Susie Burpee is one of the special guest choreographers for Unleashed 2018. In this interview, she reveals her appreciation for students’ interest in live dance, the student diversity at George Brown Dance, and the inspiration behind her feminist piece.
Can you talk about how George Brown Dance has contributed to your work and experiences as a choreographer/dancer/teacher?
I love working with students and that age group because I find them motivating. I find that I learn a lot through what I teach, but I think the biggest thing right now is that I feel very inspired by the fact that there is a large group of people that still want to dance and deal with human bodies in real time and real space. With the advent of technology so many people are on their phones living in these virtual worlds—which are also exciting and have their own educational aspects to them—but there’s something significant about young people still wanting to deal with bodies, being human, and negotiating space with each other. I find that affirming and inspiring. You can’t deny the sense of community that exists in the practice of dance. We have to work together to negotiate space. If I have to move past you … around you, we have to work together to figure out how to do that. I think there is big metaphor in that. It tells a lot about who we are as people, and the ripple effect of this work can continue to make the world a better place. It still interests me to do things live. There are certain energies you feel in a live space. You also hear and feel breath in a way you can’t through a barrier.
What sets GBD apart from other training institutions?
What really strikes me, and I don’t use this as a throwaway word, is the diversity of the student body. Everyone comes from various dance backgrounds, training, cultural backgrounds, and different regions of the country. I always find people interesting and I’m interested in what they bring to the table as individuals. For me, walking into the studio everyday and being with a group of sixteen very different, very exciting individuals is fantastic. We work together with everything we’ve got to make something meaningful that does not homogenize people but acknowledges difference. We all arrive at dance in different ways and that’s what is exciting for me as a maker and teacher.
Why is it significant for students to work with prominent choreographers such as yourself?
I look back at my own experience as a student in a post-secondary dance training institution and I just think about how great it was to be able to work with a variety of choreographers to get a taste of different styles and approaches to making. It is also interesting to work with someone you don’t know—someone you’ve never met before. It makes you dig in a way that is different with someone that you know. My own experiences in school were completely formative. I still remember pieces I did 20+ years ago. So, I hope to be able to give these students something memorable and useful to their learning in the palette of what is contemporary performance today.
What is your new piece in Unleashed about?
I am so excited—this is the first time I’m going to say the title aloud—it’s called “15 Minutes of Feminism”. My lens on life is very different these days—having kids has re-instilled my own sense of what it is to be feminist. The work is for 16 women and it’s created in the studio with a feminist approach to making. This includes facilitating agency and including individual voices in decision making. Feminism is in the process and it also concerns the content.
This title makes me totally terrified, but I’m owning it and the dancers are too. The title also makes me laugh. I think there is something important in that as well. We as women can choose how we manifest our power—and humour and pathos are all on the table all the time, at least in my work. Lastly, the piece also has a lot of voice in it, and the act of using the voice as metaphor for this important time of speaking out is not lost on me. Rather, it is my intention.