Finding strength in simplicity: reading and redefining dance

Needle and Thread is an ode to those who were lost

Every stitch, every letter spelled out during Needle and Thread retrieves the memories of 600 Holocaust victims. “We’re not going for spectacle,” Mindy Yan Miller said. “But authenticity, experience, feeling…”

Needle and Thread is a collaborative, commemorative performance by Mindy, a professor in the department of fibres and material practices at Concordia, and her sister-in-law, Suzanne Miller. Suzanne is a contemporary choreographer and dancer, whereas Mindy works primarily in installation and sculpture with used clothing, cowhide and human hair.

In this performance, Suzanne uses her body to spell out the names of the 600 Holocaust victims, wearing a long, patchwork skirt, which Mindy is tirelessly adding to. The massive garment is composed of many shirts, dresses, skirts and pairs of pants joined together with a simple blanket stitch. The names of the victims are recorded in the “Pages of Testimony” submitted to Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

Mindy is the ground, my anchor, the base note [of Needle and Thread,] and I am the air,” said Suzanne.

Suzanne trembled, sweat gleaming off her chest, as she embodied the very lives and the stories behind the names she spelled. Her movements are not that of conventional dance, but of a gestural language that can only be understood through witnessing.

She reaches in, towards her chest, falls on the ground, covers her eyes with one, then two hands. She looks back, then up, she twists, clasps her hands, touching her elbow to her side.

Mindy stitches, never looking up, she is static. Only moving to reach into her tool pouch to thread a needle.

The names are spelled on a blackboard, as a man whispers them to the writer. She writes quickly, the name is spelled out, on the board, and by Suzanne. The writer erases, and moves on to the next. This takes 10 seconds.

“It’s not about provoking,” Suzanne said. Needle and Thread is jarring. The power of their actions resonate with the audience.

The sister-in-laws were invited to perform this piece in the Musée d’Art Contemporain as part of Off Parcours Danse, a dance conference that took place from Nov. 25-29 at Place des Arts. Needle and Thread was developed last year at “Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World,” part of a series of Jewish arts conferences held at Arizona State University, and has since been performed close to Jewish sites across North America and Europe. Each time, something changes, is lost or added, effectively creating a different experience for viewers. The skirt grows, bit by bit.


Photo by Britanny Clarke.


Moves by Montreal

Bouge d’ici / Press photo

In case you weren’t aware, January in Montreal signals the launch of the upcoming theatre season, in all of its glory, as well as an impressive amount of performing arts festivals. On deck this week is Bouge d’ici, a local contemporary dance festival that is being hosted at MainLine Theatre from Jan. 11 to Jan. 19.

Amy Blackmore, the artistic director of the festival, an ex-Concordia student and one of the founders of the festival, explained that back in 2008, while she was still a dance student at the university, she was frustrated with the lack of opportunities being offered to students to showcase their work. As a result, she and eight of her choreographer friends set out to make opportunities of their own.

“A lot of us, when we started the festival, were being told we couldn’t be accepted. That’s when we decided to make a path for ourselves, to take our fate into our own hands.”

The first edition of the festival was held at Ctrl Lab, the tiny (yet infamous, considering how many Montreal artists have débuted there) gallery space on St-Laurent St. that closed down last year. That first year there was barely enough seating space for 35 people and it was a Concordia-centric event. Three years later, Bouge d’ici is on to its fourth edition and is welcoming participants from a variety of institutions, such as UQÀM, École supérieure de ballet du Québec and Tangente.

The choice of venue is not a coincidence. Blackmore explains that they were looking for a venue that wouldn’t be so “institutional-like,” a more relaxed atmosphere than the one that traditionally accompanies the kind of dance show that you might see at Place des Arts, for example. “We want people to come and enjoy a show that’s affordable. Come to MainLine, have a beer, relax and just have a good time,” said Blackmore.

Bouge d’ici’s most popular show is Common Space and it’s the very core of the festival. The premise of the show is to pair together mentor choreographers and dancers, rendering the festival not only an opportunity to showcase potential, but also an opportunity to grow and learn. This year’s edition will showcase 11 choreographers, with 10 minutes allocated to each one’s performance. Last year Common Space sold out at all four showings. They’ve decided to add a fifth show this year and in doing so, they hope to increase their turn out.

Bouge d’ici is anchored on clear and explicit principles: accessibility, mentoring, development, facilitation and creation. Blackmore is hopeful for the future of the festival: “The people we work with move on and do great things. We hope to be the stepping stone for them.”

Choreographers participating in Common Space are: Kerwin Barrington, Laura Jayne Battcock, Audrey Bergeron, Patricia Gagnon, Marie-Andrée Gelac, Michaela Gerussi, Heather Lynn Macdonald, Axelle Munezero et Martine Bruneau, Auja Ragnarsdottir, et Julie Tymchuk.

Mentors: David Albert-Toth, Amy Blackmore, Jacques Brochu, Allison Elizabeth Burns, Emily Gaultieri, holly Greco, Jody Hegel, Robin Henderson, Kelly Keenan, Lara Kramer, Tim Rodrigues, Maria Simone et Lael Stellick.
The Associate Artistic Producer responsible for Common Space is Allison Burns

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