Claire Turner Reid – photo by Omer Yukseker

(or My Quest to Be Less Damned Polite)

By Alice Irene Whittaker-Cumming

I wonder whether my piece, Vivian, is authentic. By that I mean: does it reflect the ideas and emotions that are important to me? Does it communicate what I want to say? Does it come from my quiet and wild core, rather than being formed based on outside opinions? If I saw the piece objectively, would it resonate with me? Would I like it? It can be hard to tell.

People intuitively sense whether a piece of art comes honestly from the artist, or conversely, whether the intention is clouded. We as an audience sense which moments waver versus those that strike a chord. This goes for film, pop songs, literature, painting, photography or, of course, choreography. You can have the same ingredients – say, the same two actors in a blockbuster romantic comedy, or the same comedian on an empty stage from one night to another, or a painter with two blank canvasses – and have one creation that hits a nerve and another that falls flat. The difference is whether it is authentic and comes from the inside, or whether or it is trying to be something that meets others’ expectations.

I’ve noticed something in my past and current creations. When I create something authentically, I worry less whether other people will like it or not. Some will, and some won’t. But I know that what I am expressing is what I genuinely mean. And really, people will be displeased with what you do, no matter what it is. You may as well mean it.

Vivian Maier’s photography is authentic. Her photographs are frank, candid looks at human beings in a certain time and place. Mostly on the streets of Chicago over four decades. There is nothing posed about the photographs – at least, not the ones of other people. I feel like her self-portraits are careful and calculated, as if she is carefully selecting how much of herself she reveals. But those photos of others catch a moment that feels truthful. As though we see something about these people that they wouldn’t necessarily want us to see. It feels honest. Rather than polite. This means that the photographs are sometimes secretive, sometimes cynical, sometimes funny. Which, in my opinion, shows us a lot about who Vivian Maier is, despite her best attempts to curate a careful and impenetrable image of herself.

Claire Turner Reid – photo by Omer Yukseker

Claire Turner Reid – photo by Omer Yukseker

All of this is conjecture on my part, as an artist who is exploring someone else. Dare I say, as an artist who is making her best attempts to curate a careful and impenetrable image of herself? I bring my own biases, and a healthy dose of creative license and romanticism. Throughout the process of creating this work as a Creator’s Resident – and while receiving feedback from my mentor Kate Hilliard, from Resident Outside Eyes Heidi Strauss and Sasha Ivanochko, and from the Series 8:08 audiences over a series of work-in-progress performances – I have had to examine what is authentic to me. Working with the talented, soulful Claire Turner Reid has also urged me to examine my ideas and direction more closely. I have been working at letting go of my urge to establish a finished, polished performance that is wrapped up with a neat tidy bow. More process, less product. Instead I am learning to take more time to observe closely, listen to my inner voice and ask myself questions. Even if that means slowing down. Not to parody Ernest Hemingway, but which moments are good and true? Which are redundant? Which bore me? Which stir me?

This is a departure for me. One that takes courage. Because authenticity can never be perfect, or tidy, or polite. It means that my work may be short, and it may be raw. It may be unfinished. Which aligns well with my personal goal of being more authentic in my daily life, even if that means being less pleasing and less polite. Even if it means being less obedient to what is expected of me (even if those expectations come from no one but myself).

I am seeing glimpses of my authentic self, both in life and in my art. While it scares me to be less pleasing, I like it. I wonder what it will look like as I embrace that self fully, and create from that place? It is a dizzying and exhilarating prospect.

Irene-Whittaker-CummingAlice Irene Whittaker-Cumming is an artist and advocate. She has choreographed and performed throughout North America, and her full-length choreographic works include Nightbird, The Canary Wallpaper, Underwood and The Vinyl Archive, which was a commission for Typecast Dance Company. Alice Irene is Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, an organization that empowers girls and women to live their lives to the fullest. She is a recipient of The Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel Innovation Award, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant and a Toronto Arts Council Grant. She is a 2014-2015 Creators Resident with Series 8:08. She lives on Wards Island.

