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In Conversation with Helen Simard

Headshot of Helen Simard
Photo by Roger White


Choreographed by Helen Simard

Citadel Spring Mix
April 5, 6, 2024

How long have you been developing this work?

We started working on Papillon in January 2020 and finished the creation over Zoom during the 1st wave of COVID-19. In fall 2020, our premiere was cancelled the day before opening night due to the curfew imposed in Quebec during the 2nd lockdown.

Are there any key themes that recur in your work or processes?

I think that every show I have ever made could probably be summed up as “A chaotic journey through despair towards hope”. I use repetition, complex spatial patterns and techniques of sensory overwhelm to create hypnotic, dreamlike performances that explore nostalgia, togetherness, grief and insistence. 

Is there any advice you would give to emerging choreographers? 

My biggest advice would be to make work you believe in and are willing to defend. I think we spend a lot of time worrying about if people will “like” our work or not, but really what does it matter if people like your show? You can’t make work that everyone will like. Sometimes I don’t “like” my own work, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in what I am doing.

What excites you about Toronto’s dance scene? 

The diversity of forms practiced, a deep sense of community, a playfulness that many choreographers seem to delight in.

What is special to you about remounting a work? Is there anything you learn when performing a work over multiple years for different audiences in different places? 

As a pandemic project, Papillon has been reworked and reformatted dozens of times. We did a live stream early in the pandemic, performed in backyards and parking lots when theatres were closed, and have now performed the theatrical version over 40 times in Canada and Europe. Every time we remount the work, we are always amazed that there is still more to learn about the work. It’s as if the work keeps evolving because we keep evolving as humans, as a team. Someone mentioned to me early on in the process that a caterpillar doesn’t just become a butterfly; it has to liquify itself inside the cocoon and reform out of a gooey state. I think of that every time we remount Papillon, and wonder what new information will emerge from our goo.