MAXINE HEPPNER : CREATIONS
“Walking into Old Stories is walking into
Brittany Duggan - The Dance Current
Old Stories: reviews
“Walking into Old Stories (by Maxine Heppner) is walking into another dimension.”
Brittany Duggan of The Dance Current, 2015
by Michael Crabb
February 5, 2015
Many Stories Told Through Dance
Maxine Heppner presents Old Stories Feb. 5 to 8 after project was derailed by her bike accident and concussion. Fifteen months and one major concussion later, veteran Toronto choreographer Maxine Heppner is bringing her latest project, Old Stories, to the stage.
The two-part program, a Danceworks/CoWorks presentation opening Thursday at the intimate Scotiabank Studio Theatre in Parkdale, was originally scheduled for November 2013. Just two weeks before the premiere, disaster struck.
“I’d just finished up a production session at the theatre and was cycling back home,” recounts Heppner. “I was happy, thinking what a perfect fall evening. Then somehow wet leaves got caught up in the front wheel. It jammed and I ended up flying over the handlebars and landing flat on my face. The bike didn’t have a scratch.”
Fortunately, there were people around — Heppner call them “angels” — to offer assistance and summon an ambulance, but the concussion Heppner sustained, plus a few cracked teeth, knocked her out of action for several months.
“It was as if my brain stopped working for a while,” says Heppner. “Any sensory stimulus was too much so no reading, no writing, no computer, no television. Basically I was in the dark for at least the first month.”
The impending performances, of course, had to be cancelled. Now, more or less fully recovered, Heppner is excited that Old Stories is finally going on.
As Heppner explains, the germ of the program came from an earlier solo she performed as part of the popular ongoing series Older and Reckless, curated by Claudia Moore. In it, Heppner sat at a table, “dancing with my hands.”
For Heppner, this gestural language contained specific meaning but, as she discovered, audiences often read it quite differently, injecting their own meaning, their own stories, into Heppner’s hand dance.
She decided to explore the idea of personal stories and the effect of making them public, in the way we often share our stories with others.
In preparation, Heppner put out an open call for people to send in their stories. These, almost 80 of them, will be displayed in the lobby in written form to provide context for the ideas behind the performance. Heppner calls this, a “very SHORT STORY festival.”
In the program’s opening work, Old Story, Heppner is transforming the theatre into a “pseudo tavern.” The audience will sit at tables. Beer will be served. The 10-member cast could initially be mistaken for fellow audience members — Heppner plays tavern keeper — until the four principals among them dive into the meat of the dance, the actual telling of stories, in spoken word and gesture.
“Some of the stories are real,” explains Heppner. “Some are made up and some, like an Inuit tale, are borrowed. They are funny and joyous, tragic and sad. Some stories can only be expressed through the body itself, in dance.”
What interests Heppner in the work’s evolution is the way even personal stories, repeatedly retold, settle into archetypal frameworks. They share elements that transcend time and culture.
In the second part of the program Heppner has completely reworked a solo she first workshopped in 2008. Moments in Time is performed by Takako Segawa, Heppner’s longtime artistic collaborator. For this, the theatre reverts to a more conventional configuration with the audience no longer embedded in the action but seated as viewers.
Heppner explains the solo as one woman’s story, an exploration of her inner life. The 50-minute dance takes Segawa on a journey of memory and recalled emotions, in its own way transformed in the present through the act of telling.
“Telling stories is fundamental to us as people,” says Heppner. “It’s how we connect.”
When a storm causes a power outage in the theatre lobby the audience is ushered through the back parking lot into a strangely alternate universe - a tavern-like place where everything is askew, grass grows on tables, and the beer is free. While the storm rages outside, old stories are told through cards, singing bodies, tears and laughter, from the hearts of seven women who have come long distances to live here together.
We never seemed to speak so much when the sun was shining, mostly we spoke in bad weather- what else to do in the middle of a storm but gather around a table and trade stories.
We found that if a story is good it’s because it began with the teller physically feeling the story and then translating it into language.
We found that sometimes there were things that our movement said what words could not.
We persisted in sharing the old stories- to teach, to learn, to bond as a group, to not feel so alone.
Old Stories : credits
Thanks to Private Angels, The Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council and Danceworks Co-Works.