CF: From Simon Fraser I went into the Karen Jamieson Dance Company, worked with her for four years, and when I became an independent artist I got my first contract with Lola for her project fuse; that was in 2001.

So she's always been there with her very particular generosity and this little fire that kind of snipes at you. She always saw a dancer in me and she always wanted me to fulfill that. She would say, “What are you going to do with this? What are you going to do?” For the longest time it terrified me, because I didn't quite understand that she didn't have an expectation of me. She wanted to help me open up expectations for myself, to search for myself to see what kind of dancer I wanted this body to be. To see if I could understand what its strengths are, and where I might want to take those strengths. Or to understand potential weaknesses, and how to shape or use or fight them. For the longest time I was just petrified and trying to please her. It's unfortunate, as it would get in the way. She would keep trying to work with me, try and wiggle around my self-doubts and my anxiety of trying to please her and trying to shift the ground. She'd let it go for a bit, let it sit for a little while, and then come back, kind of poke from over here. So she was always working with me and has been amazingly steady and grounded and supportive, riding the elevator with me as I get inspired by dance. Or I'd get discouraged again; I'd say, “No! I just can't take it any more,” and she'd say, “Okay. So what are you thinking about now, and where do you want to go?”

We had the privilege, in Provincial Essays, of having a very extended creation process as many things happened for the entire cast and creative team in that process. We had one cast member get married and move to Australia. We had one cast member have a family member pass away. There was illness. There was a huge amount happening within this creative process. As a result there was a lot of one-on-one time, which is where the best of Lola's generosity comes into play her ability to focus on just you and open up the studio space so that anything goes. You can try anything and also you have her full focus, which can be kind of like an electric beam, because nothing escapes the amount of research that she puts into looking for photos and images and has gathered from books, and this experience, and that singer ... The library of research that she does also comes into the studio, and you become like one of the books she's flipping through. She'll say, “I like that little thing” and she'll pull on or tweak that. It's amazing to be at the centre of such a direct and minute focus, wanting to pull something from you that you are not necessarily even aware of.

LM05

She will craft something with you, and it's really fascinating. Over the course of a couple of weeks, on various days in the studio, she videotaped a massive amount of raw material. This might be small moves, or improvisations to music that she would set or just ask you to go with, maybe a childhood story that you had to tell, or an experience that you had. Maybe just an emotional input, maybe an intellectual input. So she'd gather this massive amount of material and then she would pull singular moves from each and any of those days. She developed a list that grew to a couple of pages of moves that she liked, and she went through different groupings of them and then she'd say, “two hankie flips, one whip of the head, one sneeze button.” She's composed a solo for you! She'll watch, take it in, then she might tweak things, might say, “Okay, try it with this music. Same thing, same timing but just see what the music does for you.” So, it's this amazing crafting, as in a novel or poem maybe, that comes from the way that she sees movement. Not necessarily as choreographic movement in space where you're sweeping the space, but guided by her very specific vision. You're so clear on what she wants you to do, and the whole space focusses on what she wants to be focussed on.

The other funny thing that has happened with Provincial Essays is the number of times that we've had different versions of the piece. We went to Montreal and Ottawa, doing forty-minute or half-hour portions of the piece for various touring or presenters' networks.

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BS: I'm just going to interject here ... Sometimes you're asked to present part of a piece at an arts conference or other event. You're asked to bring a piece but they only give you fifteen minutes to half an hour. If there's one thing that Lola hates it is that. How can you cut a big piece like this into a third or two thirds? For her it made no sense. As managers we would say, “Maybe we'll get a gig or two out of it.” She would comply, but you could see that it was painful.

CF: She wanted to make sure that the arc of the piece somehow got maintained no matter how it got truncated or closed in. She wanted to make sure that everything she was trying to bring to the work was in whatever little section she presented. Provincial Essays is actually a series of essays, which you would think would help the matter, except that each essay is in the piece for a reason, so which one do you pull out, and how do you shape the other ones around it? So we'd sometimes be running around, trying to re-craft, saying, “This goes after this now, and that was in that section, and we're in the other one now.” It was funny like those mystery books that you read when you were twelve; if you go this way, choose page twelve, if you go this way choose ... (laughter).

For me, anyway, it's been fun to be part of those. We took one to Montreal and none of us were really very satisfied. It kind of over-weighed one aspect of the work. So the next time we had the opportunity to do a thirty-minute section, we shifted quite a bit of it and everyone was much happier with it, because we felt it had a much broader spectrum. It's always a pleasure to do the whole work, and her vision comes through so much clearer. You get into the world she's trying to create.

AD: I'm Alison. I have a very different background with Lola because I've only worked with her on pieces that were made on other people. The first time I met her I was nineteen and I'd just graduated from the [Ballet BC] mentor program; I was very excited about dance and wanted a job so badly. She called me, and my heart was pounding. I loved her, and she asked me to audition for one of the four solos in Four Solos/Four Cities. She gave me the video. She said, “Learn five minutes.” I learned the whole thing. I showed up ready and we had this wonderful four-hour chunk of the day together where we played with it, she put me in the costume, I tried it to the music, to silence; we just played with the solo. I was in heaven because she was so nice to me and it was so much fun. I didn't end up doing it, which broke my heart, but when she called me to tell me that she said, “I hope we get to work together one day, because I really enjoyed working with you.”

It's about eight years later that I have finally gotten to work with her. When Andrea Keevil decided to retire from dancing, Lola needed someone for the role so she asked me to dance it and I'm really happy to be a part of it. But it's interesting because both with that first little experience and then this experience, I've felt like I'm scrambling a bit because I don't have a history with it or the insight into the work that everyone else has. I've had to ask people “What is that? What are we doing here?” There has not been a lot of time for Lola and I to get right into it, so I often feel like I'm trying to absorb all the information from everybody else in the room and follow along. But in a way that makes me feel confident. I was lucky to work with Andrea one-on-one, so I got information from her, and then we only really had a three-week remount, so that's pretty quick.

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Lola MacLaughlin
School of Toronto Dance Theatre,
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