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Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: TomoeArts

October 2021: Colleen Lanki (TomoeArts)

Who is TomoeArts in a sentence?

TomoeArts is a dance & theatre company that works across disciplines and cultures.

Tell us a bit about your work and practice.

TomoeArts specializes in nihon buyō (Japanese classical or traditional dance). This is the dance of the kabuki theatre and of the geisha. It involves story, character and image, which is why I fell in love with it!  I teach the traditional form, and the company offers workshops and lots of educational programming about Japanese arts and aesthetics, but we create new work as well. We’ve created chamber opera, dance-theatre pieces, and this year have ventured into video and digitally generated work as well.

How long have you been dancing?

I started with tap at the age of 4 or 5. I’ve been dancing all my life and worked professionally in musicals starting at the age of 16. I moved to Japan in 1995 and spent seven years there training intensively in nihon buyō.  I go back for lessons whenever I can, and am now practicing with my teacher in Tokyo over Zoom. It is a lifelong practice, and dancers perform into their 90s if they are able.

How does dance fit into your life currently? 

It is an important way for me to express myself, and to remind myself to breathe. I am doing WAY too much work on screens right now as most of my life seems to have become about administrative tasks rather than dancing…

How would you describe dance’s impact on your life?

It has been a thread that links most of what I have done in my life.

What three core values drive your engagement with dance? 

Commitment, grace and an open heart.

Do you have a particular practice that you carry out each day or have you implemented new practices as a way of adapting to the current climate?

I do yoga every day, just to keep from falling apart – especially important while I was stuck at home and not able to work in classes or in studio. I also continually to read, research and review older choreographies so I don’t forget them. As a creator, I also keep a journal of thoughts and ideas and obsessions. This was a wonderful thing over COVID as I became obsessed with plague-themed literature, which ultimately ended up with me co-translating and directing a crazy Japanese play based on Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.

What would you say are the most significant benefits for you in being a Dance Centre member?

The Dance Centre has always been a safe and inspiring place to practice and create. The studios have been a real home for me. I have also benefited from the programming and been involved and supported in a number of ways. And now we have an office at Scotiabank Dance Centre too!

How have you been spending your time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what are you most looking forward to doing moving forward?

I spent a crazy amount of time trying to “fix” everything – even when it wasn’t fixable. At first that meant chasing myself in circles because there was so little information as to HOW to adjust or what to expect “in these unprecedented times.” TomoeArts rescheduled many projects and I began teaching online. Most of our work went digital in some way – which meant a steep and stressful learning curve, but also allowed for some extraordinary expansion of international artist and audience involvement. We experimented with streaming, recording, online workshops, digital fundraisers and Zoom theatre productions. I am now enjoying a bit of a break to assess what tools to continue using and which to leave behind. I am also looking forward to doing a few very small live performances with no screens of any kind involved.

This year, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Scotiabank Dance Centre. What impact do you feel the building has had on the dance community, our city, and/or your own practice?

The Dance Centre has been a mecca that welcomes all kinds of dance. I have always felt at home here, and grateful for the light, the windows, the space to move and the amazing people that work here.

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Photos: Alfonso Arnold, Tallulah