Gay choreographer Josh Beamish talks about dance and his upcoming show

On February 4th and 6th, Chutzpah! and Move: the company will bring British Columbia contemporary dance choreography unseen for at least 10 years to the Norman Rothstein Theatre.  We caught up with Move:‘s Artistic Director Josh Beamish and asked him about the upcoming show, choregraphing for an all male cast, being a gay dancer and helps to demystify contemporary dance for us.

Josh BeamishTell us about the Legacy Repertory Project.  What can audiences expect?

The Legacy Repertory Project started as a pet project of Andrea Gunnlaugson, a local dancer who recently retired from a celebrated career in our community. Andrea has always been a strong supporter of both my company and my work and she brought this idea to me as a means of further connecting our community. It immediately jumped on board, as I have been looking for opportunities to to grow individually yet not compromise the development of my company or put my dancers out of work. This project has given then dancers and I the ability to learn for outside influences while still staying together as a unit. It has also given these “transitioned” choreographers the opportunity to see their works taken on a second life, in a new time, with new bodies and interpretations. Paired with my new creation, audiences can expect a retrospect of twenty years of dance in Vancouver, from four different voices as performed by nine of the city’s most exciting dance artists.

The Project re-mounts dances from BC choreographers Harvey Meller, Cornelius Fischer-Credo and Olivia Thorvaldson.  How did you come about choosing these three in particular?

The interesting thing about these three is that they were all very connected throughout their careers. Harvey and Cornelius directed a company together at one point, Olivia danced for their company and Andrea was actually creative involved in each of these works, as either a dancer or rehearsal director. All three have also transitioned into careers outside of dance: gyrotonics for Cornelius, pilates for Olivia and law for Harvey. Beyond all of these interesting connections it was really the strength of the works that drew this collection together, as Andrea and I watched numerous videos before deciding upon these final three.

You talk about bringing these pieces to a new generation.  Why is that important?

As an artist creating work in this community, I feel it is important for me to become familiar with its history. Choreographers such as these three, paved the way for my generation to be able to both create and perform and fought for many of the luxuries that we enjoy today (CADA contracts, the Dance Centre, etc). My generation may have entered this community in a time of sparse funding, but there are still many great resources that would not have been available to us would it not have been for the efforts BC’s established and transitioned artists. Creatively, it is also important to realize that great work was always made here. My generation did not invent the wheel in Vancouver. We may be taking dance to new places but this has always been an innovative community and our newer artists and public audiences need to be reminded of this. Perhaps these type of projects will inspire voters and politicians to believe that Vancouver has shared and continues to share vital works of art with the local, national and global communities.

The Project also includes a new work by yourself featuring the male dancers of your company. Is this the first time you have specifically choreographed something just for male dancers?

This is in fact my first group creation for all male dancers. Last season I made a fifteen minute duet for myself and another male dancer, that was itself a re-imagination of a full-length for 13 male and female dancers, so it’s also my first original concept men’s creation.

Did this new piece prove any more difficult to choreograph since it is all male?

To be honest, I am incredibly inspired by female dancers as evidenced by my creative relationship with Heather Dotto, the only dancer who has been in the company since its inception. I am drawn to female dancers ability to be strong and fragile simultaneously and have found few male dancers with this level of physical and emotional complexity. It’s also harder to find male dancers in this city period. I think I went through 5 men this season, with none being quite what I needed. All that has changed with this new work however, as two new men joined the company from Toronto this fall. I have really enjoyed working with them and feel they complement Mack (my current longest male collaborator) and myself quite well. The difficulty of creating this piece hasn’t been the men, it’s been the sporting equipment we’re using. Skates and snowboards don’t lend themselves to dance as easily as I may have thought, but it’s coming together.

Where do you get your inspiration for your choreography?

The inspiration for my choreography comes from a different place every time. Sometimes it is a piece of music or a compose who excites me. Sometimes it is an image from a film or a story a friend has told me. Lately I’ve been basing my work a lot of the dancers themselves. I have begun creating for outside companies a lot and I find it the most easy way to get to know the dancers abilities quickly and efficiently. In giving them input and a personal connection to the work, they will often take it to a place I could have never imagined and that excites me. I’m also quite interested in social issues and studies. My work “Zero” followed disassociation and drug use in teens, my upcoming duet “Informance” explores the history of H1N1 and the hysteria it induced and my work “SOLD DOUBT”, set to have its Vancouver premiere in July, utilizes strings covers of No Doubt’s music to poke fun at our society’s obsession with pop culture, idol worship and merchandising.

