A dozen years later, that ambition is as palpable as ever. The city is a hotbed of contemporary dance thanks to the four major dance programs (and a national circus school!) that are based here, not to mention the strong public support that makes it easy for graduates to stick around and grow the community.
That was the case for Sasha Kleinplatz. The award-winning choreographer graduated from Concordia in 2001 and has been helping shape the city’s contemporary dance scene since she and her close friend Andrew Tay launched their dance company, Wants&Needs.
Wants&Needs is best known for two unconventional shows: Short&Sweet, the last edition of which took place in April, and Piss in the Pool, upcoming in June, and made famous by its unusual venue, an abandoned swimming pool.
We caught up with Kleinplatz at a neighbourhood café in the Mile End a few days after Short&Sweet.
You studied at Concordia, but you’re not originally from Montreal…
No, I grew up in Windsor. Andrew is from Windsor, too. We’ve known each other since we were nine.
That must make for a pretty strong working relationship.
Yeah! We have the same history. We grew up near Detroit, which played a big part in our lives. We would go to there all the time. I would go for indie rock shows, Andrew would go for warehouse parties, and we would bring each other to different events.
What’s your impression of Montreal’s contemporary dance scene?
It’s the most vibrant dance scene in Canada, for sure. And it’s the biggest. It’s amazing.
There’s a theatre like Tangente that considers itself a lab for choreography. And then you have a place like Studio 303 that’s giving people residencies, and you have Place des Arts that’s presenting international choreographers.
I know people who come from Toronto or New York just to be part of the scene for a few months, to teach and hangout and work and share what they know, because there’s so much. People are hungry for it here in a really different way.
Wants&Needs is known for the shows Short&Sweet and Piss in the Pool. Can you tell us a bit about
Short&Sweet came out of this idea that sometimes as choreographers we think that our work needs to be long to be meaningful. We wanted to see how quickly choreographers could get their points across and bring people into their work.
Before we started, I was always going to indie rock shows in Montreal and I was like, “why aren’t dance shows more like indie rock shows? What can we do about this?”
I wanted to set up situations where choreographers felt more like bands, where a band plays and the crowd goes wild. I thought, “We should get that!” We should get that positive engagement.
What’s the response been like from the choreographers and dancers?
They love it. We usually get lots of thank you emails afterwards. I think the dancers and choreographers really respond to that positive rock out vibe.
What about Piss in the Pool? It’s coming up in June. Can you tell us about it?
Piss in the Pool is in its ninth year. It takes place in Bain St. Michel in the Mile End. Normally during the year it’s set up as a theatre with a stage and seating but we always ask for the space raw.
We bring in just enough lights to light the space and then we invite seven choreographers in. They have a month in the space to prepare.
We want them to make a site-specific work that’s inspired by the space itself.
They can choose where to put their work. They can choose where to put their audience. The audience gets moved between every piece. We have lifeguards who blow whistles and tell the audience where to go.
Sounds like you enjoy pushing the envelope!
We’re really trying to push the notion that what is considered choreography can be much broader than what we thought in the past, when people thought that choreography could only be dance steps.
What about the crowd? These events usually have pretty diverse audiences. Does everybody get what you’re trying to do?
I know when there are more conceptual works it can be more challenging for audiences, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I’ve had people come up to me afterwards and say, “that was really challenging for me but in the end I’m glad I watched that”
That’s our point – to bring artists together who are working differently, but also to bring audiences together who are used to different things and show them that what they’re used to is great, but that they can have this other kind of experience that can also be great.
So what’s your secret sauce?
I honestly think it goes back to the original question of, “why aren’t dance shows more like rock shows?”
Rock shows have booze?
Partially! They also have songs that audiences love, songs they can dance to. So the question is, how do you create a situation where choreographers feel excited and engaged and not scared to take chances, the same way bands do?
Plus there’s the venue thing – one show takes place at a bar, the other one at an abandoned swimming pool. Why stay away from traditional spaces?
There’s an incredible amount of stress as a choreographer when you’re in one of these codified traditional spaces. You’re making a half hour piece, they’re paying you a certain fee. It has to be perfect. You can choke just from the worry.
We had just gone through this really stressful experience and thought, maybe being in a non-traditional space that doesn’t have a history attached to it – where we’re creating a history – will make us feel freer to take chances. Maybe that would be a good thing for other people, too. Maybe finding something perfect is actually taking chances and surprising yourself.
The next Short & Sweet is performed as part of the FTA