Even though I’d chosen a non-dance career path, I still wanted to keep doing what I love—what I’ve always been doing—and do it at a high level.
Today’s Q & A features the other half of PushPULL Dance Inc.‘s founding members, performer and producer Rebecca Ho, as mentioned in our previous Q & A. Rebecca’s passion and enthusiasm for dance and for the work that PushPULL does infuse her responses as she shares with us her thoughts on the uniqueness of the company and of a PushPULL performance, as well as her insights on the physical challenges dancers face.
And heads up! We’ll be giving away tickets to PushPULL Dance’s 9th annual show, entitled this year as Wish You Were Here, which runs June 13 to June 22, 2003 at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. So stay tuned for a future post about that. Until then, check out our Q & A with Rebecca.
How would you describe your role in the performing arts? Is it what you had set out to achieve when you began your career, or did it change along the way?
Ha! I’m not sure I set out to achieve anything other than to have a place to continue choreographing and performing. Even though I’d chosen a non-dance career path, I still wanted to keep doing what I love—what I’ve always been doing—and do it at a high level. Certainly the people I know who played hockey their whole lives didn’t have to give it up just because they didn’t go pro. I wasn’t ready to give up dance just because I wasn’t doing it professionally.
At the time, there wasn’t anything like PushPULL Dance in Toronto, and it was really sad. So we just said to ourselves: “If we can’t find what we want, let’s just make what we want happen!” I guess you could say that it is still exactly what I set out to achieve, but at the same time I don’t think I ever imagined that anybody else would actually be as interested in it as Kelly and I were.
So I guess that’s where we’re at now, which speaks to our role in the performing arts as well. For our dancers, we’re filling a niche for those who aren’t working at it professionally but want to continue to produce and perform. And for our audience, we’re keeping alive a joy for dance by providing works that they can connect with both for entertainment and for the joy of participating in something that’s all about fun and creative passion.
How has PushPULL Dance’s non-professional aspect (and its mission to be inclusive) shaped the company and the kind of reception it has received?
Probably it’s shaped it in every way. It’s really our defining statement. I think it helps keep us tight as a group: so many different people and different personalities, but all of us working hard at something because we love it so much. That really makes working our butts off to get to rehearsal and the hours behind the scenes really different from doing something because it’s your job.
On the other hand, because we define ourselves as “non-professional” and talk about passion and joy, people have assumed we’re saying that professional dancers don’t have that same passion and joy. Add that with the fact that we’re not exclusively about “high art,” and some people can get dismissive of us. We end up walking a fine line between taking it seriously enough to make a great show but not taking ourselves too seriously.
Our mission to be inclusive—that’s another defining word for us. It can be defined or looked at in so many ways. All I can say is that I think it makes us a better company. It definitely makes me better as a performer and choreographer working with bodies that move in different ways and minds that see things differently. It’s like having different kinds of materials to create your sculpture with, and it provides us all with the chance to continually be learning something new from each other.
Tell us more about your upcoming production, Wish You Were Here. What kind of experience can the audience expect?
There are a few features that make our show different. One is that we try to keep the content accessible to a really broad audience, including people who don’t normally go to see dance shows—that goes for many of our friends and family members including, more and more, our children! The dance pieces cover a wide variety of styles from jazz to hustle to ballet to hip hop to swing. And they are quite short: almost all of them are under five minutes long.
So if you are new to watching dance, chances are high that you’ll find lots of new things that you’ll like. And if you already love watching dance, you might learn something about a style you haven’t had much experience with.
Another thing is that the environment is less formal than in many other dance or theatre performances. We don’t set any rules on when our audience can laugh, clap, or cheer. If you feel it, do it.
One last thing is something people always mention after our shows, which is that they can really tell how much we love doing what we’re doing. And we’re glad that comes across, because if we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be doing it in the first place!
Wish You Were Here, in particular, is a show about journeys. The audience can expect very literal journeys about going from A to B by plane, train, and automobile, as well as much more abstract journeys about building relationships, overcoming personal struggles, and dealing with loss.
What do you see as the main challenges for dance in particular and performing arts in general?
For dance, in general, the challenge is building the audience and instilling an interest in dance in a wider audience. Many people just see dance as something they do at weddings or check out on a reality TV show, or something really stuffy they don’t want to watch (and I’m sure some of it is!). I think part of the challenge for dance is to make something very difficult look easy, but without becoming pedestrian.
And in the performing arts, in general, we’ve learned just how much work by how many people goes into one show. There is so much behind-the-scenes stuff that needs to be done to make the performances go smoothly!
Could you share some examples of the kinds of challenges that you have faced yourself as a performing artist?
For the dancer, the physical challenges and toll they can take are huge. As it is for other athletes or professionals who rely on their physicality for their jobs, it can be so hard to have a long career. And the “job” doesn’t end when you leave the theatre or the rehearsal space; it’s with you always.
I so respect and admire those who can do it—really do it—full-time. I find this relationship with my form to be one that’s eternally frustrating. If I just can’t get my leg high enough or I’m working through an injury, it’s tough.
There’s a humanness and mental toughness about this art, a real understanding that the raw materials you’re working with are slowly getting older and maybe just don’t work the way they used to. I’m not saying we won’t all be rocking out in our “rockers” when we’re 90, but realistically I’m guessing not too many of us will be executing a perfect grand jeté into our 60s. But hey, if you are, you should definitely be auditioning for PushPULL.
What words of advice do you wish you had been given when you were first starting out?
To be honest, I’m glad we weren’t given much advice. It allowed us a certain kind of freedom to build a company just the way we wanted to. But if I were to offer myself advice back at the beginning, it would probably be something like: “Don’t worry so much about whether people are going to like it. Just make what you like, get excited about it, and other people will get excited too. And for crying out loud, LISTEN TO KELLY: she knows what she’s doing.”