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School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design

How Dance Innovations helped two young choreographers level up

Sophie Dow and Nina Milanovski discuss finding their authentic voices as artists

December 18, 2017

How Dance Innovations helped two young choreographers level up

From November 23 to 25 the McLean Performance Studio saw the premiere of 19 dance creations by the fourth year Choreography class under the artistic direction of their instructor, renowned Toronto choreographer Julia Sasso. Called Dance Innovations, this annual performance showcase represents for many dance students the culmination of the four-year program. Earlier in their journey at York University, many of the choreographers served as performers for works created by upper level students. Years of training and experience have brought them to this place where they can explore their choreographic ideas, develop their creative processes and share their creation with Toronto’s Dance community.

Sophie Dow and Nina Milanovski reflect on the experience and share their hopes for the next steps in their careers and for these works.

SD: My quartet Parasol was inspired by my favourite artist, Sarah Slean and her alter-ego “The Baroness.” It embodies melodramatic queens who are hypnotized and driven into madness by a burning passion and lust for the spotlight.

NM: In fish[I], I explored ideas of identity, duality and authenticity and how these concepts can affect movement. I was inspired to create it because of a solo called Fishbowl I choreographed and performed in June as part of New Blue Emerging Dance’s The Festival ’17. I really liked what I created and I wanted to explore what was so satisfying about it and see if I could transpose that onto a quartet.

SD: The dancers and I created movement collaboratively, based on a number of writing and musical prompts. In the writing, the dancers developed their own “alter-egos” and used those to tap into the emotion and melodrama of the work.

NM: My process also involved a lot of free writing and improvisation. I created a vocabulary of movement early on so I could use repetition effectively and focus on a few movement ideas throughout the piece.

SD: We have two two-hour classes each week all semester plus our creation and rehearsal time outside of class. We bring snippets of what we’ve created so our class and course director can offer feedback and suggestions. The class is a very safe space and our group is highly supportive.  In this class I’ve learned as much from giving feedback as receiving it.  It has helped me hone my opinions and practice how to share them in productive way.

NM: Sometimes when you are very invested in a piece it can be great to hear other perspectives to either open your mind up to new ideas or to find out what you really care about in the piece. Once you have to defend your artistic choices you learn pretty fast which decisions are effective or not. It also helps that my classmates come from all different backgrounds and see very different things when they watch dance. Hearing more voices allows you to develop a more complete image of an audience’s reaction.

NM: Like giving feedback, giving direction in rehearsal is a very good test in communication skills because whatever I put forward and ask the dancers to do, it is communicated back to me physically. This has taught me to be very expressive and use multiple ways to articulate one thought. When I’m able to communicate effectively I get this intense happiness almost as if I’ve transported people to whatever planet I’m on.

SD:  I’ve learned so much about patience and tolerance, balance and flexibility and how to use the skills of the dancers I choose to create my dream collaboratively instead of imposing or forcing a vision.  When I am in the studio and giving direction, I feel at both excited and at peace and full of a calm, positive energy.

SD: Parasol really aligns well with a solo piece a dear friend performed in York’s PlayGround Festival last year.  He is the artistic director of a company called “Queery Theatre” that has produced my work before, and we are hoping to extend both our works and see how we can mash them together into a 60-75 minute work of physical dance theatre.

NM: I am applying to any possible presentation opportunity I can right now and also making plans to rent a stage a present it myself. I want to try to do this work again but in a million different ways. I want to remount it as a solo and also with 10 dancers and I want to try a version with live music.



NM: When I first came to York I thought I was going to create commercial choreography at dance studios primarily for youth. I thought I couldn’t have a performance career because I do not look like a prima ballerina. York exposed me to so many different ways of moving and now I want to perform, choreograph, write and stage manage in the contemporary dance scene. Pretty much any work that can keep me close to dance and art in general.

NM: York has helped me find my voice as an artist and made me a very critical and observant creator through courses in dance ethnography, composition and technique. My classmates and I always comment on how much we have changed since our first year.

SD: I’ve been provided with a fresh set of tools in my belt and a more educated perspective. York has also introduced me to a number of renowned choreographers and professors whom I now have a potential opportunity of working for in the future. I have grown immensely as a creator.

Up Rising reflected the imagination, artistry, courage and integrity of our students, faculty and staff and was dedicated in loving memory to Professor Emerita, Penelope Reed Doob and alumna, Selina Margaret Twum.