An introduction to choreographers Karen Kaeja and Roshanak Jaberi

Dance film 'Slipping' which premiered at Fall for Dance North

Image from the film 'Slipping' courtesy of Fall For Dance North

Joe Szekeres

Karen and Roshanak are two Toronto-based dance artists who created and premiered a new short dance film called ‘Slipping’, captured during a two-week creative residency in Val-Des-Lacs, Quebec. Their work was part of the first week of the Fall for Dance North Festival.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Karen and Roshanak.

From my understanding in attending and watching productions, the artistic craft of dance requires continued evolvement in practice. Dance artists must always continue and hone their craft.

What is it about the art of dance as storytelling that keeps both Karen and Roshanak intrigued, fascinated, and focused as professional artists?

For Karen: “It’s a way of life and a way of witnessing life in its purest essence.

When she watches and sees the gestures and interactions of people, it’s all really one big dance. For Karen, she continues to be fed by that which she watches and that which she does in the physical realm. Dance feels like home for her. It’s a real communicative tool book for a performer, a creator and mentors whether it’s live or on film.

Roshanak agrees wholeheartedly with Karen’s definition of dance. She uses dance and dance theatre to explore issues and content for which she is very passionate, but adds the following:

“I love that dance is a way of life. I also love non-verbal communication forms of expression which is why dance and physicality speak to me. Personally, in my work, dance can be very political, and I use it as a tool to explore, express and sometimes respond oftentimes to the questions of the world around me and the experiences of my community.”

How are Kaeja and Jaberidt feeling about this gradual return to the world of live performance even though Covid is still present in our world?

Roshanak found trying to connect virtually during this time was very difficult for her in terms of creating and sharing dance work. Many of the artists to whom I’ve spoken have also agreed with what she has to say about this time:

“I really thrive in terms of being in the same space with other artists and movers. The exchange of energy with other performers and with audiences is something quite magical that can’t be re-created virtually all the time. I do love dance film as Karen and I are here to discuss our film with you today, but I do find film has its own form and space.”

Shifting gears in trying to figure out how to make live work appear natural on film was a challenge during Covid. She was very grateful for the opportunity to work on ‘Slipping’ but Roshanak is very grateful for the return to live performance.

Karen very calmly stated while she thrives in the unknown, it still makes her somewhat nervous because no one knows when or if something will rupture or, as the weather turns colder and we all retreat indoors if there will be an uptick in illness. As an artist, she liked the idea of being able to retreat and nurture herself when she could while still being able to maintain virtual connection through art that was created. Still at the same time:

“There’s a forwards motion because it allowed me to engage more and more deeply into the interactive aspects of digital connection with people whether it was through workshops or creation online through Zoom. I’m not a fan of Zoom creation as that’s too far removed, but this all gave us an opportunity to dive more particularly into aspects of film and the inclusivity of many, many community members. I also work with non-dancers and this gave me the ability to push my envelope in terms of how to continue to engage with people both in work and in workshop sharing scenarios.”

Making a dance film took the interest to another level for Karen. She was always asking herself what she wanted to reveal to the camera lens. Now Karen takes that camera lens figuratively as to what she wishes to reveal to the audience through stage work. She is very interested in addressing the finite aspects on stage. Roshanak likes the subtleties and intimacy of the camera lens in film work to bring the viewer into the story and action. Some nuances work very well on film that cannot be recreated live on stage. For example, the distance between the stage and the audience does not often allow for an intimate connection between the two.

When I asked both Karen and Roshanak about ‘Slipping’, the film that premiered through the Fall for Dance North Festival, I could hear in the tone of their voices just how proud they were of the final cut. For them, it’s a challenge to try to distill it into one coherent sentence.

Essentially ‘Slipping’ explores the psychological world – slipping between the various spaces of landscapes emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It’s a ghostly upside-down and inside-out exploration of the human state of relationships. The seed of the idea stemmed from the pandemic isolation where we were all disconnected. Essentially the throughline of the film explores how we examine connection and disconnection in the psychological world.

Both Karen and Roshanak went into the project of the film not knowing what the outcome would be. They especially loved the creative process of their two weeks together out of the city in Val-des-Lacs.

Where do Karen and Roshanak see themselves in the five-year trajectory of the Canadian performing arts scene?

Karen has been mentoring and dramaturging the next generation of artists for many years. Within her company KAEJA, there are many programs to bring emerging artists forward and support them in coming into their own.

While it is really important to hear other people’s voices, especially the next generation as it is all in their laps right now, Karen stated that dance artists are always and constantly emerging and there’s no age limit to that at all. As a performer, she is super thankful that her body is still a working vehicle and vessel. She says she still sees herself dancing as there’s no end in sight for her. She feels very blessed to be inspired and have a physicality that is an agent to be expressive. She will continue to create work as long as she continues to be inspired. Kaeja also loves dancing for other choreographers.

Suppose Karen is going to be a mentor for emerging artists. In that case, it is crucial for her that she must continue to learn in that symbiotic relationship between mentor and mentee.

Like Karen, Roshanak is in a mid-career stage and sees no end to her being a performer. She sees herself continuing to develop and hone her practice. As an audience member, she enjoys watching emerging artists shine. Over the last two years, Roshanak has been moved by emerging artists who are coming into their own. She also sees herself continuing as a performer as long as her body allows her. Lately, though, she has enjoyed herself tremendously as a choreographer and director behind the scenes but that is just her reference point at this time.

What’s next for these two ladies?

Roshanak will complete a bit of travel this fall and has already started new research for her next live production. She is hoping in 2023 that a work she was preparing before the pandemic hit will be premiered. For Karen, she is premiering a new piece for her company’s 31st anniversary at Harbourfront Centre in early November called ‘Touch X’. She has been working on it for seven years. There are 40 community members and 8 professional dancers.

To learn more about Fall for Dance North, visit ffdn.com.

To learn more about Kaeja, visit kaeja.org

To learn more about Roshanak’s company, visit jaberidt.com.

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