Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 78: One Hundred More — with Justine A. Chambers and Laurie Young

Speakers: Paige Smith, Am Johal, Justine A. Chambers, Laurie Young

Paige Smith  0:03  
Hey, I'm Paige Smith with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is created by SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement, and is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Today, we're excited to share with you a conversation between two incredible collaborators, dance artists and friends, Justine A. Chambers and Laurie Young. Our host, Am Johal, speaks with them about a really special collaboration of theirs, which has been many years in the making. Their piece, "One hundred more," is an exploration of the gestures of resistance, both as mothers and women of color. Laurie and Justine also discuss their practice of social and relational choreography, and how they route their collaboration in care and friendship. I hope you enjoy the episode.

Am Johal  0:54  
Hi, everyone. Welcome to Below the Radar. Really delighted to have Justine Chambers and Laurie Young with us today. Both dancers, choreographers, doing many, many other things as well. Welcome to both of you. I'm wondering if we can start by having you both introduce yourselves maybe starting with you, Justine.

Justine A. Chambers  1:17  
Yeah, my name is Justine and I live in Vancouver, on these unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. I live on the Downtown Eastside which is another site of displacement in our, in our city here. I'm a choreographer and I'm a dancer, a teacher. Spend more time ... Used to spend a little bit more time being a community mobilizer, but I'm also a mom. So that takes ... that's my, that takes ... maybe up some other spaces that I used to have freed up for other things within the dance community. I feel very fortunate to be able to work both between the dance community and the visual arts community here and other places to.

Am Johal  1:58  

Laurie Young  1:59  
Yeah, I'm Laurie Young, and I'm a choreographer and dance artist and performer. And I've been ... I am Canadian, but I left many years ago, I've been living in Berlin, Germany for over 20 years now. Yeah, and my work has lately been very transdisciplinary in nature, I've been working with a lot of scientists, predominantly anthropologists. And yeah, and I had the great fortune to meet Justine some years ago. And, and ... so we've also been in collaboration lately as well.

Am Johal  2:34  
I read somewhere that you met on Kits Beach.

Justine A. Chambers  2:37 
Yeah, that happened.

Am Johal  2:38  
Yeah, see, I did my research a little!

Justine A. Chambers  2:42  
You did!

Am Johal  2:45  
You mentioned, I'm also in the Downtown Eastside right now, Justine, I'm in the old police station building, which has so many complicated histories here. And really interesting to see in this pandemic context as well how things have shifted and changed and how crises sort of rolled on top of crises that are happening. I was gonna ask you, both, before we talk about a specific work of yours, sort of the general, sort of, nature of your practice, like how you find yourself in this context now. Because you've both come out of the contemporary arts, the dance world, but you also have kind of critiques of that world, as well. And I think that's an important, sort of, context setting piece around the work that you're ... you're doing now.

Justine A. Chambers  3:36  
Laurie, you want to take that or you want me to start?

Laurie Young  3:39  
Wow. Um, yeah, I mean ... I would definitely ... my education and my, my upbringing definitely centres around contemporary dance, which has welcomed me in many ways, and it's given me so much grounding and livelihood and information and has really informed me. But it's also where sometimes I can't necessarily find my community or the resources that I need, or... Yeah, or, or kin. Sometimes, I'm, I'm seeking that, and I don't find that. So I feel like we're in a moment where those questions are really being put to the fore. And in the sense of who has been in the margins, what are the margins, and can we move those margins? So I feel like through movements, there is that possibility of opening up those questions and perhaps even answering those questions with movement.

Justine A. Chambers  4:43  
Now, so ... so well put, Laurie. You're so smart. Why I work with Laurie.

Laurie Young  4:49 
I'm so nervous. I'm like, so anxious.

