Allen Kaeja, Co-Artistic Director of KAEJA d'DANCE

Looking Ahead

Courtesy of KAEJA website

Joe Szekeres

According to Allen Kaeja, we are all dancers.

A recent enlightening conversation with Allen Kaeja, Co-Artistic Director of KAEJA d’DANCE, and his statement above allowed me to gain further understanding and knowledge about the art form of dance. Several weeks ago, I also held a conversation with Allen’s wife, Karen, and she was also present during the Zoom call. On the Kaeja d’Dance website, Michael Crabb from the Toronto Star stated the Kaejas: “have been called ‘a power couple’, ‘go-getters’ and ‘the coolest couple on the dance scene.”

I liked Crabb’s descriptors of the two of them as I could sense these same sentiments as well.

How’s Allen feeling about the return to the world of live dance given we’re still in the throes of Covid:

“The world turns. It changes all the time. We adapt or die and for myself, when the world pivoted, the whole thing for Karen and I? We’ve been working in film for 25 years. We were working in Zoom years before the pandemic on other projects and I’ve already investigated live stream years before. When everything shut down, boom, we’re ready to go and within a few months, we were up and running fully as a company and with projects in our transition from live theatre back into film.”

I asked them what has the overall response been from audiences about the return of live performances of dance.

Karen has attended a few shows and she has found responses fantastic. She senses from what she has seen in the lobby there is a fresh sense of camaraderie. From her perspective, those audience members who are ready and prepared to go are relieved to be seeing something visceral that they can witness and that they know is ephemeral.

Karen and Allen are in the contemporary dance field which they call experiential and immersive. Audience members must allow themselves to be flooded by the imagery, the physicality of the brilliant dancers and the resonance to embed itself.

For Allen, contemporary dancers don’t work in a linear per se type of artistic field. Contemporary dance is an abstract form that deals with kinetic and majestic visual value. Yes, there is an intention behind the work, and the progression of the piece has its own series of arcs, but it is not something which says one has to think or feel certain emotions at certain points.

What’s next for Kaeja d’Dance?

In celebration of its 31st Anniversary, November 11-13 will see the world premiere of two deeply personal works: ‘TouchX + I am the Child of’ as part of the international contemporary dance series Torque. Fifty performers combined will be involved and 4 AR experiences.

‘TouchX’ will be choreographed by Karen. She has been working on this piece for seven years. It’s the largest piece she has made, the longest, and the most number of people and collaborators in it. There is a mix of professional company dancers with community dancers with whom she has worked in other site-specific ways. This is the first time she has brought all these dancers together on stage.

For Karen, what’s exciting about ‘Touch X’, it’s new but it’s also a lot to be organizing. It is a massive project which is a challenge, and she thrives on challenges.

From the release I received: “I am the Child of, choreographed by Allen, the first fully staged dance production in Canada to integrate Augmented Reality, examines the concept of perspective and delves into childhood memories - in particular those life-altering memories that shape who we are and live on in the body. Each of the nine dancers in the work was asked to share a profound memory that has shaped them. Memories from being left to hitchhike by a parent on the Highway of Tears in BC to learn how to rollerblade to childhood emotional abuse were exchanged and helped inform the creative and choreographic process.”

In 2015 when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, there was a crisis in the Middle East with refugees wanting to come to Canada. Mr. Harper started to say he was going to block these refugees. Back then Allen was rarely political in his social media posts, and he was driven to write a Facebook post that started with ‘I am the child of a refugee.’

Allen’s father, Morton Norris, was a Holocaust survivor in Auschwitz. His brother-in-law died in his arms. 90% of his family was murdered, many of them from the ghetto and Auschwitz. Morton witnessed his family being put on the gas trucks. In 1945, William Lyon Mackenzie King was an avid anti-Semite bringing in the policy of none is too many and Jews were not allowed in this country.

In 1948, Norris came to Canada as a refugee with nothing. He built a life. He built a new family as he was married with children before the war. Norris made new connections and built a community. When he passed away, Morton Norris was made an honorary police officer for the work he had done not only for the Police Federation but for the community as a whole.

This is what refugees do. They come here and build worlds; they work hard and build a community. That’s why Allen had written his social media post “I am the child of a refugee” which went viral.

A couple of years later Allen was thinking about what he wanted to do as new work because he’s done a lot of work based on his family’s history and the Holocaust. His community is so filled with such essential voices and experiences that he wanted to invite these different individuals to begin to reveal and express their stories through dance and for us to interact physically and kinetically with each other.

This is the inspiration for “I Am the Child of”. Allen also adds he has a brilliant cast of eight live dancers and five AR (augmented reality) dancers, so a cast of 13. During the performances, the audience will be invited to come in with their personal devices. They will have a choice to watch different sections where they will be cued to see multiple perspectives and viewpoints so make sure phones are charged. Audiences do not have to do this and can just simply enjoy what plays out in front of them on the Fleck Dance Theatre stage. For Allen, audiences who use their device will be given more context, and more information if they choose to do so.

Audience members with educational backgrounds and training can see more in a dance and movement piece than those who do not have a strong background. In Allen’s opinion, what is it about dance and movement pieces that appeal to ALL audience members?

“Because we live in our bodies. We are who we are, and in our world (but I won’t speak for Karen), all movement is dance and we are all dancers. Whether we pursue it professionally or not does not matter. All movement is dance and therefore we are intimately involved with dance whether we’re aware of it or not. As an observer dance moves us kinetically and viscerally.”

Kaeja d’Dance 31 (TouchX + I am the Child of) will perform on stage November 11–13, 2022 at 7:30pm at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, as part of the international contemporary dance series Torque. For further information, visit harbourfrontcentre.com. You can also visit kaeja.org to learn more about Kaeja d’Dance.

Abstract Building
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