Dana Gingras: “Dancing really saved my life, as it was a way to manage all the energy and self-destructive tendencies I had”
I met Dana Gingras through a mutual friend in 2005 in Los Angeles. I was there documenting Einstürzende Neubauten and she was touring with the English Trio The Tiger Lillies with her Holy Body Tattoo project, one of the most avant-garde dance companies in Canadian history, which she founded in 1993 and which she coproduces. I was immediately intrigued by her approach to dance; it was rebellious, unafraid and very experimental.
Her work also always has a very strong connection to music. In 2006, she founded her current troupe, Animals of Distinction, working with many artists outside the field of dance: The Tiger Lillies, Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Tindersticks and Warren Ellis are but a few.
Dana is a choreographer, filmmaker and performer. These different areas mingle and cross over in her life continuously. Her conceptual dance approach as with Heart as Arena’s which she performed at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre is:
“I wanted to explore what happens in the space in between bodies and radio waves—all the electromagnetic forces moving around us” (…) Everything today is a sound bite. Intimacy is lost. I want to provide the audience with what they are lacking.”
In 2009 I was booked to perform in Montreal for a week and Dana invited me to stay in her artists residency space for this time span. She had moved into a huge factory space in which she not only teaches, creates projects and rents out rooms to dance and yoga classes but also has an apartment for befriended artists to work and live for short period of time. Her conviction that artists should support each other as far as possible was an incredibly inspiring and the week there is one I think of often.
Dana is a tour de force, creating and organizing dance projects internationally and every time our paths cross she is premiering somewhere else. Not somebody to wait around for something to happen, she is one of those incredible women that creates her own universe, attracting a whirlwind of collaborators and initiating creativity that inspires not only dancers and musicians, but also has social, political and philosophical approaches, breaking through constraintments and prejudice in other words a “true modern dance activist” as her contemporaries call her. I am very happy to be able to present her here today.
Danielle de Picciotto: Dana, how did you become a dancer?
Dana Gingras: I have always danced… putting on the shows for anyone that would watch. I started formal training very young but I was quite uncoordinated so was always getting into trouble for starting with the wrong foot. This was discouraging so I quit since the whole idea of dancing was personal expression. I picked it up again in my late teens and it really saved my life, as it was a way to manage all the energy and self-destructive tendencies I had. By this time contemporary dance expression had evolved enough that I was able to find a place as an outsider.
Danielle de Picciotto: What do you want to express in your art?
Dana Gingras: The body is always central to my work. I seek to amplify physical possibilities – that is, to push the limits of what bodies are capable of and to allow that capacity to become manifold and present in the most inventive fashion possible. I am interested in the ways in which kinesthetic thinking can be visually rendered to achieve this goal through combining choreographic practices with other art forms and with various collaborators. Dance and live performance fundamentally explores and embraces the condition of risk. Through employing risk, the body and accompanying choreography can be utilized as a foundation to explore visions that are bigger than our individual, isolated existences. My goal is to bring the audience into awareness of the full complexity, connectivity, and complicity inherent in each of our own physical, social, and emotional lives.
Danielle de Picciotto: You always incorporate music into your projects and have collaborated with many musicians – could you name a few and describe how the collaboration works?
Dana Gingras: Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with many incredible musicians. Each collaboration is different since the nature of collaboration is a conversation. The most exciting collaborations are when both the dance and music evolve simultaneously creating an in-between space through which the piece emerges.
I collaborated with the Tiger Lillies on “Circa”. They played live in the piece, which added an element of risk as they were always changing things so it literally kept us on our toes. The starting point for “Circa” and what it became was wildly different… sometimes the work has a will of it’s own.
I have also had a long relationship with Roger Tellier Craig who was originally in Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Fly Pan Am and most recently Le Révélateur. We have created many pieces together and each work we do seems to have a slightly different approach. What I love about this collaboration is that over fifteen years we have evolved a very idiosyncratic personal language.
For the past three years I have been working with Godspeed You! Black Emperor on “Monumental”, which is as the name suggests monumental. It’s a large-scale multi media performance with nine dancers and eight musicians. That piece was originally created without the band playing live and now we have the band on stage so a lot of the original score had to be re worked. They gave me a lot of freedom to direct them and of course having them in the room with the dancers created new possibilities and happy accidents.
Danielle de Picciotto: What are you working on currently?
Dana Gingras: Right now I am working on a collaboration with Berlin-based Japanese avant-garde synth wave duo Group A and Canadian media artist Sonya Stefan who is also a dancer. We are working on a piece that contains equal elements of performance, installation, and concert. The starting point for the work is the infamous subway scene in Andrzej Zulawski’s “Possession” from 1981. Featuring what is arguably the bravest female performance ever put on film.
The piece is set in an installation of 24 televisions and Sonya uses minimal and hybrid imagery from High8 cameras, VHS and television feedback. Group A’s mixture of synth, heavy minimal wave, and Avant noise generates a sense of unease that aligns with the animal energy of my choreography. I am really excited about this process, as it is the first time I have collaborated with all women. Right now we are in the final stages of creating the work, which will premiere in Montreal in April.
I am also working on Free Fall a 3D immersive film for a full-dome theatre. This 360-degree dance video will be created in residency at the Société des arts technologiques in Montreal and will be presented in the Satosphère. This project is another collaboration with Roger Tellier-Craig. It is our first time working in this medium and it is a massive learning curve. It is a very abstract project as all the choreography really happens post motion capture inside a computer over hundreds of hours of 3D rendering and Roger has to conceive of a score that will be for 39.4 surround sound. We are still trying to wrap our heads around all of it.
Danielle de Picciotto: What are your future plans?
Dana Gingras: I have two large-scale multi media dance pieces in the works. I was just recently awarded a long-term residency at le Centre de Création O Vertigo (CCOV) at Montreal’s Place des Arts. They will co produce one of these works in 2019. Right now I am trying to figure out who I want to join forces with on these projects.