3 days until #DanceWeekend21: Meet Michael Caldwell and STDT

Apr. 26, 2021

3 days until #DanceWeekend21!

Meet Michael Caldwell: a choreographer, performer, curator, director, producer, and arts advocate, based in Toronto and Michael Rayson, Charlotte Cain, Christine Litt Belch,  Kurumi Yoshimoto, Lyla-Jean Bowman, Marina Mendez Juarez, and Yael Zifroni - current students at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

Directed, choreographed, produced and edited by Michael, Pressure will be presented at DanceWeekend on Saturday, May 1. The film originally premiered at PULSE 2020 in Dec 2020, as part of the requirements for the Professional Training Program at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre.

You don't want to miss it - get your ticket to DanceWeekend'21 today! https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/danceweekend21-tickets-149965399547?aff= #ComeDanceWithUs

Read more here:

Can you tell us little bit about yourself? 

Garnering critical acclaim, his choreography has been commissioned/presented throughout Canada at major festivals, in traditional venues and in site-responsive contexts. Caldwell's most recent choreographic work responds to the 'site' in as many ways as can be conceived, and subverts traditional modes of viewing. He will premiere a new web-based movement work online and a large-scale performance/sound work in Toronto's Year of Public Art in 2021, in addition to a new commissioned work for Toronto Dance Theatre. Caldwell is a two-time K.M. Hunter Charitable Foundation Artist Award finalist.

Caldwell has performed/collaborated with over 50 of Canada's esteemed performance creators/companies, working internationally and performing across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.  His performances have earned him two (2) Dora Mavor Moore Awards for outstanding performance in dance.

Currently, Caldwell serves as Executive Producer for Fall for Dance North in Toronto, and as Associate Artistic Director for Festival of Dance Annapolis Royal, in rural Nova Scotia.

With a bachelor’s degree in film/art history from Syracuse University in upstate New York, and professional dance training at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, Caldwell now sits on the board of directors at The CanDance Network and the Dancer Transition Resource Centre. 

Michael Rayson: "I am a Toronto-based dance artist and model; I began dancing at the age of 12. Throughout my training I have been immersed in a multitude of dance genres, with a concentration in contemporary dance. Now in my graduating year at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, I am eager to strengthen my artistic voice as a multifaceted emerging artist."

Charlotte Cain: "I’m from Ottawa, and I began my dance journey when I was six years old taking ballet classes. Over the years, I’ve danced various styles including jazz, contemporary, and modern techniques such as Graham, Horton, and Limón. I am currently invested in moving further in a more reflective, explorative, and action-based dance practice."

Christina Litt Belch: "I am a dance artist and composer from Hamilton, Ontario.  I began dancing and playing piano at a young age, and trained in Canada and the United States throughout high school.  I continued to further my training at the Alberta Ballet School in the Professional Graduate program.  Now I am in my final year at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, while also studying online at the University of Waterloo, completing an Undergraduate degree in English Literature and Writing.   I am intrigued by the connectivity of music, movement, and language, and the impact they have on one another."

Kurumi Yoshimoto: "I am a Toronto-based dancer originally from Osaka, Japan; I started studying ballet at the age of three. I trained at private dance studios until I earned B.A. in Psychology in 2015 from Kwansei Gakuin University. In 2017, I came to Canada to study modern dance. I participated in ProArteDanza’s summer intensive, and earned an invitation to be an apprentice with the company for their 2019 fall season. In 2020, I was a dancer in the SummerWorks Festival, and joined Kylie Thompson Dance in the summer. I am currently in my graduating year at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. I am interested in the many possibilities dance has to offer as well as participating in multidisciplinary projects so that I can continue to express myself."

Lyla-Jean Bowman: "I am from Penhold, Alberta, and I am in my third and final year of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Professional Training Program. I have been dancing since the age of three and my passion and love for contemporary dance has grown so much over the years. I began professional training at the Alberta Ballet School in 2016, and moved to Toronto in 2018 to dive deeper and go further in my training."

Marina Mendez Juarez: "I am a Mexican dance artist currently living in Toronto. I’m interested in all types of creation such as choreography and poetry. I’m very passionate about improvisation as my way to communicate and share in dance. I strongly believe that representation always matters; as a Person of Colour, I feel very proud to share my craft with my own individuality and my culture and heritage.  I’m always interested in sharing, and knowing more about other people’s culture and background."

Yael Zifroni: "I am originally from Israel where I’ve been dancing flamenco from a very young age, and contemporary, ballet, and Graham since my early teens. I moved to Toronto to attend the Professional Training Program at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, where I am in my graduating year."

