Sharon B. Moore, one of the School’s Resident Choreographers, is creating a new work for our first year dancers, for IMPULSE 2017. We asked her to tell us about her adventures in dance. Here’s her response.
It’s been a golden life so far. I am an artist. A distinct privilege and a massive passion that is rife with extraordinary adventure.
While I was growing up in the west end of Toronto at five, learning how to skate holding onto the back of a chair, while my father skated backwards with encouraging eyes, Rachel Browne (née Minke) was gathering a fierce group of modern dancers in the frozen colder-than-Mars temperatures of the forever pioneering city of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Little did I know as the mild Toronto winds wiped my rosy cheeks and I stepped back into our house to be greeted with hot chocolate … that one day, not so far off, I would be transplanted after graduating from The School of Toronto Dance Theatre to a wide open prairie world by a rock star of modern dance who made theatrical magic with the entire city asking “What will Tedd do next?” I had landed in a theatrical dance hotbed led by Mr. Robinson, and when Tedd asked me to fall off a two-story Japanese set into the arms of dancers below, I knew I had found my pot of gold. Tedd and his exquisite company of dancers took me into their world and gave me incredible opportunity to develop my theatrical voice and physical chops. When I landed in Winnipeg immediately after graduation from the School, I felt utterly ready to take on the honour of interpreting the works of a master artist, and to meet the joyous and muscle-aching demands of dancing in a full-time company. I spent several years having my theatrical universe cultivated at Contemporary Dancers, and it was a pure gift from the gods to interpret Tedd’s work.
After a couple of years in my new-found home, Rachel Browne invited me into the studio. This became a rich artistic relationship. Rachel gave me the experience of premiering and touring seven solos amidst other ensemble works. Each of them refined my understanding of physical faith, emotional core, and the art of becoming something other than yourself. In time, we created a collective called 3 Square Pegs alongside Connie Cooke, and the dance took the fringe circuit by storm with several successful Canadian tours. Always choreographing, it was in Winnipeg that I began an insatiable appetite to make dance. Falling from the rooftop of The Plug-In Gallery in slow motion while waving the police away before the audience turned the corner; writing text; cutting and pasting original artwork for posters; bringing in musicians to appear in marching bands; discovering how to inspire my dancers, and how to see inside their universe just a little; spray painting apples gold; asking a young dancer (Paula Blair) to roller-skate, carry a clock, and collect said apples amidst love duets to live original cello music – these are some of my cherished memories. The thing is …it is so so, so cold in Winnipeg that there are only two places to be: at home getting ready to dance or in the studio making dance.
That said, there were converging paths and balancing acts of varying degrees that brought me back to The School of Toronto Dance Theatre.
In grade nine, while I was perfecting my sharp shooting skills, listening to Queen in my school gymnasium, and spending the rest of my waking hours desperately learning lines and doing theatre exercises that somehow “made sense” in my universe, the founders of Toronto Dance Theatre were coming into their own on Toronto stages…. They had changed the climate of art in Toronto mere kilometers away, and as a youngster… I had no idea.
In my family home, where my parents thank goodness asked me every now and then “what would you like to do babe?”, softball pitching, gymnastics, springboard diving were things I liked to do … a single class of terrible baby ballet at three was something I did NOT like to do. At the age of ten, I reached for acting and studied with a private coach in west-end Toronto. After landing several roles, I was pretty sure I was going to act. I learned the art of quick change at an early age, and was often found in the car switching outfits for an audition as my father drove steadfastly into the heart of the city.
As a child, I traveled with my parents to many places around the world, absorbing actions and energies and shapes and colours and ways in which architecture met with the light of the sun and the moon. I painted; I made sculptures. I was entrenched in a creative life before I could call it that, and I have my parents to thank. I was surrounded by visual art, television production, and film. My dad, an ad man for Nestles and later an advertising executive, somehow by mere love of what he did, transposed the idea that one could make something out of nothing. My Mom made everything she did into art. She was a semi-pro ballplayer and a model, and her choice of contrasting interests of sports and art made an impact on me.