Justine A. Chambers  4:50 
Oh, always. Like everyday walking down the street. You kidding me? Yeah, I mean, much like Laurie my ... I mean, Laurie and I actually trained at the same place but not ... never knew each other in our formation training. So like, we both were at Le Groupe de la Place Royale, in Ottawa. We both grew up mostly in Ottawa, so we share ghosts, but we've never ... we weren't friends when we were in Ottawa. And my training was, yeah, like, ballet, modern dance, you know, and in that structure. And it was about physical training, and like, bombastic heroic movement, and ... But very much within, like, a structure, like Laurie said, that doesn't always invite. The ways I'm not centre, you know, in the world. Or how being a POC in the world, like that was something that there's like a great erasure there. Or that you had to sort of self erase to be welcomed into those spaces, in some ways,

Laurie Young  5:59  
Or exoticized.

Justine A. Chambers  5:59  
Oh god.

Laurie Young  5:59 
Or highlighted to be.

Justine A. Chambers  6:02  
Or highlighted, yeah. Definitely that, and I felt that very much in my first job in a big dance company where I was, kind of ... I was the witch, or I was the wild one, right? Like that... Those were kind of my two roles, right, to be wild or witchy. Yeah, you know, which maybe arguably, that movement was more interesting to do. But I, you know, sometimes it'd be nice for another ... another thing to happen. In my practice, as a choreographer, was really moving away from the heroic movements that I was trained to do, or that I did as a dancer, have always done as a dancer in other people's work. That I really focused on the daily and the quotidian and the movements that we all do. You know, this, this word, I think, the social choreography, which has come up. We've talked a lot about it too, Am, in the past. So I think what I kept ... what I keep gravitating towards is like, what's already happening? And how can we, yeah, like, move that again, or move it differently, or bring attention to it. So we can pay attention to the structures around us, that are moving us without us paying it, like with ... You know, I think about how we're being moved as opposed to how we choose to be moved. So how we choose to move. So I think there's, for me, maybe that was my, my attempt that, like, if we can reframe or reconfigure those things, or bring a new awareness to those things, that perhaps we could ask questions about them. Because the questions show up when our attention goes there.

Am Johal  7:43  
And I see these words, social and relational choreography, sort of, attached to both of your thinking. Laurie, how do you think through this notion of social or relational choreography as it relates to your work?

Laurie Young  8:03  
I think ... I try to see choreography in everything. I think choreography exists in everything, and choreography is like ... can be systems ... as like a relational tool. So, what I'm really trying to understand for myself is how can I use the choreographic language that I've been, kind of, brought up with? So things like, near or far, rhythm, dynamic? How these words have this, kind of, choreographic vocabulary? How can I see that in the every day? And, and, I mean, when I hear Justine speaks to this, there's a lot of echoing in how I've been thinking about work lately as well. Yeah, and I think that everything ... I think everything is choreography, in nonsense. Because it's not just the, you know, body as in human bodies, but it's the body of the objects or the body of, yeah, placement. So, yeah.

Am Johal  9:11  
Yeah. In the work that you're collaborating on now, "One hundred more," which I guess the timelines have been torpedoed. I think it was supposed to be in Vancouver this fall. Is that right?

Justine A. Chambers  9:26  
Yeah, it was supposed to be in Montreal first, at the beginning of April. So...

Am Johal  9:30  
I'm so sad, I didn't get a chance to see it, yet! Because it has to come back. It can't be gone yet.

Justine A. Chambers  9:37 
That's the idea.

Laurie Young  9:39  
That's the idea.

Am Johal  9:40  
Wondering if you can maybe talk about how the collaboration started or initiated and came to be like your initial conversations about it. Because I find the artistic process really interesting in working out of an art school where a lot of grad students are thinking through work. I think this part of the conversation is particularly interesting for them. In terms of the stage that are at in developing their own work.

Justine A. Chambers  10:03 
It's a ... it's a love story. I mean, right, Laurie? It's a total love story.