How has the pandemic shifted your work as a student of dance, and how does it inform your thinking for your upcoming professional career?

Michael Rayson: "Now that classes have transitioned from in-person to online, and I am dancing in my small kitchen, the pandemic has really challenged me in many ways. I feel that due to my lack of space, I am required to be more of an adaptable dancer. For example, when the teacher is teaching an exercise that I may not be able to fit in my space, I will have to quickly adapt the exercise to make it work. Also, now that we have moved to a mainly virtual world, artists need to be more resilient than ever. As a result, I now feel I can handle the many ups and downs to come in my professional career, being resilient and constantly able to adapt to the many changing circumstances that I will face."

Charlotte Cain: "The pandemic has shifting training internally, and changed the surrounding environment for training. Having to self-motivate in different ways because of working through Zoom has been immense. What keeps me smiling and uplifted is the people with whom I collaborate. Teachers, choreographers, and fellow students are all in the same boat as me, and are all pushing through this. Even from afar, we are united in the moments we share through class and rehearsal, and that is touching. The connections being made at the start of my professional career will be with people who will, I hope, share this same kind of unity through movement and the art form."

Christina Litt Belch: "The pandemic has allowed me to slow down and take time to consider why I am drawn to dance and movement.  I think personal exploration of the root of one’s passion is vital for an informed and successful professional career.   I have gained insight into what interests me most, and what I would like to explore as I begin my professional career.  I am focusing on the exploration of how music and movement can be closely related and even work as one creative unit. "

Kurumi Yoshimoto: "Our training was physically demanding in the first two years, and usually third year is the most rigorous, both physically and mentally. I find this year is less physical compared to previous third year students’, because most of us don’t have a big space in which to dance at home, although this year is much more demanding mentally.  Questioning how I can take this training to make it more useful for myself, always motivates me to keep dancing and being positive. For example, I have analyzed my weaknesses: my pick-up skills, and how to learn the movement when teachers are mirroring us. I have worked on those skills. These are the things I can improve, even in a small space. These skills are very useful for learning choreography when we have to learn by watching videos in the professional dance world. Also, this whole experience makes me realize how much I want to keep dancing, and how important dance is to me. Knowing what I really want keeps me going towards my goals."

Lyla-Jean Bowman: "The pandemic shifted many things this year in my training. I am currently in Alberta doing full time online training and am unable to return to Toronto due to restrictions country wide. Although it has been difficult at times, I have really learned to take advantage of being in the moment and not focussing on what I cannot control. The things that I can control are how hard I work, how much I dedicate myself to my training, and how I can keep my head lifted high and stay strong in my Faith, regardless of the circumstances. It has really informed my thinking about the future, to see beyond these times. It has made me want to create my own dance films, to stay connected to such an important part of myself. It has allowed me to keep dreaming when it seems impossible, and has kept me curious about movement and creation."

Marina Mendez Juarez: "It helps me to keep improvising and being creative in finding new ways to dance."

Yael Zifroni: "I was initially discouraged by this shift of the dance world. Very quickly I understood that I need to reexamine my relationship with movement and dance. The circumstances have helped me clarify what it is about dance that really excites me and brings me joy, and I learned that the very thing that was taken from the dance community is exactly what I want to do. It sharpened the vision I have of myself in the future, and I am excited to pursue a career in performance and collaborative processes."

In 1 or 2 sentences, what does dance mean to you?

Michael Rayson: "Dance is an artform that will always challenge me to better myself, not only within my technical abilities, but also in my everyday life. Dance teaches you many transferable skills, and I will forever be learning, and growing as an individual."

Charlotte Cain: "Dance is life and its spirit in movement; it can be still or frenzied, but always alive. Still objects can dance just as much as the professionally-trained interpreter."

Christina Litt Belch: "Dance is a way to express my inner creative voice through movement in my body."

Kurumi Yoshimoto: "Dance is the place where I feel safe, home, confident, and I don’t need to lie to myself."

Lyla-Jean Bowman: "Dance is a way to express what is in my soul, and a way to look at life through a different lens… a lens of movement and beauty."

Marina Mendez Juarez: "Dance is not only my career and job, but also an extension of what I am; it feels right, and connects me with this world: the people, the environment… everything." 

Yael Zifroni: "Dance is about connection: connection to yourself mentally and physically, and connection to people around you in a way you just cannot get from pedestrian conversations or other average ways of interacting with people."