“The hostess with the mostest”
What is your middle name and where did it come from?
My middle name is Star. Apparently there were many reasons for this, but I get the sense that for my parents it represented our intrinsic connection with the whole cosmos. I certainly have always felt a resonance with the night sky.
How did dance come into your life?
I grew up on Vancouver Island and started dancing at a recreational ballet class once a week when I was eight years old. I had a very special first teacher. What was great about my training there was that my teachers made space for us to love dancing so much. Considering the child that I was, I think that was the most important thing for me. I was very shy and if someone had taken a more forceful approach with me in the beginning it could have dissuaded me. I feel very grateful to my first teacher for creating such a beautiful space within which I could discover dance.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue dance seriously?
There was a moment at about 10 years old where I felt a true connection and interplay between the audience and myself during a performance. I felt my ability to share something with them in that powerful arena that is the performance space. Because I was an incredibly shy child I truly believe that this moment was a large part of what propelled me to want to be a performing artist.
I started getting more serious about dance in my early teens. I wasn’t getting full professional training yet but I had started to go to Arts Umbrella in the summers, which made a huge impression on me. By this time I had joined Dancestreams, which is a youth company on Vancouver Island. It was then that I had this powerful moment where it became very clear to me that dancing is what I am supposed to be doing. I cannot explain it, I just “knew.” It was very strong for me and I have never questioned it to this day.
I went through a difficult period in high school that I now see as a transformative experience. At that time in my life I was trying to figure out where my creativity came from. When I made a shift and was able to move on from that part of my life, I realized that I was meant to approach my work not from a place of self sacrifice, but from a place of joy.I now realize what a necessary part of my journey that was and how much it has contributed to the clarity I have about my need to pursue a creative path.
At that point in my life it felt important for me to stay at home instead of moving to a larger city where more professional training would have been available. My parents were (and remain) incredibly supportive, helping me to find the best possible training opportunity that Vancouver Island had to offer at that time. I would never have been able to pursue this path if it were not for them. After finishing high school I moved to Vancouver permanently and entered the Arts Umbrella Graduate Program. As I was finishing my studies at Arts Umbrella, I was fortunate to be offered a full company contract by John Alleyne, the artistic director of Ballet BC at that time.
So Arts Umbrella must have been a big shift for you in terms of environment. What was your time there like and what did it mean for you?
I believe that my training at Arts Umbrella (AU) opened me up to the amazing depth and possibility inherent in dance and in the dancing body. I had always been an incredibly passionate and deep-feeling person, and because at AU I had access to such challenging and sophisticated training (both mentally and physically), I began to build a skill set with which to access my passion and be able to share it. There is a way of training and teaching people how to be a presence in the studio, to really work, to take in information, and to evolve and transform themselves, that is essential to the understanding of this art form and to contributing to it in a unique and integral way. The way this conversation took place was very new to me and it was a huge learning curve – both for my technique and also for my entire perspective about what dance was and what possibilities it held.
A couple of months into the AU grad program Arty (Artemis Gordon, Artistic Director of AU) took me into her office and said, “If you do not figure this out, you are not going to do what I know is possible for you.” She saw a lot in me, and has always supported me. I remember that I rode the bus home that night feeling as if something turned inside of me. It was a deeply profound shift that I needed to make. It was hard going into the studio the next day because I was facing a lot of things inside myself that I had never examined before. I went through a period where I had to let go of certain things about where I had come from so that I could find a new way of existing. It was a very intense experience. I am grateful for AU because even though I had talent as a dancer, if no one had taken the time to explain, allow and encourage me to exist inside my body and inside a studio in that way, I don’t know if I would have been able to move forward in this way. On the day that Arty and I spoke I remember going home with my head full. I look back at my journals from AU and see notes, notes, notes, then there’s this blank page from that day and it just says “everything changes now.” After that it’s like a whole new book.
Have you ever smashed your phone by accident?
No, but I have definitely dropped my phone into a hot cup of tea by accident.
How many cows are in Canada?
I have no idea! But as a vegetarian I will always wish for many more ethically treated cows.
We know that you collect quotations that are special to you because you often pass them along to the company or attach them to emails/letters that you write. Can you tell us how that started or what sparked your interest in cataloguing these moments?