Laurie Young  10:07 

Justine A. Chambers  10:10  
Like, I'll do ... how it's, we were both at 8 DAYS, which is—oh, there's my partner. Out of frame, oh doesn't matter... And which is a choreograph—or it's a gathering for Canadian choreographers. And it was first initiated by Ame Henderson and Tedd Robinson. So the second year ... I went to the first year, and then Laurie applied the second year. And I was on that application committee and I was reading her application. I'm like, "I want to hang out with this person." And also seeing that we had like, been trained in the same place, and Laurie was in the company at the group. So anyway, but we didn't really like it took a couple days for us to spend time together. And it started with us doing an improv, like literally under a tree, like sun dappled. And we were like, stuck in this like, tiny movement thing, which I'm like, demonstrating because I feel like I still remember it. And as we were dancing, I was like, I know you like I just my body knew, like, I knew what she was gonna do. I know where we were gonna go. But I was like, is that my instinct or hers? Like, there is this like, incredible, like, folding in of, of like movement and awareness. And like, I think everybody stopped and we kept going. And when it was over, we kind of looked at each other, like, we just had great sex or something, you know? Like, it was like, wow. Who are you? And so like, I think like, that was the beginning of the collaboration without us, sort of, saying we were in collaboration. And, and then I guess the next step was that this Crystal Dance Prize that Dance Victoria offers for a BC-based artist to collaborate with an international artist, and like I just wrote to Laurie, and I'm like, "do you want to do something together?" Like, and it was clear over the course of eight days, we found that like, where we overlapped and our interest and, you know, Laurie was a mom. And it was like, something that was entering my head about being a mother, but I wasn't quite there yet. And there is, you know, the things we were concerned with. I just thought, girl, let's, let's see if we can get this money because it's a prize. So it's like, you know, there's no reporting, and that's always nice. And then we got it. So that was sort of like, "Okay." 

Laurie Young  12:24  
Well, you got it. 

Justine A. Chambers  12:25  
Well, we got it, because one of the people on the jury who was in Europe knew Laurie, and then the other people knew me, so we really got it. People were excited for the two of us to be together, as we were also. So I feel like that was sort of, like, how it started. And then it was like, what are we gonna do? You know, now what? We had written stuff that was kind of like, vague around our practices, probably much like how we just spoke to you like, "Oh, I'm interested in gesture, and the movement of the everyday, and like, blah blah blah." You know, we kind of put this thing together. That sounded like something. And then I think the first thing we did with the money was that I ... we came to Berlin, no?

Laurie Young  13:07  

Justine A. Chambers  13:08  
That's the first thing? Yeah. So I was a new mom, then Max was like, a year and a bit. And we went, and we worked at Uferstudios, or the ada studios ... ada studios. Yeah. And we read a lot. It was a bit of a constipated process, that first one, yeah? 'Cause we were just like, what are we going to do? And then we would dance together, and it would be sublime. And then we would read for a few days. And then get kind of ... because I think we, sort of, centred on gestures of resistance. That was sort of the thing that called to both of us. Both of us having like a little personal activism practice. Within the milieu of ... and then we got sick, we all got sick, remember? Like Max was throwing up, and the next day I was throwing up, the next day Laurie. So we didn't work for a few days. But it was just this, like, gathering information, gathering information. But the thing that I can look back with 20/20 hindsight is that every time we danced ... When we were so unsure talking, "I don't know, are we going to do this? I don't know, I'm overwhelmed. How do we take this on, blah blah blah?" And then we would dance? And afterwards, we'd still have that like, post sex thing again, you'd be like, "yeah, that was so good." So it became clear that like, it's in the moving together, that we moved these ideas that we feel this kinship or this solidarity, that we know each other. And then it took four years to make.

Laurie Young  14:34  
Yeah, there was a lot. There was a lot of grant writing. Yeah, these things take time. And we're both, you know, freelance artists who don't live in the same country. So it took some time to get a flow going. And the flow was also, you know, in the emailing and in the follow time and in us doing other projects independently and then sharing that information together. So yeah, I felt like we were always in the work even though we weren't always together.

