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Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past Into Present

Our Global Dance Connections series opens in November with an evening of works helmed by Mary-Louise Albert: three solos restaged for a new generation of dancers, and a new solo which sees her return to the stage after a 20-year hiatus. We down down to chat (virtually) with her about the project.

What prompted you to restage three solos, twenty years after you first danced them? And why these particular solos?
These solos were created and performed during the last five years of my 20-year professional dance career.  Because they were created during this latter period of my dancing career, when I stopped dancing, they stopped with me. I was never really interested in choreographing so when I stopped dancing, I was ready to head into the next chapter of my working life which involved business school and directing the Chutzpah! Festival/Norman Rothstein Theatre for 15 years.  The choreographers and I were all in our 40’s at the time and we moved on.

However, over these years in the back of my mind, I knew it was not right to let these beautiful dances end with me.  I felt like there was “a little something” still missing from this very enjoyable period of my career as a solo commissioning dancer. A sense that something was not quite complete. It became clear that I needed to pass on the solos to this generation of outstanding female dancers and support their growth with performing options, and put these beautiful works back in repertoire.

Working so intimately with the choreographers Allen Kaeja, Tedd Robinson and Peter Bingham, many years ago, brought a level of understanding as a solo performer that I had not experienced before in such depth. As people they all have a wonderful down-to-earth approach to themselves and their work, and this led to a generosity and non-judgmental approach to their creative process with me. The strength and confidence the choreographers had with their process was simply quite wonderful for me to work with. I wanted to pass on this experience.

Contemporary solo work so often does not stay in repertoire or is retired once the original dancer is no longer performing. A focus of this project was not just to bring back work from an historical perspective, but to also bring two generations of dance artists together and use this past work to move forward. The special bond between choreographer and dancer this project enabled will be ongoing, hopefully for many years.

The project is not over. There are two other solos that I am hoping “to pass on” in the same way in the near future.

How did you select the dancers?
Vanessa Goodman, Livona Ellis and Rebecca Margolick were carefully chosen in consultation with the choreographers based on my knowledge of their training, work ethic, technical and performance talents, the point in their careers and how this project would support their artistic growth. I have known Vanessa, Livona and Rebecca for years and have presented all of them at some point in their own work or while performing for other companies. Rebecca Margolick is my daughter so I have known her the longest, haha! All the solos require sophisticated articulation of movement and are artistically and technically demanding. All three women have the versatility and the desire to develop, enjoy and share them. The artistic and intellectual curiosity, generosity, and talent that Vanessa, Livona and Rebecca bring to these works has been personally and professionally inspirational for me.

How have the solos changed during this process?
Organically! With changes that signalled insightful growth for the works and all involved.

Woman Walking (away) did not change “step wise” at all, but now embodies the particular sensibilities, insights and personal beauty (inside and out) of Livona. Peter and Livona talked a lot about the intent and physical and theatrical sensations, and it was a generous and open dialogue. Livona took the approach of melding our two interpretations and engaged with both Peter and myself to explore ways to fully embody the solo in her own way. Which she has done exquisitely.

I would like to share Vanessa’s reflections on reconstructing oLOS : “I spent time with Tedd and Mary-Louise …. We worked on visiting what the solo meant to all of us. Examining the process physically and mentally of passing along a living archive. Every time an artist embodies a work it transforms with their system, this work continues to transform with, and for me each time I inhabit it.”

Allen and Rebecca worked closely together in a process that they saw as a revisioning of Trace Elements.  Allen made space for Rebecca to experiment and was interested in how she could bring herself into the solo.

Allen states: “Rebecca is an amazing dancer, who is so different from her mother, yet embodies many of her nuances and gestures.  I saw both her mother as well as Rebecca’s own deeply personal and powerful influence in Trace Elements. This led to further development of the work. It grew from 10 minutes to 15 including an integration of some video footage from the original Trace Elements as part of the journey and marrying once again, history with the present.”

You are returning to the stage after a 20 year break – how does that feel?
To be doing this at the age 65 leaves me somewhat dumbstruck with a bit of ‘WTF’. It’s a special experience, with its range of physical and emotional exploration. There is an ache in my joints that is a new sensation (ha ha). I rarely “hurt” as a dancer, and was lucky that way, so it really is new. But all of it, parcelled together, is part of this new multi-faceted dance journey of mine as a senior citizen. Another facet is the BC Movement Arts Society, an organization I co-founded a few years ago. We are a new dance presenter in BC and will be launching an annual contemporary dance series for rural BC in 2021 – so stay tuned.

I do feel very grateful that I have the physical and mental health to explore dancing again. The encouragement and gentle persistent nudging, support and trust of many people and the artists in this project significantly contributed to finding the confidence that I can continue to explore through dance. Am I excited? Yes… Am I a bit scared? Yes.

This new work I’m dancing explores a layer of artistry and reflection that a new stage in life, which I am embarking on, opens up. The choreographer, Serge Bennathan, is interested in the artist in me that is now, and the work reflects this. We had a beautiful creation process in Sointula, where I live, and at Scotiabank Dance Centre. The simplicity and strength of the work, and the trust we have in each other, is quite simply a gift. Serge is a profound dance artist and is a beautiful painter and poet as well.

How have you managed rehearsals during the pandemic – what adaptations have you had to make?
The planning and creation process of this project began and was completed before COVID-19, except for my solo with Serge. There have still been challenges however, as the dancers have gone back to the solos, to rehearse for this show during the pandemic. Serge and I worked mainly in Sointula which has an inherently blissful feel to it (and lots of Humpback Whales and Orcas!) so it made creating during COVID easier.

We are also working at Scotiabank Dance Centre which has been excellent. The Dance Centre has thorough COVID-19 protocols in place and are so experienced in the running of a multi-use facility and venue. Mirna Zagar and the entire Dance Centre admin and technical staff are working tirelessly making it possible on so many levels for artists to be able to get back into the studio and on stage and be safe. It is a credit to them that this show can be performed before a live audience. As well I take my hat off to my lighting director/technical director, Mimi Abrahams. Her calm, detailed approach and clear head facilitate a grounded base as we gear up to perform during these exceptional times.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?
The process throughout, past and present, attests to my long-held belief in the equal importance of dancer and choreographer in the creation of artistic work. Bringing two generations of dance artists together, as this project has accomplished is meaningful on many levels… but it is also just plain fun! So we all hope you enjoy. The Dance Centre will do a wonderful job to ensure you are comfortable and safe.


The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections series
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past Into Present
November 19-21, 2020 | 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre

Buy tickets

The performance will be filmed and streamed online December 3-17: tickets go on sale soon.

Theatre performances will be presented in line with public health guidelines and The Dance Centre’s comprehensive COVID-19 protocols, to very small, physically-distanced audiences. These measures include frequent and thorough cleaning, ready availability of hand sanitizer, physical distancing signage and decals, masks for staff and audiences, managed arrivals and exits, and plexiglass screens to separate staff from audience members. Tickets will only be available in advance, and not at the door.

Photos: Sylvain Senez, Maxx Berkowitzfc