Alice is part of Series 8:08’s Creator’s Space Residency, an 8-month residency for two selected artists in partnership with Dovehouse Dance Ballroom and two other studios. The selected choreographers work with Resident Outside eyes and show their work at the end of season CPW.

By Alice Irene Whittaker-Cumming


I’ve recently discovered the vulnerability of showing unfinished, unedited work. It is an exposed place to be. As a resident in Series 8:08’s Creators Residency, I am developing a new work and have the opportunity to workshop the piece in front of audiences throughout the 8-month residency. This gives the audience multiple chances to see the work at various stages of development, and it allows for conversation between artist and observer throughout the creative process. For me, this is a first.

It is valuable, and also vulnerable. Before showing my first six-minutes of raw, virgin material in December, I felt very unprepared. I am used to showing work only when it is performance-ready, and when I feel like I have done my best with it before setting it free. With my new work, Vivian (working title), I was suddenly showing an incomplete fraction of the piece. This was not my best work. It was just a start. I had an urge to disclaim, “This is not the real work, this is just a glimpse into the humble beginnings!” or “Don’t worry, I’ll take the bad bits out!” This felt uncomfortable, in that familiar way that good personal and creative growth feels uncomfortable.

This feeling of vulnerability will, I believe, serve me very well as I focus intently on the subject of my piece: Vivian Maier. Vivian was a nanny who moonlighted as a photographer. She was a prolific artist who had, like myself, no shortage of ideas or motivation, but she certainly seems to have had reservations about sharing her work. Despite have dutifully photographed rolls upon rolls of film every day and amassed a body of work consisting of over 100,000 photographs, she never held a showing or publication. She only had prints made for a small fraction of her work. In fact, the bulk of her photographs were never developed and she herself never saw many of them.

I wonder what her motivation was for keeping her art secret.

I wonder whether it was a similar feeling that I had for the first showing of Vivian: that of wanting to keep the work close to my chest, because it wasn’t ready. Perhaps she was waiting until it was perfect before she could share it and, as is the way with elusive perfection, that time inevitably never arrived. Or perhaps there was a different reason altogether. We will never know, as Vivian Maier passed away before her work was discovered in abandoned storage containers, unseen by anyone.

With my past works, I have been confident in showing them because they are the finest expression that I can create at that time. They are not perfect (nor will they ever be), but they are complete. With my first showing of Vivian, I experienced for the first time how it felt to present choreography that I was not yet happy with. That felt naked and new. To add to my vulnerability, I performed the solo at six-months pregnant, which furthered my feeling of openness. While pregnancy has brought about great inner creativity and energy, it has lessened my physical expression and I felt sensitive about that as I thought about performing my crude work. But if you look at the word exposure – applicable for photography and for dance alike – some synonyms are revelation, unveiling and uncovering. And those are powerful phenomena that are important for growth in life as in art, and I feel eager to be open to this evolution. My mentor Kate Hilliard said something in passing that was pivotal in reorienting my mindset: this process is about research, not production. This new perspective is freeing and is allowing me to stand ready for the exposure that these next months bring.



Alice Irene Whittaker-Cumming is an artist and advocate. She has choreographed and performed throughout North America, and her full-length choreographic works include Nightbird, The Canary Wallpaper, Underwood and The Vinyl Archive. Alice Irene is Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, a women’s health organization. She is a recipient of The Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel Innovation Award, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant and a Toronto Arts Council Grant. She is a 2014-2015 Creators Resident with Series 8:08. She lives on Wards Island.



By Michael Caldwell

Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 12.42.19 AM

Louis Laberge-Côté & Kate Holden in Six/Fan by Caldwell – screenshot from video by Robert Kingsbury

I contracted dengue fever while touring Vietnam in April 2010.  I was traveling alone, through the southern part of the country, on a quest to reconnect with my Vietnamese ancestry.  The death of my mother in September 2008 precipitated this solo journey.

My body ached, and every muscle was extraordinarily weakened by the illness.  I was holed up in my hotel room for days, taking the occasional trip to the international clinic or to the market, between the hours of hazy slumber.  I have never felt so utterly alone and isolated from everything and everyone that I know and love.  For the first time in my life, I recited a small prayer, thinking that I might actually die in my sleep.

