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Footsteps of a legend

Winnipeg contemporary dance artist performing revolutionary work about revolution

Contemporary dancer Kathleen Hiley brings her solo show, Isadora Duncan's Marche Slav, to the Gass Station Arts Centre.

MARK DELA CRUZ PHOTOS

Contemporary dancer Kathleen Hiley brings her solo show, Isadora Duncan's Marche Slav, to the Gass Station Arts Centre.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2017 (395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One hundred years ago, the Russian Revolution shook the world with wide-sweeping political change, social upheaval and rebellion that ultimately became grist for American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan’s harrowing Marche Slav.

And now, Winnipeg contemporary dance artist Kathleen Hiley will bring the iconic solo to life when her company, Kathleen Hiley Solo Projects, presents its latest show, Isadora Duncan’s Marche Slav, at the Gas Station Arts Centre, Friday, Nov. 17th and Saturday, Nov. 18th, at 8 p.m.

“Being able to perform this great work of art created by the revolutionary Isadora Duncan has been a dream come true,” say Hiley, 32, the only Canadian granted permission to present the solo by world-renowned Duncan scholar/dance artist Jeanne Bresciani, artistic director/director of education for the New York City-based Isadora Duncan Institute, Inc. “It’s one of the greatest gifts I have received, and I hope to honour the spirit of Isadora and the great art form that she created while inspiring the next generation of dancers.”

First performed by Duncan to celebrate Russian Emperor Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication from the throne in 1917, the 12-minute solo depicting Duncan’s “downtrodden serf under the lash of the whip” is marking its own 100th anniversary this year. Hiley appears in a red tunic, her wrists bound by red ropes symbolizing the bonds of tyranny from which she ultimately breaks free, while Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slav, Op. 31 adds its own brooding, militaristic ethos.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2017 (395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One hundred years ago, the Russian Revolution shook the world with wide-sweeping political change, social upheaval and rebellion that ultimately became grist for American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan’s harrowing Marche Slav.

And now, Winnipeg contemporary dance artist Kathleen Hiley will bring the iconic solo to life when her company, Kathleen Hiley Solo Projects, presents its latest show, Isadora Duncan’s Marche Slav, at the Gas Station Arts Centre, Friday, Nov. 17th and Saturday, Nov. 18th, at 8 p.m.

"Being able to perform this great work of art created by the revolutionary Isadora Duncan has been a dream come true," say Hiley, 32, the only Canadian granted permission to present the solo by world-renowned Duncan scholar/dance artist Jeanne Bresciani, artistic director/director of education for the New York City-based Isadora Duncan Institute, Inc. "It’s one of the greatest gifts I have received, and I hope to honour the spirit of Isadora and the great art form that she created while inspiring the next generation of dancers."

First performed by Duncan to celebrate Russian Emperor Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication from the throne in 1917, the 12-minute solo depicting Duncan’s "downtrodden serf under the lash of the whip" is marking its own 100th anniversary this year. Hiley appears in a red tunic, her wrists bound by red ropes symbolizing the bonds of tyranny from which she ultimately breaks free, while Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slav, Op. 31 adds its own brooding, militaristic ethos.

In an earlier interview from her New York City home, Bresciani, who learned the choreography directly from her German-born mentor, Maria-Theresa Duncan – the last of Isadora’s six legally adopted daughters also known as the "Isadorables" — said the work is so brutally raw.

"I would call it primordial," she said.

Hiley, a 2007 graduate of The Professional Program of The School of Contemporary Dancers — and now a company member with Mouvement/Winnipeg Dance Projects and co-founder of popular local troupe Drive Dance — has been nurturing a solo career in recent years. Her inaugural full-length production showcasing three world premieres and signature works by Canadian choreographers Stephanie Ballard, Margie Gillis, Peter Quanz, as well as her own mother, Winnipeg dance artist Gaile Petursson-Hiley, garnered critical acclaim in February 2016.

She first crossed paths with Bresciani during the latter’s one-day workshop, The Isadora Experience, held in conjunction with the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Olympus: The Greco-Roman Collections of Berlin exhibition in 2015. Bresciani knew immediately she had discovered a muse with simpatico sensibility, subsequently inviting the younger dance artist to her Tempio di Danza studio located 150 kilometres north of NYC to begin their collaborative process in June 2016.