Justine A. Chambers  15:05  
Yeah, but I think Laurie and I actively ... we actively decided to, like, work on the ideas, making other projects with those ideas, so that we could keep the thinking and the moving and the working through the ideas going. Laurie had a fellowship, where she ... she was working with gestures, as part of the ... some of the work you did with the scientists, and I made something ... I made a score that was related to it that I performed for something else. And then, I mean, everything just like, you know, it was just like the, the more we can work on it, the more we can work on it. And we were really fine with that not always happening together. So we, sort of, made all these works that were side by side, and then kind of crossed over. And then finally, once we got all of our support in place, and we could be together more often, then it started, you know, starts to cook and you bring in other collaborators. But also I think, for us the value of our working, which is not very normal, I would say, within our milieu, is that we were going to not feel like shit while we did it. We are not going to be like, we have, we have kids that we want to spend time with and we weren't going to work nine hours a day and be all wrecked for our families. And we weren't going to ... Yeah, we just decided that being well was a value of a work ... was a value to working together. And that in fact, was quite radical to like, take care of ourselves and each other. And that was like the beauty of this project. Because I remember even when we opened in Berlin, Laurie being like, "Why am I not more nervous? Why don't I feel screwed up about it?" I'm like, "Because we did this in a way where we felt secure actually." Because there was so much care for the other person, even when, like, we were stuck and we didn't know what to do. And you know, we never ... there was never this, sort of ... like devolution to like some desperate horrible feelings. It was like okay, what do we need to do? Do we need to stop and have a coffee? Maybe we end the day now. Like there was just like this, this commitment to being, like, well and kind. I mean, our last couple of weeks together when we had all the collaborators together, we called ourselves the House of Wellness, because it was like, there was supplements on the table, there was hydration, like we just like there was a food in the fridge. We had warm lunch every day, we had a little snooze before the after—like it was just like, everyone felt great. And everyone was free then to do work in the way they needed to, you know? And I never felt compromised. I never felt like I was working against something. It was like all this, like, with, with, with, with. And it wasn't like all yeses. We weren't like yes to everything. But we were ... we were committed to being well, which felt like, felt like a revolution to me, like an internal revolution, you know?

Laurie Young  17:48  
Yeah, I think it really helped that we were well resourced as well. 

Justine A. Chambers  17:53  
Oh, my God!

Laurie Young  17:54  
This, this is definitely not to be underestimated. Yeah, and I just wanted to go back quickly. There was a moment when we weren't sure whether we wanted to make a dance piece. We're like, "Oh, maybe we should write something." Because we were doing so much reading and, and journal writing. And we're like, maybe it has to be something else like in text form. And then ... and then when we realized, actually, no, this is ... has to be live. And it has to be both us together in space. And I think that's ... I feel like that's a really important thing for me to remember, in this process. And especially now reflecting upon, you know, with COVID, and everything that's going on, and the value of that moment of liveness and togetherness, I feel like it was ... that was really shiny for me then, having that understanding of what being in movement together can bring. And so we're just reflecting on that, now, even more with this lens.

Am Johal  18:50  
When you were working on the piece. Last year during a rehearsal, you guys generously invited me in one day, and what came across to me as someone who is not deeply embedded in choreography or dance, was that generosity and friendship and the kind of joy of being together in the work. It really ... you could feel it as someone just sitting in the audience without having to know anything about the piece itself. And wondering, you know, as you've gone through and did already, you're actually already have launched it in Berlin, but the process of how the work evolved from where it began to when you actually were on stage in Berlin. How did you describe that? That, that process of how you developed it, how you landed it, and in the way that it was on stage?

