason ended up coming to our school and teaching. The tap dancing was weird, and they didn't teach modern dance; “modern” was sort of like jazz without hips. It was all the same. It was all ISTD modern dance, it wasn't anything like I discovered in Toronto.
So I got into ballet because we were boys, and I liked being yelled at. I did a bunch of ballet for a bit – because you're a boy it's kind of easy – I did ballet for two-and-a-half years. Then I got a call from the school saying that Dublin City Ballet needed a guy. So I packed my bags and went to Dublin the following day. I was supposed to be met at the dock and nobody met me – it's the story of my life. So I had to find out where this old company was. I was seventeen or eighteen. It was 1979. Dublin was really fun. The dancers were all really young. They all tormented me. Anton Dolin, an old Ballets Russes dancer, was there, and he tormented me. He would insult me in front of all the company and call me “college” and make me go get him cups of coffee in the middle of rehearsal. Old style … then I got him back because I spilled coffee on his suit. But he liked me. So that was Dublin. That was fun.
Then I auditioned in Germany. Everybody did it, moved around; and I got a job in Germany. That was another ballet company with an Argentinian director with a shoe fetish. It was fun because I was young and everything was fun. It didn't matter where I was. But at a certain time I realized nobody was very engaged in what they were doing. They were just sort of mailing it in, and I thought there might be something more interesting.
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