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Dance lab gives audience raw, up-close experience

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The stage of the Gas Station Theatre will be a laboratory this weekend, bubbling with ideas that are changing local professional dance.

Q Dance, the part-time company that currently consists of nine top Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers, is giving performances Friday through Sunday of four works by its ambitious founder, rising independent choreographer Peter Quanz.

The slight, soft-spoken 32-year-old grad of the RWB School is following in the footsteps of his late mentor, former RWB visionary Arnold Spohr, in more ways than one.

Quanz, like Spohr, is a genius at international networking and has choreographed as a freelancer for companies in Russia, New York, Cuba, England, Hong Kong, Toronto and Montreal.

A Quanz ballet, In Tandem, is one of three works RWB will perform at the high-profile Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts this August. (The cover image for the festival's 80th-anniversary brochure is of RWB's Jo-Ann Sundermeier.)

The company has not been to the festival since 1964, when its appearance there in the Spohr era vaulted it to international attention.

Quanz, who has never been there before, will also be represented at the festival in July by the Hong Kong Ballet performing his commissioned ballet Luminous.

"It's extremely prestigious to get into Jacob's Pillow," he says.

As for this weekend's local Q Dance shows, three of the works are premières that are still evolving and don't have fixed titles. The fourth is the dynamic In Tandem, commissioned in 2009 by New York's Guggenheim Museum.

The Ontario-born Quanz says he wants to reveal the process of creation and collaboration that normally happens in the studio. The troupe will be rehearsing onstage as the audience enters.

One piece, set to a live performance by cellist Minna Rose Chung of Bach suites, was originally conceived for the four male dancers, but Quanz is experimenting and "playing" with having four women do it. So the audience will see the same choreography twice, once by each gender.

"The whole point of Q Dance is that it's a lab," says the choreographer. "We're really trying to give people an experience they can't get in a normal RWB show or a finished production."

This is the third annual Winnipeg showcase for Q Dance. It has just returned from an 11-day, self-presented trip to festivals in New York City and St. Louis, where it was the only Canadian company and was "seen by a lot of very key people," Quanz says.

Vanessa Lawson, RWB's top ballerina, says local audience members have told her it's extraordinary to see the dancers at close range. "They see us more as people, instead of an image up on the stage," she says about the 230-seat Gas Station, compared to the 2,300-seat Centennial Concert Hall.

The intimacy goes both ways, because the dancers can see faces in the Gas Station audience. "You can actually see a person's expression. Normally (at the concert hall) it's just a black sea in front of us."

Lawson, 34, made a triumphant comeback from a knee injury to star in Giselle this past season, but the chronic problem flared up again and she had to miss the season-closing Pure Ballet performances.

She's now trying injection therapy while serving as Quanz's assistant. The two are going to Havana in a few weeks to stage Luminous for the famed National Ballet of Cuba.

So Lawson can't dance, in the traditional sense. But Quanz has choreographed an emotional-sounding piece on this weekend's program especially for her. Accompanied by the cello, she'll dance in a chair, and for part of the piece will be carried aloft by three male dancers.

For the first time, RWB is presenting the Gas Station shows. It has contributed in-kind support through rehearsal space, technical support and publicity.

In preparation for a Q Dance show next February, Quanz says, RWB will schedule Q Dance rehearsals as part of the RWB day, so he will not have to pay separate salaries. That's a step toward future plans, a few seasons hence, to include intimate Q Dance shows in RWB's subscription season.

Q Dance will always have its own board of directors and artistic autonomy, the choreographer says, and there are many partnership details to be worked out. There's no exact precedent in North America for a smaller troupe that shares resources and dancers with a large institution, Quanz says. "We are building the model. This is the first."

One sign that the globe-trotting dancemaker is serious about nurturing a company here is that after years of wandering with no fixed address, he now has a month-to-month apartment in The Exchange.

"I went there for tea and sat on a lawn chair," says Lawson.

Speaking of chairs, a set of high-backed wooden ones serves as a set element at this weekend's shows. They were made in a sustainable way by Indonesian villagers, Quanz says.

"They're a symbol for the community I'm going to build in Winnipeg."

Dance Preview

Q Dance

Gas Station Theatre

Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets $25 at 956-2792 or the door

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2012 D3

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