Vancouver’s arts community is reeling from the loss of choreographer Lola MacLaughlin on March 6 to a long battle with ovarian cancer.
MacLaughlin made a huge impact on the dance community here and nationally, and she was known as much for her kinetic innovation as her work’s wit.
MacLaughlin once told the Straight she enjoyed an idyllic childhood in Osooyos as the youngest of four children. There, she took dance lessons and took to them immediately. "I really love to dance," she told the Straight in 1990, as her choreographic career was taking off. "I’m excited by kinetic activity and finding new movements, and moving in different ways."
She studied dance at SFU and went on to train in New York, Toronto, and Vancouver, but it was her time spent at Berlin’s Freie Universitat, 1980s punk, and the German approach of Ausdruckstanz ("dance of expression") that most influenced her first works. Locally, one of her biggest, lasting contributions was the founding, in 1983, of EDAM, a performance collective based on the then-revolutionary touch improvisation.
In 1989, MacLaughlin founded Lola Dance, and went on to create countless memorable works, scooping the Clifford E. Lee Award in 1992 and the Jacqueline Lemieux Prize in 1994. "I’m addicted to dance," MacLaughlin told the Straight in 2007. "It’s a strange thing to do for a living, but I’m strangely privileged."
In press statements acknowledging her death, cultural critic Max Wyman remarked: "She was too principled an artist to dumb down her work or talk down to her audiences, but she ensured that her innovations were always accessible and—because she resolutely refused to recognize artistic borders or limitations—she often collaborated with other art disciplines, particularly theatre and the visual arts."
"Lola MacLaughlin was quite simply an original who followed her own path with huge integrity," said Brian Webb, her friend and artistic producer of the Canada Dance.
Still, her pieces’ creation process and affect was always difficult for the artist who expressed herself through movement to put into words. "A dance work is like a baby," she once explained to the Straight. "You might know it’s going to be a boy, but you don’t know its character, its face until it arrives. Just like you don’t know the quality, the life of the dance until it hits the stage. And you don’t want to influence how the audience will interpret it. See it and I’ll talk to you after." Another time she said: "I don’t want to give away all my secrets. That’s the great thing about dance; it’s not meant to be put in words. It’s such an abstract form. It’s what I love and hate about dance."
In honour of the pixie-ish, spiky-haired dance artist, whose life will be honoured at a traditional Orthodox Christian serivce at the Holy Trinity Church this Wednesday (March 11) at 11 a.m., we remember below some of her works (with our words about them then), some striking, others quirky and witty, but always unforgettable and surprising. How fitting that her friends are organizing a legacy fund in her name, to support emerging choreography.
Theme for Nino (1990): " It conveys MacLaughlin’s love of dance, her joy in creating original movement, her wit, her fine sense of comic timing, and her quirky sense of humour. But this charming little character—danced by MacLaughlin—also seems to represent something of MacLaughlin’s self-image—she often describes herself as a "little guy".
Eternal Return (1992): "Lola MacLaughlin’s latest work, Eternal Return, leaves little doubt she’s one of the most sophisticated choreographers in Vancouver—which places her among the best in the country. The haunting piece for four dancers...makes the most of MacLaughlin’s ability to weave original movement and clear imagery into a kind of finely-made tapestry."
Essie, Ena and Maude (1995 Kiss Festival): "In this quiet ode to the women of wartime Britain, dancers...wear kilts, pass tea, and break into a blend of foot-stomping folk dance and contemporary movement....This small, perfect piece epitomizes what the Kiss Creations should be: a melding of art forms and a dose of the unexpected."
Four Solos (1998): "Each solo represented a city MacLaughlin visited on a recent trip to Europe....Stylistically, the solos were all worlds apart, thanks to the variety and complex detail of MacLaughlin’s choreography."
Volio (2002): "Her performers are literally and figuratively reaching for the sky, driven by some instinctual force....What she’s captured here is the endless human quest for knowledge and awareness. At the same time, the veteran Vancouver choreographer is on a quest of her own: she’s moving away from her usual modern-dance vocabulary and, like Jespersen, creating a unique new language."
Provincial Essays (2007): "The point of Provincial Essays wasn’t for viewers to analyze but to drink in the vivid imagery in front of them. The dance lingered like fond recollections of a rejuvenating getaway."