CA: At the level of art-making, collaboration can be very challenging – working with dancers who aren't known, in a situation that can be unfamiliar – it isn't always successful.
NA: Yes, there has to be a context. So it depends – one thing is to choreograph for people who have no idea about the background in your approach. But another is to collaborate, to learn. The creative process has to do with being open – not closed to everything but a particular dance style. Each body interprets even just one technique differently. So – I would love to see more collaboration. Give me a chance …
Another thing I find – there's little time to go deep. Rehearsals, and then – you're on! That's one thing I have never understood here – but speaking of transformation or change, I have adapted to it. It's not an excuse, but I feel that some of my work could have been better if I'd had the time to go into more depth. Now, I'm taking my time. I don't create one or two pieces every year, sometimes I don't do anything for a couple of years. I don't need to. I'm investigating and researching. The last piece I presented, as a work in progress, was about my process of menopause. It really hit me hard. Instead of just complaining about it, I wanted to express it, and I'm still working on it. I hope I'm at the end of the hardest part, and I'm still working on it, as a transformation. If it doesn't get to a point where it's a finished, spectacular piece, it's still a healing process for me.
CA: Western dance lacks in addressing change, landmarks in our lives … Sounds like there is something in this work you're talking about that is, in its essence, ritualistic.
NA: Definitely. Many critiques, many people have said that about my work – it has a ritualistic aspect. It's always a cycle, or transformation, a transition that becomes a ritual, a rite of passage.
CA: Is there a big community of artists who have come from Mexico – or from Central and South America – that you feel part of in Canada?
NA: Yes! Because I participate in different groups and communities of artists, I know a lot of Latin American artists and have collaborated with a few of them. Olga Barrios and I are very good friends, and we have a collective called Vanguardia Dance Projects. It started as a platform for our own work as Latin Americans. The first year we performed at the Winchester Street Theatre. We were welcomed – we had people from the Latin American community, the dance community in general and quite a few indigenous artists. It was packed. Olga danced, I danced, and we invited a few people – Carlos Rivera; Newton Moraes; and Heryka Miranda, an emergent dance artist of Mayan descent. Then last year we did NextSteps, at Harbourfront. Olga danced, I did not – I decided to work more on the organization and administration. Again we had a full house. We had no help from the arts councils, so we did fundraising, which was the most difficult thing ever. We had planned to do the show for two or three days, but because we didn't have enough money, we performed for one night at the Studio Theatre.
Again, we didn't get the funding we applied for, so we are presenting it in an alternative space and doing it in a smaller way. Carlos Rivera, who dances with Red Sky, just opened a big restaurant in Kensington Market and has a place downstairs that can be used for many different purposes. Carlos has done fundraising, visual arts showings; there's a group called Café Con Pan – coffee and bread – they rehearse and teach there, so he's creating this community … not only for Latin American artists. He's opening this space. That's what we're doing, because we don't have the money to rent – we're exchanging, doing in-kind exchanges and helping each other.
The restaurant is called Pancho and Emiliano. It refers to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata – two figures of the Mexican Revolution. Carlos Rivera is doing fantastic work.
CA: You have community, you have connections, you have work to do …
NA: I cannot complain about my life right now – I have many gifts, because I'm doing what I like – and I get paid for it!
One thing I forgot to say – I broke my foot in 2004. I had surgery because the metatarsal broke into three parts. I was dancing – doing a lecture demonstration, and I fell. The surgeon said, “You are never going to dance again.”
I got really depressed and thought, “We'll see about that.” Yes, my dance changed after that. But thinking perhaps he was right and I was not going to dance again, I completed a diploma in Expressive Arts Therapy. I became an Expressive Arts Therapist and that's really my main paid work now. I'm in charge of the Expressive Arts Program at an organization called Hospice Toronto, where I do expressive arts for people with life-threatening illnesses. I incorporate dance, drama, visual arts, poetry, always working within the arts – anything that expresses what people are going through. I work with people who range in age from children to seniors; it is group work mainly. I have practicum students working with me that I supervise. That's another way for me to stay within the arts, even if I'm not dancing or doing theatre. I'm in a constant relationship with the arts.
I'm really glad that I have found this work. My BA in social psychology also helped and all my comings and goings within the arts are useful in facilitating groups. I feel I'm helping people through difficult times. I work with people with HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's, dementia, cancer, ALS, multiple sclerosis – the big ones. I'm around death all the time. It's very hard. But it's also very, very rewarding.
CA: What a journey Norma! Thank you.