Kristin Haight and Kayla Henry will perform in Toward Light on Jan. 8 & 9 (Leif Norman)
It was a colossal loss for the dance world. In June, 2012, Rachel Browne, founding artistic director of Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers, passed away.
The company is celebrating her life with a tribute show called Toward Light featuring eight of Browne's works spanning her creative life.
SCENE asked five dancers who were closely associated with Browne to share a favourite memory.
Brent Lott, current artistic director of WCD:
Last year, three months before she died, I invited Rachel to come and see a run of the new work I had created on VERGE, WCD's emerging company. After the piece was done Rachel was uncharacteristically quiet. Once all the dancers left the theatre Rachel asked me to please apologize to the dancers for not saying anything to them.
She went on to explain that she had felt if she had started to speak she would have cried. She told me she was having a 'legacy moment,' realizing as she watched that these beautiful, young and talented dancers were here dancing before us because she had started WCD 48 years earlier.
Rachel then tilted her head and with a deliberate girlishness asked if I had noticed anything different about her. I stuttered out a 'no, should I?' She then thrust her hands toward me and said 'look.' Rachel had decided, on a whim, to have her nails painted a greenish grey colour. I had never seen her with painted nails and I was a bit baffled as to why she was showing me this now. She then curled her fingers in and said 'aren't they beautifully grotesque?' It made her laugh to see the juxtaposition of her gnarled arthritic fingers and the beauty of her painted nails.
This was the strategy she employed while watching the dancers of VERGE. Every time she felt her emotions swell and her eyes fill she would look at her fingers and she was then able not to cry. She did not want the dancers to see the only person in the audience crying. She said 'how would they know they were tears of joy?'
Stephanie Ballard, former WCD member until 2005 and archivist:
Rachel Browne was a legend in her own time. As a dancer she set a very high standard for herself. As a director and choreographer her accomplishments are unsurpassable. Rachel's work often included feminist statements that celebrate the power of women. She was known as a generous mentor and she especially encouraged women to choreograph. For that, many of us remain eternally grateful.
In 1964 when Rachel Browne started a dance company in Winnipeg, I doubt she had any idea of the far-reaching impact she would have both in Winnipeg and throughout Canada. We have all been touched deeply by Rachel's artistry and compassion. She was my teacher, choreographer, director, mentor and my treasured friend for 40years. Like many others, I owe my entire career to Rachel Browne and am very proud to be a part of her monumental legacy.
Kristin Haight, dancer with WCD and archivist:
Rachel's impact on my dance career has been unequaled. In dancing many of her works I have learned (among many things), that if I approach movement honestly, the message is clearest. The performer's intent is of most importance. Not only with expansive movement, but even the simplest gesture or gaze, what is behind it is what will communicate the message.
Rachel created dances in a way that the dancer could personalize the experience, rather than the dancer trying to express an exact emotion from the choreographer. The movement informs the emotion, and vice versa.