Canada’s oldest modern dance company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and continues to look forward.
To mark its milestone season, Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (WCD) will be touring guest choreographer and WCD graduate Ming Hon’s defining pieces. “It’s really humbling to be a part of the 50th, but it feels like family so it’s just a celebration…50, it’s an amazing number,” said Hon.
The Exhibitionist and Forever in Blue Jeans will tour in Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary. For The Exhibitionist, Hon reverts back to her customary solo work, which premiered in 2012. “When I saw it two years ago, I knew I wanted it in our season sometime,” said WCD’s artistic director, Brent Lott. “I think it’s Ming’s queer sensibility that I’m attracted to…she’s not thinking in a little suburban, heterosexual box.”
Lott plays a supporting role in her piece where he “helps her deliver babies (and) provides a strobe light for her orgasm.” The piece also features a woman taking photocopies of different parts of her body, conveying both literal and metaphorical takes on labour in the workplace.
In Hon’s newer work, Forever in Blue Jeans, she works with WCD dancers Natasha Torres-Garner, Ali Robson and Kayla Henry. The themes in Blue Jeans relate to life, money and how to be happy. Hon nods to the fadeout of the Canadian penny and the oxymora of life. “You can’t have joy and pleasure without agony and anxiety. How do you enjoy life?” said Hon.
We have helped shape the artform in Canada.
Each piece took a year to create and Hon said she hopes her work provokes the audience and sparks discussion. Her dancers are equally committed to the piece. “I don’t need to know about it, I don’t need to know the answer. I just need to know, in an artistic state, that I believe in it,” said Henry.
The company will also preview Lott’s piece Camino, which is set to debut in January and will also feature Henry.
Lott didn’t start dancing at a young age, but not for a lack of passion. He was raised with a strong Christian faith and taking up dance was out of the question. His father feared that his son would be gay, which was inevitably the case.
It wasn’t until the age of 23 that he considered taking up dancing. A man approached him at the Manitoba Legislative Building and said he couldn’t help noticing his perfectly arched feet. “He said, ‘that’s one of the things you need for a ballet dancer, if you were turned out…’ and I said, ‘what’s turned out?!’” Lott remembered.
Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers has brought a lot to the table in the last five decades. The dance company has put Winnipeg’s talent on the map and is recognized around the world. “We started off a lot
of very important careers for dancers, choreographers. We have helped shape the art form in Canada,” said Lott.
With a family-like community, dedicated artists and the legacy of the late founder Rachel Browne, the company has maintained its purity and devotion to the arts. “It’s delicate, it hasn’t been manipulated,” said Henry.
The company’s focus is now on succeeding for the next 50 years. “I hope we stay vital and vibrant and continue to make work that
is not only interesting but pushes the audience,” said Lott.
–Sarah Taylor is a freelance photographer and writer from Belleville, Ontario