DANA MICHEL, SILVER LION AT BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2017
A talk with the Canadian dancemaker on the eve of the Ceremony in Venice
Smart and smiling Dana Michel catches you for sure. A name of the Montreal avant garde scene appreciated also by The New York Times, had performed in Berlin and Vienna but represents a discovery for Italian dance scene.
Probably that is what Marie Chouinard, current director of Dance Session of Venice Biennale was thinking when she decided to reward her with prestigious Innovation prize of Silver Lion Award.
At the end of April we met Dana Michel in Bologna during Live Arts Week 2017, festival directed by Silvia Fanti. In her first Italian appearance, the Canandian choreographer told us about her artistic research and feelings just before jumping into Venice lagoon.
Dana Michel, how has been performing in Italy for the first time?
I feel a very strong affinity to the energy of Live Arts Week festival and also I feel a lifelong Italian affinity. In fact, when I was a little girl my next door neighborhood were Italians; so this culture has always been quite close to me. I am very interested in interacting with visual arts and installation so for sure I accepted Silvia Fanti's invitation to perform into Nico Vascellari's installation scholomance (II). It was a collaboration quite spontaneous and I met all the other collaborators the same day of the performance. I felt quite a big affinity with the “naturalistic” world created by Vascellari. Then I performed my work Palna Easy Francis at Ex-Gam of Bologna. It is a piece inspired by sensuality and sexuality, themes I often face. It is a commission by Berlin Sophiensaele for a project called Witch Dance. I was asked to make a performance inspired by Mary Wigman's Hexentanz. Watching it on video I was impressed by Wigman's connection to the ground and the mask she wears also. I created it in residency at the Goethe Institut of Montréal in a sort of conference room so I would like to keep chairs and screens lit by a mixed red and blue as primary colors. When I am working there are many entry points, it is always quite natural and intrinsic process.
Dancing you create sounds with your own body. Why do you develop this particular practice?
I have started to beatbox listening to a lot of reggae anc club music. It is something that actually I do a lot at home, because my partner is beatboxing all the time, and so it becomes natural to me and helps me to think. This is a kind of motor to move and feel my body in a different way, like having two motors at the same time to drive the ideas and creative processes.
Before becoming an artist you were an athlete and businesswoman, how did you discover dance?
I started going to raves so I was partying a lot. Feeling dead at work and going to the party on the weekend, I felt myself extremely connected and correct in my body. Then I met some artists and I strated flirting with the idea of the possibility to try in it.When I saw on a newspaper the audition for Dance Department of Concordia Montréal University I got it.
How did you receive by Marie Chouinard the news about the Silver Lion award?
I have had a residency in her space when I was making Yellow Towel in 2013. Then she came to its premiere and she was enthusiastic, so I had a very brief interaction with her. The news on Silver Lion was a very big and beautiful shock for me! I got an email from her in which she says that would like to call me. I was walking on the street and the phone called at 8 o'clock of the morning: "Hey Dana, it's Marie...". She told me about the prize, a very big honor and a very big surprise for me. I mean I was just honored to be invited to Venice Biennale and it was already enough but to be honored with this award it is beautiful. And especially If I think how I made this work. It was very natural and was in a moment where I decided to do what I want do without taking care of selling system. For me come to the point of winning this prize it is an immense and amazing testament on just stay into your own ideas and rhythms.
You will perform Yellow Towel at Venice Dance Biennale. What has been your starting point to create that?
I started working on this piece in different ways but essentially it was the first time that I really looked at myself. I was born in 1976 and I grew up in Ottawa in a predominantly white neighborhood. I spent my childhood, high school and University predominantly in white environments which was quite fine, I was assimilated. And when I started to make Yellow Towel was the first moment that me saying to myself that: “I am a black woman!”. I understood that it was a kind of taboo and something that I tried to repress or hide. For the first time I realized what meant for myself to be black and questioning on black art. Often when I get programmed or when critics write about my works it is always contextualized as black art and I could not understand that. What does black art mean? So Yellow Towel is a sort of answer and result for what it potentially means for me.
What are your coming projects?
I premiered my last work Mercurial George in June 2016 and at the moment I am touring a lot with it. Actually I am in residence both at Usine C in Montreal and DanceMakers in Toronto where I work in creating short films. Then I have been commissioned to create a solo on Benoît Lachambre and I will premiere it in Montreal, April 2018.