In anticipation of a world premiere by Vancouver’s own Shay Kuebler, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator Jamie Loh reached out to Shay to learn more about his first time working with the company, his creation process, and future projects he’s looking forward to.
Ballet BC: How would you describe your experience as a dance artist, choreographer and educator?
Shay Kuebler: I would say it has been piling effort on effort, and doing my best with each opportunity. The path was linear in nature, but also not direct. I couldn’t have projected being where I am now, but I can also track back one solo performance and a handful of connections that have led me to where I am now. As an artist, I’ve been blessed to have trained in a lot of different art forms. Exploring music, theatre, martial arts and dance has enabled me to be a part of wide range of projects for both the stage and screen. I value myself as a good “generalist” and enjoy the process of constantly learning new things.
BBC: This is your first creation for Ballet BC. What has the process been like? Any surprises?
SK: It is always a gift to simplify things down to just creating and harnessing the talents of the artists in the room. The process has been immensely supportive and positive. I’ve felt from day one that my work and my time was valued. There’s been consistent support from the Artistic Director and the entire organization. We are all aiming to make this as fulfilling as possible for the company, the artists and the audience. I believe greatly in harnessing a sense of play and fun when choreographing and directing. It is in our nature to be creative through play and to be playful with our creativity. I felt that these values also resonated with Ballet BC.
BBC: You have a varied background with experience in martial arts, theatre, dance. How did this inform your creation?
SK: I believe that my exploration of many art forms influences my choices on a fundamental level. Martial arts and theatre were my first arts practices and I believe that I’m always searching for the “why” to what we are doing rather than the “what”. The more I create work, the more I feel like my work is a hybrid of physical theatre and dance. Movement and choreography can be led by an aesthetic, which is valuable, but I’m excited about the process of finding an aesthetic through the purpose of expressing or saying something first. For this work with Ballet BC, I wanted to continually make choices that connected to ideas around conformity vs. self-expression, tribalism vs. individualism, and form vs. formlessness.
BBC: Where did you draw inspiration from at the beginning stages of this new work?
SK: There are many influences in this work. One of the initial inspirations for this work came from a series of photos called “Men in The City” by Robert Longo. I was introduced to the series by mentor Dana Gingras – her company Animals of Distinction and Holy Body Tattoo (with Noam Gagnon) were also major influences on me as an artist. The photos in “Men in The City” show a stark push and pull between formlessness and form, freedom and control. This imagery was a seed for some initial points in the work.
BBC: The work explores an enquiry into balance and polarities. What led you to exploring the individual and the group? Why does this polarity interest you?
SK: One of the first works I created was about overwork and how modern and traditional values were colliding together. This counterpoint of modernity and tradition also referenced the opposition of individualism and groupism. I find the theories of groupism and tribalism very fascinating and these became some of the initial points of research for the work. Secondly, polarity to me is essential in art and in life. I’ve always felt that, like a pendulum swings, one extreme creates the potential for its equally extreme counterpoint. In order to move fast, you must move slow. In order to be strong, you must be soft. I believe this concept resonates across all aspects of the human experience.
BBC: What do you hope the audience will take away from experiencing this creation?
SK: We live in a time of so much immediate digital/visual experience, and I genuinely want the audience to value the live performance experience. Hopefully, this work can spark some conversations and get some new audience members excited about dance and live performance. I believe that one of the greatest gifts of dance is that it relays its messaging through movement. With a purely physical language, audiences have a space to project and develop their own narratives with dance performances. My goal is that this accessibility enables the performers, and their performances, to more deeply connect with the audience.
BBC: What is next for you? Is there something you are looking forward to exploring in your upcoming work and project?
SK: I just started research on a new work for my company Radical System Art, which is based on dreams. I see dreams as this sort of “impact theatre” of the mind and this references how we are all instinctively artists. Dreams demonstrate not only that we are all creative, but that our creativity is essential to our ability to survive and thrive. Through a rich and imaginative sensory experience, dreams impact us to process, grow and learn. In the end, I want the piece to emphasize that art and creativity are essential to our humanity. It feels highly ambitious, but also extremely valuable. All about that balance.
Don’t miss Shay’s Ballet BC debut at HORIZON/S, March 16/17/18 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets start at $19!