Canadian contemporary dance icon Rachel Browne had a love affair with Willow Island, a tiny strip of land on Lake Winnipeg.
“It was her sanctuary,” says Constance Cooke, former student, colleague and friend of Browne — the matriarch of Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers who died suddenly last summer in Ottawa at the age of 77.
Now Cooke’s semi-professional contemporary company Fizzik’l will be performing a piece choreographed by Browne about her island getaway as part of Dance Victoria’s new program Rough Cuts, an informal presentation series that allows the audience to be part of the creative process.
Fizzik’l, a company of six professional and semi-professional dancers, was invited to perform Willow Island as part of Toward Light — A Tribute to Rachel Browne, a tour by Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers stopping in Vancouver Jan. 15.
The Victoria performance is the “avant-premiere”.
“Usually her work is weighty,” says Cooke. “This piece is a happy piece. Willow Island brought her a lot of joy.”
In the fall, WCD company member Kristin Haight travelled to Victoria to set the piece, created by Browne in the ’90s, on the lucky local dancers.
“Losing Rachel is one of the greatest losses of my life,” says Cooke, who danced for Browne for eight years in Winnipeg before moving to Victoria and starting the Victoria School of Contemporary Dance. “She was my mentor and my friend, too. We stand on the shoulders of the people who come before us and now that I’m in my 40s, I’ve started standing on my own feet.”
Fizzik’l will also be performing two new works by Cooke; an untitled contemporary ballet for three dancers and Everything All at Once, a multi-media contemporary work for six dancers.
“It’s so important that performance not be about the bright shiny object at the end, costumed with lighting, but that the act of creation, being in process, is just as valuable as something on tour that’s done,” says Cooke.
Unlike a traditional work-in-progress studio showing, Rough Cuts at Dance Victoria’s Performance Lab offers the dancers and the audience a more complete performance opportunity, with lighting and a lively discussion about the art, but in a completely informal atmosphere. The idea is to give the choreographer and the dancers some constructive feedback and help them understand more completely the power of their work.
“As a spectator, the arts can be inaccessible,” says Cooke. “It’s programs like this that really open it up. I think the general public who want to come see dance, especially modern dance, they’re just not informed. To be able to come to an event where it’s in process, and be able to ask questions is a great opportunity.”
Rough Cuts also offers the audience a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the dancers and the choreographer. “Everyone comes from a different life story, so what they see in the work is different. For them to know that’s valuable is important. There’s no right answer,” says Cooke. “As a choreographer, you want to guide the viewer, you want to give them certain information or guide them to a certain place, to get more information to see how you can do a better job.”
For the dancer, Rough Cuts offers another chance to perform.
“We spend so much time stuck in our studio rehearsing,” says Fizzik’l company member Stacy Sanderson. “Rough Cuts is a great opportunity to get more exposure and get more confident performing. It’s also really nice to have a less formal performance opportunity with less distance between the audience and performers … they can hear our breath and see the sweat fly.”
Rough Cuts kicks off Sat. Jan. 12 at 8pm at Dance Victoria’s Performance Lab (111-2750 Quadra). $15 at the door. M