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In Conversation with Heidi Strauss

February 12, 2024 Dancer Heidi Strauss wearing yellow and red t-shirt with eyes closed as if listening and elbow bent and hand gesturing upwards. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

C+C’s Rachana Joshi peaks behind the scenes, asking choreographer and performer Heidi Strauss what sparked the creation of between me and you and how she navigates the parameters of the work from both inside and out.

What ignited your exploration into the idea of ‘memory’?

You know, I can’t remember. I’ve always been interested in how the brain works, how we subconsciously curate what we retain. I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of meeting someone for the third time and they can’t remember ever having met you? I tend to think it’s about me, but it honestly has more to do with their selective memory. 

What (or whom) we take time with leaves an impression.

In highschool I read Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners. The main character in the novel often replays what she calls memorybank movies. I like that expression and the idea of quietly replaying our important moments. I find myself in my own memorybank movie after performing sometimes – probably because of the feeling of time stretch in the experience. 

I became acutely more aware of memory, and memory loss, after my mom told me the story of losing her car in the enormous shopping mall parking lot in New Sudbury. A stranger noticed her distraught and wandering, and spent the rest of the afternoon scouring the parking lot. They found the car through that stranger’s kindness. Then I noticed how often she was saying, ‘Now what did I do with that? ‘ under her breath.  Words like yogurt fell out of her vocabulary and one day she wrote a letter apologizing for what she might say in the future that would be unintentionally hurtful. How destabilizing it must be to not trust what your future self might do/say, and to admit that uncertainty. 

Reflecting on all this, if I was to understand anything about her experience, I realized I had to ask myself to take away what I rely on. I had to trust myself in new ways, to react in the moment, to follow an immediate logic instead of pre-determining a path leading people (an audience) to a definitive end. Nothing is definite. Change is all around. Our memories are here and gone – sometimes in a flash. Just like us. I want to make the most of the moment. 

You mention your desire for ‘co-presence’, and an active ‘exchange with the audience’. In your process and work, how do you navigate the intangible, but necessary relationship between performer and audience?

I’m asking myself a lot of questions about the purpose of performance these days – or my purpose in performing, let’s say.  How are we here together?

Co-presence is a sociological term used in interdependent relationships between two people but can pertain to small groups where there is a sense or undercurrent of relation, or affective unspoken dialogue.  For me, it ends up being the difference between going to see a show versus going to experience it.  An experience is lived – like performing can be. It’s part of the reason I believe installation and immersive work is so engaging. Apart from the influence of videogame play and a growing desire for agency, there is a sense of being in the world with/of the work. In performance that extends to being in the world with the people.

In the question you used the phrase ‘navigate the intangible’ which I think is quite beautiful – and an attribute of dance. The circumstance of the moment is intangible, and to accept that, to invite those uncertainties in, welcome complexity, and let go of pretense is part of what happens with co-presence.  I am still learning, but at its heart, I think it is about making room for trust.  

between me and you is a solo exploration. As both choreographer and performer, do you find a particular role demanding more of your attention?

In this work I’m not differentiating between roles. I am both at the same time. Both the solo and I are constantly changing. I must listen without judgement – that has been the practice: listening to what is occurring in the moment, responding or letting myself search and find new understandings that bring me to another stage of searching. A learning cycle.  

adelheid is part of C+C’s Creative Incubator. What impact has working in residence had on this work, and/or the day-to-day life of your company?

The Creative Incubator is what enabled the practice I just mentioned. Access to studio space, sometimes in the very early mornings, gave me space to play. I always feel paying for a studio comes with pressure, to be productive and leave with something quantifiable. But there is no formula, no hour of rehearsal to minute of performance ratio. Each process is different. A best-case scenario residency, like the Creative Incubator, doesn’t request an outcome or support a specific work. It is there to support the trajectory of an artist, their questions, investigations, failures – to have a creative home for a short while. As a small organization, it has allowed us to continue explorations between project funding applications, and to keep working when resources are slim. In aftermath of the pandemic with economic shifts and so many Toronto studios and rehearsal spaces closing their doors, it has truly been a gift to work at the Citadel. I am so grateful to the whole Citadel staff – and especially to Laurence who champions dance creation and presentation in a spirit of deep generosity. 

***

I never set out to make a solo for myself. I simply had an idea and began experimenting. It was other people who understood it could go somewhere before I did. Charles Smith presented the earliest seed of work in Wind in the Leaves in 2022, and Nicole Mion invited it to Calgary’s Fluid Festival later that fall. Through early morning Creative Incubator rehearsals, I reworked it for Fluid. What followed was a process of development and iterative sharings in Montreal, New York, Liverpool, Sudbury, and Taipei. I benefitted from input from two incredible artistic advisors: Fayen D’Evie and Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful Espejo Ovalles, and more recently from a long-time collaborators Jeremy Mimnagh, Rebecca Picherack and Ginelle Chagnon. I am grateful to/for all these people. 

between me and you
Choreographed and performed by Heidi Strauss
February 14 – 17, 2024
8PM @ The Citadel