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“Bonding, Witnessing, and Holding Space”: Irma Villafuerte on the Creative Process Behind her 2018 IN HÄUS Work

December 7, 2018

Photos L to R by Kevin Jones & Aria Evans

“George Brown weighs a lot in my life as an artist because of the people and the nurturing of my teachers. I became so strong.”


GBD alumna Irma Villafuerte has been no stranger to the GBD studios since graduating from the school’s Dance Performance Program in 2016. “This place always pulls me back,” says Irma. “It’s a very predominant home of my artistic world.” Irma is currently in studio creating a new work with GBD Ensemble dancers for this year’s IN HÄUS showcase. She took some time out of rehearsals to chat about her dance background, artistic inspirations, and process of creating original work.

Irma came to George Brown Dance with a diverse dance background. “I was a competitive professional salsa dancer and toured all over the United States, Canada, and Caribbean,” she explains. “Most of my training came from Latin, Caribbean, and Cuban contemporary techniques.” It was at George Brown Dance that she began ballet training, a process she describes as learning a new language: “George Brown weighs a lot in my life as an artist because of the people and the nurturing of my teachers. I became so strong. I was always a dancer, but this school was a match that happened at the right time. They taught me a language I could use as a palette in my own work.”

Irma draws on her blend of Latin-American and contemporarytraining to create works that communicate elements of her lived experiences as a Salvadoran-Canadian. “I always start from the personal point of view as a Latin-American woman, daughter of refugees, and granddaughter of a missing woman from the El Salvador Civil War,” Irma describes. “I didn’t live that experience of my grandmother’s disappearance, but it is my family’s experience. I draw imagery and connection from that experience, which is important to me in the creative process.”


Photo by Kevin Jones

“I want to have a bond with my dancers. I want them to be an extension of my heart, not a tool.”


This is not Irma’s first time choreographing a piece for the George Brown Dance Ensemble. In 2017, she created a performance piece based on stories of missing women from the Salvadoran Civil War. In 2017, she applied to the Dance Makers’ Peer Network Program using this material and was awarded a 4-month mentorship and residency for emerging choreographers. During that time, she reworked the piece she had begun for George Brown, and presented at Aluna Theatre’s Caminos Festivalin 2017.

Irma’s piece for the 2018 IN HÄUS performance stems from her explorations of lived experiences. “This piece is about their experiences and who they are as individuals,” Irma says of the 10 dancers she selected for the piece. “I chose a diverse group because of that.”

As a choreographer, Irma invests in her dancers as individuals and creative artists. “I want to have a bond with my dancers. I want them to be an extension of my heart, not a tool.” Irma devoted the first 3 weeks of IN HÄUS rehearsals to bonding and listening. “I was interested in them doing introspective work. I started with creative art exercises which explored letters to themselves, portraits, and sharing memories with each other, like photos and stories. I wanted to offer something they could draw from in their own creative process.”

Irma and her dancers used the material gathered through their introspective explorations to work on solo pieces. “I tend to work on solo a lot, and then I extract material from them,” explains Irma. “Each dancer is a palette, a colour, and I use it and go from there.”

IN HÄUS audiences will witness a performance that is inextricably connected to the artistic process that Irma and her dancers have shared together. “It’s a creative process about bonding, witnessing, and holding space. I want to create a world where they are holding each other regardless of who they are. For me, the journey has been beautiful, and I think for them too.”

You can see Irma’s piece on December 13 & 14 at 6pm. IN HÄUS is a free performance and is held in our studios: George Brown College, Casa Loma Campus, 160 Kendal Avenue, Building C, Studio C, Toronto, ON.

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