because the personal is cultural
This week, Sasha Kleinplatz is presenting L’ÉCHAUFFEMENT, a show she choreographed for the students of l’Université du Québec à Montréal. I met with her at Café Olimpico in Mile-End to ask her a few questions.
SYLVAIN VERSTRICHT What’s the difference between choreographing for professional and student dancers?
SASHA KLEINPLATZ It’s totally different. It’s crazy, crazy different. It’s definitely made me reflect on what I am imparting to interpreters or dancers in general, and it’s actually helped clarify what I’m doing when I’m choreographing work because I’ve realized that a lot of what I’m doing when I’m working with students – because it’s the second time now, I did LADMMI [L’École de danse contemporaine de Montréal] last year and UQAM this year – is communicating to them what’s important to me about performance, about the architecture of movement and space, and in terms of the relation among themselves and then their relationship to the audience and the one that I’m interested in constructing between me and them. I think I’m always doing that with dancers, but it’s really forced me to reflect this time, “What am I doing?” It’s a really incredible opportunity to be forced to think about that so much more clearly.
VERSTRICHT Is it because they’re younger, like you’re influencing the youth? “Think of the children!”
KLEINPLATZ I feel like I have to be careful… I really have to be, “What is it that I’m trying to say to them?” I feel like there’s less space to make mistakes, not in terms of the choreography that’s being made… They’re in these very formative years and I want them to feel supported and challenged and heard, so I feel somewhat protective of them; not protective like I’m going to say something bad and hurt their feelings, but this is a really special time in their lives and I want to be part of making that time good and not shitty, you know? (She laughs.) I don’t want them to look back on it and think, “That sucked and I didn’t learn anything!” So I’m thinking a lot about pedagogy and choreography at the same time.
VERSTRICHT Even though you haven’t used the word, I feel you’re talking about ethics…
VERSTRICHT Since you brought it up, because you did choreograph for L’École de danse contemporaine last year and you were a Concordia student, have you noticed differences between the schools?
KLEINPLATZ Definitely. There are huge differences. Concordia I haven’t taught at but, just in terms of my own experience, I was so unknowledgeable about the Quebec dance scene when I was in that program. I don’t know if it’s still that way. I mean, I knew nothing. And then you go to LADMMI or UQAM and I can say to them, “What are the choreographers that you consider in Quebec?” and they just are spouting off fifteen, twenty names without a thought, you know, and when I was at Concordia I had no idea. I knew who Jean-Pierre Perreault was and who Marie Chouinard was, and that was it. And, eventually, I knew who Ginette Laurin was. So their knowledge around the history of dance in Quebec, but then also their knowledge based around the pedagogy of movement are completely different. Concordia is really based on this idea that you’re making your own way in terms of developing your individual voice as a choreographer. They choose not to have students learn repertoire, which can be cool for maintaining this feeling of carving out a unique path. LADMMI is very much about technique, and there’s a sort of idea about what it means, like somatic practices are really important. They’re the same at UQAM. And also understanding anatomy in this really applied way on a moment-to-moment basis, when you’re doing choreography, technique classes, Pilates… I’m their Pilates teacher at LADMMI as well, so I’m getting a different window… And then at UQAM, I feel it’s this mix of the technique and then a sense of Quebec as a historical place in dance. So, very different. And then I don’t think any are better or worse, but just completely different.
VERSTRICHT I feel like each has their strengths and weaknesses. As a spectator, I also feel that the student bodies are quite different. One of the strengths of UQAM, I find, is that there’s a wider diversity of body types. I was wondering as well, because often – probably UQAM the most – the disparity between men and women… You’re working with fifteen students this year and there’s one man. Does that affect in any way what you do when it comes to the show?
KLEINPLATZ With this piece I made a really conscious decision from the beginning that I wanted it to affect nothing. But it was funny because [fellow choreographer] Andrew Tay came to rehearsal this week and he was just, like, “Well, it says something, even if you don’t want it to say anything. It reads a certain way. I don’t know exactly what the reading is, but it’s glaringly obvious that there’s only one man.” Right? And I chose to not deal with that in any way, shape, or form. That’s my way of dealing with it, is to act as though they’re all the same. I was saying to Andrew, “I know, it’s shitty because I just don’t want it to read as anything. I don’t want anybody to read anything into it.” And he said, “Yeah… There’s nothing you can do about it.” But, I mean, I love the one male dancer, I love Alexis [Trépanier]! (She laughs.) I don’t want him to feel like I don’t love having him there. But it’s weird to realize that there are readings of work that – of course, we know that – are completely outside your control, you know?
VERSTRICHT It just reminds me of, once, I went to an UQAM show where there were only women [performers] with a friend of mine who’s an intelligent guy and after, he was, like, “Oh… Clearly that was about lesbian squirrels.” And I was, like, “Really? You think the piece we just saw—”
KLEINPLATZ (Laughing.) Whose piece was it?
VERSTRICHT That was years ago… It was [Sarah-Ève Grant-Lefebvre’s Une Poutre dans l’oeil or Marie-Joëlle Hadd’s C12H22O11].
