Interview with Elles dancer Alison Denham

Debora: Tell me a little about how you know Serge.

Ali D: I first encountered Serge in the Ballet BC Mentor Program in 1996 and I totally loved it.  We had to perform some of his stuff and I said to myself that I want to work with this man; I want to be in his company.  And then the company came to Vancouver and I saw them dance and I REALLY wanted to be in the company! So then a year or maybe two after that  they did a workshop for Dancing on the Edge, and I just loved everything about it.  And that is how I first met Serge.  Then I went to Toronto, I was in another show, and I took company class every day, and I told Serge I wanted to be in his company.  And then he told me I could come back when the season started and be an apprentice.  That was in 2000 I think.

Debora: What was it about him and his work that you found so appealing?

Ali D: I think it was his passion and the grandiose movement.  The feeling that I would be able to fly.  Fly and get into the earth at the same time.   I don’t know, it just resonated with me.  I don’t know if I am even able to explain it.

Debora: How long were you with Dancemakers, and how do you think you grew as a dancer while you were there?

Ali D: Oh a lot.  I went from a student dancer to something else.  I think Serge has been the most pivotal person I have worked with.   Working with Serge for so long, it was hard, it was challenging, but it was a very good thing.  It was like the university education I never got – in a dance sort of way.  It was the education outside of the institution that I got.  I mean, I was surrounded by all these incredible artists.  I think that is where I learned to be an artist actually.  From being a dancer being told what to do, to being a dancer able to make choices about what you are going to do and really own the work and be really ……fierce.  That is something I think I learned there.

Debora: What is your relationship to Elles?  How did you become involved in Elles?

Ali D: About a year ago I went to see a show of Serge's and he talked to me and asked if I would be interested in being in a new piece of his.  I didn’t know this was what it was going to be, that it was Elles.  I think he already knew about the Alcan award because he was looking for dancers.  Actually, I was in Simone Orlando’s piece The Firebird and it was at opening night at the Cultch when Serge was announced as this year’s winner – it was pretty exciting! That is when I realized this was the piece I had been invited to be a part of.

Debora: Have you started working with Serge yet for Elles?

Ali D: I worked with him alone for 2 days in December.  My body remembered what it is like to dance for him.  He is really clear what he wants and he is extremely clear what he doesn’t want.  He wants you to work in a certain way and he wants you to work that way right away.   It is really interesting to do that, to be there right away, to really be in that state immediately.  It is very exciting; time passes so quickly because you are so engaged the whole time.  We got some chunks of movement, I don’t know if we are going to use them.  We didn’t talk a lot about the piece; it was more just to see for both of us I guess what it is like to work together.  He is doing that with the whole group before we all come together.

Debora: When you work with Serge does he come already knowing what he wants, or is it more of a sense of you two coming up with the ideas?

Ali D: He knows what he wants!  He knows the way he wants to work and then it just comes out of it.  He does a lot of research before he comes so he is really well prepared – at least this is what I think, I don’t really know!  But today, watching rehearsal – because today is my first day watching I haven’t actually rehearsed yet – it was pretty clear he knew what he wanted.

I am in a slightly different position than everyone else because I am coming into the project 2 weeks later because I am in another show right now.  Today was my first day and I mostly just watched.  I am missing the beginning stages with the group, so I don’t know yet.  All I know is that I walked into a room with this incredible group of women and an incredible choreographer and I think some really exciting things are going to happen!  And I feel he is just entrusted in these people and is making a piece about women – whatever that means for him.

I was very thankful to have been asked to work with Serge again because it has been 6 or 7 years since I left his company and I feel like a very different dancer and a very different person, and you know, life has happened and it will be interesting to see what it is like now.  And even in those two days it felt different – it felt familiar but with all this other stuff, with these other tools to be able to offer and to be able to use to handle what comes at me.

I feel for my life story, for my dance story, this feels like a really important piece for me because it’s kind of where I began, and not that this is where I am going to end, but it feels like it has come a full circle for me.  Also some of the women in Elles danced in Dancemakers with me, and also one of my best friends is in it with me, and also just a bunch of women whom I totally respect.      

Debora: So what do you think you are bringing to the piece from these 7 years since you worked with Serge?

Ali D: Well I have worked with so many different people since then and so many different creation processes and so much different material and movement through my body that I think I have more memory of other things that I did not have before as a dancer back then.  I’ve grown up a lot!  I would say on a dance level there is an artistry that has grown that just happens with time, as you mature and get older.

Debora: What of Serge’s work that you have seen over the last 7 years seems particularly interesting to you now?        

Ali D: Yes I have watched him do a lot of different pieces, a lot of different commissions that he has made for people, and also pieces he has made for himself.  And I have seen him go more into theatricality and text which has been really interesting and I feel like he has been reaching out and expanding his artistic directions too.  I don’t know if any of this will be in Elles.  I don’t really know what to expect.  I feel like I am walking into the room a different person than I was in 2000.  I also don’t think he is the type of choreographer you get it, you got it.  You’ll never get it, you just have to keep doing it and doing it  - there’s a ton to learn in his work and there is tons to experience in his work.  You don’t dance with Serge unless you are full in on the piece, it’s a full on experience.  There is no way you can be there and be doing a grocery list in your head!  There is just no way, he is too engaging and too passionate and it’s infectious.  I LOVE that about him, I love that every moment you feel what you are doing, of being engaged all the time.  So I’m excited about feeling that again and to see how that has grown and to see what he has to offer


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