By Troy Hasselman, March 2 2020 —
Project InTandem, the Calgary-based dance collective, will be debuting two new pieces at The GRAND from March 5–7. Project InTandem initially came together in 2017 through the collaboration between Calgary choreographers Sylvie Moquin and Meghann Michalsky, as a means of creating danceworks that were free from the restrictions of specific themes or time lengths.
“Myself and Meghann had felt like we had already dovetailed in taking advantage of most of the platforms to present our work as choreographers within Calgary and the broader Alberta community,” Moquin explains. “We were both ready to take the next step as choreographers who strived for longer works and so in that time we decided to come together. We wanted to come together to produce the work but also give us the freedom to individually create dance work in whatever way we wanted to without restrictions of theme or time length. I think why we came together originally was instead of going out individually on our own and trying to fill out an entire evening, we wanted to come together and take on the financial burden of finding money, producing a show and running an event. All of those things we did together as a team and then the show went really, really well. We got great responses and a lot of people kept asking about it. We decided to go for round two.”
This year’s piece shows the evolution that Michalsky and Moquin have made in the years since the first Project InTandem show in 2017. Both choreographers have spent time abroad working and training with other artists. This year’s production is also at a bigger venue, with the initial run at the 150 capacity Pumphouse Theatre and this year’s edition at the 360 seat GRAND.
“With time any artist evolves,” Michalsky says. “Sylvie and I have both gone on our ways in the years that we had off creating other work or training with other artists abroad. We also had quite a few changes within our personal lives for the better and that’s really our thematic growth as artists and individuals. This year we took a huge leap. Our first production was at the Pumphouse Theatre and this one is at the GRAND. That in and of itself requires a lot more work on the production side of things which we’re enjoying. It’s going to be one of our dream shows because you can do so much more lighting and design in the GRAND compared to other venues we’ve been in.”
“It’s a huge leap” Moquin adds. “I remember sitting down at one point and saying ‘The stakes are higher here.’ We’ve reached a step further of what we can accomplish and what we can do. For us it’s always been trying to set higher standards within our artistic community as well, reaching further as emerging artists, as younger artists. If we’re not reaching further then no one else is going to. Everyone has to always ask ‘What’s the next step?’ ‘How can we evolve?’ ‘How can we put on a bigger show?’ Just the amount of people involved in the production has grown.”
One of the motivating factors for Michalsky and Moquin in the creation of this piece is the perception of the prairies as an artless space with no major creative work happening. The pair have ensured that important aspects of the creative process, such as rehearsal hours, are given proper attention to ensure that the piece is performed as strongly as possible.
“Calgary contemporary dance is perceived in a certain way on a national scale or level,” Michalsky says. “It’s perceived as lower in and of itself. We as artists allow that to fuel our fire. It is perceived that no art is happening on the prairies and so we made it our due diligence to get those theatre residencies just like the big artists out there and that’s really informed our work as well. Asking for more rehearsal hours — a lot of times I’ve been involved with projects here that can’t really pay for a lot of rehearsal hours and that really affects the work. Sylvie and I really thought about those things in your budget to make sure the work had time.”
The two pieces in the work explore themes of rebirth. Moquin’s work looks at the concept of the rewiring of one’s self while Michalsky focuses on a type of spiritual rebirth. While there is an overlap in the themes of these two works they are detailed in different forms both still use a great deal of physicality in their work.
“We actually had never had discussions like ‘I’m going to make a work like this or about this,’ collectively,” Moquin says. “Obviously we’re both in and around each other’s lives so we have an intuition as to what the other person is interested in but we’ve always kept that very clearly defined. We can go create what we need to create at that time in our lives. But I’ve been involved in Meghann’s work as a dancer and I also know what I’ve been up to as a choreographer. There’s a lot of through lines in terms of some content and themes. I think we have very different approaches as far as how we’re going after those themes which I think is going to be really unique for the audience to take in. But at the same time we’re a small group of contemporary artists in Calgary so the aesthetic and the movement are coming out when you’re always working with similar people. You start to understand language and aesthetics. I think there still is a big contrast in terms of how we’re digging after our work.”
“The reason why we collaborated in the first place is because we are of similar age and we have similar opinions on wanting to use big physicality and the body compared to less,” Michalsky adds. “That in and of itself is a theme for the evening.”
The premiere of the pieces are set for the weekend of International Women’s Day. Themes of femininity are present in the work and the pieces as well are made up of an all-female cast.
“I am researching how my experience with anxiety, trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects the movement states I am interested in and motivates how I compose female bodies on stage,” Michasky says, while reading from her artist statement. “I believe my work is in protest to the misogyny and gender polarity I see in society onstage and that I have experienced. I see my work as feminist physicality. I approach the work from a physical rather than narrative or consensual quality.”
“The first work is a quartet, the second is a quintet,” Moquin adds. “One of the dancers is in both so we have eight female dance artists and we each also have an understudy apprentice role, those are females. All of our rehearsal assistants have been females. Many of our outside eyes have been female. Our stage manager is a female. A large chunk, if not all of the team involved in the project itself, are all female artists. Part of it comes from the fact that there are not a lot of male dancers in Calgary to begin with. Also, that’s just kind of the collective of people we’ve surrounded ourselves with and have been able to work with and had the luxury of working with and then bringing that into our work. That is going to affect the themes that we explore. If you have a room full of women you’re making a very different work than if you’re half-women, half-men.”
Despite the intensity of rehearsals, the pair are excited to share this with an audience when it premières on March 5.
“We started writing grants for this two years ago or a year-and-a-half ago,” Moquin says. “You create this vision of something you want to achieve so far out, so it’s a year-and-a-half buildup and the closer you get to something the more things are going to be more intense leading up to it but I think there’s a huge appreciation for that on my end at least. This is work we want to be doing and we know this is really important work. It’s a privilege to be able to have all this work on our plate, to have the luxury to be creating and digging in and asking questions and digging deeper and asking for more and really striving for, in a weeks time, what we can accomplish. As artists typically we finish a show and you’re still asking yourself how to dig more, how to dig further. There’s no arrival point, I don’t think. I would say right now it’s intense and there’s a lot going on and we’re excited to share this work with people and get it out of our intimate studio space and into the world.”
Project InTandem’s new production will run from March 5–7 at the GRAND from 8:00–9:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $25 through Showpass, while door tickets are available for $30.