KLEINPLATZ Oh, was it a student choreography?
VERSTRICHT Yeah, it was a student thing.
KLEINPLATZ I thought you were going to be, like, “It was this invited choreographer and he thought it was lesbian squirrels.” That’s incredible. “It was Ginette Laurin!”
VERSTRICHT But I was wondering, “Where did he take that from?” The squirrel thing, it would be because they would be down on the floor, knocking [it with their fist]. But the lesbian thing… I guess it was just because they were all women.
KLEINPLATZ Yeah. It’s weird to realize that… Showing work throughout Quebec this winter, more and more with choreography, I realize you have no control over the reading of work. Not in a bad way… You just have to not be invested in how people are reading work. For me, it’s more and more interesting that they’re having a self-reflexive experience or some kind of experience. Even if it’s like they’re contesting something, that’s fine.
VERSTRICHT The show is called L’ÉCHAUFEMENT [THE WARM-UP]. How does that relate to what we’re actually going to see dance-wise?
KLEINPLATZ I started off, in the process of [my previous show] Chorus II, realizing that what I really loved about the piece was the warm-up [the dancers] did to get ready for the piece, so I had Nate [Nathan Yaffe] and Milan [Panet-Gigon] come in and teach the students at UQAM the warm-up. But I also realized it wasn’t just the physical movement of the warm-up that was interesting to me, but just the way the men from Chorus II were relating to each other in the warm-up, so I just started talking to the students about that, about when we’re in a warm-up state and everything, we communicate with each other differently than we would in a performance in front of an audience; and, from the first class, talking about – even though it’s a total impossibility – is there some way for us to retain the warm-up state during the performance? So that’s what we’re trying to do.
VERSTRICHT In the trailer that I saw, there’s a little disco ball involved. Are you also influenced by nightlife or club culture?
KLEINPLATZ No, I’m really not, but even the lighting designer was like, “Yeah, it really looks like a rave.” I was just interested in the disco ball and light reflection. (She laughs.) That’s all it was! It has a nostalgic feeling. You have so many different associations with light from a disco ball. I just like that effect. But I get that it reads as club culture, so I’m okay with that, but it’s not what I was thinking about.
(I stop the recording and we talk off the record, but then I find myself really interested in what Sasha has to say and I ask her if I can start recording again.)
KLEINPLATZ So [L’ÉCHAUFFEMENT] is an hour of running and, when I was working at L’École de danse contemporaine de Montréal, I had wanted to do something minimalist, my intuition was to do something minimalist, but then I sort of felt guilty about doing something minimalist because I felt like I wouldn’t be giving the students enough material to dig into and to experience. And I was happy with the piece, but what I didn’t like is that I was sort of saying there’s a difference between choreographing for students and choreographing for professional dancers and I have to alter my process. And this time I was really, “You know what? Whatever my intuition says and wherever my interest is lying, I’m just going to pursue that and trust that somehow the confluence of my interest and where the students take my interest is going to be enough nourishment for them to feel like they’re really getting something from this process." So this time I just really stuck to, “Okay, what I’m really interested in is running and exhaustion and being together and how we’re going to be together.” A lot of the piece is just negotiating how we’re going to be together right now and that’s super exciting to me. So I was like, “I’m just going to stick to that and be okay with it.” It’s been hard because there’s been this feeling that their parents are going to come to this show and be like, “What is this? (We both laugh.) I’m paying for you to do this? This isn’t dance!” I’m like, “You know what? This is exciting to me, so…” And UQAM trusted me, so I hope they’re happy, but I think it was a rewarding process for everyone involved, so whether or not it functions as a university end-of-year show, I’m a little less concerned with. I want the dancers to have an experience and to be challenged. I think they are, so…
VERSTRICHT Another thing that’s often different between professional and student shows is the number of performers. It’s not every day you get to work with fifteen performers. I was wondering, is it a chance for you to take the kind of work you already do and make it for fifteen people or does the fact that you have such a high number of performers, you have to go somewhere else, go in another direction completely?
KLEINPLATZ Not at all, just because before I was actually working with grants… The second and third Piss in the Pool [a dance event organized by Kleinplatz and Tay that takes place in an empty pool], on one piece I worked with sixteen dancers and another one I worked with twelve. I mean, they were all volunteers, but I’ve already been interested in this sort of numbers game in choreography for a long time, so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. It feels really natural. What is interesting is, UQAM, it is a wide variety of dance ability; what some dancers are stronger at is different than others. So trying to honour the best of everybody in the work was a good challenge. It’s like, how do I make things work so that all these people have all these different abilities and specialties? Like, I have a Latin dance champion (she laughs) in the piece and so, at a certain point, I was just, “Right now, right here, at this point in the piece, I want you to do Latin dance and just hit it! I want you to hit it hard, I want you to do exactly what you would do in a competition.” And that feels wonderful to be “How do I really honour what these people feel excited about in their lives as dancers?” So that’s special to be able to do that, you know? I think it is…
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO TRAILER FOR L'ÉCHAUFFEMENT
April 8-11 at 8pm
Agora de la danse
Tickets : 12$
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com