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Next up in our Global Dance Connections series is Rebel Grace, a world premiere from Dumb Instrument Dance. We sat down with Artistic Director and choreographer Ziyian Kwan to find out more.
You had an established career as a dancer before beginning to choreograph. What prompted that transition? How do you manage both creating and performing?
Yes, I created my first piece in 2013, but have been performing professionally since 1989 – which means that it wasn’t until 24 years into dancing that I was moved to experiment with choreography. So actually, I am an emerging choreographer, in relation to peers who have been at the creative helm for decades. I have lots of catching up to do!!!
With regards to both creating and performing, I’m still figuring that out, especially since I turn 54 this year; it’s a conundrum, being a mature dancer and a novice creator. I’m inspired by my experience of being inside the work, of being delighted when I watch, and by content that I’m interested in expressing through kinetic imagery and language. As well, I’m often blessed with collaborators who offer insights, providing different lenses that help me to evolve the gaze through which I manifest ideas. In the case of Rebel Grace, there is an inimitable team of artists, who I’m learning so much from.
Where does the name Dumb Instrument Dance come from?
The name comes from a poem by Denton Welch: “I am my heart’s dumb instrument’. For me this refers to the pre-cognition that I experience as an artist, how my choices are informed by impulses that respond to inner life and love for humanity. As well, in a world of ‘smart’ technology, I’m inspired by old-school things. Mostly I read books. Again, lots of catching up to do!
You established Morrow, your own space, when the pandemic started. How has it evolved?
Dumb Instrument Dance opened Morrow as a pop up in July 2021. It began as a tiny shoebox sized retail space where In eighteen months, we hosted 70 live-micro performances, numerous events, 13 paid residences for artists, a gallery of material creations, and more. In January this year we moved to a new location at 910 Richards, which has a larger studio, gallery and other flex areas. It has been overwhelmingly wonderful, connecting with artists who have turned the space into a cultural hub. Through this engagement, Morrow has grown Dumb Instrument’s capacity to support the artistic community. It has also fortified the muscle that is my heart.
Tell us about your upcoming new piece, Rebel Grace.
We’re in our 4th week of creative process and I’m so deep in the forest that it’s hard to talk about the trees. I’m interested in evoking imaginations of graceful and grateful rebellion. As a precursor to creation and throughout the last several weeks, I’ve been writing rhyming couplets– a simple form with parameters that challenge me to parlay into words, what inspires the work. Here’s one:
What is a rebel but a state of grace?
Ruptures of normal in mendings of space
With eros and pathos and ethos at play
Dreaming tomorrow by queering today
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?
I think it best to speak to my own experience of The Dance Centre, which has supported my development as a artist in myriad ways across 7 pieces that I’ve created since 2013. Yes, there are abundant opportunities that The Dance Centre offers the community such as residences, presentation and networking opportunities. But underlying these tangible resources, what I notice and value the most is the warmth, respect and care with which the Dance Centre stewards these opportunities. It’s the people behind the institution who make it sing, I feel honoured and very lucky to be held in the embrace of this melody.
What is your next project?
Immediately following Rebel Grace, we’re doing our 2nd edition of Spells For Chinatown at Dr.Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, co-produced by the Garden and Powell Street Festival. It’s a free participatory event, an incantation for peace and creativity in celebration of Asian Heritage Month. As well, we dive right into another premiere, Dialects of Love, a duet that Sarah Wong and I will perform at Morrow in early July.
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections Series
Dumb Instrument Dance: Rebel Grace
May 12-14, 2022 | 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Photos: Dance Artists Justin Calvadores, Lisa Mariko Gelley, Ziyian Kwan/Dumb Instrument Dance by David Cooper Photography