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Spill Herself Away – Marcia Dysart


January 23, 2018

I grew up in Fredericton. My parents were both educators and my mother a talented pianist. Art and culture was an important part of my upbringing. Attending the theatre, galleries and concerts were a monthly outing. I remember watching my mother practice the organ at church, and being fascinated with the coordination of her hands and feet. My earliest memory of dancing was when I was four years old. I would hear the piano, run down the stairs, move the coffee table out of the way and dance. I begged my mother to enroll me in a ballet class. I began my formal dance education in a beginner teen ballet class when I was 11, which is late for an aspiring ballerina. I had amazing dance teachers in Fredericton, something I fully realized after leaving New Brunswick.

Credit: Lorne Power

Photo Credit: Lorne Power

In my graduating year of high school, I had to make THE decision. Do I pursue a life in dance or take the traditional career route? I do remember being pulled in both directions, but ultimately chose to pursue an engineering degree at UNB. That was a risk, in the sense that many dance mentors stated that ‘now’ was the time and that waiting would probably mean never having a career as a dance artist. While following the ‘safe’ route, I still took dance class and continued to create work on students. Looking back I have no regrets. Life has a path, and while mine wasn’t revealed to me at that time, it would surprise me and continues to surprise me.

University was good for me. I fell into a career in education and met my husband! His path happened to also be a detour of my own. We moved to Hamilton for his graduate studies. I had no job. Getting a job in the field of education was difficult. On a walk around McMaster campus, I noticed a poster for auditions for a dance company. I will never forget seeing that poster and deciding then and there, that this was my opportunity to dance. I didn’t hesitate at all. There were nerves, of course, especially since I knew I would be in a room full of professional dancers. My audition was successful and I began dancing for the Hamilton Dance Company. It’s then that I realized how much I learned from my teachers in Fredericton. I had a solid ballet and modern dance foundation that included the practice of dance improvisation. As a young dancer, I did not realize the benefits of improvisation, but am eternally grateful to Lindsey Laidlaw for introducing it to me. I also learned the value of collaborating with other artists (musicians and visual artists). While in Fredericton, I danced for FORE directed by Lindsey, a forum for artist collaboration. So thanks to my ‘small town’ dance education, I never felt that I was out of touch or inexperienced while I was in Ontario. I may not have graduated with a diploma in dance performance, but I did find people who took a chance on me, offering me many performance opportunities.

Credit: Lorne Power

Photo Credit: Lorne Power

After three years of performing, I became pregnant with my first child. I stopped performing and did not return for six years. Three children later, we relocated to Saint John.

I love being a dance artist on the East Coast. We’re a small community, but a tight one. There are countless opportunities for collaborating. Collaboration is key to inspiring new work. Most of my work has been created in a collaborative setting with other artists. It pushes me to see things differently. My process begins with a lot of research, introspection and dreaming. Then I move into the studio to create the movement.

Lately my work stems from the stories of strong women. The idea of character study in a non-literal sense is interesting to me. I am drawn to understanding their experiences and connecting that with movement. There is often a personal reflection to my work. I like movement that’s physically strong as well as delicate. I want an audience to feel, not necessarily understand. I want my pieces to be beautiful, even when they’re dark.

An audience is crucial for art to survive. The public should have access to art and the opportunity to dialogue with artists. It shapes both the artist and the audiences’ further experiences.

To the emerging artist I say, remember that creation is just as important as performance. Find your own process. Take every opportunity to see live performance, and learn from as many people as you can.

Spill Herself Away is a collaboration with cellist Katie Bestvater, and violinist Nienke Izurieta. The work was a recent creation supported by artsnb, and was based on the book Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg. The book draws inspiration from shells to follow the shape of a woman’s life. The quote, “lie, empty, open, choiceless as a beach…and wait for a gift from the sea”, became the main premise for the work and helped the three of us find a space for contemplation and creativity. It also drew an interesting parallel to the process of ‘spontaneous imagery’. A practice that we used to create immediate images, turning them into movement and music, then fragmenting them till they became ‘blurred’ (indecipherable).  This helped illustrate the loss of simplicity and the overwhelming feeling associated with the complexity of life. We pondered the disparity of a life that may still be active but has inner stillness vs the life that is active to avoid the empty. The finished work included three pieces, created over a span of two years.


Credit: Nienke Izurieta

Photo Credit: Nienke Izurieta

Marcia Dysart studied contemporary dance at McMaster University’s Centre for Dance Performance in Hamilton, ON from 1998-2001 and more recently at Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in NYC. 

Marcia danced with the Hamilton Dance Company and Parahumans from 1999-2001. In 2010 Marcia co-founded Connection Dance Works Inc. and continues to perform with the company. Recently, she has danced in works by: Darryl Tracy, Vanessa Goodman, Lauren Runions, Meagan O’Shea, Sarah Johnson Power, and Stefanie Mayhew.  Marcia’s most recent choreographic projects include: Spill Herself Away, a collaborative project with cellist Katie Bestvater and violinist Nienke Izurieta supported by artsnb and performed at the 2017 Saint John Contemporary Dance Festival; Petticoat Captain, in collaboration with videographer John Marshall, supported by artsnb; Under Sail, supported by the Saint John Community Arts Funding Program, performed at the NB Museum, Contact East, and IMPACTfest (Atlantic Ballet Theatre); Hot Thoughts Disrupted, a duet that debuted at PERSPECTIVE in 2011.


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