Sasha Kozak and Julie Lebel dance to their own beat

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      Julie Lebel

      Julie Lebel is finally debuting her signature work, Field Notes, at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday and Saturday (September 18 and 19). But what you’ll see on-stage is only a glimpse of how the choreographer has been quietly shaking up the dance scene here since moving to Vancouver from Quebec four years ago.

      Talking over an authentic croissant at her favourite Main Street haunt, the artist smiles and says she came here for “love and rock climbing”. But along with her ropes and harnesses, she brought her fresh approach to dance.

      She’s helped launch Mobile Clubbing, silent dance parties where people are invited to a public space to wear their own headphones, choose their own music, and bust a move. Then there’s DanceDemoCamp, a three-hour creative hothouse where dance artists pitch ideas to a jury, and two are chosen to cook up a work for a live audience; Drift-Walks, an exercise you can download and take on a nature walk; and the contact-improvisation group No Hitting (with artists like Jennifer Clarke and Laura Hicks).

      “In dance, we need to invent more ways for participating. That’s where I come in,” says the soft-spoken artist, who says she’s always been shy about performing and prefers choreography. “I like to invent platforms for looking at process in a different way.”

      To understand Lebel’s unique take on dance, you need to understand her background. After studying a range of contemporary and classical styles at the Université du Québec í  Montréal, she went on to teach nondancers in the remote community of Sept-Iles.

      “I was terrified because I thought, ”˜There are no dancers there.’ And that informed my [choreographic] language as well—the working with limits.”

      Her time there also led to taking community members on Drift-Walks—to the sand spits, forested islands, and waterfalls of the area, whose sensory details Lebel worked directly into Field Notes.

      The result is a multimedia layering of images (Gabriel Rochette’s videos of the waters and sands in flux), found sounds (by Sebastien Cliché), and movement that ranges from a body swept by wind to limbs gnarling like tree roots. Karine Gagné dances.

      Lebel’s been busy connecting with the community here, too. DanceDemoCamp, which she based on a model used by software developers, had its first installation last April and has another this Saturday (September 19) at the Scotiabank Dance Centre (with a public viewing at 1:30 p.m.).

      “I was thinking, is there a way to do this in the dance community instead of just having a meeting about funding?” says Lebel. “DanceDemoCamp is low-risk, you get audience feedback, and if the idea doesn’t work, that’s okay: it was an afternoon. You didn’t write a grant. You didn’t spend days in the studio. When we tried it [last April], it worked; people were really collaborative.”¦Now we’d like to foster that.”

      Clearly, Lebel’s roots are growing deeper here. She hopes to establish a nonprofit soon, under the name Foolish Operations. It also helps that there are mountains here left to climb.

      > Janet Smith

      Sasha Kozak

      Growing up in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Sasha Kozak had two pastimes he was passionate about: golfing and dancing. He started the latter as a five-year-old, taking Ukrainian dance before moving on to jazz, ballet, and tap. When he wasn’t in the studio, he was on the links, perfecting his swing to the point where, upon graduating from high school, he was invited to join the U.S. Amateur golf tour. But instead of pursuing the sport that’s made Tiger Woods a household name, Kozak went the artist’s way.

      At 18, he earned a one-month scholarship to attend Vancouver’s Harbour Dance Centre. His immersion only solidified his love for the art form.

      “I figured if I wanted to be a professional golfer, I was way too short,” says the five-foot-six Kozak with a laugh on the line from Saskatoon, where he is visiting family.

      “I’m not a very talkative person,” adds Kozak, who now calls Vancouver home. “I really love expressing myself through dance. I’m more comfortable dancing than speaking.”

      Soon after moving here, Kozak, 25, joined the Source Dance Company, a semiprofessional troupe that blends jazz, hip-hop, and tap. He then signed on with tapper Brock Jellison’s Ruckus Dance Company for five years, during which time he was living with Shay Kuebler, another movement dynamo. Through Ruckus, Kozak met Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley, with whom he, Kuebler, and Maiko Miyauchi would form the 605 Collective.

      The 605 troupe is currently working on a piece it has commissioned from Dana Gingras, the artistic director of Animals of Distinction and cofounder of Holy Body Tattoo. The company will present an excerpt from new animal, which draws on the body language of animals, on October 14 and 17 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre as part of the biennial Dance in Vancouver event.

      Besides thriving in contemporary dance, Kozak, whose moves are as athletic as they are lyrical, also excels at hip-hop. He’s drawn on his fluid, freestyling form to score commercial work, including dance roles in Another Cinderella Story and Reefer Madness. He’s also appeared in numerous TV ads and shows.

      But Kozak says he’ll never give up the stage. “There’s not very much expression in the commercial side,” he says. “I still enjoy it—it’s fun, but there’s no real depth to it.

      “I love hip-hop,” adds Kozak, who’s performing in the MOA Mash Up today (September 17) with Martha Carter’s Marta Marta House of Pride at the Museum of Anthropology. “It’s a lot like contemporary in its freedom.”

      For now, Kozak is calling Vancouver home, but he wants to study dance in Europe. Maybe while he’s there he’ll visit the birthplace of golf, too.

      > Gail Johnson