Laurie Young  19:51  
Yeah, that's a great question. It's ... It was also the first time we've collaborated too, so there was a lot of fundamental questions that kind of came up like, "Oh, you ... Oh, you actually think differently? Oh, I have another thought on that." So there was it was very interesting to understand what each other's practices bring to the work. And like I had ... I had a tendency to like come with an idea, and then it would spiral outwards. And then Justine might have an idea that would ... She's like, "No, but what's your knuckle doing? In that moment." I don't know. But let's play with speakers! You know, so we really had to kind of hone ... There were like a million different ideas, and at a certain point, you kind of chipped away and then that is ... And I feel like, again, it was in the moving and like, putting on music and being with the rhythm and the beats, and where there was always this core way of moving, that kept coming back and kept coming back, and was relentless. And we were like, "This is it." And I'm like, "Yeah, I think so." So there was like this one core way of being inside the movement together that just kept calling us. And, and I felt like once you made that decision, like the kind of the brave decision that every person has, you know, when they're creating the work. Decision making time was like ... And then once that decision was made, and we felt committed to it, it was like, I felt like it was ... Yeah, there was a flow.

Justine A. Chambers  21:22  
Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, and that now that that I go back, like, it's not that different from what we did under the tree, either. 

Laurie Young  21:29  

Justine A. Chambers  21:29  
When I think about the scale of movement, in the way we were moving together, I mean, I think that was the thing that connected us in the first place. And then it was just, like, some refinement of that. But yeah, certainly. We have like, really ... I mean, you know, you love someone and you like hanging out with them and, and you like their ideas, but then you're like, "Oh, my God, yeah, we worked super, super differently." Right, like, so differently. So there was that, like, the learning ... the learning from the difference, like what Laurie had to bring to my eye and body was so different than what I would have done on my own. And that's why you collaborate anyway, right? So that you, you invite something new that can like amplify, or, or just become like more ... like more compounded, action and thought. But yeah, once we sort of hit on this, this movement, how we were going to move in rhythm. But there's things we always knew, like, we always knew that we needed like, a good ... like, we need a good bass, like there is, like, things that, like, we need anyway, when we're dancing in the club, like you need good bass. And you need ... But it was like stuff ... And also like, for me, I hadn't made anything in a theater in like eight years. So for this, like return into the theater space, and this sort of, like, front-facing, but then also that became part of it. That being like hyper front-facing, you only see the front of our bodies, pretty much the whole work. We don't ... we choose what you see very, very, very specifically. But I think what's the same about Laurie and I is the level of specificity, and like ... Like, we're picky. And I wouldn't, I wouldn't work ... both of us in very same and—well, actually very different and same ways. So in the end, like, I wouldn't want to work with anybody who wasn't super, super picky in particular, and, and asking questions, and you know, not letting something be enough until we've exhausted it. And I think that was something that for me was where we were super aligned. And then bringing in collaborators. I mean, we were just lucky that we ... Laurie knew people who knew people who were able to come and be in our process, and Emese (Csornai) and Neda (Sanai) ... Emese did the lights, and Neda did the sound. That they also ... And what was important to us is that they worked in their own process alongside of us, without us telling them what to do. Like it was like, whatever you're doing has to be what we're doing, but in the way that you would do it. So there was this nice two week period at the end there where we were all in the studio, Laurie got us this studio in Berlin that we had ... that at a kitchen was very cozy, we could put up lights, we could deal with sound. And we were all just kind of working side by side. And I have to admit, like, I don't ever think I saw all the lighting cues ever until I saw the video. And it was fine. Like I wasn't worried about it either. She's like, "Do you want to look at this?" I'd be like, "Oh, yeah, okay, fine." Like I was not worried about ... I wasn't worried about it, you know, because there's this way that everybody was in a process and then we all performed live. So we got to continue to be together in performance. There was never this moment where something was set. Nothing ... We knew exactly what our score was, all of us. But it wasn't set so that we could be again talking about relationship or social choreography, although ... Is that that was happening between us in relationship, our friendships, our understanding was always unfolding live on stage through four different performances,

Am Johal  24:45  
Where you've had this interruption in terms of being able to show the work in Montreal, Vancouver, and likely other places as well. And everyone's been hit by the pandemic context. All of the politics that are unfolding. If there's a way to structure or set up the work again in the, in the future, and hopefully there is. There is a level of structured improvisation built into the work. Do you imagine it changing in some way? As time passes? Do you look at the work differently when you watch what happened in Berlin? Or have video footage of it and everything?

