BC: [continues] I hurt my knee, and I became very curious about going back to Canada. I needed an operation and it was the only place in the world at that time that did arthroscopy. So I ended up going there, getting an operation, studying a bit at the National Ballet School, which had a very good program for “specials” (meaning we weren't special). The specials were guys who weren't like the other guys and we were all older – it was a bit like the French Foreign Legion. I studied there for a little bit and then I got really disenchanted with ballet. I quit. I looked in NOW magazine. I found a new place to live. I lived with this radical lesbian with pink hair and another guy who I still hang out with and then they started playing me Talking Heads and telling me about feminism and then I got into Meredith Monk and then I got into art in general. And then I got into modern dance and I thought that might be interesting. I went and worked at a company in Charlottetown who did modern dance and that was fun. I went to New York and danced with Bill T. Jones. I studied at the Cunningham School and then I discovered choreography and made lots of dances. I made dances about anything. Literally. I used to work with dancers Mark Schaub and Leslie Lindsay. It didn't matter whether we were adapting The Mark of Zorro or we were adapting Shane, you know that great Western, into a ballet, it was always the same people and we'd be in different costumes. It was fun. We'd do a show in New York and a show in Toronto. I did that for a long time until I drove everyone insane.
I think I did that because I realized that I wanted to dance. I knew how important it was for my choreographic work, but the thing I loved most was dancing, so I decided I'd try to dance before I lost all my body fat and nobody wanted to look at me. I started working at the Toronto Dance Theatre. Then I started doing both – dancing with companies and dancing my own work. My dances – they used to be all funny – then got all serious, and now they are kind of hovering.
The Brothers Plaid was the first piece I ever made. I was working in Charlottetown and there were a lot of American tourists. I grew up in the U.K., so seeing all these people in Winnebagos, wearing plaid, was fascinating. I was newly from the U.K. and I bought hibachis and teen burgers, fascinated with all this North American stuff. With my friend Mark we wrote this sort of rap song and we played two tourists, and I tap danced. Mark used to drum, so he would drum on his snare drum and we would do this piece. For some reason The Brothers Plaid keeps getting done. I'm going to do it this summer in Ottawa. It's just something that stuck with us. Mark, who became a Canada Council officer and worked with Cirque du Soleil, finally quit dancing – but we'll still get together and do it. The last time was at the Canada Dance Festival.
When I make work, I always involve people and things that are really close to me. Usually it's my family, or I hire my friends. It does get really complicated, but I'm always doing this – Juliette and Jimmy work with us.
Generally when I was making dances I would always try and include these ingredients. I made a piece with my mom and dad. It was interesting. I try to make pieces about all my family – but I have four brothers and a lot of them refuse to do it. So I got women to play my brothers.
LL: I played one of your brothers.
BC: I would use things very close to me, and then I began to work with using ingredients that weren't necessarily dance ingredients, but were very fascinating to me. I made a war requiem because my father was on this convoy in World War II called Convoy PQ. 17 – it was a disastrous convoy that was trying to take supplies to Russia. There's a book about it. I began a piece about that and while we were doing that Laurence found this interesting organization in Russia. We looked into it, and then we collaborated with all these Russian veterans. Then we premiered it and we performed it on different memorial days, the end of WWII, D-Day, and things like that. My work Heartland was made just because I was fascinated with the very opening of the Robert de Niro film Raging Bull.
Heartland was actually the first serious thing I did. I played a sort of Butoh Jesus Christ going through all the stages of descending from the cross, to James Brown music, which has a religious fervour. That was edited by John Oswald. There's a section with a boxer – the Christ figure unbuttons his loin cloth and turns into a boxer and then I am boxing, and then it turns into a bionic lover. (That wasn't my idea – somebody said that in a review.) All these figures transformed, moving very slowly. It was the first time that I really focussed on one thing rather than doing anything that came into my mind. I thought “I just want to do an image” and I explored these images and ideas. Stillness. I learned patience, in a way.
Excerpt from Bill Coleman's Heartland
I began to work with lots of groups, exploring and working with a variety of people. I've been working on a series of pieces that are basically site-specific community collaborations which involve a crew of people. We come together, and have been doing it for almost a decade. Among them are Carole Prieur from Compagnie Marie Chouinard; Robert Regala, who used to dance with the Limón company; Laurence; the kids; Margie Gillis; and Robin Poitras.
We'd get together every two years. The first project we did, Grasslands, was in Saskatchewan. It was in a national park and we collaborated with a ranching village of 150 people. Then we put on an event that attracted around 700 people – we did it in the plains of Saskatchewan. We collaborated with ranchers and native organizations, the 4-H club, things like that. So my career of making dances began to be punctuated by things where, if I wanted to do a piece about the Prairies, rather than spend a lot of time with slides and lighting, I would just drag everybody, get in a plane and then we'd go to the one last remaining virgin prairie in Canada. We went to Newfoundland where we did something at Gros Morne National Park. We did something in Winnipeg at the Manitoba legislature and then we presented some work at a pow wow at Long Plain First Nation where I wanted to create a beautiful image of twentieth-century American dance classics right next to North America's oldest dancing traditions. We wrote to the Merce Cunningham company and presented a Cunningham piece at a pow wow. And then we went to Mongolia.
We took the regular company there once, but then we decided to go to western Mongolia – the Altai mountains, which is where the gates of Shangri-La are supposed to be. It's where there are a lot of prophecies, the second coming or the end of the world (depending on what you read) will happen there. We went there and we just created.
So, from the beginning I involved my family and friends, then I began to visit places that had a certain resonance – places, people, communities. A sense of wonder always defined what I found very beautiful about dance. I needed it to be really inclusive of everything that I found interesting. That's grown from just doing things that are really close to me, and casting women I'm in love with, to just going to places where I'd always wanted to be. Just saying, why can't we just go there? Why can't we just do that?
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