New doc looks at how choreographers, dancers push limits of remote collaboration
Mayumi Lashbrook’s Things I Cannot Avoid Saying to be released this winter
Before the pandemic, Mayumi Lashbrook was a dancer. Now, nine months in, she's also a filmmaker and videographer.
Her newest work, Things I Cannot Avoid Saying, is a short documentary about remote collaboration and performer-director boundaries in dance.
She created it earlier this year with Toronto-based filmmaker Christian Peterson while she was in isolation.
Early in the pandemic, the pair had been sharing films and clips of dances. Meanwhile, Lashbrook had been trying to stay active, dancing in her apartment. And sometimes, she would record those dances and share them with Peterson.
"Christian pointed out discoveries and experiments I was doing without even realizing it," says Lashbrook. "[He was] offering suggestions on how to continue to develop my choreography in relation to how I was filming it."
Slowly, the pair developed a full piece for Lashbrook to perform and began talking about how to make a documentary out of it.
"The choreography that I developed during the mentorship is surrounding my Japanese-Canadian identity," says Lashbrook, specifically referring to her grandfather's experiences in Canada during the Second World War. "I couldn't comprehend that there was a larger systemic reason why I had feelings of exclusion."
Part of creating both the dance and the film had to do with understanding her own history and the politics of her body, Lashbrook said.
"The body is political. The right to act, live and be within the body is governed," she says. "While I have more autonomy and freedom than my grandfather did, I recognize how I still oppress myself to belong."
She said the work she developed with Peterson works through identity politics, how she lives in her community and the idea of displacement.
To create the doc, the pair met as often as possible by video — early in the morning, late at night, on weekends — trying to figure out how to make a meaningful project together without actually being in the same room.
Peterson was responsible for the framework, but "the conception and ... the actual filming is done by me," says Lashbrook. And because Peterson couldn't be with her, she had to learn the tech.
She also had to go through a full production process both in front of and behind the camera to tell her story.
"While I have worked as a performer on a number of digital projects, including short films, commercials, music videos and more, this is different in that I am the main creator of the content," she says.
Lashbrook hopes to complete the film this winter.
This story is part of Digital Originals, an initiative of the Canada Council for the Arts. Artists were offered a $5,000 micro-grant to either adapt their existing work or create new work for the digital world during the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC Arts has partnered with Canada Council to feature a selection of these projects. You can see more of these projects here.