On January 24, 2016 my two dancers and I departed for a 2 Week Residency at Dance Victoria Studios courtesy of the Chrystal Dance Prize to support the development of Femme Fatales. I had previously been saying to a friend that I was feeling the need to go on a retreat, or spend some time in nature away from busy city life. Little did I know, Victoria would deliver exactly what I had asked for.
We arrived to a warm welcome by Stephen and Bill at Dance Victoria Studios with a large set piece in hand, designed by my father, Eugene Kalaman. It didn't take me long to settle into the laid back, quiet lifestyle of Victoria. I have to say, I had the most peaceful and best sleeps for those 2 weeks, embracing the quiet and peaceful nature that Victoria is surrounded by!
Day 1 in the studio was remount day, pulling back previous material and catching up new dancer to the work, Felicia Lau. All of our brains were fried by end of day and my mind was swirling of where to take the piece next.
As part of the Chrystal Dance Prize, we had the amazing opportunity to bring in dramaturge, Gabi Beier from Berlin, Germany to work with us. Gabi arrived on Day 2. We embraced in excitement as soon as she arrived, thrilled that exactly one year ago while dancing in fellow Vancouver Artist, Michael Kong's work, who Gabi was mentoring at the time, we had met and I had taken a chance and asked her if she would be interested in helping me develop my work. So there we were one year later.
I was astonished at the way the room shifted with her presence as soon as we started working, I knew right away that we were onto something, that magic was brewing and not just because this piece has to do with witches.....
Fast forward to Friday, 3 days later, we have 20 minutes of material remounted, a new section under development with the set piece and we're presenting 3 excerpts of Femme Fatales at Dance Days for 49 audience members, including 17 presenters from across Canada.
The audience most responded to the set piece and the qualitative dynamic between the three powerful female dancers. Set for 4 sides with no designated front, I received a range of feedback on the audiences experience surrounding the work. One thing was for sure, the section where we re-visit childhood games like "Bloody Mary", "Light as a feather, stiff as a board", "MASH" and more, is consistently a hit with the audience. It pulls people back to a time many have long forgotten in their memory yet hold tight in their experience, seeing the audience light up with emotion in memory of their childlike play strikes a nerve in me every time.
I'm left with one thing clear in my mind, the piece works, it has an effect on people, and it has to get darker and deeper.... this I have always known.
Fast forward to Week 2 in the studio. Gabi, Kate, Felicia and I all realized how extraordinary it was for us to have another week together after presenting for the public. It allowed me to apply the feedback given rather than leave it and have to resurrect it 4 months later. I got to try new ideas that I and other saw and proposed right away and apply adjustments I knew were necessary the minute the audience was present. I find it funny how the moment the audience shows up, it changes everything yet the vision gets crystal clear in a way that it cannot without a viewer present.
So here we are with another 5 days together and I decide that I'm going to give up knowing what the week will look like and let us play, discover, uncover, and dive into the work. It's an incredible, environment, and rare at that. The dancers propose ideas, I propose ideas, Gabi proposes ideas, we discuss, we reflect, we sink deeper, we get uncomfortable and we connect to this work on a universal level.
My friend KerryLynn Turner brings 20 students by to watch the newest bits of the work we have created and they get it. They get that the work is looking at the messages in society we have taken on as constructs of ourselves and how we "have to be." They reflect and locate themselves inside of the work. My throat chokes up at the level with which this work resonates with people.
Friday is a special day, Gabi and I realize we have developed a total of 15 sections and that it would be a good idea to map out the whole piece. Like a jigsaw puzzle we spend lunch shifting small squares of papers around a sheet with titles like "Monster Solo 1", "The Trial", and "Prayer Section". I become present to the work and how much we have created together and there it is sitting before us, a structure to the piece.
The four of us head out to celebrate and cheers to the incredible two weeks we had together. Astonished that both weeks could be so fruitful and powerful in such extraordinarily different ways. The dancers shared their experience of feeling free to play and propose and I realize that it came from my sense of ease in giving up knowing how things had to look and even that we had to "accomplish" something spectacular at the end. And as a result of giving all that up, spectacular what we created is, indeed.