Alice Irene has a compelling story of injury, clarity of vision and strength. It’s a story I can personally relate to, and for that reason, and many others, I think it’s best to just hear it in her own words. Then go see Alice Irene’s company Ink on Paper in The Canary Wallpaper, final 4 shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival starting July 11th.
Lucy: Can you give me a bit of a summary of your career, your path, what you’ve been doing lately?
Alice Irene: My career path has been quite eclectic. My path has meandered around, and continues to do so. My training as a dancer began when I was three – your classic small town dance upbringing, with a focus on ballet.
When I went to university to study dance full time [at Ryerson University], I started to discover my choreographic voice, and I slowly realized over my years training that that is where my strengths lie. More than dance performance, I began to realize that my place in the dance world was creating movement, stories in a way that only I can think of. Choreography is where I find freedom, clarity and strength in my self.
Just before I graduated from the dance program, I had an accident during a dance class and shattered my elbow, damaging it irreparably. This was a real blow to my dance career, and came right before auditions and performances that we had been working up to. My final work at school, that I had been working on for months, had to be re-choreographed so that all 12 dancers danced without moving their left elbow.
I missed performances and classes, and was lost. Really lost. Since then I have had three surgeries, multiple infections and a three-year journey to repair my arm, which is still unable to straighten – though it has improved drastically. In the subsequent three years I have learned to use my broken wing. I am able to work my bent elbow into full-length works without anyone noticing, and I’m at a point now where I can go to a dance class and I don’t get corrected anymore: “Straighten your arm!”
I learned through this that I don’t want to be auditioning. I don’t want to be performing in other people’s work, for the most part. I want to be creating – choreographing, writing, taking photographs.
Lately I have been (over)-occupied with the production and creation of large-scale works. In April, I produced and choreographed an 80-minute work, “Nightbird”. To create and produce this on my own took an overwhelming amount of work: creatively, logistically, financially, emotionally and so forth. My last six months were occupied with that. That culminated in April, and then I took a much-needed break and returned shortly after to rehearse for my Fringe show.
Lucy: How did the concept for your Fringe show develop?
Alice Irene: I have learned that my choreographic voice is always coming from a place of writing. This has been an important revelation for me. “The Canary Wallpaper” — the first part of my Fringe show – is based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist 1982 short story about a woman who has post-partum depression and has been restricted to live in one room to “cure” her hysteria. She is advised not to write, and instead lies there going slowly mad as she becomes obsessed with the patterned yellow wallpaper which lines the room. She sees a woman struggling to break free from behind the paper. It is a wild story; I love it.
The second and longer part of my fringe show is “Underwood”, a remount of 30-minute section from my April production of Nightbird. This is a piece that is very near and dear to my heart. It is about four women writers who are sitting at their desks, facing their old typewriters. They write and write and write, and their stories and autobiographical musings are extrapolated into contemporary dance.
The sound of typewriters punctuates the musical score which spans across genres, from sweeping strings to Leroy Anderson’s campy typewriter score to a driving beat-oriented song that is shocking in its modernity, as compared with all of those damn old-fashioned aesthetics I love.
Lucy: Can you tell me more about your creative process?
Alice Irene: My creative process is, like writing, a very solitary endeavour, which takes place between my mind and the page. I picture a feel for the piece, as though it were a still photograph, and then write down some of the specifics. I would always rather achieve the feeling or mood of that initial “photograph”, as opposed to get any specific movement or shape. I usually picture some sort of grand affair in my head – usually involving sets like a chaise lounge and a gramophone! – and then scale it down because reality gets in my way.
From that initial solitary writing place, I get into the rehearsal studio and create a movement phrase on myself. This is oriented around articulations of the feet, back, wrists and neck. I have a love of the movements of birds, specifically the shapes and movements of wings and necks, and I aim to emulate their movements. I enjoy playing around with the combination of graceful expansive movement, bastardized sexualized balletic aesthetics and panicked quick quirky movements.
The dancers come in somewhere in this process and I teach them the phrases and start to play with them; change timings and facings, omit movements that I realize I hate, and play with relationships and patterns. I watch their style of moving, their strengths, and try to understand that and find some new movement in them that I would never discover on myself. Then, I put all of this together. I think of this entire process as writing: forming a word, then a sentence, then pages and chapters, and then editing the novel.
Lucy: What was your inspiration to put your work on its feet in the Fringe Festival format?
Alice Irene: This is my first fringe show, and I’m eager to try my hand at it. Although to be honest I’m exhausted after my last show and had to really convince myself into it; but once I resumed rehearsals I of course remembered that I adore creating and performing dance.
The Fringe appeals because it draws new audiences and creates a momentum around art; I really believe that artists need to be in a creative and artistic environment to truly reach their potential as artists.
Lucy: How would you describe your work to the prospective Fringe audience?
Alice Irene: It is telling a story, a story about words and women and writing. The language that tells these words is expressive movement that is inherent to all humans, beautiful music, and the text of brilliant writers that is projected behind and on the dancers portraying those very words.
Alice Irene: Beauty and melancholy and solitude and music and words. They keep me wanting to create endlessly. I love being able to look at something with my bizarre imaginative emotional head, and then hone in on what exactly I find beautiful or sad about it, and tell that to other people.
I feel like there are infinite people and stories and thoughts every day that I want to take a photograph of, or write a short story about. I am compelled to create, I really am, I think it’s built into my bone structure. I never question for a second that I’ll be inspired or want to create. Never. What I question is which medium that I use.
By: Alice Irene
Company: Ink on Paper
Choreographer: Alice Irene
Show length: 50min. Warnings: Smoking
This performance is accessible for non-English speakers
July 11 06:00 PM
July 12 08:45 PM
July 13 04:30 PM
July 14 03:30 PM
at-the-door tickets ($10)
advance tickets ($9 + $2 service charge)
Available up to three hours prior to the start of a performance: Online at www.fringetoronto.com
By Phone at 416-966-1062
July 2nd – 15th, daily, 9:30am – 6:30pm
In person at the Festival Box Office
July 4th – 15th, 12 – 10pm @ The Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W.
5 Pack ($45) – savings of $510 Pack ($82) – savings of $18!more info: www.fringetoronto.com