15 years of Mocean in motion

The dance company reaches an anniversary about persistence, perseverance and dedication.

Michelle Doucette

"Do we have ice?" asks a worried-looking dancer, as she stumbles out of a studio at Halifax Dance. "I just kicked Gillian in the face."

When you use your body as a tool for art, these kinds of things happen. A lot.

"It's worth it," mutters Gillian Seaward-Boone from underneath the blue ice pack she presses against the bridge of her nose, which has been broken several times in rehearsals past. "It's the most fun ever," she adds. "I can't be present in my body in any other situation in my entire life, ever, in the way that I am when I'm dancing."

Seaward-Boone is a core dancer at Halifax's contemporary dance company, Mocean Dance. This kind of passion for movement is what got Mocean to 15 years in business, a milestone deserving celebration. It's been about persistence, perseverance and dedication.

Started in 2001, Mocean was founded by five women in their early 20s who didn't want to leave Halifax in order to pursue their dreams of being dancers. These pioneers were Carolle Crooks Fernando, Sara Harrigan, Alicia Orr MacDonald, Lisa Phinney and Sarah Rozee.

In the beginning, the company was what current co-artistic director Sara Coffin calls more "contained" and "exclusive" than it is today. As Mocean gained accolades, momentum and funding over the years, its focus shifted. The company became a bigger and more open community when hiring for dancers and other talent began to happen on a per-project basis. Coffin started working in an interim position in 2011, and has been co-leading the company alongside Suzanne Chui. Last year, Mocean employed 31 regional independent artists and cultural workers.

"The original dream of having a sustainable dance company, to allow artists to live and work here, is in full action and full force now," says Coffin. Striving to create opportunities for dancers in Halifax, Mocean acts as a supportive web. It provides a place for dance to not only exist, but also to thrive.

To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the company is presenting Fifteen. In three works, audience members will get a taste of the past, present and future of Mocean. The past is a revamp of a 2010 dance, titled "Our Unfortunate Deaths" and choreographed by Toronto-based Sharon Moore, while the other two are world premieres. The present is "For A Quartet," by Montreal choreographer Danièle Desnoyers, representing Mocean's contemporary style.

Finally, the future is "15 for 15," a large, group work composed of 15 one-minute works by 15 choreographers, with 15 dancers. The piece is meant to communicate the scale of Mocean's impact on the local scene. "It's a force you can feel," says Coffin. She refers to "15 for 15" as a "patchwork quilt of the community."

Founded in a grassroots sensibility, the company still survives that way. Mocean is a small venture for the amount of impact it has. This means co-artistic directors Coffin and Chui have a hefty workload. Every day is a significant challenge when you're juggling the roles of fundraiser, accountant and manager–and choreographing and performing in dances.

The balancing act is worth it, says Coffin. Sometimes artists have to make sacrifices to get to a creative place. She does it for the passion—because dance is like moving meditation for her. And, beyond that, working with Mocean means knowing she's taking part in something more significant than just her own art. "If we don't do it," she says, "the world can get pretty boring and flat pretty quickly." Knowing that the company is a vessel for potential and creativity is a huge driving force.

Seaward-Boone nods in agreement. She's resting on a couch, icepack still in place.

"Part of what is received so well by most of my non-dance friends that come to see shows is the fact that we are pushing the human body, to do more than what is mundane. More than what is everyday," Seaward-Boone says. "We're trying to find out where it can go, and how far we can take it."

Not 20 minutes later, she is back in rehearsal, dancing with full force.


FIFTEEN by Mocean Dance
September 22-24, 8pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre
Tickets available through liveartdance.ca

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