Thankfully, I survived – and like any artist, I’m now feeding this experience into my artistic work.

Six/Fan is the working title for the group piece I am creating for six dancer/interpreters.  With the assistance of the Toronto Arts Council and the Series 8:08 Creator’s Space Residency, I was able to work intensively for two weeks in November, and then again in January, April, and May – each for a single week of research and development.

The work is based on my experiences in Vietnam, surviving dengue fever but also on my overall experience of my solo travels. Loneliness, isolation, and solitude are the base for my initial choreographic explorations.

Reflecting on the past eight months as a Series 8:08 resident artist, I have made some vitally important ‘uncoveries’ about this work and about my overall choreographic journey:

– The piece is about communication, subtle and overt – things that we cannot say and things that we dare not do.
– I’ve discovered a way of working with structured improvisation that fits my current choreographic pursuits and the work’s themes.
– In terms of viewing the work, the piece works when viewed from a far distance in a huge space and it works in intimate, small spaces. It does not work when viewed in between these extremes.
– Through working on this project, the need to further my development on a codified movement language that mirrors my own physical motivations and interests is clear.
– I was able to incorporate Phil Strong’s live sound composition into the May showing, and my sonic ideas have taken wing.

These ‘uncoveries’ are impacted by the tremendous work of the interpreters throughout the process, and also by the trio of outside eyes provided by Series 8:08.  I am chuffed to have had Heidi, Susie, and Kate offer their ideas and insight.

The written feedback at the showings in January and May was helpful, not in any specific way, but more generally, in connections that I have made between different comments and observations.

It was helpful to speak with Christy, Julia, and Cara on a regular basis, just to give voice to my thoughts and ideas, and listen to the struggles and triumphs of other dance creators.

As this residency concludes, I’d like to extend thanks to Yvonne, Cara, Tanya, Stuart, Christy, Julia, Heidi, Kate, and Susie for this grand opportunity to gestate my work over this eight-month period. It is a such a pleasure to have the time and space to research and develop my work.

By Christie Stoeten


I had this dream, well a nightmare really. It was a quintessential summer evening in Toronto, I’d just returned home to my bachelor apartment after having taken in a Jays game….. Wait, that wasn’t the dream part, that really happened. Between the sun and the booze, I was in great need of a nap. I loved my bachelor apartment, it was a tiny, carpeted, hole in the wall with a severely sloped floor, but it was mine … all mine. None of this is important, except to say that it was one of those days when I was loving being young in the city. So, I curled up to take a brief afternoon catnap, with my window facing bed (at least I had a window) and when I woke up 20 minutes later, there was somebody watching me from outside. Creepy, right? Don’t worry, it didn’t actually happen, I was still dreaming. Then I woke up again, same thing, someone watching me through my window. This happened about 4, maybe 5 more times. Eventually, I woke and there was nobody outside, I was relieved, until I noticed that my sheets had been removed from on top of my body, and they were now thumb tacked to the walls surrounding me. Then I woke up for real.

I’ve been working on a piece through the Creator’s Space Residency, the above story helped to inspire my set, which is being designed by my great friend, the extremely talented Sonia Gemmiti. www.we-ld.com

I’m calling the solo Until Tender-Crisp.

Until Tender-Crisp is a one-on-one experience between performer and voyeur. A secret look into the cyclical nature of life, Until Tender-Crisp explores themes of time, nostalgia and isolation.

A huge thank you to: Yvonne, Cara, Tanya, Julia, Michael, Kate, Heidi and Susie for this opportunity and for your guidance and support.

The 8:08 Creator’s Space is a new pilot project for the 2013-14 season. Three selected artists were offered residencies that took place over 8 months. These residencies included time, space, support and guidance to research their artistic processes and creations.

The 8:08 Creator’s Space artists are presenting their works-in-progress on Saturday May 24th! We hope that you will join us in witnessing and celebrating the fruits of their labours over the past season.