I’ve actually done it my whole life because I’ve always read a lot. I copy down quotes from books or whatever really resonates with me. And now there is Pinterest!!! I have a lot of them there. But the other ones are randomly spread out in my agendas, notebooks, sticky notes on my computer, scraps of paper on my wall, just everywhere. All the time.
So you’re completely surrounded! How do you keep track of them?
I don’t really. I sometimes get a memory of where one is, and so I’ll go through my journals, like if I can picture the page but I don’t know exactly where it is. I end up spending a lot of time flipping back through stuff, searching.
What is your Starbucks order?
Tall, long-shot Americano.
We also want to hear about this other special part of your life, the Bed and Breakfast ‘Casa Om’, which you and your husband have built together. It’s a space with special energy and meaning that is contagious to all who visit. Casa Om has now become a performance space as well! Can you tell us a bit about how those worlds intersect for you?
All of our possibilities with the house really did begin with the B&B. When we started making the first show this last summer (Sylvain, my husband, and I produced, presented and curated a multi-disciplinary arts performance in our backyard, the first of what we hope to be many performances), I did some intention-setting around what it means to be a curator, which is something I’m really interested in. The idea of holding/facilitating other people’s work also led to the idea of hosting. What Sylvain and I realized was that we had this whole skill set for welcoming people into a space we had built through the B&B. These skills were so incredibly relevant to the project because it is about our home becoming a place where we can facilitate other people sharing their work and collaborating with each other. That’s the broader vision. That’s why we hope to grow this idea. It just fit so beautifully with the sense of creating a space where other people could step in and be at home. That’s what we have always attempted to do with our guests.
We always had a lot of beliefs as a couple about the kind of space we wanted to build together. At first it was about the two of us and our partnership. In our own humble way we are able to welcome people from many different cultures, countries and religious backgrounds at a time where there is a lot of fear in the world about that. It is so much more than us renting a room in our house. When it came time to create a performance art space (the “Dance Deck” series), it felt like we had that segway. It was a super interesting intermingling of our two worlds.The B&B is this other job we have outside of our professional dance lives that really enriches who we are – we have always carried it as a parallel business. To suddenly have the two worlds collide this summer was amazing. It made me think about what it means to be a curator. What does that mean to me specifically? What am I passionate about? What do I have to offer as a curator? What do I want to offer the people that I am holding space for? So much of it ended up being about hosting. The house is building itself around these ideas, and we feel really lucky to have this space and be able to share it.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Falling in love with my husband.
What excites you about the future?
… And the present! The possibility of being truly connected and belonging to something meaningful.
It seems that the idea of home, kindness and communication are very important in your life. Do you think that comes from your childhood and family life being so happy?
My parents are amazing, and they have always communicated with great love and respect. They started practising yoga when I was three or four. We would go on retreats and to the the ashram and actually host chanting and meditation gatherings in our home! Our house became the gathering place for the entire island for many years and it made a huge impression on me. I was part of a spiritual community as a child and had the experience of being with lots of people from many different walks of life. I had this amazing freedom to just be okay with all of these people that I didn’t really know, because of the retreat environment. Growing up in that way gave me a strong sense of home and community that I have built intentionally into my adult life.
In terms of communication I believe that it is always possible to be kind in the world. I’m certainly not saying I always achieve it, but I do believe in that possibility and it is something I always aspire to. Our methods of communication are incredibly important. In this profession we see a lot of different ways of communicating and we have a tangible sense of what communication can produce. We can see it in each other and we can feel it in ourselves. We are in this concentrated breeding ground where we get to practice connection as dancers in conversation with choreographers or with each other. I think we get to practice in the studio who we want to be in the world. It is something I have thought about a lot. You can speak and act with compassion and it doesn’t make you any less of a force in the world. I feel very inspired by people that I consider to be an example of this in the dance community and outside, and I have been lucky to work with many of them.
What is your most used expression (verbal)?
“I feel like….”
~ As we drop all errors of consciousness we shall also drop errors of movement. A new innocence will replace the artificial strain and self-consciousness of the dance artist who seeks to amuse, thrill and astonish. We shall wish to do none of these things but rather to experience the beauty of serenity and power. We shall heal and bless rather than astonish. ~ ~ Ruth St. Denis
Video by Peter Smida.
-C+A Consulting Artists