NAC Dance: How is Now for Ottawa’s Laurie Young

Laurie Young in How is Now. Photo: Guntar Kravis

The dance festival Face2Face returns next week with a stellar lineup of Canadian choreograpy. One of the performers who will be on view is the Ottawa native Laurie Young, who has been living and working in Berlin, Germany since the late 1990s. She talks with ARTSFILE about her dance career, her love of Berlin and her show How is Now.

Q. Please tell me about the piece you will perform, How is Now, on Oct. 25?

A. How is Now is a solo dance show with a drummer. It speaks about time and how it frames our gestural language.

Q. What is the spark that created it?

A. The truth, there has come a realization that the way that I move is shifting. I wanted to explore the gestural vocabulary that is still available to me within the dramaturgical context of time slippage.

Q. Is it typical of your choreography? 

A. It is certainly an extension of my interest in changes of states and speed. But this is the most pared down piece I’ve made. I wanted to make a piece that worked closely with the body and movement at hand. It’s also the first time I’ve worked so closely in collaborating with the creation of a musical score and certainly the first time I’ve created such a precise lighting scheme. That this is a true fusion of dance, sound and lighting is new for me.

Q. Please describe your choreography? 

A. My choreographic works explore the presence of unauthorized histories. Though they may vary in aesthetic styles and even large scale themes, at its core it is a reflection of how we gaze at bodies on stage and how they are read.

Q. Why use percussion in the piece? 

A. As this piece deals with the subject of time … drumming, tempo and rhythm were central to its construction and how this pairs or contrasts with the choreography. Johannes Malfatti and I worked very closely in creating a tight score between drums and choreography. In the same way the choreography works with a simple eight count walk as its core motif, Malfatti composed a drum fill as his central theme.

Q. Do you often work with Johannes Malfatti?

A. Johannes and I have worked on several theatre/dance pieces together and will continue to work in collaboration with anthropologist Susanne Schmitt on a series of choreographic audio walks for natural history museums. I feel so lucky to work with Johannes. He is a multi-instrumentalist, composer with a very keen sense of dramaturgy. And he makes me laugh.

I had always wanted to work on a drum/dance piece and knew that we both shared a similar taste in our teenage years for metal music and that he had played drums in a Black Metal Band. I was curious what would come out of that also knowing that we are both very different now.

Q. Your dance career began at Le Groupe’s Dance Lab. Are you from Ottawa originally?

A. I was at Le Groupe in the 1990s.  Le Groupe used to have a dance school and Peter Boneham (former Artistic Director of Le Groupe) had offered me a scholarship when I was a kid. Then at the age of 18, he invited me into the company. It was amazing. And yes, I grew up in Ottawa.

Q. What did it teach you? 

A. Le Groupe was so very important to me. As company members, we were given the opportunity to work with about five choreographers a season. This meant having to constantly question and reflect how to work with the different needs and choreographic languages. But it also was very special to work with a company of dancers, where we would constantly support and challenge each other to grow as artists.

Q. You left for Berlin. When and why did you go there?

A. In my last season at Le Groupe, a choreographer from Berlin named Sasha Waltz came to work with us. After the process she invited me to come to Berlin to continue working with her. I was hesitant at first, but what was supposed to be a six-month contract ended up being an eight-year gig in her company. After leaving the company I stayed in Berlin as a freelance choreographer and dancer.

Q. Why have you stayed?

A. I fell in love with the city. When I first moved to Berlin it was so full of magic, nobody quite knew what was going to happen to the city.

Arts and culture is valued and the still relatively low cost of living means that making work is easier than in a city where rents are super expensive. This, as the narrative goes, is rapidly changing.

What keeps me there now is the community of friends. And I have moments where I am still discovering new parts of the city.

Q. Do you return to Canada a lot? 

A. I try to come to Canada at least once a year. This year I’ve managed four visits, which has been amazing. I always love coming home — my family is now all living in Toronto so that is the city I return to the most. I always feel torn when I get back on the airplane to return to Berlin.

I was in Canada this summer in residency at Dance Victoria with choreographer/dancer Justine Chambers. It was our second creative development for a new piece we are working on together.

The last time I was in Ottawa was in 2009 to perform a show called Körper by Sasha Waltz. It was amazing to come back and see so many familiar faces and old friends again.

Q. Do you think the dance scene in this country has evolved/changed while you have been in Germany?

A. Yes. And it is continuing to change. My boots are not really on the ground when it comes to new pieces and premieres.

But I had the opportunity to spend three summers at 8 DAYS, a gathering for Canadian choreographers. It became clear to me that this inter-generational gathering of choreographers was vital to creating cross-platform discussions. 

At the same time I also observe that senior dance artists continue to enjoy the support and admiration of the public and funding bodies.

Q. What kind of reputation does Canadian dance have in Germany?

To be honest, there is not a lot of exposure to Canadian dance in Germany.

The Canadian dance artists who are known in Germany are quite different in approaches, so I’m not quite sure what the reputation might be. Hard to pinpoint, I’d say. 

It would be wonderful to see more touring support for Canadian dance artists. Also, creating real exchange for Canadian artists through residencies would foster lasting artistic relationships.

Face 2 Face: The lineup
For tickets and more information:

How is Now
Laurie Young, soundscape by Johannes Malfatti
Where: ODD BOX

radios (choreography Ame Henderson)
Concerto (choreography Josh Beamish)
Til 120, Again (choreography Idan Sharabi)
The Eight Propositions (co-choreography Belinda McGuire, Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten)
Vice Versa (choreography Nicole Mossoux)
Where: La Nouvelle Scène, Studio A

Unrelated (Daina Ashbee)
Where: La Nouvelle Scène, Studio B

Solitudes Duo (Daniel Léveillé Danse)
Where: Azrieli Studio

Telemetry (Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art)
Where: Azrieli Studio

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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.