Toronto dance company turns 20


We chat with Allen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance about his celebratory show.


By: ILAN MESTER  
Published: April 12th 2011
in Culture » Stage


Karen and Allen Kaeja. Photo credit: Ella Cooper

Toronto-based Kaeja d’Dance is turning 20. To celebrate, the dance company is presenting 20/20 Vision -- an anniversary multimedia celebration -- on stage at Enwave Theatre until April 16. The show is part of Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps. Co-artistic director Allen Kaeja (one half of the husband and wife duo that runs the company) dishes about his transition from wrestling to dance, the new show and what’s next for the award-winning company. 

 

What drew you to dancing and choreographing?

 

In 1980, I was invited by the Ontario Olympic Wrestling Federation to compete internationally for Canada. I had also won the CanAm Games in Judo. In 1980, I took my first dance class, my life changed. I was 20 years old and eager to perform and choreograph. I began at the University of Waterloo, which had a dance program (now defunct) then on to York University Intensive Summer Program. But I realized that to be a professional, I needed to fast track and pursued heavy-duty training in a pre-professional training program at the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre.

 

As a wrestler, I had a very limited movement vocabulary to work with, even though I created a couple of new moves that became part of the wrestling genre.The day I took my first dance class, I knew that this was my life and career and I immediately began to create choreographies, even though I had no idea what that meant. I was driven to choreograph, to create, to invent movements and create both narrative dances with social justice themes as well as purely physical dances.

 

I just knew that I finally had a creative outlet that was missing in my life, but I could still be extremely physical and maintain a training program of seven to eight hours a day. As a dance student I created my first full evening program and began touring it. I was kicked out of STDT for being “too independent!” Within a decade, I was on faculty for the same reasons.

 

My first concert, in 1983, comprised of six short works. By 1987, I created my first full evening work with two actors and composer Loreena McKennit. It toured for two years. I also danced with many independent choreographers as well as two well known companies: T.I.D.E. (Toronto Independent Dance Enterprise 1987-1989) and Randy Glynn Dance Projects (1989 - 1993). In 1991, Karen Kaeja and I formed Kaeja d’Dance. Within the first year were touring internationally. Today I have created over 100 stage pieces, toured the world and I’ve directed or co-directed 19 films.

 

How would you describe 20/20 Vision?

 

Karen and I have been creating for over 20 years. Each new work, each new experience brings us deeper into our understanding. It affects the nature of our choreography for the next project, next concept. We are continually evolving as artists and as our work progresses. We are affected by the day to day and as our life deepens: with children, the passing of family and the depth of experience, we are moving forward.

 

20/20 is about moving forward, the next journey and the next visions. The past 20 years is reflected in the maturity, complexity and dynamic of our present work as well as how our future choreography will be developed.

 

You're working with dancers from around the world for the show. What's that experience been like?

 

Incredibly inspiring and deeply fulfilling. The dancers are amazing! I love working with the different sensibilities and cultural identities, as their experiences add layers to the work, that I am constantly surprised with. Four of the dancers are from Norway and one is from Zimbabwe.

 

What's next for you?

 

Well, there are number of different areas that I am concurrently working on. I have a number of upcoming stage creations that are both national and international commissions. These works will investigate the power of our spirit and how the power of propulsion can reveal vulnerability, kinetic intimacy and dynamic liberation. My latest commission on theNorwegian company, Jericho, is currently touring internationally.

 

I am currently in production for a CG inspired Bravo!FACT short film with Oscar-winning special effects master Colin Chilvers. The film features Karen Kaeja and our youngest daughter, Mika Kaeja. I have begun writing another full-evening dance film that integrates both CG and 3-D. I am teaching master workshops in Kaeja Elevation techniques. I have begun my third book, which will be based on Elevation techniques. Karen and I are preparing for Mika’s Bat Mitzvah, a production in itself.



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