Dance Studio West’s Creative Evolution

Dancers’ Studio West reshapes its commitment to contemporary dance.

An age-old problem in the dance world is balancing the funding of both the artists and the spaces in which they create. Dancers’ Studio West (DSW) chose to eliminate this problem once and for all in early 2014 when it moved out of the Sunalta location it held for nearly 20 years.

DSW is Calgary’s first company dedicated to the development of contemporary dance choreography. Since its inception in 1980, it has collaborated with and inspired Calgary dancers, artists and audiences.

Since 2008, the organization has been led by artistic director Davida Monk, a dance artist, choreographer and teacher who was part of the development of the first dance lab with Le Groupe de la Place Royale of Ottawa. It has been her leadership and the organization’s continued struggle to maintain a performance space that led the company to reexamine its funding commitments.

“We had to make a choice – support the space or support the programming,” says Monk. “If you’re not developing the artist then there’s no point in worrying about the space.”

While continuing to lead the Alberta Dance Festival in mid-September and hoping to continue to participate in other artistic staple events such as the Fluid Festival and High Performance Rodeo, the organization has created a new initiative called the Dance Action Group (DAG).

Throughout the year, the seven members of the DAG ensemble will offer an “outside eye” service to interested choreographers, providing feedback and critique. They will also form the core of a 10-week creative intensive called the Dance Action Lab, which will feature a training program similar to what large-scale dance companies offer, with morning classes, mentored creations, informal showings and full-scale productions.

“There is a kind of ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’ energy that is happening with us, having us take advantage of our situation,” says Monk. “We said, ‘Let’s see what we can do with the X dollars we spent managing our old space by putting it into the dancers’ pockets.'”

For now, the group plans to rehearse in community spaces such as the Centre for Movement Arts run by W & M Dance Projects, the Scarboro Community Centre, gymnasiums and church halls, while using Pumphouse Theatre for its production work. DSW is also hopeful about new rehearsal spaces opening in the near future such as Decidedly Jazz Danceworks‘ recently announced five-floor studio and performance spaces in the expansion of the Kahanoff Centre in the Beltline.

“I think the only way we can move forward is to not care about what space we’re presenting in and make sure that the work absolutely blows everyone’s minds,” says Monk. “When someone does take a risk and come to a contemporary dance program, they’re going to feel that they’ve come away affected, lifted and that something has been opened in their imagination. This is our goal.”

The 33rd annual Alberta Dance Festival, Dance and the Image, takes place Sept. 11 to 13 and 18 to 20 at Pumphouse Theatre. Dancers’ Studio West’s “Undressing the Dance”: Dialogues takes place Sept. 28 at the Ironwood Stage & Grill. Adult admission is $25; adult festival pass is $40.

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