At 28, Daina Ashbee is already known as one of Canada’s most promising and provocative choreographers. Named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch in 2018, she’s not afraid to tackle complex personal topics in her work, such as female sexuality, menstruation and trauma. Ashbee, whose work is influenced by her Cree, Métis and Dutch heritage, is bringing her award-winning choreography to the AGO on April 26. Her sold-out performance of Serpentine is not only the Toronto premiere of this work but also the inaugural performance of AGO Live – our exciting new series of performances by emerging and celebrated artists.
Co-presented by Harbourfront Centre, Serpentine is an installation performance, intended as a short and intense summary of her previous three works Unrelated (2014), When the ice melts, will we drink the water? (2016) and Pour (2016). We spoke with Ashbee to find out more about her inspiration and creative process.
AGO: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind Serpentine?
Ashbee: My collaborator Areli Moran and I created the piece in my apartment with no funding – just the love of working together and creating. The work itself is transformative and painful. Many might see this as violence, though Areli and I do not. It’s not a violent event being relived. The violence is the result of pain that has been repressed and demands time, space and witness to be liberated.
AGO: Serpentine is a summary of three previous works. What is the link between them?
Ashbee: Lately, I’ve been exploring ideas of femininity, ranging from the exploitation of women to Mother Earth. My past works were driven by issues of violence towards women (Unrelated, 2014), my own menstrual cycle (Pour, 2016), climate change as it affects our Mother Earth (When the ice melts, will we drink the water?, 2016) and the occupation of space, time and attention in Serpentine.
AGO: Can you tell us about your collaboration on Serpentine with composer Jean-Francois Blouin?
Ashbee: Jean-Francois Blouin composed the sound scores for three of my works, and we have an intuitive approach to working together. We always work in the key of C. This piece is actually on electric organ, an instrument I’ve loved since childhood. The music for Serpentine was a birthday gift from Jean-Francois, for a work-in-progress showing right around my birthday.
AGO: Your work frequently features a solo dancer. Why do you make that choice?
Ashbee: I believe that the body is complex even in its simplest positions. This inspired most of my creations to be solos, except for Unrelated, which is a duet. I don’t seem to need a lot of movement or bodies to communicate what I want to communicate. I believe there’s so much truth in what is simple, what is less.
AGO: Is there anything you’re working on now that you can share with us?
Ashbee: Currently, I am creating a group piece with five intergenerational women, which will premiere in 2020. The work will be durational and, of course, I will revisit ideas of pain, but with a goal of further exploring the body’s capacity to transform.
Daina Ashbee’s sold-out AGO Live performance of Serpentine takes place on April 26. An exciting lineup of future AGO Live events will be announced in the coming weeks.
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