Featuring work-in-progress by:

Julia Aplin, Michael Caldwell and Christy Stoeten

Saturday May 24th, 8:08pm

Pia Bouman School
6 Noble St
Payment at the door, cash only.

By Brittany Duggan


Photo by Omer Yukseker

The very first time I had to write about dance I was advised to simply list what I’d seen. The show was Tziganes by Serge Bennathan for Dancemakers and when I think of the list I made – red lips, sweaty shirts, cello, etc. – the work reappears in my mind, now nine years later. This use of identifying what you are viewing without struggling with, or superimposing, analysis allows any viewer of dance, or art, to walk away with an experience of their own and for some form of meaning to reveal itself, if that is desired. As a choreographer it is sometimes useful (remembering how subjective observations are) to learn what people, especially all kinds of people, are seeing in your work. I recently showed a work-in-progress solo at Series 8:08’s Choreographic Performance Workshop (CPW); I’m now heading back into the studio with some clear direction from a few artistic advisers but I am also considering some of the feedback I received from the audience and what they noted seeing. Here are some of those responses that have inspired further reflection from me for various reasons:

– blue for the space element

– business lady does Algonquin

– consumerism

– girl passing different things before becoming a woman

– clothing as the mark you want to make and leave behind

– cocooning; shedding

– change

– fast and slow current

– homeless

This new solo premieres at Edmonton’s NextFest Dance Fest June 12, 13 & 14, 2014.





Tiina Kiik and Julia Aplin – photo by Ömer Yukseker

OK, here is one of the reasons why the Creator’s Space program is so awesome.

I get to have an experienced artist come in and look at my work and give me advice. Not just to see a performance and say “yay” or “nay” but to spend time with me, in the studio, looking at the piece and working at it.

Awesome, yes. But not always pretty. For example, the wonderful and lovely Susie Burpee came to work with Tiina Kiik and I. We showed her our stuff and I was secretly really hoping she wouldn’t notice the “big hole” in the work that I had superficially deceived myself into believing wasn’t there. But of course, first thing she does (figuratively) is point her finger at it and say ‘What about that big hole?”

My inner self worms around…nooooooooooo!!!!!!! There is no hole! My inner 5-year old starts to tantrum .…waaaa! She saw the big hole!!! I try to talk down this silly inner child. There is no big hole. Waaaaa! Yes there is! There is! Denial denial denial.

I deflect Susie’s question with some serious discussion about something irrelevant to the important point.

But Susie being the excellent person she is, gently leads me back… So what’s up with that hole?

Arrrrrrrrrrrrr! There is no escape! The hole must be acknowledged. But I don’t want to look at it. It will make me work too hard. It will make me cry. I will have to change everything! I’ll throw up. I’ll need to spend hours and hours of scheduling studio time just to fix that stupid hole which if we could all be nice and pretend it wasn’t there I could just go home and watch Game of Thrones.

Slowly, I start to look at the giant gaping hole from the corner of my eye. Reluctantly, I start to consider it. I start to analyze and discuss it and with my friends Tiina and Susie helping me along, the hole is beginning to shrink. In fact, with a magical turn of the tables, it actually becomes kind of fun to wage battle with the hole.

Whatever the outcome of the battle, I thank 8:08 for putting Susie Burpee on my side.

Denise Fujiwara and Gerry Trentham join forces to teach their Butoh / Voice Workshop for Series 8:08 March 9, 2014. Learn a little bit about the artists before their workshop and the world premiere of Fujiwara’s EUNOIA, part of Harbourfront’s World Stage. 

How did you come to dance?

Denise:  I was a gymnast and after many years of grueling training and competing I realized that through dance, I might be able to communicate through movement, something beyond striving to please the gods of technical perfection.

Gerry: In the physical education department at U of Alberta – an option in modern dance. Loved it from the first back arch.

Who have been some of your influential teachers and why?

Denise: Natsu Nakajima, Butoh master, introduced me to a whole different paradigm of dance.  She was brutal to work with and worth every terrifying second of it.  Elizabeth Langley, dramaturge and mentor, has an amazing eye and intellect.  She pushed me to go deeper and farther with my work.  She was tough but also always compassionate.

