Living a dancer’s life: Tara Luz company celebrates a decade in Orléans

A scene from Les souliers d'Angélie or Angélie’s Shoes by Tara Luz Danse. Choreographed by Anik Bouvrette. Dancers are Martine Larochelle, Mélissa Roy and Amanda Bon. Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh

More than 114,000 people live in Orléans, but for many in the rest of the Ottawa region, the community is not all that well known.

That ignores the fact that there is a strong community spirit in Orléans and there are artists who live in that community and who are building careers there. One is Anik Bouvrette, who founded the Tara Luz Danse company a decade ago and is celebrating its 10 years with a performance of an original choreography called Angélie’s Shoes on Oct. 14.

Bouvrette founded Tara Luz, she says, because she wanted to give work to women dancers.

“I have chosen to work with female dancers to embody my own natural away of moving. But also in dance the competition for women is very very high. Nothing against men, but if I can give work to women I am happy to do it.”

Tara Luz aims to bring contemporary dance to audiences that may not know the art form. She is hoping that that first contact will be memorable and they will go on to seek out contemporary dance experiences.

It is a vision that started in her hometown.

Anik Bouvrette. Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh

“I grew up in Orléans in a franco-Ontarian family. I went to De La Salle High School in the arts program studying dance and then I went to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver to do a dance degree.”

Following her education Bouvrette returned to the Ottawa area. It was in 1993, and there wasn’t that much going on in contemporary dance.

“It was difficult for dancers to stay here then. Many would move to Montreal and Toronto. People like myself, Yvonne Coutts and Lana Morton at the Ottawa Dance Directive and Sylvie Desrosiers who leads the professional program for contemporary dance at The School of Dance and the group at Propeller Dance” decided to stay, she said.

“We committed to staying here to try to build something so we could have contemporary dance careers in Ottawa.

“In 2017, it is wonderful to see that all of us have come a long way.”

For Tara Luz, and for cultural activities generally in Orléans, much is owed to the opening of the Shenkman Arts Centre in 2009.

Tara Luz was able to land a spot as the resident dance company at Shenkman. That came with a rehearsal studio, a performance space in the Richcraft Theatre and an office.

“Before Tara Luz, we would perform at La Nouvelle Scene and our activity was downtown. We wanted to be located in Shenkman to put down roots and start developing an audience in the east end.”

It has put company on the map, she says.

“When you are developing a new audience, this is so important. The gypsy life is hard on the artist. You are always trying to find a rehearsal space and support isn’t always there.”

As Bouvrette has settled in and started a family of her own, her focus as a choreographer and artistic director has shifted. Now she directs her creations at an audience of all ages, especially for children and youth.

This, she says, makes a lot of sense because Orléans is also a growing family place.

There has also been a concurrent demand in franco-Ontarian schools for dance.

“In the last few years we have been delving into that. We have been very busy.”

The company does workshops in the schools and brings those same students — mostly in Grades 4 to 6 — to see performances at Shenkman.

“When we come in and say we are a professional dance company. It’s not because they are not interested, they don’t know about it. So let’s give them access because they have no idea contemporary dance exists. Let’s really think about presenting the form in a way that will be a solid positive experience that the students will remember.”

She says that the organization has talked about bring male dancers into the mix, but so far she hasn’t changed her position on the company.

“I explain (to the children) that why only women dancers perform is an artistic choice. And when we start the workshops it doesn’t seem to be an issue. They forget about it.

“I find children amazing. They live in the moment. They can look at an abstract work and make a story out of it. And if they don’t understand, it’s OK they move on.”

“I grew up in Orléans. As a child, if I wanted to do something in the arts I had to go downtown. Now I finally have arts in my own backyard. For the younger generation, it’s going to be different. They are going to grow up with arts in their neighbourhood. We will have to see, 20 years down road, if that contact will have created a love for it.”

Tara Luz has five regular dancers who live and work in the capital region. Four will perform in Angélie’s Shoes on Oct. 14.

The central figure in the piece is Angélie who has, as the title might suggest, a passion for footwear. Each new shoe or other object changes the universe they are in, much as Tara Luz is trying to change the universe for contemporary dance in Orléans.

Tara Luz Danse presents Angelie’s Shoes
Where: Shenkman Arts Centre
When: Oct. 14 at 10 a.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.