Find out more about our work and read guest posts from artists, and learn about our community.
We are thrilled to welcome Corporeal Imago and the world premiere of Throe at Scotiabank Dance Centre November 17-19. We sat down with co-founders of Corporeal Imago, Gabrielle Martin and Jeremiah Hughes to talk about their careers in dance, how and why they started their company and their upcoming piece, Throe.
How did you first come to dance?
Gabrielle Martin: Like many active young girls, I tried ballet when I was little, but I hated it. I found Judo and ice hockey and dragon boat racing to connect to my passion for physicality. And then it became the experience of performance that drew me back to dance in my late teens. I started spinning fire in parks with my friends, which led to performing at parties and events where I experienced the heightened state of performance and wanted more. I was transformed by what Akram Khan describes as the “vertical time” that exists on stage, a spiritual sense of time, compared to the horizontal “man-made time”. I am fascinated by performance as one of the few remaining ritual spaces in our society. I wanted more tools to inhabit this space with, so I began taking classes in Contact Improv, Butoh, and Authentic Movement. Ultimately, my desire to also study aerial dance made me move to Montreal in 2006, where I also studied contemporary dance at Concordia.
Jeremiah Hughes: I enjoy thinking back to this, it was at my stepfather and mother’s wedding. I was only 11 at the time, and when I discovered the dance floor, I was entirely captivated. I ended up dancing continuously until the early morning. Following that inspiring night, I pursued my parents daily saying that I wanted to learn how to dance. I was unaware how lucky I was to be raised only a few blocks away from the prestigious Canadian Dance Company. Through my time there I developed many techniques and was supported in my realization that for me dance has always been about storytelling. There have been many chapters, each with characters that have helped redefine my practice, but in the end it has always come back to storytelling.
When and why did you decide to start Corporeal Imago?
We had been touring with Cirque du Soleil as principal characters on the same show, we were four years in and feeling very aware of our unrealized potential as artists. Yes – we were with CDS, but we felt limited in the roles we had after so many years. We took a tour break in 2018 to attend Deltebre Dansa, a circus and dance festival in Spain, where we ended up playing hooky from the classes but attended every one of the evening performances. We saw some incredible work, and we also saw a lot of incredible technique used to say very little – something we knew well from having the mentality of theatre artists in a tricks-focused professional environment.
In those two weeks, we visioned a new work and wrote a Canada Council grant, which we were grateful to receive. We then took on the grueling and ambitious task of choreographing backstage between double show days, and in residencies across Europe during tour breaks. Corporeal Imago really started with that first project, Limb(e)s, in which we wore all the hats out of necessity. But we did manage to tour it, including to Edinburgh Festival Fringe where it was nominated for a Total Theatre Award. We had been billing ourselves as ‘contemporary circus’, but at the nomination event they were announcing the nominee categories, and circus went by without our show being mentioned, then dance went by and we felt duped, then we were named for ‘Visual and Physical Theatre’. Edinburgh was helpful for us to situate ourselves; we would pass flyers to audiences leaving other circus shows in the day, only to watch those same audience members walk out of our show in the evening. It was through this process that we understood our relation to circus – we are drawn to the metaphor of surpassing imposed limitations, of apotheosis, but not to the hyperreal circus experience audiences are accustomed to with breaks for applause. And, after years of doing flips and splits for claps, Corporeal Imago is what we describe as our vehicle for exploring the shadow side of our human experience.
What are the main elements and themes in your choreography to date?
We use the term ‘contemporary tragedy’ – we talk about our work exploring this through our unique interdisciplinary form. Humanity is somewhat tragic in general, with our history of violence. And, in contemporary terms, we continue to see fascism, along with our modern version of the plague, and climate crisis that will inevitably, irrevocably change our existence. Our work is a response to the emotions evoked by this reality, but more specifically the themes of agency versus fate that arise. Are we at the mercy of external circumstances? Or are we capable, through our resilience and will, through collectivity, to exert our agency and change the course of our experience? The dramaturgy of aerial circus works well in this conversation; in the aerial form, we see individuals evading gravity, or surmount the laws that govern us from their own sheer force. But what goes up must come down. A lot of our choreography takes place on the floor, where we see gravity-bound bodies, small in the vastness of this vertical potential.
Tell us about your upcoming new piece, Throe.
In Throe, we see bodies in the throes of survival. We see their interdependence in what appears to be an ill-fated existence in an inhospitable environment. Like our last piece, Limb(e)s, Throe uses aerial apparatuses in unconventional ways to elicit new floor-to-air vocabulary. We have had the pleasure of working with the fearless dance artists Brenna Metzmeier, Alex Tam, Eowynn Enquist, Marissa Wong and Isak Enquist, who have embraced the challenge of learning aerial technique for this piece. We are also working with composer Jo Hirabayashi, lighting designer Sophie Tang, and costume designer Amy McDougall. This creative team adds so much, because for us, our work is equal parts visual theatre, dance and aerial circus. We aim to create work that transports the audience, and these collaborators have supported us in achieving this.
In addition to creating a new work, you have recently become parents! How are you managing to balance this with the demands of being artists?
Yes! Our baby Loic is just over two months old now. We took a couple months off from the creation process to have him, but also to reflect on what the piece needed for its final stage of realization. Now, as you can imagine, it’s full, but at the same time we are used to wearing many hats. As mentioned, on our last project, we were performers, choreographers, designers, tour managers, technicians, and marketing at times. So now we’ve just swapped a couple of these hats for ‘parent’!
What is your next project?
We are working on two projects for the spring – one is a pilot project in partnership with CircusWest Performing Arts Society and the Training Society of Vancouver where we will offer free aerial and acro dance classes for professional dancers. We aim to share our unique, hybrid practice, contributing to a local community of artists engaged in aerial dance and interdisciplinary circus-dance practice. We intimately understand the limitations of an exclusively dance or circus formation and how an integrated approach can greatly enhance a performer’s capacity and range of expression.
The second project, Red (working title), is the research and creation of a new immersive performance experience intended to address the complicity of Global North societies as the climate crisis disproportionately affects the Global South.
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections Series
Corporeal Imago: Throe
November 17-19, 2022 | 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Info and Tickets
Photos: Darryl Ahye, Janie Mallet, courtesy of company