“Contact Improv involves learning partnering skills that are especially useful once dancers start working in the industry.”
Kathleen Rea is approaching her twentieth anniversary on the faculty of George Brown Dance, where she specializes in Contact Dance Improvisation. She is the Director of REAson d’etre dance productions, a choreographer of over 40 works, and a five-time DORA award nominee. Currently, Kathleen is organizing an exciting line-up for the 2019 Contact Dance International Film Festival in Toronto, the only film festival in the world that showcases Contact Dance Improvisation films. In this interview, Kathleen talks about the benefits of Contact Dance to a dancer’s education, her background with Expressive Arts Therapy, and the empowerment she is observing among the GBD dancers in her piece for Unleashed 2019.
What do GBD students learn through Contact Dance Improvisation?
It’s important for the GBD students to learn many different styles of modern dance. Contact Improv involves learning partnering skills that are especially useful once dancers start working in the industry. I also teach from the perspective of the Axis Syllabus, which uses anatomy and scientific data to teach functional ways of moving. This is especially important in lifting, since you’re not just carrying your body weight, but the weight of another dancer. Functional movement in situations like this can reduce injuries. Contact Improv is also a beautiful art form, with a very different aesthetic than other, more traditional, dance forms. In Contact Dance, the aesthetic measure is the quality of communication and relationship within one’s self and between one’s self and another. It’s a wonderful opportunity for dancers to delve into and develop their artistry.
“It gives female dancers a sense of their own strength and power. That type of confidence is important for female dancers who traditionally have been put in more diminutive roles.”
How has your history as an Expressive Arts Psychotherapist shaped you as a dance artist?
In the Expressive Arts, I learned that true beauty comes from honest expression. Expressive Arts Therapy is the practice of using imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry, movement, and visual arts in an integrated way, to foster human growth, community-building, development, and/or healing. The focus is on “honest” expression which represents the truth of internal feelings rather than on skill in a specific art form. It is the switch between art modalities that helps bring insight. Each art modality helps one see a theme or issues from a different angle, similar to how walking around a sculpture helps you see it more fully. I was an Expressive Arts Psychotherapist for seventeen years. Recently I left private practice to pursue my choreography career and to run my company, REAson d’etre dance productions. But Expressive Arts Therapy will always stay with me as it taught me to uphold honest artistic expression as the thing that I reach for in my work. Also, my understanding of psychological issues from my training and experience as an Expressive Art Psychotherapist has given me an understanding of the inner working of the human heart and mind, which I believe adds depth and layers to my work as both a choreographer and a teacher.
What can you share about your creation for Unleashed 2019 and the process of working with GBD dancers?
I’ve had so much fun working with this group of dancers…they’re willing to try anything and really put their heart and soul into the process. It’s great to work with dancers I’ve trained, since they understand my style and how to do the different lifts required by the piece. Brayan is the only male dancer in the work, and that means the female dancers are doing a lot of the partnering and lifting. Contact improvisation is based on using another dancer’s momentum in a clever way. This means that a smaller dancer can lift a taller dancer right over the head. This helps the form step away from traditional gender roles. It gives female dancers a sense of their own strength and power. That type of confidence is important for female dancers who traditionally have been put in more diminutive roles.
The piece is about one big family-type group travelling together. Sometimes they fight; sometimes they help each other. They carry each other and let themselves be carried. It is about support and being there for each other despite differences and bad moods. Regardless of what happens, they’re always in relationship.
Kathleen Rea’s new creation features the following GBD dancers:
Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.
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