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Montreal, Canada: Creates in spite of the fear

In Montreal Helen Blackburn is trying to keep up the spirit and keep fear on a distance. Partly by making dance for small spaces.

Skjermbilde 2020 04 24 Kl 11 39 26

Where are you now, and what is your status quo? I'm in Montreal. Our European tour ended on March 13. The company was repatriated to Canada in small groups between the dates of March 15 and March 16. Upon arrival, we were all quarantined for 14 days. Everyone is safe and healthy.

What kind of routines have you made for yourself? As many other countries, Canada has fairly strict confinement policies. All non-essential businesses are closed and there are controlled transits between regions of the country. The company's administrative team is working from home. The dancers of the company are confined in their respective homes.

We began to organize ourselves after the initial shock of having returned in these circumstances. We realized that the situation would persist beyond our quarantine. After making sure that the team was able to get an income, we began organizing technique classes for the company dancers. Two weeks later, we decided to open the Monday classes to the public. Since then, we’ve added weekly workshops on Thursdays -- accessible to all, including our younger audiences. They are based on the repertoire of the company and have an improvisation session at the end of each one. Finally, in order to improve the dancers working conditions, we sectioned our dance floors in order for the dancers to each have one at home. We are currently in reflection with regards to different ways to improve their training conditions while in confinement.

Additionally, I’ve started creating again. Or so to say, I am trying. I am currently working with two dancers who live together. The work is done remotely, each at home and through different virtual platforms. At the end of the rehearsal, we film the work. The work must be developed in a space that is limited, which is not so much of a constraint for me, given the way I typically work. However, it is still difficult for me to work long periods. At the moment, we’re limiting rehearsals to a one-hour session. Perhaps it will change over time. It seems obvious to me that solutions must be found in order to allow us to continue working remotely during these periods of confinement. I believe that we will have to live several different confinement situations in the next 18 months ! Again, it is difficult to predict.

Currently, I have no specific objective with the work we are generating. It would certainly be possible to make a web version of the work, but my desire lies in the use of public spaces, such as in my alley, on a balcony, a terrace ... We'll see ... By the way, I made these short choreographies on Sverre Indris Joner's music. Don’t tell him, it’s a gift !

What do you read? La Bête, a trilogy written by Quebec author David Goudreault. o La bête à sa mère o La bête et sa cage o Abattre la bête It is inspiring writing, very contemporary, filled with humor and strong imagery.

What are you watching? I’m catching-up on La Casa de Papel and Peaky Blinders.

What are you listening to? Dear Criminals, Fiona Apple, Lana del Rey, Elisapie Isaac … Some classical music, of course, such as l’Art de la fugue by Glenn Gould and Requiem by Mozart.

How do you move? I try to do the ballet barre with the dancers, along with some training classes, such as fitness, yoga, etc. All online. We are allowed to take walks outside, so I am rediscovering this little pleasure, even if Spring is very capricious in Quebec. While on tour, I walk a lot, but not so much when I am in Montreal. Now, I am rediscovering my neighborhood.

What inspires you? It is difficult to answer this question. Everything is in motion at the moment and at the same time, I have the impression of living in slow motion. I think we have entered an important societal transition. Governments are discussing "recovery plans", but this crisis will be long, too long to think that things will not change and comeback the way they were before. They have already started to change. Despite all these questions, I started to create again, at least I try to find interesting ways to work remotely with my dancers.

As mentioned earlier, I started working on a duet for a small space with two dancers who share the same apartment. The idea would be to create several duets for couples sharing the same space, but also for people living in separate places. Although it is certainly possible to show this work on the web, I hope one day, soon, it will be possible to present these fragments in different spaces. I consider them to be sort of like bottles thrown in the sea. Choreography capsules lost in big spaces. Cai Glover, one of the company dancers, called this project "Site-specific Pop-up Duets". I like this title.

If you could send a message that would reach everyone, worldwide what would it be? My biggest wish for all -- is not to be afraid. I say that because I often find myself to be afraid right now. It is a new fear that sometimes shakes me up. A fear that creeps into the loss of bearings. I am less afraid of lurking death than of the many looming changes. When fear is felt, I turn to my few certainties.

In fact, I have few certainties at the moment, except that everything suddenly changed, silently, almost as silently as the streets of Montreal. At the moment, I am certain that we are embarking on an important personal and collective transition. I find it difficult to accept so many changes in the stillness of containment, but I do believe that something interesting can emerge from all this. We will have to change, adapt, question, learn, all at the same time, all of this quickly ... When looking at this list of action verbs -- they call action, movement, transformation. These are words that are well suited to dance. As difficult as it is to foresee the future at the moment, I think it is a challenge and also an opportunity. The impermanence which seems to me to characterize the period that we are living can be very instructive.

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