Gerry: Pat Minor for her generosity, Peggy Baker for being inspirational, Paula Thomson for being the best dance coach ever, Serge Bennathan for being demanding. David Smukler, Judith Koltai, Diane Miller, Densie Fujiwara – all extra-ordinary mentors and true visionaries as well as masters at what they teach.

What, to you, are the responsibilities of a teacher?

Denise: To deepen the exploration into the essential elements of the subject matter, and also to teach what I’m curious about as an artist now.

Gerry: To see well, to speak essentially, to share directly.

How important is any formal technique class to you?

Denise: Technique gives the artist an important foundation to explore more possibilities, with more range, specificity and detail.  It is a means, not an end.

Gerry: Depends on the learning artist and the form.

You’ve held this workshop – or a similar one – for 2 years in Toronto. How is it continuing to develop?

Denise: Gerry and I are teaching what excites us about our research and what is effective for the performer.  We find that the training we’re developing using these two methodologies is a potent and direct path to embodied performance.

Gerry: It has become an annual opportunity to deeply research the synthesis of Butoh/Dance and Voice/Speech.

How is co-teaching?

Denise: Working with Gerry is amazing.  He’s so generous, knowledgeable and skilled as a teacher.  I’m learning a lot from him.

Gerry: It is exceptional when it is with the right person. There are very few I would co-teach with. Denise is remarkable – we share many similar principles and philosophies.

Big picture. What’s up for the coming year?

Denise:  After 5 years of choreographic research and rehearsal, and 3 years of voice training, we’re premiering EUNOIA at World Stage.  The 6 performers, Gerry, Sylvie Bouchard, Claudia Moore, Lucy Rupert, Miko Sorbreira and Hope Terry astound me every day in rehearsal. They fully embrace the work, which is challenging as performance with complex text, exacting choreography and improvisation, sometimes simultaneously, if you can imagine that.

GerryEUNOIA – a new frontier of speech and dance is coming up. Art of PEACE residency at Fort York – a new work performed with with Sylvie Bouchard, Julia Aplin and LIsa Revensbergen. The Colour of Apology Residency at Clarion University PA – a new solo performance/visual art installation with Kaersten Colvin Woodruff.

What are you currently reading/watching/looking at for research and/or entertainment?

Denise:  I’ve just read Malcolm Gladwell’s, ­David and Goliath, which is edifying, entertaining and inspiring.  I’ve just started The Spirit of Noh, a new translation of the Fushikaden, so I’m hoping to learn the secrets of Noh theatre.

Gerry: Barry Lopez – Arctic Dreams.

photo by Denise Grant

photo by Denise Grant

Denise Fujiwara recently won the Toronto Arts Foundation Award for International Achievement in Dance.  EUNOIA, a work for 6 performers premieres at Harbourfront’s World Stage March 19 – 22.  Other recent ensemble choreography includes NO EXIT and large commissioned works for the Compania Nacional de Danza in Costa Rica and eXit ’11 in Germany.  Last October Denise walked hundreds of kilometres of the 88 Temples Pilgrimage in Japan, many thanks to The Theatre Centre, which will result in an event for The FreeFall Festival in June.  www.fujiwaradance.com

gerryGerry Trentham has been acclaimed throughout North America and Europe for performances of the works of many of Canada’s most prominent choreographers. As founder and Artistic Director of pounds per square inch performance, he has created over 30 works including his recent Four Mad Humours, which was nominated for a 2011 Dora Award. With an MFA in Theatre and Graduate Voice Diploma from York University he has taught throughout North America, Australia and the UK, as a core faculty member of Canada’s National Voice Intensive, with Denise Fujiwara in their new frontier of Butoh/Voice training and is honoured to be working as voice director and performing in the world stage premiere of Fujiwara’s EUNOIA.

To register, and to learn more about Butoh / Voice Workshop with Denise Fujiwara and Gerry Trentham March 9, visit series808.ca/ATCProgram.html. This workshop is offered in partnership with Harbourfront Centre.