NYC’s Jennifer Archibald talks painting movement with CCDT

By Natasha Poon Woo

This spring, Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre presents Serious Games, a diverse program of contemporary works by esteemed choreographers from Canada and abroad. From the show’s titular Serious Games (David Earle), to 2013’s August (Colin Connor), to an exciting 2017 commission by New York City’s Jennifer Archibald, the program showcases works spanning 20 years of spectacular diversity in modern and contemporary dance, performed by some of the city’s finest young artists.

Jennifer Archibald is a Brooklyn, NY-based choreographer with Canadian roots and global influence. Her movement style – an eclectic blend of classical technique, contemporary form, and street dance – has been a thoroughly challenging yet rewarding process for CCDT’s company dancers to delve into. Jennifer was able to share some insight into her process, and her experience working with the young dancers of CCDT for the first time.

What were your inspirations for this piece?

JA: I am teaching at the Yale School of Drama, and exploring my movement within the actor is a huge inspiration for my work. You learn great detail from watching actors transmit emotion. I am inspired to investigate the actor in the dancer and watch how it changes my choreography. Spending time in my own thoughts, listening to music, traveling. Sometimes taking yourself out of your routine allows you to acknowledge your surroundings; clear your mind so there is space to create.

What about CCDT interested you to create a new work for the company?

JA: I was born in Toronto and moved to NYC to train at the Alvin Ailey School. I have traveled all over the world setting new works, but never in Toronto, my hometown. CCDT is a company that I knew would be able to do my work. I describe my process as painting. I walk into the studio and paint the movement on the dancers without having movement preset. You have to have a level of trust and belief in their ability. CCDT can train a versatile dancer, and I knew the company could execute in more than one aesthetic.

Were there any standout moments in the creative process that inspired or affected you? Was working with the young dancers at CCDT a notably different experience from your other typical commissions?

JA: I think all dancers, no matter what professional level they are working at, want to impress the choreographer. The young dancers of CCDT worked incredibly hard in the studio and were very open. Young dancers are fearless and they want to explore new things as much as the choreographer. It’s an energy that sometimes dancers who have been in the game for awhile may not exude. I was excited about the maturity of their artistry. The CCDT dancers could act and dance, which is essential for my work.

Have you always been interested in marrying the techniques and aesthetics of street dance and classical/contemporary dance, or was it a slow evolution to what has become your style of movement and choreography? What makes this combination of dance styles so appealing to you?

JA: Every time I teach I feel like I’m in a lab. If I can define each movement as “hip hop” or “ballet” in my body I can see how I transition in out of both aesthetics. You develop an acute sense of awareness every time you’re in the studio. When I am using a dancer that is proficient in both aesthetics it definitely is easier to see what works and what doesn’t.

I grew up doing hip hop and classical ballet hand in hand. I equally love both, and when your body is training in both aesthetics it becomes second nature for the body to respond truthfully during improvisation. It is very natural for me to hit an isolation, bounce, fragment my movement with a ferociousness and soften the dynamics to find a classical line. It’s really about playing with and exploring movement possibilities.

Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre presents Serious Games as part of Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps series on May 26-27, 2017 at the Fleck Dance Theatre.