My early days in theatre training saw me creating what I would now contextualize as physical theatre. Though I hadn’t set a foot in a dance class since that morning at three, when I ran in a circle for 45 minutes repeating the phase “tweet tweet tweet, tweet tweet tweet”, with four other circling goslings flapping their wings, I seemed to be drawing on some lost artistic knowledge. In truth, it was thanks to the faith in me of my Theatre Arts teacher, Gerd Laudenbach, who seemed to conjure up some kind of dream-like alchemy with his spontaneous theatrical exercises and demanding professional discipline. He made it safe to risk. He let me run wild while staying just outside the lines, spewing poetry, and jumping off set pieces.
On stage in grade nine, I found a deep connection to spirituality and performance communication. I played two small roles in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: a baseball player who was part of the team, and a dead townsperson in the cemetery. As the dialogue rolled on behind me with the two young leading characters taking stock of their lives, I took my place as part of the scene – a dead person in a chair, among many other dead townspeople in chairs. Looking out into the black of the space I saw nothing. I knew there were people there and I could feel them. I was supposed to be dead. I decided to become that. I decided to just “be there”, alive in every single moment, even if I was playing dead. That moment is the moment I discovered my own personal power as a performer, and my ability to create space in performance – to be part of a created world. I discovered how to pull up, create, and sustain living imagery from my own universe, that connected to the other performers and to the viewer. After that day, nothing could knock me off my focus or my thirst for exchange of communication through performance and creation. It was an extremely spiritual moment that I still maintain and keep alive. It’s a belief in a quality of existence that is fully alive. I often seek to help other artists find this for themselves in their own way – helping them locate their creative engine and power source and run with it. This moment tuned me toward creation and helping other artists make breakthroughs.
Up until the age of 15, parallel to theatre, I was driven to use my body in motion through sports, including alpine skiing and horseback-riding. I was always standing on my head for extended periods of time, practising splits, or treading water in our pool, until I beat my last record. Running around the track in gym class one day, my friend said to me “Sharon, you really should come to dance class”. After a few requests, I took her up on her suggestion. On the first tendu, I was hooked!!!! It was the synchronicity of time and space, motion, and the class moving as one united force with music, that seemed to make the world tilt suddenly. This was a pivotal moment for me where all the things I had learned and recorded and were available could be used, created with, and recombined into any living theatrical universe one could imagine. I became a dancer that day. My teacher, Nancy Van Buskirk, is a visionary artist, a gifted instructor who made artistry the most valuable aspect of our training. After performing at my first recital, I entered the back of the theatre. A warm light special faded up to reveal my teacher in a solo that made my heart melt. My world shifted again when I realized that one could make dance atmospherically emotional. I pursued choreography at my studio, creating piece after piece, finding out how movement related to character.
During my last year of high school, walking down to the office to deliver my university application choices, I suddenly and unexpectedly erased all the theatre programs I had penned in, and instead entered several university dance programs. Call it momentary madness or guts; I made a sudden leap of faith. Deep down I knew it was right. I knew I could achieve multiple art goals through dance. And… it was true.
After one year of dance at the University of Waterloo, Toronto Dance Theatre came to town. I was gobsmacked. Luckily, I had spent my year studying Graham technique with Gabby Kamino, a talented and divinely inspirational choreographer. I suddenly saw how what I was studying made sense in the bigger picture, choreographically and aesthetically. Gabby suggested I audition for the School. I came to the audition with probably the least training of any of the applicants. I had one thought: if I can hang in the air as long as possible simply by will, I will get in! And… it worked!
Despite getting my sea legs quickly, I could often be found falling to the floor or off my legs in an attempt to will my late-start dance body into quicksilver. I became practiced at pushing my body, and was hungry to interpret exceptional vision. My years at the School developed this in me. My training at the School was chock-a-block with extreme demands, intelligently and innovatively designed by faculty, company members, and artistic directors, all renowned in their own right. I received world-class training in my home town. I am sometimes in awe that I was fortunate to land here.
I loved my years at the School. Many of my classmates are still deeply involved in dance. They are all pretty spectacular. I remember Rosemary James and me spending our lunch hours running David Earle’s Sacred Garden three times through, supporting each other in a bid to have the opportunity to perform in the show and on tour in Scotland with the School Youth Ensemble. Our work paid off. We ate tenacity for lunch. Endurance taught us that practice equals growth. Working hard gave us the wonder of entering a kind of spirituality through dance.
