NAC Dance: Canadian performer Darren Devaney finds fulfillment “in the undefined”

OCD Love is at the NAC on Nov. 23 and 24. Photo: Regina Brocke

Darren Devaney began his journey in dance in Edmonton, Alberta. But his ambition has taken him half way around the world to to Israel where he has joined the contemporary company L-E-V founded by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. Eyal is a dancer and creator and Behal started as a party producer in Tel Aviv. The result of their collaboration is dance that picks up the energy of the nightclub. In Ottawa, Devaney will be dancing in OCD Love later this week.

Q. Tell me where dance began for you.

A. My journey in dance began when I was very young. I have three sisters who danced at the time and it was easier just to sign me up for a class than have me wait in the car. I was doing a lot of karate then and realized that I preferred doing the forms over sparring. The forms were dance, with just a different name. It was all about weight, dynamics and effort. This is when I realized I wanted to dance. I transferred to a public arts high school (Victoria School of the Arts), where the teachers and foundation really supported and inspired my dream to become a professional dancer.

Q. What kinds of dance have you tried?

A. I, of course, like contemporary dance. There are so many choreographers with so many styles that it is difficult to put a name on the ‘type of dance’.  I have done jazz, tap, hip hop, ballet, contemporary ballet and modern. I find the form of dance that I love to be the one that is most natural to me. The character work of ballet was not natural to me.  To be something that is undefined as something we know (not a prince, a swan, a fairy) but so clear in my head is what I love. To create movement that evokes an alien bug or something that only I know is what I love. The type of dance that resonates with me, is generally contemporary, but depends mostly on the vision and vibe of the choreographer.

Darren Devaney. Photo: Guy Nahum Levy

Q. You studied in Boston. How as it?

A. I attended the Boston Conservatory because I could receive a BFA degree there and continue to expand my dance knowledge at the same time. A lot of dancers are left after their career without a degree because they become professional so young. My parents helped me to realize the importance of a degree in this world we live in. I have yet to use it, but we will see in a few years. Boston was great, we focused on classical modern dance ( Limon, Graham, Horton) and neoclassical ballet such as Tudor. I learned a lot about the path of dance in history and its power.

Q. Where did your professional career begin?

A. I began my freelancing career in San Francisco. Fresh out of school, I went there for a project by a choreographer named Yuri Zhukov (now a ballet master at the Royal Swedish). This was my first venture into the professional world, understanding the difference of being a student and owning the work for yourself. After the project I stayed and worked with a company called Robert Moses’ Kin.

Q. What happened next? 

A. I joined Ballet BC shortly after its rebirth under Emily Molnar. The company was fresh and vibrant and full of some of the most dedicated dancers I have encountered. I was given the opportunity to dance works by some of my idols, such as William Forsythe,  and it felt such an honour. I really learned how to push myself, see further into the movement and see further into the entire piece. We never stopped investigating a piece until after its last performance.

Q. When did you connect with L-E-V?

A. I had seen Sharon’s piece Corps de Walk on Carte Blanche when they visited Vancouver. I was drawn to the work like a moth to a flame. The momentum it gathered and the constant forward drive arrested me. I reached out to the company and the timing was right L-E-V needed a dancer at the time. I went to Tel Aviv to audition and a month later we were on tour. I spend a fair amount of time in Tel Aviv and I really do love it there. It’s so free and the food is amazing. However, itis hard to say where I live; I usually answer ‘my suitcase’. 

I wanted to work for Sharon because I love her work. Her vision is so clear and intricate, and she knows how to bring out the best in her dancers. And I love Ori’s work (the musician). Their collaboration is so special. They create at the same time, Sharon is moving and Ori (Lichtik) is looping. The inspiration they get from each other is so real, so fun, and so uncomplicated. It’s a natural attraction. He plays with us and we play with him. 

The company is very small and very intimate. There is a family-like environment where we all respect each other immensely. There is a very strong sense of trust between us, the dancers, and Sharon and Gai.

Sharon’s work is choreographed almost down to the pinky fingernail. She creates every step. There is freedom inside the form though. Inside the step, there are feelings. 

Every day we are different, and don’t always react the same way to a specific impetus, so in that, there is spontaneity. I think the most important thing for Sharon is that the movement has totality; that there is a commitment to experiencing that imagery or feeling, and that it takes over your whole body, and mind. 

Q. Tell me about OCD Love.

A. I wasn’t actually there for the creation process, but I have been performing it for over a year now. For me the piece is about obsessiveness, addiction to love, the need to control and to be controlled, and the different way we all feel and deal with it.  The music is an unrelenting electronic mix. 

Q. Tell me about contemporary dance in Israel.

A. I cannot say that there is one Israeli style. There are a ton of movers coming from Israel and they all have their own methodology. But I think what you may be referring to is Ohad Naharin’s Gaga, and his Batsheva Dance Company. Gaga is very popular in Israel, and several choreographers, including Sharon have been influenced by it. Sharon grew up in Gaga, and it grew up in her. It is a very physical exploration of the senses, memories that we all possess.

Q. What’s next for you? 

A. I try not to direct my life so much. Right now I am enjoying my situation. As of now I haven’t really felt the call to create my own work, or direct my own company. I think I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing, so my short term goals are just to stay available to that.

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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.