What Zen Is
by Estelle Rosen
Tedd Robinson is a Canadian choreographer, performer and educator, best known for his idiosyncratic solo works, including the Chalmers’ award-winning Rokudo: six destinies in three steps. After graduating with a BFA from York University and studying at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and with eminent British visual theatre artist Lindsay Kemp, his career trajectory first took him to Winnipeg, where he created highly theatrical ensemble works as artistic director of Contemporary Dancers from 1984-1990. Having returned to Ottawa in 1990 to study with Peter Boneham and pursue a solo career, his critically acclaimed works soon won him a multitude of commissions and an international schedule of teaching and touring. In 1998, he formed 10 Gates Dancing Inc. to promote the development and performance of contemporary dance creations. As artistic director, he has created repertoire for some of the most renowned dance artists in Canada alongside establishing choreographic consulting services for the milieu that have benefitted over 40 choreographers. From 2005-2012, Robinson took up residence in the Pontiac Region of Quebec, where he created La B.A.R.N., a rural venue for creation, residencies and performance. In 2013, he established Centre Q: A Centre for Questioning, a research space for dance and music in Canada’s national capital region. His collaborations have included creation with dance artists Louise Lecavalier, Margie Gillis, Ame Henderson, and composer/performer Charles Quevillon. Tedd Robinson is a founding member of Projet bk and an Associate Dance Artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. His work is influenced by his six years of study as a monk in the Hakukaze soto zen monastery in Ottawa. www.tengatesdancing.ca
CHARPO: How much did studying in a Zen monastery influence the creation of Room With Sticks, tell us about the process and challenges to presenting the Zen poem Room With Sticks.
ROBINSON: Experience has taught me that sometimes everything we do is the cumulative effect of what we have already done. (cont'd)
(photo by Rod MacIvor)
ROBINSON (cont'd): The effect on how I view things is influenced by my experiences studying zen. Does it have anything to do with this work, Room with Sticks? I would say about as much as anything else I have done in my life. If this work had anything directly to do with zen then it would be a lie and yet it is everything to do with zen and it is not a lie. I balance sticks on the heads of a few Buddhist statues that I had around my house. Is that zen? Is anything slow … zen? What is zen? It is bantered around these days like some corporate logo, a catchall word for “serenity” or “something to do with energy or house decor”. Yoga, another corporate logo is sometimes interchangeable with zen, except the logo for zen is more crisp and spare. It has become a noun when it is in fact a practice, an active opening to who and what you are, a life living, the sky breathing.
I actually don’t really know what “zen” is … and I am quite satisfied with that not knowing.
Room with Sticks actually came out of 2 summers, 2 explorations. I saw some conjunctions in the 2 works and we are presenting some of the ideas from both works as a new work. This new work changes with each new space. Espace Libre is the smallest space we have encountered so far.
Room with Sticks, for me, works with elements of space, the senses, balance, activities that require time, joy, wood, paper, sound, now.
A zen poem is most of the time thought of as a haiku. I won’t write one for you although maybe that is what was expected. I am not a poet who uses words.
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