Justine A. Chambers  25:28  
Huh... That's a good question. I mean, I think those ... whatever would change, would show up in our bodies in the doing of it. I think like, we'll know that when we get to stand beside each other again, and move through it. Because I mean, day to day it changes, it would change, every time we ran, it would change. And now with all of this, and like the, you know...

Laurie Young  25:55  
I'm so curious what it would be like. Because part of the process ... Also, another thing that we have in common, I think, is the body as an archive. So every time that we'd be creating these movements, we're already archiving it in our bodies, and then that would show up in different ways and new iterations, and the next performance. And with so much time passing, and with so many things, all the things that our bodies have been doing since we've seen each other, how would that show up also, in this context? Of this ... In the super, hyper-politicized moments, and hyper- ... you know, our ...  our piece is very much about gestures of resistance. And what a moment to be thinking that through and dancing that through. And imagine, I have no idea in one year, if we do this show again. It's ... it's, I don't know!

Justine A. Chambers  26:46  
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm ... I mean, when I just sort of go back and quickly, kind of, chronicle my feelings from the past six or seven months, or from even the last time we performed it, but just like the, the amount of grief that I've been feeling in the last while. Because of the sort of global resurgence of the Black- ... like a really global resurgence, or acknowledgement of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think that maybe before we did it, there was like, tiny bits of grief that like I could sort of contain, but that's sort of been not ... I have not been able to contain that in this time. So, I just, I'm curious about what might show up that because I've opened those doors, you know? And, and thinking about, like, all the anti-Asian sentiment that came up with, with COVID. I mean, like, first my heart was breaking for Laurie. You know, we spoke at one point, and you said, like, "it's not easy being Asian right now." And like I just like, wanted to, like, fall on the floor and cry for her. And then like, the deep ancestral cries that are like moving through my body in this moment in the past several months. So I don't know, I just sort of feel like something else will happen. But I don't actually feel like we have to restructure the work for that. I think what we've made ... the work holds, it holds all the possibilities. And because the work is so iterative, and like even in the doing of it, you know, we may say this is, you know, this is one of the places we're going to get to, but anything that happens before arriving that place and moving out of that place we don't control. So it really allows for ourselves in the present to conjure our past and, like, move us forward into the future. So I don't think at this moment—but you know, we can argue about that later—I don't see myself changing the structure like I really ... I don't, yeah, I love this work, like so deeply. Like, this is such ... For me, this is one of those, like, if I had to stop and never make anything again, like I would feel like cool. We made that thing together. Like I would be completely fine with that.

Laurie Young  28:58  

Am Johal  29:01  
Laurie and Justine. Thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar. And I just wanted to thank you for the amazing work you do. And it'd be a tragedy if we weren't able to see this in Vancouver and Montreal, and other places. So I hope that there's a way for the work to be ... to be shown in the way that it was meant to be. So thank you so much.

Justine A. Chambers  29:24  
Thank you so much. 

Laurie Young  29:25  
Yeah, thank you.

Paige Smith  29:29  
Thank you for listening to our conversation with Justine Chambers and Laurie Young. Here's hoping that safety permitting we'll be able to experience "One hundred more" in person someday. Learn more about their work at the links in the show notes and tune in next week for Below the Radar. Thanks for listening! See you later.

Transcript auto-generated by and edited by the Below the Radar team.
October 01, 2020

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