Tangente Blog 3: Juvenile Gestures

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Juvenile BlogFrom GOING ON A TANGENTE.
(Photo: © Aurore B. Pictures)

At the end of choreographer Katie Ward’s recent school workshop with Tangente, one young participant whispered ardently in my ear “You know what I think? I think that every single movement is dance!” Dance educator Marc Pronovost had earlier asked this group of students from an arts-specialized primary school “And so what do you think contemporary dance is?” This girl is a grandchild of the Judson Church arts revolution of the 1960s whose manifesto it was “to bring art closer to life…”

When observing any group of children at play, it is evident that the compulsion to move about with dance-like expressivity is innate to homo sapiens (and even certain simian species). One of my long-cherished theories is that the predisposition to dance is in fact programmed in our genetic make-up. As did other parents of children with surpluses of expressive physical energy, my mother enrolled me in water ballet, basketball, ballet classes, anything that might give structure and discipline to my compulsive need to move all the time. (“Look at me! Look at me! See what I can do!!!”) Does this story sound familiar? So why then do we need to designate a special field for “children’s dance,” and what does it really mean to foster dancing for (and by) young people? There are in fact many schools of thought on the educational, physical and social benefits of dance education, as well as dire warnings about the dangers of poor dance teaching on the delicate bone and joint tissue, and postural orientation of maturing young bodies.

Urgent questions, about the status of dance in the school curriculum for example, were left unanswered in the last few minutes of the first Québec conference on “dance for young audiences” in September 2014, organized at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Dance Department. In the end, this event wasn’t intended to delve into problematics, but was principally a celebratory gathering, providing belated visibility to youth dance by way of three exemplary Montréal choreographers. When I immigrated to Québec in 1977, there was a general consensus that choreographing for young audiences was not a serious nor sophisticated form of dance-making, but rather a kitschy form of entertainment better left to “Disney on Ice.” This had never been true in certain quarters of Montréal, within Asian and African diaspora communities for example, in which dancing for and with each other has long provided an essential place of gathering to affirm cultural solidarity. As Ukrainian-Canadian dance anthropologist Andriy Nahachewsky explains, “First, we dance to remember”.

With an abundance of contemporary dance-makers in Québec in 2014 who are now devoted to the specialty of making dances for youth, the question to ask might be, what kinds of choreography are pertinent and beneficial for young audiences? Choreographic orientations are strikingly diverse, as with “adult dance”: the interpretation of moral and folk tales or educational narratives; explorations of various aspects of contemporary culture; or sometimes simply an exhibition of the joys of dancing itself. All agree on the need to offer professional level work, powerful dancers and choreographies, with compelling and captivating themes.

But we do need to mind the generation gap, knowing that our young spectators may be more open-minded about controversial subject matter and imaginative towards abstraction than their parents, teachers, and school administrators. Even as I write these lines, a group of audacious teens from a small countryside school has just recovered (by way of a cathartic audience talk with the artists) from the shock of Isabelle Boulanger’s new work Sans Lactose in yet another Tangente school workshop. At this turning point in their social and physical development, the students will leave the theatre unable to forget the brutal images of vulnerable young women fighting for self-acceptance, with a sharper awareness of hyper-sexualized portrayals of girls on their cellphones and computer screens. It is precisely this transformational potential to bring their contemporary world into clearer focus that characterizes the most effective choreography for young audiences.

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