Creative Team of Two
Profile by P. Richards
We have often heard the saying "go into business with a friend and kiss the friendship goodbye." The success of dance umbrella has proved the opposite to be true. Peggy Reddin and Julia Sauvé were not close friends when they decided, in 1986, to become business partners and start a dance school. Julia's experience was in modern dance and Peggy's background was ballet. Since then their partnership has developed into a firm friendship with a deep affection and respect for each other's abilities and character. "We work closely together but we're not possessive of each other. The growth of either of us is good for the company. This helps us stay inspirational for the students," say Peggy and Julia dance umbrella began with 50 students in a rented space above Froggies and now has over 200 students who meet in the rehearsal hall of the Confederation Centre. Peggy and Julia describe their school as a community dance group which focuses on recreational dancing, and on starting people out "on the right foot" so that they will be prepared if they want to go further. They are especially proud that some of their students are now taking post-secondary dance studies (at Ryerson, Concordia, George Brown, and York University). Some of their students were part of the "Experience Canada" group which performed here last summer.
In 1992 they started a rep dance company. "It's very satisfying to work with a group of this size. They're all dancing at a comparable level and they know so much already," say Peggy and Julia.
As well as teaching the classes, arranging the schedules, and dealing with the business aspects of dance umbrella, Peggy and Julia put a lot of time and energy into choreography. "At National Ballet School they only ever referred to it as `dance arranging'," says Peggy, "but even with school shows and student performances you want to be able to communicate. We are not a `line `em up and shuffle `em through' school." Says Julia, "We always have in our minds that there is a show at the end of the year and in class we teach the skills knowing that performance will add another dimension and the exercises can become art."
They both have listened to a lot of music together over the years and each has a good understanding of the other works. Even when working individually they do not feel separate from each other because they keep up daily contact and share all new ideas. There are practical considerations - what music and steps would look good on what classes, how can the workload be distributed, what costumes are available and affordable, and so on, but close communication is also required to know how each other's dances can successfully flow together on stage.
This year's show is called "Mother Nature's Garden" with a theme of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water. "We wanted a nature-based idea and at the craft fair we saw these wonderful leather face masks designed by Elizabeth Milner and made by Janet Bain and that gave us our inspiration, says Peggy. They are working ballet, modern, jazz and creative dance into the theme. The choreography tasks have been divided up but sometimes they are working on the same theme - e.g., Julia has two Airs, one Fire and one Earth while Peggy has two Waters to go with her Fire and Earth. "And it is a dance umbrella tradition to create a dance for Mom [Estelle Reddin] to accompany on the piano." says Peggy.
When asked how working together has affected their approach to dance Peggy replies "I am less technical now, less rooted. I cover more ground, and that's Julia's influence." Julia says, "I think I have gotten more technical, not in the actual steps, but in the sense of being more cerebral in my approach - I am asking myself questions like `how does fire move?'. And I am listening much more closely to music now than I did before."
"Above all we are very proud of our students - they are getting to be very good dancers. The shows have become an excellent advertisement for dance umbrella because students now realize that we are performance-oriented, and it makes them want to perform. The performing builds their self-esteem and confidence, - they blossom during the year. We think that if we can touch someone's life in a positive way, it's a good thing.", say Peggy and Julia.