Look directly into the mirror the next time a reflection urge seizes the moment and you might be surprised how far the person looking back at you has come.
Niki Wozniakknows the feeling all too well.
The Desiraeda Dance Theatre Artistic Director has left bold chorographical footprints on such shows as Weight and And then there were two… yet her latest vision Wake Of The Fallen may just be her most ambitious project the artist has ever embarked on.
Enhanced music, darker themes, a larger cast and a bigger budget each add to a legacy that has allowed her to achieve success in the pursuit of transcending art.
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Your choreographic style has been described as being marked by a theatrical/cinematic approach in exploring the human condition. Why do you feel this is so important to contemporary dance?
I think it makes my work more accessible to wider audiences.
It also brings truth and intention to the movement because it is based on the characters, how they feel, what they are saying, and the choices they are making. The scenes have moods and a plot trajectory.
I know you’ve said what draws you to this art form is the way it makes you feel because you never stop striving to become better. Niki Wazniak doesn’t sound like a person who ever gives up, would that be true?
I’m very competitive—with myself more than anyone else. I like to push myself physically.
But the great thing about dance is that it’s not all about the physical. There is emotion and different ways of approaching the work mentally. The way you dance changes with your life experience. As a choreographer, I have a long way to go. I’m proud of my past achievements, but I know I can do better.
And then there is the zone. When you get into your zone after rehearsing for hours, you don’t have to think, you are feeling and living on the stage.
I don’t have that feeling all the time when I perform, it’s fleeting. But it is always my goal. And my reward.
Your latest creation, ‘Wake Of The Fallen’, started off being about addiction. That inevitably changed when you continued research and interviews with recovered addicts. And now it’s evolved into so much more—overcoming post traumatic experiences, mental illness, and love, just to name a few. How do all these moving parts fuse together so neatly in your offering?
The show features a couple in the throes of addiction. We do not show drug use in the traditional way, but their drug of choice resembles a combination of heroin and cocaine.
It begins in the middle of their story, they are both heavily dependant. It is only as the show unravels that the audience will begin to understand what led them both to this place. The ensemble portray a mix of characters, and sometimes just moods or an interpretation of drug chemicals affecting cells in the body.
My work is often very character and story driven, which I think makes it more accessible and relatable to the general public, but for ‘Wake of the Fallen’ I also wanted to explore more abstract dance. Not every scene is meant to forward the plot. But it is my hope that all the scenes together will affect the audience in a way that will make them better understand addiction showing all sides of drug use. The euphoria and pleasure people experience, the escape it brings, as well as how it can tear your life apart.
One thing that is unique about this show is that it tells the whole story through dance alone. No words, no lyrics and no set. There are a few small props, a gurney and chairs incorporated, but that is it. Everything has to be told through the movement, music and lighting design. I like keeping set to a minimum because I feel that it can sometimes hold you back in dance. You can start to rely on it to tell the story.
This is the first time I have had a composer create music for a full show. The score, composed by Alex Coleman, is over an hour long. What I love about Alex’s work is that it sounds like it could be a film score. It tells a story in itself. He is also highly versatile. There are a lot of different styles of music and soundscape incorporated (electronic, electric guitar, strings, piano, choral music), so each scene is something new.
I am greatly influenced by music in my choreography. I rarely start creating without it. It may change as it develops but it is a huge part of my inspiration. My collaboration with Alex has been that I will describe a scene to him and he will write the music as he feels it. Sometimes I’m more descriptive about what I want, sometimes he surprises me with something I would not have imagined and it brings out something completely new in the scene. It has been a very rewarding experience, lots of growth on both sides.
You have a powerhouse of dance talent to deliver the goods in ‘Wake Of The Fallen.’ Why did you select movement masters Tyler Gledhill, Laura Ovcjak, Matthew Montgomery, Kiri Figueiredo, Ryan Lee, Tyler Evan Webb and Caroline Sawyer to shape this presentation?
Each dancer is unique in their style, characters and approach to movement. But together they blend seamlessly in the choreography.
It is important to me that in rehearsal we work hard and get a lot done, but we also laugh a lot and have a good time. As a result, the atmosphere is supportive and we push each other to grow.
I have so much respect for all of them and their artistry. Not only do they bring my vision to life but also inspire me in unexpected ways at time.
In terms of movement and concept, ‘Wake of the Fallen’ signals a significant leap forward for you. Conventional practices are not always an option for you, are they?
Sometimes I explore things that at first seem downright odd. I’m always asking my dancers: Is it possible to achieve A or B? Somehow with them it always is. Being able to ask that of my dancers and have them come back with even more than I bargained for…it’s exciting!
I’ve also had to learn to talk about my ideas more before I execute them. I have a tendency not to give my collaborators a lot of information until the end. This process has forced me to communicate more clearly in the beginning which makes it a true collaborative exchange.
Why should audiences be in interested in an offering like this, what do you want them to take away?
I think audiences will be interested because the dancing is exciting! Big lifts, quirky and dramatic moments, raw passion on the stage.
But people who have been touched by addiction will be especially interested. I have faith people will walk away with a greater understanding and awareness about why people become substance abusers.
WAKE OF THE FALLEN choreography by Niki Wozniak * Mar. 27 – Mar. 30, 2013 * Winchester Street Theatre 80 Winchester St., Toronto * Tickets $25.00 – $28.00 416-204-1082 * CHOREOGRAPHER Niki Wazniak PERFORMERS Tyler Gledhill, Laura Ovcjak, Matthew Montgomery, Kiri Figueiredo, Ryan Lee, Tyler Evan Webb, Caroline Sawyer and Niki Wasniak