What has stuck with me from my time at the School is how to embed the search for truthful moments on a continuing basis. This revelation came through an accumulation of osmosis-like, mind-blowing experiences with my teachers that helped refine my understanding and abilities as a performer, choreographer, director, and writer. These are the bedrock of my career: the musicality of Christopher House; the poetic connections and moving sculpture of Patricia Beatty; the spirituality in relation to the human form of David Earle; the exquisite purity of motion of Helen Jones; the ferocious eat-up-the-space of Benoît Lachambre; the inspirational teachings of Kenny Pearl; and the wonderful guidance of Billyann Balay among others. I learned the value of an artist’s internal creative universe by being able to deeply exchange with and access the hearts of my classmates, through the demands of exceptional rehearsal directors and choreographers who whole-heartedly allowed us to interpret their works.
Teaching and mentoring are a natural part of me, and have been a parallel to my professional work. Their roots lie in the exceptional schooling I had, both in public school and in my professional training as a dancer and actor. My teachers demanded focus toward expressive freedom – from finger painting in kindergarten to composition class at the School. I learned to compete not with myself but to enhance the moment. I was encouraged to be deeply involved in creative acts. I was reminded and taught to look for the truth. My teachers had faith in me that I could achieve my goals.
My training at the School was rigorous. It was also joyful. Having the opportunity to perform with the company in Trish and David’s work was the final bridge into my company position in Winnipeg. The access to so many different creative processes expanded my ability to create. Since graduating, I have made over 250 original dance works, including 15 full evening shows. I have taught in many performing arts programs including Princeton University, and I currently lead the movement curriculum at Humber College Theatre Program. I work in the fields of theatre, circus, and film, with the help of my artistic partner Derek Aasland. Together we run Cinetic Creations, a company dedicated to picture-wide movement design for feature film and large scale cross-disciplinary theatrical works.
My training allowed me to approach my artistic goals. As a choreographer, my goal is to create fantastical worlds. All of my choreographic and text work is created spontaneously. I never prepare physical materials before rehearsals (except in particular arenas such as circus); instead I allow my research and emotional story ideas to articulate through my body intuitively. My choreographic work has been deeply influenced by my dramaturge Derek Aasland, with whom I have worked for 15 years in various capacities. A prolific artist, he brings a significant body of work in the areas of stage and screen acting, composition, theatre and opera direction, dramaturgy, and play development. He is also a gifted Artistic Director and General Manager, who helms our large theatrical works as creator and artistic producer. Our last full-scale work, The Thirst for Love and Water, created for the reflecting pool at Toronto City Hall, was co-presented by Panamania Live! This was one of the most satisfying works our company has made. We worked closely with Don Shipley, Creative Director of Pan Am Games 2015, to develop the site-specific work, which was a dream on so many counts. I learned an enormous amount from Derek and Don and it has made me a far better producer. 80.000 people saw the work, and it was an adventure to say the least.
Choosing to train in dance has allowed me to cross disciplines and achieve many goals in creation. The most recent cross-over is through writing. The evolution of text development within my dance and circus works has allowed me to transpose my physical ideas into text-driven work. Currently I am working on my first two plays, and writing a book of bedtime poetry for children called Stripes on my Bedspread. I am also heading back onto the stage in a work called Snake Oil – created for myself and long-time collaborator Paula Blair – the Winnipeg gal who roller-skated collecting golden apples to cello music.
If I could offer any ideas to students I would share this: don’t spend time on regrets. Trust your instincts about who you are because you know yourself best. Follow your guts on whom to collaborate with. There’s nothing worse than doing something that crosses your own reality, integrity, or goals. Keep your promises even on the smallest things, because those things can be big to others, and it just feels great to do what you promised. Don’t concern yourself with having a fall-back plan…who wants to fall backwards? Unless you are a trampoline artist! Archive your work well; don’t let it be the last thing you think about. Disregard rumour, and find out for yourself. Travel and be your own boss as much as you can. Help others reveal their gifts as artists, and never stop learning. Lastly, don’t let anyone tell you can’t dance. Trust your training and follow your heart on what you believe as an artist. If you are a choreographer, don’t make one work a year…make four or five or six or seven!! The more you practise, the better you get. Make a lot of work. Don’t be precious. There is no such thing as creatively dry. A desert is dry. A being is never dry.