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Q & A with Wendy Atkinson

We chatted with Chan Centre Programming and Rentals Manager Wendy Atkinson about how the Words in Motion project, part of the Beyond Words series, came to life.

Can you tell us a bit about the origin and purpose of the Beyond Words series at the Chan Centre?

WA: Beyond Words started in 2012 with an event booked in conjunction with the UBC Creative Writing program. They were bringing in the musician John K. Samson from the band the Weakerthans to do a residency with their students. As part of the residency he was scheduled to do a performance and they approached the Chan Centre to present John with them. The performance evolved into an event that combined a performance with a talk about his writing process.

From that event, the seed for Beyond Words was planted, words in performance. The series has since grown to include artists such as Tanya Tagaq, Shane Koyczan and Ivan Coyote.


How did the idea for Words in Motion come about? What was interesting to you about the combination of writers and choreographers?

WA: I have a background in publishing and I’ve been to many author readings. I have often thought that it would be great to see how a writer’s words would be interpreted by artists working in different genres. How would a performing artist incorporate prose and create something new in their response to the words. Of course, that happens a lot with words/music but I wanted to think of an art form that was a less obvious fit and the idea of physical movement interpreting words was what interested me.

We have commissioned three choreographers and paired each of them with a specific writer. We have asked them to collaborate on the piece from the beginning. The intention was not that the choreographer would take the words and create a dance piece to incorporate them, it was for the artists to work together on the entire piece.

We gave the choreographer/writer pairs total freedom to incorporate words in whatever way they wanted to make it “beyond’ words!


The project involves many participants and collaborators. Why is that important? What are the challenges?

WA: I liked the idea of using three pairs, rather than one pair, because I was interested in how different choreographers would respond to the words of their writer partner. When I first started to explore the idea of this project I talked to Mirna Zagar, executive director at the Dance Centre, who directed me to Martha Carter of MartaMarta Productions. Martha had worked with the Canadian Music Centre on a project called 10×10 where they paired 10 composers with 10 choreographers. I watched a video of that performance and I loved the diversity of the projects and interpretations that came out of the variety of pairings.

The challenges have mostly come from my steep learning curve. I don’t have a background in producing dance so there have been a few things pop up that were new for me. For example, with music performances, the performers often arrive the afternoon of the show and are gone the next morning, everything happens in a very short period of time. With dance, there are elements I have less experience with and, especially when you are commissioning new work, you need to allow for much more rehearsal time and more technical consultation as the project develops. But that has also been part of the fun. I have really enjoyed the meetings we’ve had with the writers and choreographers as their pieces develop. It’s like an inside glimpse of the creative process unfolding.


What was the artist selection process like?

WA: The Dance Centre is our partner in this production and their help and expertise have been invaluable. To select the choreographers The Dance Centre sent out a call for applicants. Chan and Dance Centre staff met to discuss the proposals that were submitted. I was excited by the number and variety of proposals and I’m thrilled by the diversity of backgrounds and experience we selected.

Once the choreographers were selected (Anusha Fernando, Paraskevas Terezakis and Olivia C. Davies), we chose writers to complement them (Aislinn Hunter, Nancy Lee and Carmen Aguirre). I worked with staff from BC Book World to identify local writers and create a shortlist and from there it was a fun process to think of which ones would be exciting complements to the choreographers. We are very fortunate to have such a bounty of homegrown talent here in BC, in both the dance and literary realms. All of the Words in Motion artists are locally based.


What are you most looking forward to in the final performances?

WA: A new commission always has an element of surprise! When choosing writers to pair with the choreographers, I had to imagine how their work would fit together and now I finally get to see the results of these pairings.

From attending author readings and wondering how a choreographer might incorporate words to watching a performance of exactly that – it’s the magic of the performing arts!



Words in Motion will be performed March 18 and 19 at 7:30pm in the Chan Centre’s Telus Studio Theatre. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.

Photo: Chris Mitchell


Wed Jan 27, 2016