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INTERVIEW | In Conversation With Choreographer Dana Gingras Re: ‘Creation Destruction’ At Luminato

By Paula Citron on June 15, 2022

Images of Dana Gingras' 'Creation Destruction' courtesy of Luminato
Images of Dana Gingras’ ‘Creation Destruction’ courtesy of Luminato

From June 15 to 17, in Trillium Park on the shores of Lake Ontario, a monumental dance piece begins at sunset as part of the Luminato Festival. Montreal choreographer Dana Gingras’ mammoth new work, Creation Destruction, attempts to come to grips with two colossal opposing forces as they push towards each other, with humankind tottering on the brink. Evolution versus extinction.

Gingras, 55, rose to fame, along with partner Noam Gagnon, as the co-founders of the ground-breaking Vancouver-based, internationally acclaimed dance company Holy Body Tattoo (1993-2007). Known for its punishing physicality and brilliant use of mixed media, everything about HBT was extreme.

Everything about HBT was also about bucking the system, and Gingras’s solo work embodies this ethos. For her, dance has always been about pushing the body.

For the past 15 years, Gingras, and her company, Animals of Distinction, have been based in Montreal where she is known not only as a choreographer, but as a filmmaker with an acute interest in visual arts and music.

Employing 11 dancers and 12 musicians, the huge undertaking that is Creation Destruction is Gingras’ insightful statement about our present world, and has been in the making since 2016. We met by Zoom to talk about the piece.

What is the genesis of ‘Creation Destruction’?

Creation and destruction are big words. They are also opposites, as well as being two sides of the same coin. The piece explores our progress — where we are going in post capitalism. Life isn’t linear. I see the world as waves and cycles. There are universal rhythms that are bigger than us, and I wanted to explore that spiral.

Nature is self-creating. Renewal is part of the same thing. I became fixated on that idea. How do creation and destruction emerge, because we need both chaos and order? I found this point of inquiry — exploring the spiral — leading to juicy choreography — like being part of a web that has no weaver. The piece is a visceral, sensorial experience.

How did this translate into choreography?

There are 11 dancers. It begins with very pedestrian actions and gestures — running, walking, standing, sitting — influenced by Judson Church and post-modern dance. It is stripped down movement. That’s where I started — breaking the macrocosm down into the microcosm.

In time, the movement gets more physical and athletic, and demands endurance from the dancers. I also worked with the idea of scale, including small details and particularities contrasted with bigger places of movement.

There is also a sense of randomness which makes it challenging choreography. At times, you don’t see a change, and then you realize the movement has changed with the modulation in tempo and speed.

You’re still getting my trademark physicality and athleticism. It will always be there. Creation Destruction is not just one experience. People can enter into the choreography when they feel a connection — feel the body of the work with their own body.

That’s a large ensemble — 11 dancers. What was your approach?

The dancers work together, yet they are individuals. The eleventh dancer is outside the piece, but is also part of the ensemble. I didn’t want the choreography to be flattened by everything being the same. I want the dance to look like they are creating the work together, at that moment. It’s the physics of how we interact. We are all enmeshed in the same system. Our actions affect each other. We live in a fluid field. The labour of dance is about collaboration. In the dance, it’s the drive of physicality that will help us find our way through.

How did ‘Creation Destruction’ come to be performed at Ontario Place?

It was the right venue. It’s beautiful in Trillium Park, with the background of the water and the city, and the lake breeze. Creation Destruction is a sound and light and movement show. It’s tactile, and we perform on the grass because I wanted a space with texture. You can see the sunset there, and the piece follows the shift of light from twilight to dark. It captures the cycle of change and the universal rhythms which the audience can experience.

Your video installations were created by London, England-based United Visual Artists, perhaps the most important and imaginative developers of the art of light in the world. How did you manage to bring them onboard?

I had been made aware of their work by my husband, who first saw them at a technical conference in Berlin. They are known for the way they mix new technologies with traditional media, and I fell in love with what they do. I approached them after they worked with choreographer Benjamin Millepied at the Paris Opera, and they were interested. This is my second project with UVA. The first piece was Frontera.

I use a minimum of gestures in my work, and they are minimalists with how they approach scenography. They understand kinesthetic principles, moving from the predictable to the unpredictable, which speaks to my own work.

What did UVA create for ‘Creation Destruction’?

The set is a monolith, a LED screen where all the technology takes place. The bodies of the dancers are in relation to the technology. This has become a throughline of my work — it’s part of humankind’s progress — how we are changing in relation to technology. It’s almost like UVA choreographed the individual pixels by manipulating light. It’s a mix of real and imagined images. For example, the birth of a star morphs into the dancers’ faces. The concept that shaped the visuals came out of rehearsing the piece by Zoom. Faces and hands were the most dominant aspect of the physical information you had on a Zoom call.

Not only are you using a world-famous group for your visuals, your original music is also royalty, created by members of the Montreal post-rock cult band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Godspeed and my company are part of the same artistic community in Montreal. Four composers from the band worked on the original score — Thierry Amar, Timothy Herzog, Efrim Menuck and Sophie Trudeau. There are 12 musicians in all, four in the band (the composers), four string players, and four singers who all perform live. It’s beautiful music with a kind of openness, like something expansive, like something circulating. It does have rock moments, but is more lyrical and sophisticated than rock.

What do you want people to get out of the piece?

I see the world as suffering from lack of movement, yet we should all be in the flow of motion. We are facing the issue of disembodied time. Disembodiment creates lack of connection, which is the basic theme of life. When shit goes down, we need each other. So my question is this: How do we make the world a better place in our day-to-day lives? We can’t really impact the world, but we can impact our communities. I want us to find our residency and with it, our ability to create change.

You seem hopeful about the world.

Creation Destruction is a hopeful piece. I try to go into the light because there is a light in all of us. It’s not just wishful thing. There is always the possibility and potential of an opening into the light. We are all part of the fluid field of gesture. We share a need for connection in the entanglement that is life. It’s part of the fabric of the content of the work.

The last line of the piece is “continue”. I believe that we will somehow continue, that we have the drive that will find a way to continue.

Luminato Festival/Creation Destruction, choreographed by Dana Gingras, original score by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, video installations by United Visual Artists, Trillium Park, Ontario Place. June 15 to 17. 8:45 pm start time. Tickets here.

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Paula Citron
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