Thursday, December 8, 2022

Mocean Dance looks to the next twenty

The Halifax contemporary dance company celebrates twenty years with Fluid Forms featuring a trio of works from Atlantic Canadian dance artists.

Traditionally in the world of dance, significant milestones are often retrospective, with companies revisiting works from the past. However, Halifax’s Mocean Dance takes a different approach to celebrating its 20th anniversary.

We wanted to use it as an opportunity to look forward and have a show that offered diverse perspectives and voices in Nova Scotia right now. – Susanne Chui

“We wanted to use it as an opportunity to look forward and have a show that offered diverse perspectives and voices in Nova Scotia right now,” says Mocean’s co-artistic director Susanne Chui.

“COVID was a blessing in disguise with a surge of young and mid-career artists coming back to the region,” adds co-artistic director Sara Coffin. “So we wanted to give a platform for the current landscape and the fabric of the voices here versus pulling out old rep and remounting works.”

With a third generation of dancers now emerging since the company’s start, it was important for Chui and Coffin to “honour their energy and voices” through a showcase of new work. So they created Fluid Forms, a trio of new original works from Atlantic Canadian choreographers and dancers with that goal in mind.

In Lydia Zimmer’s new work Mercurials, the Halifax-based dance artist presents “a trio toeing the line between illusion and delusion.”

“Lydia is a real up-and-coming choreographer in the city who has been dancing with the company for a few years and has been putting a mark choreographically across the country and we saw this as an exciting time to support her creative process,” says Chui.

In the second piece, New Brunswick-born Syreeta Hector returns to her Atlantic roots, tracing the connections to family histories and considering what we inherit from our ancestors and the landscape of Eastern Canada.

“I thought this was a great opportunity for her to come home to Atlantic Canada to work on something that will stretch her and bring her perspectives both as a Toronto-based artist and someone from here,” says Chui. “She’s been digging into her cultural background and did her Masters at York where she explored her African Nova Scotian and indigenous heritage. So we invited her to explore that aspect of her life.”

Co-creators Sarah Prosper and Sara Coffin perform in Utawtiwow Kijinaq - Our Mother's Road as part of Mocean Dance's Fluid Forms. Photo by Kevin MacCormack.
Co-creators Sarah Prosper and Sara Coffin perform in Utawtiwow Kijinaq – Our Mother’s Road as part of Mocean Dance’s Fluid Forms. Photo by Kevin MacCormack.

In the final piece, Mi’kmaw dance artist Sarah Prosper from Eskasoni First Nation teams up with Coffin for Utawtiwow Kijinaq / Our Mother’s RoadThe cross-generational, cross-cultural duet dives into water’s spiritual and emotional qualities, a subject that Coffin herself explored in her 2019 work Wild Within.

“Her choreographic career has blossomed, and she’s been doing a ton of work, including a presentation of Samqwan at Neptune Theatre in May,” says Chui. “Here are two people from very different generations, very different cultural backgrounds who both did pieces about water and I thought let’s put these two together and explore the crossover between their themes of water.”

For Chui, curating shows can sometimes be as much about matchmaking as the work itself.

“Putting Sarah and Sara together has been amazing and is a nice tie-in to our 20th anniversary as Sara Coffin is half the age of Sarah Prosper,” says Chui. “It’s a real collaboration and is the kind of process we want to do going forward.”

“In this show, we’re experimenting with new ways of working and new relationships,” adds Coffin.

Co-artistic directors Susanne Chui (left) and Sara Coffin (right) look to the future as Mocean Dance celebrates twenty years.
Co-artistic directors Susanne Chui (left) and Sara Coffin (right) look to the future as Mocean Dance celebrates twenty years.

But while Mocean looks decidedly forward as it embarks on its next twenty years, the two co-artistic directors are not afraid to look back at their time with the dance company they joined ten years ago.

Coffin was first to join the group as interim artistic director when the original five founding women decided to move on, with Chui joining initially as a dancer.

“The first five years was about transitioning the company from a core group, and reshaping Mocean as a vehicle for artistic growth and development and how to let the company spread out into the community,” says Coffin.

“It is a culmination of the ten years realizing our vision for the company,” adds Chui, who points to its Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Masterworks Art Award in 2016 for Canvas 5 x 5 as a significant milestone.

Canvas 5 x 5 was the first piece that we did in the interim year and the first non-founder piece ever created,” she says. “It had a powerful Nova Scotia theme but was very abstract, very lively but with heart. And for me, that was such a great first piece to launch the company in this new decade.”

As Fluid Forms begins Mocean Dance’s next twenty years, the company next undertakes its annual choreographic lab in conjunction with the Ross Creek Centre for the Arts in Canning, Nova Scotia.

“It is a residency-based lab where six people come and get to hone and work on their craft with no pressure of any product outcome,” says Coffin.

The company’s next full-scale production comes in 2022 with a project involving the new music community.

“It’s an improvised dance and music performance originally to be with myself and Jerry Grinnelli, who sadly passed away late last year,” says Chui. “So I’m rethinking how we can continue moving that work forward to include the work Jerry and I did with dance and music and adding a new generation of voices in that exploration.”

In the meantime, the duo is looking forward to welcoming audiences back into the theatre with Fluid Forms.

“For me, nothing expresses the joy of life more than dancing and isn’t it time to honour that coming out of the pandemic?” adds Chui. “It’s time to be together. It’s time to heal. It’s time to release. It’s time to celebrate.”

Mocean Dance presents Fluid Forms at the Alderney Landing Theatre (2 Ochterloney St, Dartmouth) with three shows on April 8 & 9. Visit moceandance.com for tickets and information.  

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