Meet The Dancer
Robin Poitras keeps NDH graceful in its 25th year
by Vanda Schmöckel
Robin Poitras is a woman who should require no introduction but here's one anyway: she's a local dancer, choreographer, spitfire and co-founder of New Dance Horizons. As NDH's artistic director, Poitras is responsible for bringing some stellar works of dance to the Queen City including, most recently, MAGDANCE which has been running at the MacKenzie art gallery since January.
Coming up for Poitras is the last instalment in the MAGDANCE series: Poitras' own company Rouge-gorge's production of In Fur Till Spring, which features a live harpsichord and collaboration with artists Charlie Fox, John Noestheden and Edward Poitras.
PD: You're probably too busy to do much else, but what do you do when you're not working on stuff for New Dance Horizons?
RP: I tend to be in creation in a really intense way because I run a non-profit arts organization, so I do a lot of grant writing and administrative work - and it never ends. But, what do I do? I love going to galleries, looking at visual art and I love the Natural History Museum and the RPL. I'm sometimes there every week for months on end. I'm a big researcher - I love books. People ask me what I do when I'm not working, but I don't know; it's all pretty interconnected. It all blurs. I grew up in a family of art makers, so I grew up with that blur.
But I love living in Regina. I'm often asked why I would live somewhere where there's so little dance. Well, there's actually an incredible powwow scene in the summer here, and there are lots of other kinds of dancing. I love going to the park, riding my bike. I live pretty close to the park, so that's always fabulous. I'm kind of an outdoorsy kind of girl, I guess.
PD: What have you been up to lately?
RP: Well, beyond moving harpsichords, we're rehearsing In Fur Till Spring and we're going on to the Prairie Scene show in Ottawa a week later. It's a work that I began over a year ago with visual artist Edward Poitras. There have been several versions of the work - it's turning into more than a remount; it's really more of a recreation. Part of that has to do with different performers and how the roles that they play evolve and change with what they bring to the work.
PD: What's In Fur Till Spring about?
RP: [There are a lot] of different sources for the piece. There was a very odd story that I came across a long time ago. I was reading a story about a trapper who was gathering fur through the winter, and because this individual didn't have dogs or a horse or any way of pulling the stuff, somehow he started wrapping his body in the fur and wearing it, and he became like this abominable creature, this giant fur being. In the springtime, he sold all the fur that was on his body. That image stayed in my imagination for a very long time. And when I started this piece, I was looking at the history of colonization and looking at the fur industry, and also looking at transmigration of animals and infertility in a really personal way.
There's a book called Masks by Fumiko Enchi, which is an extraordinary story that kind of focuses on the occult and infertility in a very broad way. This book had a huge impact on me, and this piece actually started in response, in part, to that book. You know how some pieces sit on the shelf and you'll go on to another piece, and you're meant to start that piece but somehow it went on to another piece? So the piece got research from three different bodies of work and has accumulated, and it's bit like doing archeology or something where there's a reaching through history and time.
The music is from 17th century through to the 20th century. We have death metal guitar and 17th century harpsichord. We have a live harpsichord in the piece, so I'm looking at music through an arc of a long history of time.
So it's lots of layers. It's not about one thing. It's pretty multilayered and that tends to be the way that I work because I'm pretty lateral. I don't start with one linear story. It's not a 'story' in that sense. I'm really not interested in narrative that way.
PD: What gave you the idea to set a dance series at the MacKenzie?
RP: Well, in fact it wasn't my idea - it was at Timothy Long's invitation. I went to the gallery over a year ago to talk with Timothy about the possibility of having something. I wondered if they might have some space between exhibitions. We've had short residences in the Kenderdine gallery - like a weekend or a week between stuff.
Looking at our 25th anniversary coming up, I really wanted to do something in connection with the gallery and in connection with visual art, because it's been such a huge part of the development of the organization and company. And he came back to me a few days later and said, "You know, why don't we just do a whole season here?"
It's been fabulous developing the season and also getting to rehearse in such a generous, warm space. Being in a gallery is very stimulating. Normally we're out in our little studio. When we used to be downtown, at least we'd see some people. We don't get many visitors, so we work in isolation. Dance is already very isolated on this part of the planet, or at least contemporary dance practice is. So it's been great to have that ongoing dialogue with a parallel art practice.
PD: How do you find the audience for contemporary dance in Regina?
RP: You know, in some ways I think we have one of the more sophisticated dance audiences in the country. Long before New Dance Horizons arrived, there was a company called Regina Modern Dance Works so there was already really interesting contemporary dance development here. Over the years, I feel like we've really built quite a large audience.
The very first show we did in '86 was in what used to be called the Schnitzel House [now the Distrikt]. And Timothy Long actually wrote the very first review of New Dance Horizons, which is really funny. So there's this dialogue that's been going on with Timothy for over 25 years.