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July 2023: Joe Laughlin, Artistic Director of Joe Ink
Who is Joe Laughlin in a sentence?
I am dancer, choreographer, artistic director, educator and community dance developer who is still curious and interested in the world around me.
What was the artistic path that led to creating your company, Joe Ink?
My background in gymnastics and extensive performance and choreographic experience inform my style and dance practise. In 1995 after establishing myself as an independent artist I formed Joe Ink in response to my choreographic vision. My work in contemporary dance, ballet, theatre and television was brought together under this umbrella and I have since created fifteen full-length works for the company. Described as “wickedly sophisticated,” “unusual,” and “daring,” the focus is on the creation and production of new works and community development through dance making. Since inception, Joe Ink has balanced local performances and projects in partnership with national and international artists and organizations and produced multiple public performances in the context of the community based dance program Move It!.
What inspires the work you create?
As I reflect back on the diversity of my artistic practice I recognize a thread that runs through it: the work is rooted in the environment from which it emerges. It is contextual and organic – a responsive approach to dance making that reflects my eclecticism.
I’m 62 now and losing physical ability over time. Dancing and performing again has brought back an intensity that I missed and my aging body has necessitated developing new strategies for creating on myself at this point in time.
I am still curious and have lots of questions and that’s what drives me. What is it I want from the creative process? What choices help to distill and deepen the work and how do the elements come together and engage with the audience?
I continue to fine tune my craft and through a deep understanding of dance I combine elements of formal technique, improvisation, theatricality, music and media with the intention of expressing our humanity through a shared emotional experience.
How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing for 42 years. I took my first dance class when I was 20 as rehabilitation, recovering from ligament surgery on my ankle. I was a competitive gymnast at the time and fell in love with dance immediately and began to pursue it as a career.
How does dance fit into your life currently?
Currently I am creating and will be performing I remember… a new work in progress as part of the 35th Annual Dancing on the Edge Festival’s Edge Two mixed program.
The work is an exploration of a dancer’s aging body and how that informs his work now and into the future. The performance incorporates text written by me, a beautiful contemplation from renowned yogi Kate Potter set to music from cellist Dirje Childs and a juxtaposing live response to projected video of myself as a young dancer, set to the opera aria, Caro mio ben.
Edge Two is a shared evening with emerging artist Sarah Hin Ching U whose piece celebrates the beauty and diversity of a neurodivergent mind.
How would you describe dance’s impact on your life?
When I was a child I was moving, making things and problem solving. My mother says I am still doing the same thing today. Dance brings your physical, emotional and spiritual lives together and I think that is the unique thing about this artform. I have had the freedom to express myself through movement any way I want. Dance has afforded me the privilege of collaborating with many talented artists and designers from different milieus and from all over the world.
What three core values drive your engagement with dance?
To inspire, empower and motivate all folks through the medium of dance.
To take risks and fulfill my potential as a professional artist while strengthening community through dance.
Artistic excellence and generosity of spirit permeate all of my activities.
Do you have a particular practice that you carry out each day or have you implemented new practices over the last few years?
At this point in time I have a simple 75 minute work-out I do 5 days a week. I call it stretch and strength, it includes, floor bar, yoga, stretching, core work and rehab/strength exercises that I combine with walking and more recently a breathing practice. Regular Osteopathy, Acupuncture and Chiropractic help sustain and support my body.
What would you say are the most significant benefits for you in being a Dance Centre member?
Since 1986 The Dance Centre has championed our collective artistic growth, supporting the development of dance and engaging with the public in Vancouver and British Columbia, contributing to the success of several generations of dance artists, myself included. In 1990 as a young and emerging choreographer, the Dance Centre helped me to establish myself as a new voice and eventually form my own organization Joe Ink.
As I grew, so did they, increasing services and support to the dance milieu, moving into their own building and offering artist residencies and presentation opportunities. The Dance Centre represents a vital system in our dance ecology through advocacy, administrative and artistic guidance, subsidized studio space, residencies, performance series and Dance In Vancouver, which raises the profile of west coast dance on a regional, national and international level. The positive impact the Dance Centre has had over time on artists, the milieu and the community at large is undeniable.
I am extremely grateful to have benefitted from Dance Centre programs over the years. Most recently Joe Ink presented Joe: A Solo Show October 18-20, 2018 in the Faris Theatre with the support of an artist residency. The Dance Centre’s Artist-in-Residence program provided technical support and time in the theatre to fully integrate and refine all of the elements involved in the live performance, a crucial phase before the premiere. I look forward to maintaining my long-term association with the Dance Centre and continuing to benefit as a member of this organization and its legacy.
Interested in becoming a Dance Centre Member? Learn more here.
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Photos by Michael Slobodian