Tuesday, 4 October 2016

About those Turns in Paper Turns

Performing with PushPULL Dance in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Photos by Raph Nogal and SVPhototography.ca

Today is World Ballet Day, and numerous ballet companies and aficionados share their passion for dance all day. It seems a fitting occasion to tell you a little more about my own passion for dance, and about how ballet turns inspired Paper Turns. The idea of founding my own greeting card label had been on my mind for quite some time before it became reality in the fall of 2014. Several factors led to it, but the reason it happened then and there, has much to do with a dance company called PushPULL Dance.

I have been dancing since I was eight years old, and it saddened me that after college you were expected to resign yourself to a life of drop-in classes with an ever-changing roster of students and instructors, if you wanted to keep dancing but didn't want to do it professionally. What I loved about dance school as a kid and teenager was the build-up to a performance; the fact that you didn't just dance for yourself, but also with your friends, and for the entertainment of others. Part of what allows you to improve in skill and grace is the fact that you can share it with others whom you get to know intimately, and who grow with you and encourage you. This is what's absent from your average drop-in class. Constantly new faces, and you rarely build towards anything let alone something you can share with others. But then I discovered PushPULL Dance, a company of dancing professionals, not professional dancers. Everyone in the company is so passionate about and dedicated to dance that we meet two nights a week to take classes together, improve our technique in numerous styles of dance, develop choreography together, and create an annual show, in which everyone participates. I auditioned for and was accepted into PushPULL Dance in September 2013, and I have just started my fourth season with them. Becoming a member of this amazing company was one of the best things that happened to me since I moved to Toronto. But what does this have to do with greeting cards?

Well, you see, PushPULL Dance is full of incredibly versatile, creative and successful people. The dancers come from all walks of life, and several of them have gone through a number of career changes and down numerous creative avenues. Not that I was looking for a change of career -- I am still very happy as a professor of English literature and cultural studies -- but my professional identity is only part of who I am and what fulfills me creatively. Being surrounded in my dance company by people who are constantly pushing creative boundaries and willing to go the extra mile to achieve something they're passionate about*, made me realise how much I wanted other creative outlets to be part of my life, too. And that's when I knew that it was time to found my card label as soon as my first PushPULL show was in the bag. So I did.

Conceptually, dance has always been an important part of my card making, even when I was still doing it purely recreationally for friends and family. It was, after all, physical movement that allowed me to turn paper into a greeting card as opposed to an academic essay. Bending, creasing, folding, cutting and gluing paper transformed it into shapes that were beautiful to look at. Paper, in this process, is like the twisting, turning, contorting body of a graceful dancer, moulded into whatever shape the choreographer/designer sees fit. Knowing that my creative passions -- dancing, card making, writing -- all came from the same well, it seemed apt to reflect that in the name of my brand. That's how the idea of "Paper Turns" was born.

My dance bag with the little pile of origami paper that always travels with me

While I typically don't create a lot of dance-related cards, my card making and my life as a dancing professional have intersected in two ways. One, I do a lot of origami in the dance studio during rehearsal breaks. If you have ever held one of my cards that feature origami, chances are that the shape was folded while I was sitting on a dance floor and wearing my ballet slippers or jazz oxfords. Two, I occasionally make thank-you cards for dancers or patrons, which I like to connect to our show costumes. Let me show you a few examples.

Thank-you card tied in with the 2015 "The Art of Dreaming" show

In 2015, the company received a generous donation from one of our patrons during the run of our 11th annual show, "The Art of Dreaming". The main characters in this show wore very distinct costume colours, which were also featured on our poster, and many of the choreographies included masks. I subsequently replicated these features on a thank-you card.

Our 12th annual Toronto production, "Can You Keep a Secret?", in 2016, saw my debut as a choreographer. I created a funky ballet to Michael Jackson's song "Bad", which told the story of a number of professionals in a variety of jobs, whose secret to a great work-life balance is dancing. I was really pleased with how the number -- our show opener! -- shaped up. To say thanks to my gorgeous cast who transformed my vision from scribbles on paper to an engaging performance, I made cards featuring their individual costumes.
"Who's Bad?" from the show "Can You Keep a Secret?" (2016). Performance photo by SVPhototography.ca

We have just started rehearsals for our 13th annual show, which we will be presenting at the Al Green Theatre in Toronto in June 2017. As always, it will contain a mix of styles (Contemporary, Ballet, Jazz Dance, Hip Hop, Folk Dance, Modern...), and I look forward to choreographing a new number for this show as well. What this show will bring in terms of paper crafting inspiration, we shall see, but I have no doubt, that new dance-inspired cards will emerge as the season progresses. 

If you would like to receive updates about future dance shows I am involved in, I recommend joining the PushPULL Dance mailing list. Happy World Ballet Day!

*In order to get a better understanding of what I mean, check out this Toronto Star article about the costume designer of PushPULL Dance, who is also successfully running her own interior decorating and design business. 

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