Tell us a little about yourself.  When did you start dancing?  What attracted you to the medium of dance?

I started dancing because my Mom is a ballet teacher but I stayed dancing because there is nothing in life that can compare to it. The mix of technical difficulty, intellectual stimulation and creative expression is something that I doubt I will find in anything else in life. Not that I’m not open to change and new paths but I feel dance will always be a part of my life, especially dance creation.

Which do you prefer – choreographing work for your own company or for others?

This is a tricky question. My first commission was from Dance Saskatchewan in 2007, a pre-professional group of emerging dancers. That followed with a creation for Ballet Kelowna, a much larger-scale piece and my first outside experience with professionals. Since then I have gone on to work with many professional companies, most notably Toronto Dance Theatre and Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance in Kansas City. I really love creating in a new environment and the influence of new collaborators. I also enjoyed having production staff and assistants in each of those higher profile settings, something we simply do not have the funding for in BC. That being said, I truly feel that I have some of the most talented and exciting dancers in the country working for my company right now and we form a family throughout each process. I guess the best answer is that I am lucky to be able to experience both and grateful to have such respectful interpreters everywhere I go. I am however incredibly excited about my upcoming choreographic workshop for New York City Ballet in March. It’s a dream come true for an emerging choreographer.

In 2008 you received the Globe & Mail Paula Citron Dance Award for the “most chutzpah”.  Did that recognition open doors for you?

Paula Citron has been an incredibly generous supporter of my artistic intentions and her interest in what I am building with my company has certainly given me more credibility and media exposure. I am well aware that not many people get the privilege of a full page profile in the Globe and Mail and am grateful to all who have watched my development with interest and support.

Some view contemporary dance as being inaccessible, as in they don’t understand it.  How should a contemporary dance newbie approach contemporary dance?

Don’t worry. Sometimes I few contemporary dance as inaccessible and don’t understand it, but strangely that is one of the things I enjoy most about it. I think people get caught up in trying to “get it”, when a lot of art should be, in my opinion, viewed like an ink blot. The interest is in what you get out of it or what you see in it. This is why I very rarely provide program notes, even though it frustrates some of my audience members. I don’t want to limit an audience to see only what I see or what I meant to say. If after a show audiences want to discuss the work with me, I always make myself available to do so through talk-backs, casual personal conversations or email. As an audience member that is what I prefer and therefore I choose to trust my audience’s intelligence enough to let them form their own opinions. If this doesn’t help you, perhaps seek out some companies deemed more accessible first before skydiving into the unknown. I would say that we are more accessible in general, as I don’t like to leave my audiences in the dark. I try my best to keep them along for the ride.

We know you and a few of your company are gay – can you help dispel a myth though: are most male dancers gay or straight?

Currently, the gay male dancers outnumber the straight 3 to 1. I’ll let you determine which ones are which at the show. To be honest, you might think that more ballet dancers are gay then commercial or contemporary dancers.. not the case. In fact, I think you find the largest percentage of straight male dancers in ballet and hip hop and maybe the most gay male dancers in contemporary and jazz dance. Truthfully, there is no formula and in our company the ratio of gay to straight is always changing, although there have been seasons where all of the men have been gay. That being said, as long as they are nice to look at does it really matter.

What’s next for you and your company after the Legacy Repertory Project?

The Legacy Repertory Project runs Feb 4th and 6th at the Norman Rosthein Theatre in Vancouver and then I head out on tour with a new solo work exploring the relationship between my father’s religious beliefs and my growing awareness of my homosexuality during my teenage years. It will perform in Toronto and Vancouver. I’m then off to Kansas City to make a new work for the University of Missouri Dance Program and then to New York City Ballet for the choreographic workshop I mentioned earlier. After that, Mack and I tour the duet I mentioned earlier to Halifax and San Francisco and I tour another duet with a female dancer to New York. We finish up the season with a month-long creative residency at the Djerassi Program in San Fran and then come home to ready SOLD DOUBT for its potential Vancouver premiere in July at the Playhouse. It’s going to be busy. Next season opens with a tour to China for my work “Trap Door Party”, which will mark our overseas performance debut.

Move: the company
Thursday, February 4 & Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 8 pm
Norman Rothstein Theatre, 950 West 41st Avenue, Vancouver

Tickets are $16 – $24 each avaialble by calling 604.257.5117 or online at www.chutzpahfestival.com or www.ticketstonight.ca.

GayVancouver.Net is giving you a chance to win tickets to the February 4th performance.

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