Amid the many themes emerging from Calgary-based Davida Monk’s wide-ranging show here, a big one is the strong relationship between the Alberta and Vancouver dance scenes.
Look no further than the special remount of her Ashes for Beauty with seven local dancers: four of them—Hilary Maxwell, Naomi Brand, Kirsten Wiren, and Erin Lequereux—hail from Alberta, with connections that go back to the University of Calgary, where Monk was an associate professor.
You could also say that Vancouver’s Dance Centre, the presenter of this wide-lens celebration of Monk’s rich repertoire as a choreographer and dancer, is the glue that holds the two provinces’ communities together.
“The Dance Centre is interested in showing they can provide resources for people not only here in B.C.,” she tells the Straight over the phone from her hotel in Vancouver. “It really is a national and international Dance Centre. And Alberta is pretty thin as far as dance goes; this is where it’s really happening.”
That’s high praise from someone who’s been a force on the national scene for three decades. And over all that time, she’s maintained bonds and influence on the West Coast, teaching, creating work, and dancing.
Those connections carry through on the upcoming program with For Antigone, a piece she’s been working on for almost five years with choreographer Paras Terezakis, the Greece-born artistic director of Vancouver’s Kinesis Dance. Exploring a mutual interest—mythology—the work is resolutely not about retelling the classical Greek tragedy. “It’s more of a homage to the defiant and feminist character,” says Monk of this duet with local dancer Arash Khakpour (who is also in Ashes for Beauty). “Antigone fought for dignity and respect.”
Monk will also give us an evocative look into the work of another Calgary voice in dance, Helen Husak. The Return is a solo that explores grief and loss on a stage scattered with antlers.
“This, for us on the Prairies, has a kind of poignance,” Monk explains. “It’s a great experience to walk the Prairies and find an antler that has been shed. But also there’s a sense of loss; it’s very bonelike and organic, so that works into the themes Helen is working with, as well. The dancer goes through a process of searching, resisting the effect the elements have on her, listening to them, and giving in to them and finding resolution.”
As for staging her own work, it says something about Monk that she’s chosen Ashes for Beauty because its radically shifting yet flowing movement is so difficult. “It’s about metamorphosis, and metamorphosis is deep and current and ancient,” she begins. “Because of the breadth of the subject it’s probably my most challenging work—not necessarily for the audience but for me. I really have to reach to express what needs to be expressed. The conundrum is movement is change and metamorphosis is change, and how do I make the subject change if movement is always changing?”
While taking all this on, Monk is also finding time to give feedback and critiques to the young artists at Vancouver’s Modus Operandi contemporary-dance-training program (run by Out Innerspace Dance Theatre). “When I found out I was coming, I made sure I was reaching out to the community,” she says. And so the coastal connections deepen.
Davida Monk: Ashes for Beauty is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from next Thursday to Saturday (May 23 to 25).