Curiosity has kept Joe Laughlin creating for 25 years

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Author Malcolm Gladwell claims the key to success is 10,000 hours of dedicated practice in a particular field.  With 25 years of dance under his belt, award-winning Vancouver choreographer Joe Laughlin is living proof of that theory.  It also helps to be curious by nature.

Joe Laughlin“I’m very curious,” says Laughlin as to the reason for his longevity (in photo right by Chris Randle).  “And when I’m curious about something I’m not afraid to go out and try it.  That has informed me as an artist and allowed me to work with a lot of wonderful people.”

That work has included the creation of 11 dances with the company, numerous commissions from organizations like the National Arts Centre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Ballet BC, and performances throughout North America, Europe, South Africa and South Korea.

In fact it is his time in South Africa ten years ago with a Johannesburg-based dance company that Laughlin sees as the highlight of his career.

“It changed me,” recalls Laughlin.  “I think when you go someplace that is new and completely different culturally and step outside your world, something profound happens.  After I did that collaboration I felt that if I didn’t get an opportunity to create a dance again it would be okay.  It helped me see myself in a more clear way, helping to stretch myself as a director and collaborator.”

Initially trained as a gymnast, Laughlin began studying dance to rehabilitate his ankle following a tumbling pass gone wrong.

“I had ligament surgery at 21 and my coach wanted me to start rehabilitating and he suggested I take a dance class,” explains Laughlin.  “The dance really helped with my mobility and it turned me onto dance.  One day I decided I wanted to be a dancer and then started to pursue it with the same passion that I had for gymnastics”.

A performance of A Chorus Line at around the same time also helped to solidify his desire to become a dancer.

“How gay is that,” laughs Laughlin.  “I remember seeing a touring show and I loved it.  I could see there was something there and could see that people were actually making a living from it.”

But while Laughlin claims an ongoing appreciation for musical theatre, his true love for dance comes as a contemporary artist.

“I always wanted a company of my own and the autonomy to make the work the way I saw it,” he explains.   “I really love contemporary dancing, it is pure movement.”

To mark his silver anniversary, the 2013 Vancouver International Dance Festival presents Retrospective: 25 Years, by revisiting three works chosen by Laughlin from his large repetoire .

“I had been thinking about making a new work but given it was 25 years I started to think back.  I had recently done a huge media transfer of my work so it gave me an opportunity to look at the works again.  These are three of my favourites.”

Inspired by a performance of Jean Genet’s play Splendid and a photo of his father and three uncles as young men, his 1997 work Harold, Billy, Stan and Jack explores masculinity through a quartet of female dancers dressed as men.

Choreographer Joe Laughlin (centre) with the dancers in Harold, Billy, Stan and Jack.  Photo by Beth Gunderson.
Choreographer Joe Laughlin (centre) with the dancers in Harold, Billy, Stan and Jack.  Photo by Beth Gunderson.

“It is a very athletic piece, almost like a musical with a short story.  I have always thought that women really know more about men than men know about women and have always had this gender play in my earlier work,” says Laughlin.

Also on the program is Left, Laughlin’s 2003 meditation on a man coming to terms with his life and a recreation of his most recent work dusk, a dark and moody work that grew out of Laughlin’s personal experiences after recovering from a series of life-changing events.

“I am honoured by the opportunity to share and celebrate my life’s work with colleagues, friends, and fans,” says Laughlin. “It’s with a sense of amazement and deep gratitude that now, 25 years and more than 50 works later, I find myself compiling my own personal collection of greatest hits.”

Retrospective: 25 Years
March 6 – 9, 2013 @ 8pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie Street

Tickets for Retrospective: 25 Years are $35 for adults and $28 for seniors/students. Tickets can be purchased online and at the door.  Visit for tickets and information.

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