Bresciani also asked Hiley to accompany her to Delphi, Greece last May for the newly reinstated Festival of the Delphic Games — its first reincarnation of the ancient event launched by Duncan in 1927 — where she represented Canada at the festival that has risen like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes thanks to Bresciani’s driving efforts as its founding chair. She even performed outdoors at Delphi’s mini-amphitheatre built on the mythological, archeological grounds of Mount Parnassus, and has been invited to present Marche Slav during the 2021 Greek festival.

"There’s never been anyone that I would have wanted to remount this on until Kathleen. She has this wonderful combination of being mature enough, but also strong enough with a real understanding for this work," Bresciani says. "Kathleen also has a kind of beauty. The Greeks have a word for this — kallos — meaning beauty from inside and outside that is able to help her portray these roles with such depth."

MARK DELA CRUZ PHOTO</p><p>Hiley says being able to perform American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan's work is a 'dream come true.'</p>

MARK DELA CRUZ PHOTO

Hiley says being able to perform American dance pioneer Isadora Duncan's work is a 'dream come true.'

Born 1877 in California, Duncan lived during the time of the suffragettes as a free spirit, performing her expressive dances throughout Europe as well as in NYC. The subject of the 1968 biographical film Isadora starring Vanessa Redgrave, the trailblazing artist died tragically in a freak accident at age 50 — strangled by her own trademark flowing scarf that became caught in the axle of a car she was riding in, only fuelling her mythological status further.

Marche Slav is considered the first of Duncan’s overtly political, allegorical dances, characterized by angular movement vocabulary in contrast to her earlier, more fluid dances. It received its official premiere by Duncan at NYC’s original Metropolitan Opera House in 1917, following an earlier staging as a "work-in-progress" in 1909.

"Isadora’s choreography is steeped in imagery and pure emotion, which is harder to express because we don’t always live in one emotion," Hiley says of her aesthetic. "So if it’s fear, it’s pure fear, not anxiety. If I’m expressing love, then it’s pure love. Her work is very human, and so I try to tap into that as well as draw on my own experiences in life."

One of the great hallmarks of the artist’s choreography is its emphasis on opposing forces. Even her bold "drama of social protest" originally inspired by the fiery spirit of revolution is simultaneously driven by profound messages of universal peace. But is there joy in this solo?

"There is, and that’s the beauty of it," Bresciani replies when asked if a seemingly anguished work characterized by oppression, heart-stopping whip cracks and choking ropes might also appeal to its own better angels. "No matter what Isadora has gone through, there’s never the loss of soul in her dances. As with all her works, Marche Slav is ultimately about the triumph of the human spirit."

The program also features Hiley in seven excerpts from Duncan’s Chopin’s 24 Preludes (Op. 28), accompanied live by the Brandon-based Tselyakov.

"Dancing Isadora’s rich and breathtaking movement to the exquisite music of Chopin is truly a transformative experience," she notes of the haunting works. "I also felt that to honour Isadora, and the legacy of her work, I should have a stellar artist as Alexander to collaborate with. He is a generous, compassionate poet of the piano. Having the opportunity to dance to his beautiful interpretations is a true gift unlike any other," she adds eloquently.

Last but not least, audiences will be treated to the 1987 piece Old Times Now by Rachel Browne, Canada’s own dance legend who choreographed the compelling 15-minute solo described by Hiley as "truly about human resilience." Russian-born pianist Alexander Tselyakov will accompany the soloist live onstage.

"I am moved by the artistry, humanity and compassion within this solo, that is about surviving and being able to carry on even when you have been pushed to the edge of your limits," says Hiley.

On the threshold of her own bold experiment, Hiley is looking forward to sharing these iconic works with new legions of dance lovers.

"This project is a window into the world of Isadora from over 100 years ago that still resonates today," she says. "It’s an unbelievable opportunity to step back in time and witness these masterpieces from one of the most important creators of all times, the great mother of modern dance, Isadora Duncan."

holly.harris@shaw.ca

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