To understand the fleeting relationships and sense of longing that permeate Josh Beamish’s new work for six male dancers, you need to understand where the choreographer finds himself, on the brink of 30.
Once celebrated as Vancouver’s dance wunderkind—he launched his company at just 17—in his early 20s he moved on to work elsewhere, from New York City to Toronto to Montreal to London, England, and from the Banff Centre to Jacob’s Pillow to (this summer) the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation’s Pocantico Center. Today, he lives—quite literally—out of a suitcase. As the self-made artist puts it, he goes to where the funders are, the rehearsal spaces sit, and the dancers live, for any given project.
Where does he mostly spend his time? “I don’t spend my time mostly anywhere,” the artist says with a small laugh, sitting in the empty Scotiabank Dance Theatre, where he’ll soon mount Saudade. “Largely, I’m this single entity that fits into different environments. So I don’t have any connections with people, on a day-to-day basis, that ground me into feeling rooted to a physical place. And that’s a really weird way to live your life. People are constantly changing; places around me are always new.”
All of these ideas filter into Saudade, which is named for the Portuguese word for an unattainable desire. In a series of flowing, fleeting duets, haunting solos, and group passages, Beamish explores a yearning to connect and the spectres of unresolved relationships—all set to Hildur Guðnadóttir’s melancholic cello score.
He’s clearly drawing from personal experience. “You’ll see in the relationships [on-stage] the things that I’m longing for,” he says. “I might not have a boyfriend and a dog again.…I have had times in my life where I question whether I have made the right choices. But the piece is about that questioning and feeling this hyperawareness of options and choices. If you commit to being in a relationship with one person, you lose what you may get from every other single person you might ever meet. I also question whether I can even be in a relationship again. What happens when you release yourself from the traditional understanding of being a couple and having a home?”
Significantly, the piece is performed by an all-male troupe—a choice that also reflects Beamish’s own experiences, he emphasizes. He was inspired, in part, by a desire to choreograph “men in socks” rather than the “women in pointe shoes” he had been working with so often of late. He was also driven by reviews of a sensual pas de deux he had created for two male dancers, which premiered in Britain in 2015 with two Royal Ballet artists in the roles.
“Some of the reviews in the U.K. said they wished they were watching a man and a woman,” recalls Beamish. “I was put off by that: that there are thousands of male-female ballets, and that people would have the audacity to want more of that from an art form that is already locked into such heteronormative ways.” So often in ballet and elsewhere, when two men dance together, it’s in a fight scene, he adds. Instead, he wanted to explore more emotional, sensitive territory.
To cast the piece, he drew on dancers he admires from all over the world. Sean Aaron Carmon, Graham Kaplan, David Norsworthy, Kevin Quinaou, Dominic Santia, and Tim Stickney have credits that span Nederlands Dans Theater and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The logistics of bringing them here has added to the choreographer’s already heavy administrative load: on the day we meet, Beamish is trying to text information to one of his dancers in Paris regarding the paperwork needed to come here. In bigger companies, there are staff to complete these tasks. In MOVE: the company, there is only Beamish, doing all the operating, administrative, and accounting duties. “I’ve transcended the need to sleep,” as he puts it.
Amid all this work, he has decided not to dance in the piece himself. These days, he prefers to perform only solos, as he did working with choreographers Ame Henderson and Noam Gagnon last year. “When I perform in my own company I always feel like performing my work is number 37 on the to-do list,” he sighs. “I don’t feel I get enough rehearsal time to fully dissolve myself into the piece….I also love being off-stage in the audience and watching my work and crafting it and fine-tuning it.”
Saudade will live on after the show is here in Vancouver; it’s featured next month at the Next Wave Festival at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in New York City. At the same time, the ever-prolific Beamish says he’s developing two new works, including a new Giselle with dancers from American Ballet Theatre, reimagining the classic amid today’s social-media madness. For the foreseeable future, it seems, sleep will have to wait.
Saudade is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from Wednesday to Saturday (September 20 to 23).