From dancing to directing

Contemporary dance vet Lise McMillan takes on choreography role with mentorship in mind

After years spent performing with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Lise McMillan is finally bringing her own voice to the stage.

“I had a solid base to work from,” McMillan says. “The best part of being in a repertoire company is that you get to see how experienced choreographers create. You get to observe their creative process and take part in it. There are definitely certain parts that I let infuse my process.”

Her work, titled Current See, features four dancers in varying stages of their careers, the youngest of whom is still a student at the School of Contemporary Dancers in affiliation with the University of Winnipeg. 

“Having professional experience at a young age really changed my career path, and I hope to give young dancers that same experience,” McMillan says, recalling the mentor-like relationship she had with Christina Medina, a dancer and choreographer from Winnipeg who is now based in Vienna, Austria.

Working with such a range of dancers also allows for an interesting movement dynamic onstage between the performers. 

“It celebrates the individual and their four unique approaches to movement,” McMillan says. “My job becomes knowing when to direct and when to sit back and be silent and let them be individual artists.”

The dancers - Alexandra Elliott, Tanja Woloshen, Elise Page and Samarah McRorie - allow a sense of child’s play and whimsy to permeate the piece, a tongue-in-cheek juxtaposition to the ecological and political themes of the work. McMillan also uses an array of props, such as glass fish bowls filled with water and a sculptural tree dress to illustrate these concepts.

“The very first thought of creating this piece was in learning about the social caste systems in India,” McMillan recalls. “That really stayed in my mind.”

Having the opportunity to work in Kenya multiple times - as well as a residency in Mexico City - further fueled the creation of Current See. McMillan was struck by how community relationships differed depending on the availability of water.

“There are such drastically different social systems, depending on a community’s available resources,” McMillan says. “Through this creative process we are exploring our awful greed and our tendency to control these natural resources.”

Imagery of repeatedly attempting to speak and not being heard flows through the piece and runs parallel to the live music accompanying the dancers.

“Akin to a tide, there’s a constant sense of movement towards and away,” McMillan notes. “Hence the musician’s loop pedal. He is building the music as the dancers build the dance.”

McMillan and composer David Graham collaborate often, working toward finding ways vocalists and dancers can create simultaneously. The supportive and trusting nature of their relationship aids in creating such all-consuming projects as Current See. 

“Dance and live theatre are so fleeting, I don’t want to waste a chance on something I haven’t put all of my thought and effort into,” McMillan states, recalling the two year incubation period for the piece.

“It’s been really liberating for me,” McMillan says. “I feel like I can do anything. I can create what I want to create and I simply wouldn’t be able to do it without Young Lungs Dance Exchange. There are no expectations to live up to except my own.” 

Published in Volume 69, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 17, 2014)

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