Contemporary techniques, composition, interdisciplinary creation, improvisation and performance
The cornerstone of our approach, we offer technical training in a variety of related, mutually supportive Contemporary and classical dance disciplines, improvisational methodologies, conditioning and restorative body work, courses in composition, filmmaking and elements of production, voice, music and film for dance.
Regularly scheduled Mainstage Performances and student-led productions provide platforms to publicly share student work!
Our academic courses provide context to support artistic development, and increase understanding of our own bodies, the world we live in, and the development of the field of dance. These classes include: Dance History, Anatomy, Pedagogy, Career Paths, Aesthetics and Dance Theory.
PERFORMANCE AND PRODUCTION
In rehearsal and in production, you will be immersed in the act of performance and creation. You will experience and develop different choreographic processes and learn necessary production skills. You will have the opportunity to perform special commissions by choreographers who are currently active in the field and occasionally remount the work of acclaimed Canadian and international choreographers in our home theatre at 80 Winchester Street. You will also have opportunities to develop your choreographic craft, and to perform your original works in student-produced Coffee Houses and a third-year Choreographic Workshop.
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Contemporary is defined as “happening, existing, living, or coming into being during the same period of time”. Contemporary dance is not codified. As such, students will encounter diverse approaches to Contemporary technique principles throughout the three year program, shaped by resident faculty and visiting guest teachers and artists. Contemporary technique classes focus on building up knowledge of movement principles and learning to integrate them variously. The classes provoke personal investment in movement research, and a sense of responsibility towards learning and critical analysis. Students come to understand their body’s way of functioning, and learn adaptive strategies to embody and perform the class material efficiently, with specificity, and in correspondence with one’s anatomical reality. Core and upper body strength, agility and endurance will be advanced in exercises that explore descending to and rising up from the floor, motoring horizontally and vertically, shifting and pitching the body, inversions, fast foot work, and aerial work (leaving the floor).
Ballet classes emphasize a functional and clear architectural base for the body. Exercises introduce lines and the basic classical positions of the arms, legs and head, and prioritize mechanics, movement pathways, transitions and their coordination, and consider speed, musicality and differentiation of movement qualities (attack). Exercises are constructed simply to promote receptive attention, an energetic play against gravity, sensorial availability and deep physicality throughout the class. For students with extensive previous ballet training, the class provides an opportunity to divest the material of stylistic associations.
The Graham technique is derived from the work of American modern dance pioneer, Martha Graham. These classes provide dancers with an understanding and an experience of the use of the basic movement principles of contraction/release and spiral, beginning in the body’s centre and radiating into its extremities. The contraction, an elongated curve of the back, begins with an impulse from the centre of the body related to the exhalation of breath; the release, a lengthening out of the curve of the contraction, relates to the breath inhalation; in the spiral, the torso coils around the central axis of the spine. With variations in falls and turns, the body sculpts the space in three-dimensional curves. One of the most dramatic of modern dance techniques, the Graham movement vocabulary has tremendous power and expressive potential. Each class begins with breath-related exercises seated on the floor, and it progresses through codified floorwork to standing work and complex movement phrases travelling through space
Movement improvisation is an essential creative tool and critical component of choreographic composition. Teachers will approach the course through the lens of their own practice, and students will encounter a variety of different physical and intellectual improvisational prompts. Exercises focus on ways of modifying existing movement, generating new material and developing tactics to disrupt habitual movement patterns. Small group improvisations connecting external factors (space, time and others) and internal sensations are introduced so that students develop a facility with the dual and mutually informed activity of shaping and reading actions. Solo and group assignments will be given throughout the semester to contextualize learning. At its most basic level, composition is about creating contexts for one’s work.
Students will also have the opportunity to study Contact Improvisation, a technique in which dancers support and utilize each other’s body weight while in motion. Developed by dance artist Steve Paxton in The 1970s, Contact improvisation is traditionally performed as a duet, with emphasis on touching, falling, lifting, leaning, sliding, counter-balancing, and supporting the weight of another Person. The technique is a valuable tool for dancers approaching partnering work in Choreography
New Creation and Repertoire
Each term and throughout the three-year program, students will collaborate on the creation of new works with seasoned choreographers and local up-and-coming artists. The choreographers will lead the students through a creative process that requires them to achieve specificity while generating new movement addressing a specific concept or theme. The course is practice oriented, and introduces students to studio processes, interpretation and collaboration. The course culminates in twice-yearly mainstage performances. Additionally, the third year class has their own mainstage show, providing them an opportunity to perform in smaller groups, and to work more intensively with a choreographer.
Composition and Student Work
Composition and interdisciplinary creative process classes across the three-year program culminate in the creation and showing of original student works. Students make written proposals for their projects, and practice documenting their process as a means of identifying creative and perceptual patterns. Peer critical analysis is given at regular intervals during the development of the work. When the work is shown publicly, students are required to introduce and contextualize it in a brief, oral presentation. Understanding what we are communicating to an audience is an essential step in defining an artistic path.
Accessing one’s voice is foundational to an empowered practice. This course is centred around the connection of movement to sound, providing students with an experiential learning of vibration, rhythm, attuning, sounding and listening. The basics of sounding are introduced: humming, tone, pitch, shaping sound, breath control and intention. Students develop an understanding of the functional anatomy of the throat, mouth, face and torso as it relates to making sounds healthfully. The course promotes subtle attunement to one’s interiority and affirms its relationship to the outside world. This course is a wonderful icebreaker for first year students getting to know each other; it is playful in nature and requires presence and a commitment to the room.
