Chameleon artist Dana Michel is hunting for a pulse and to widen the door to her sexual self. A piercing and unexpected look at the liberation of a body.
Do we ever stop needing sexual education? How can we learn to listen to our own instincts amidst the noise of how society tells us we should behave and the expectations of those in our proximity? Chameleon artist Dana Michel probes her personal history and scans the landscape around her on the hunt for a pulse. In order to access her full human potential, she must widen the door to her sexual self.
How do we reinitialize the body in sleep mode, repressed for its own survival? What tools do we use to dig up our buried parts? Dana Michel continues to dissect her identity by exploring zones of sexual limitations and conditioning. With raw energy and movement inching toward freedom and engaging the infinite potential of everyday objects, CUTLASS SPRING confirms the astonishing originality and innate humour of this artist, a 2017 Venice Biennial Silver Lion recipient. An unexpected, piercing look at the liberation of a body.
Produced by Dana Michel
Executive Producer Par B.L.eux
Created and performed by Dana Michel
Artistic Activators Ellen Furey + Peter James + Heidi Louis + Mathieu Léger + Roscoe Michel + Karlyn Percil + Yoan Sorin + Alanna Stuart
Sound Consultant David Drury
Lighting Design Karine Gauthier
Technical Directors Caroline Nadeau + Karine Gauthier
Distribution Key Performance
Co-produced by Festival TransAmériques + Arsenic (Lausanne) + Bastard Festival (Trondheim) + Black Box Teater (Oslo) + Centre Chorégraphique National d’Orléans + Centre National des Arts (Ottawa) + Julidans (Amsterdam) + Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels) + Montpellier Danse + Moving in November (Helsinki)
With the support of Visiting Dance Artist Program, a joint initiative of National Arts Centre + Canada Council for the Arts
Creative residencies Centre Chorégraphique National d’Orléans + Centre National des Arts (Ottawa) + CounterPulse (San Francisco) + Dancemakers (Toronto) + Galerie du Dourven (Trédrez-Locquémeau) + Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels) + PAF-Performing Arts Forum (Saint-Erme-Outre-et-Ramecourt) + Par B.L.eux + Usine C + Reykjavik Dance Festival + Tanzhaus Zurich
Presented in association with Théâtre Prospero
Dana Michel is an associate artist at Par B.L.eux
Written by Elsa Pépin
Translated by Neil Kroetsch
Dana Michel (Montreal)
Choreographer and live artist originally from Ottawa and based in Montreal since 2000, Dana Michel has been on a meteoric rise since her 2013 solo Yellow Towel premiered at the FTA.
Prior to being propelled onto the international scene and having her piece hailed by the New York magazine Time Out as one of the top ten performances of 2014, she was a competitive runner and football player. Yellow Towel received the prestigious ImPulsTanz Award in Vienna, and then the critically acclaimed Mercurial George was first presented at the FTA in 2016. She went on to receive the 2017 Silver Lion award for innovation in dance at the Venice Biennial.
While her two solo pieces continue to tour, Dana Michel is back at the FTA with her new show, CUTLASS SPRING, also playing at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts in Brussels and in Montpellier Danse in the summer of 2019 before embarking on an international tour. She worked on the material for this new piece in numerous venues around the world, including the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal as part of the Françoise Sullivan exhibit. After exploring her Caribbean roots, Michel continues her research on identity, this time focusing on the sexual dimension, starting with an exploration of a body and material loaded with memory and potential. Dana Michel breaks down barriers as she creates a liberated world of shape-shifting metamorphosis that combines sculpture, comedy and social commentary.
In CUTLASS SPRING you probe your attitude toward sexuality, and an attendant disconnection. How did those questions get into your work?
First of all, there is the fact of having become a mother and wondering how to discuss sexuality with my son. He attended a workshop on sexuality some time ago, and when he had been told that babies are made by a loving father and mother, the standardized ideal, I realized how we are conditioned to understand life in one way only.
I have also been obsessed for some time with the desire to teach classes on sexuality or to become a sexologist. Given that now I use my body as creative material, I realized that when I am performing I can become anything I want to be, I can play with my body freely. Offstage, however, I feel prudish, uncomfortable showing any skin. I wonder how what I do onstage affects my life, for our approach to sexuality often entails the idea of permission and social conditioning.
Why, for example, did I never want to wear lingerie or makeup, and why does a part of me still feel that I should in order to be sexually attractive? I want to be free to be anyone at any time and that, for some reason, seems to imply the rejection of a certain femininity.
Recently I participated in a Caribbean carnival for the first time in my life and I discovered the richness of all sorts of women celebrating their beauty in all its forms, scantily clad. I overcame my modesty and discovered the pleasure that I too could experience when dancing freely and scantily dressed in that context.
Mercurial George and Yellow Towel also broach the idea of repressing certain aspects of your cultural identity. Does CUTLASS SPRING continue along the same vein?
Indeed, in the same way that I wondered at one point why I was obscuring a certain part of my cultural heritage – I also wonder about my personal blockages, the aspects of my sexuality that I repress in response to certain codes.
Maybe if I drop my defences to somehow expose myself, I can better access my sexual identity. I’m pretty shy when undressing in a locker rooms, and I don’t like hearing my neighbours having sex. I question what is deemed to be normal behaviour being unabashed or needing a lot of intimacy… there is no one way to experience these things.
The spectrum between exhibitionists and modest people is vast. With CUTLASS SPRING I play with those boundaries, between what is uncomfortable and intimate. I suggest things, but each gesture is interpreted according to what’s in your head, what you read before you see it. It shows what can be implied in simple gestures, depending on the codes associated with them.
Your work with the body is intimately linked to the manipulation of objects and to moving through space, which often entails a series of obstacles, obstructed movements. How did you approach the structure of this piece?
For me, the work starts from materiality – from my body, from my voice, but also from sound and textures. Working with materiality is liberating. I need it in order to move on to another dimension. When I decide that a particular object will become a starting point for creation, it allows me to dispense with codes, to broaden the field of possibilities. I need to touch an object to create something.
I externalize my obsessions and my questioning through obstacle courses, through constraining environments, through sculpture. My relationship with obstacles goes back to childhood. As a child I liked to walk around with my eyes closed, to test my senses, to be able to function with very little, to challenge myself. I’m always in warrior mode–I can’t survive without the stimulation of it. I can do anything in the dark. Doing things differently by putting myself in a difficult situation is something that’s become automatic for me.
There is a practical side but also a comic dimension that touches on certain personal limitations, which I externalize by placing myself in complex situations where I use alternative ways rather than opting for the “easy way out”.
“That’s probably the one word I would use if someone asked me to describe Yellow Towel in one word: ‘powerful’.”
Avneet Sharma,Mooneyontheatre.com, 2017-06-19
“Michel gets to the very essence of vulnerability with a brand of presence so intense that you forget you’re watching a performance. Suddenly, the body is as agile as the mind.”
Gia Kourlas, 4columns.org, 2017-01-13
“As a black dancer and artist working in Montreal and internationally, Dana Michel has an uncanny sense of the artistic and political zeitgeist in her twitching, semi-verbal, prop-wielding performances.”
Jordan Arsenault, Forgetthebox.com, 2016-06-03, about Mercurial George
“It was a bold production, in equal measure disturbing and illuminating.”
Gia Kourlas, The New York Times, 2014-12-11, about Yellow Towel