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This season we are thrilled to partner with Circuit-Est centre chorégraphique in Montreal for the Quebec-BC Residency Exchange. We caught up with Quebec choreographer Natsumi Sophia Bellali who visits Vancouver this month as part of the program.
Briefly describe your dance career to date.
Without letting it strictly define me, being of mixed heritage (Japanese Moroccan), and born and raised in Montreal, has inevitably guided my curiosity, and informed my artistic practice. I’m most drawn to works where we get to discover someone’s story. Following my training at The Ailey School in New York, my career has invited a variety of alleys ranging in style, and setting. I think adapting to each framework has been one of the most exciting parts! From understudying for the Mark Morris Dance Group’s Hard Nut, to being associate choreographer for We Fancy for cruise line Virgin Voyages, to cross-training athletes through dance, to now creating my own works, it has been a wild ride I’m truly grateful for.
What prompted you to apply to the Residency Exchange program?
I saw the call appear in my inbox 2 weeks after I had returned from my first ever Vancouver visit, and I instantly jumped on the opportunity to be back. The number one thing that struck me during my trip was the presence of the Japanese diaspora, and an immense interest to connect with Japanese Canadian artists of different generations, which isn’t a frequent occurrence in Montreal. I also felt a duty to further understand the Japanese immigration history in the West Coast. My artistic practice is deeply rooted in cultural identity in relation to time and space, as I recently premiered my solo work Salam Tata that explores my Moroccan heritage. Being immersed back in this city with the opportunity to research my Japanese heritage, and to develop a work from it was too great to be true!
Tell us about what you’re planning to work on during your Vancouver visit.
A 10-20 minute work called Watashi-tachi. I wish to explore the relationship that we as Japanese diaspora may have with different elements of Japanese culture, how that may be expressed through the body, and if it may shift through different stages of life. How much of Japanese food, music, makeup, clothing, television, humour, poetry, colours, interior design, utensils, hairstyle, fashion, have we included in our lives in the West? How does the sudden admiration of Japanese culture with its rise in popularity affect us? What have we held on to? What have we lost? What have we been rejected for? What have we been loved for? Time to explore all these questions!
If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?
Hmmm, it’s a great question. I loved Physics in school, it’s everything around us. I was about to pursue a degree in Engineering. I felt strongly about being involved in the physics behind sustainable energy, and bringing new innovation to developing cities. Though that will be for another life. I won’t have enough time in this one!!
What is your next project?
A musical! Switching gears pretty sharply on my return, I will be diving into the world of storytelling through singing-dancing-acting, an artform of its own. We’ll be premiering the first ever French adaptation of Tootsie, at Espace Saint-Denis in Montreal in May 2024! Excited to be challenged, while staying goofy and light-hearted as I am, through it all.
Interested in becoming a Dance Centre Member? Learn more here. We support the development of dance in BC as a resource centre providing programs and services for dance professionals.
Photos by Abdelhak Aliche and Marie-Ève Dion