Second year dancers acquire and sharpen musicianship skills in order to develop a fuller appreciation of music’s relationship to dance. The main areas of focus are: the elements of music, and discussions surrounding the evolution of art music up to contemporary work, and learning to recognize, read, and respond to different musical metres.
Film for Dance
This course explores the basic film technique and aesthetics required for dance film making and includes hands-on practical experience in shooting and screening short films. With the increased prevalence of digital presentation, students learn a critical skill in filming for dance to equip them for this reality. Dance film-making is an essential skill for both online self-promotion and for choreographers interested in interdisciplinary creation and mixed media production.
Elements of Production
Students are provided with an overview of these fundamental stage elements and technical definitions of theatrical terminology. Students become familiar with the job descriptions from different production positions, including stage management, sound design, production management, and lighting design. General theatrical safety principles are addressed, and students are assigned to actual productions in various capacities.
Bouffon is a physical theatre style exploring elements of burlesque, commedia dell’arte, farce, and satire, and at its heart is mockery pushed to the point of parody. Performance of this work is developed through the exploration of four families: the dwarves, the big bums and bellies, the hunchbacks, and the heretic priest. The physical approach to bouffon forces students to break through their boundaries of self-consciousness and to empower them with a sense of boldness in performance presence.
Special Workshops/Seminars/Field Trips
Workshops, master classes, movement clinics and seminars are given by guest artists and thinkers. Topics have ranged from health and wellness, art theory, career planning, movement clinics, and artist talks. Field trips to a gallery or a studio visit with a local choreographer are also scheduled.
First year students are provided with an overview of developments in modern dance in the 20th century and the history of modern, contemporary, and post-modern dance in Canada. Students look at dance in economic, social, political, and art-historical contexts, developing critical thinking and research skills. Classes include video examples of the work of various key choreographers along with coursework of reading and assignments.
Anatomy, Functional Analysis of the Body, and Injury Prevention:
This course gives the dancer a practical understanding of functional anatomy, including basic musculoskeletal physiology, the nervous system, and their application to the dance artist. Classes include exploration of functional anatomy — bony landmarks, locating muscle groups, and palpation on each other in a professionally facilitated manner. Discussions and physical workshops also focus on injury prevention, rehabilitation from a dance injury, stretching, and basic taping principles.
Second year students learn the unique skills required for teaching creative movement to young children and youth. Some of these skills include: developing age-appropriate movement material; time-management; working with props, books, and movement maps; creating movement material to support other subjects, such as math and science; and an understanding of provincial ministry dance guidelines.
Third year students develop the skills needed to teach Contemporary dance at the beginner, elementary, and advanced levels. This is achieved through the observation and discussion of teaching strategies, sessions with visiting master teachers on their teaching philosophies, discussions with teachers of creative movement for children, and sessions with an experienced dance accompanist on the use of music in teaching. Students in second year practise these skills in a local elementary school while third year students participate in practicum teaching sessions in a variety of settings.
Students attend seminars on career development and management. Topics include: grant writing, developing budgets, fundraising, social media, website design, self-marketing, contracts and contract negotiation, networking, balancing childcare and parallel careers, academia, creating contexts for one’s own work, and more. Students will receive access to resources including links to arts advocacy groups, support service organizations, a list of Canadian presenters, international residency networks, artist job and call boards. These resources are extended to all graduates of the program.
Mainstage and Student Performances
Dancers to work with a variety of gifted choreographers, both learning existing repertory and having new work created for them. Dancers become familiar with rehearsal and performance practices, they learn how to recognize a choreographer’s intent, and they acquire performance and interpretive skills. Third-year dancers also work on duet or small group repertory in addition to their ensemble work. Classes build towards performances at the end of the fall and spring terms.
Students have opportunities to perform special commissions or remounts of work by acclaimed Canadian choreographers; works by Christopher House from the repertoire of Toronto Dance Theatre; works by talented emerging creators; and classic dances by significant international choreographers.
The School presents a series of performances in our home theatre, including winter and spring programs that involve the entire student body and a third year show for graduating students in a distinctive program of solos, duets, and small ensemble repertory.
Third year students present their own choreographic work as a culmination of the Creative Process course, designed to guide them through the choreographic process, from conception through creation and rehearsal, and finally to performance. More informal student-run Coffee House performances regularly present original student choreography.
In rehearsal and in performance, dancers are immersed in the act of creation, re-creation, and interpretation. They experience different choreographic processes, learn valuable performance skills, and are prepared to become the most versatile of instruments as professional dancers.
All of the above performances take place in our home theatre, the Winchester Street Theatre.
Special Additional Performances/Exchanges/Internships
In support of students and graduates effectively entering the field, we actively seek out additional, extra-curricular performance opportunities, exchanges with other institutions and internships. Past initiatives include exchanges with École de danse contemporaine de Montréal , performances at the Canada Dance Festival (CDF), in Paul-André Fortier’s October Sky at Nuit Blanche in Toronto, and most recently in Toes for Dance’s inaugural Common Ground Festival at Lee Lifeson Park (October 2021). Through The Winchester Prize and a collaboration with SummerWorks, selected graduates have the opportunity to present work professionally for the first time. Future graduating classes will have the opportunity to continue this tradition, in these or other festivals.