Sonia St-Michel

Monday, January 19, 2015, 7:30 pm
University of Ottawa, Academic Hall, 135 Séraphin-Marion (West side entrance only)

The Evening Also Features Sinha Danse: Roger Sinha in Zeros & Ones

Independent choreographer and performer, Sonia St-Michel draws upon the aesthetic of Odissi dance to create poetic, refined and sensitive works to inspire the soul in a quest for the authentic self.

Her creative work has received the support of Canada Council for the Arts, Quebec Arts Council and City of Gatineau, and is marked by interdisciplinary collaborations. Chitrangada, Queen of Hearts (2009), a work inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s dance drama, was created with storyteller Jacques Falquet and director Isabelle Bélisle and presented in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Sherbrooke. In 2012, the Ottawa Dance Directive presented Aarti, created with visual artist Marie-France Thibault and directed by Brandy Leary. Aarti was further developed in 2012-2013 thanks to a residency with le Gésu in Montreal and an excerpt was presented as part of Nuit Blanche 2013 and 2014. She has presented her dance in Canada, India and Mexico.

Sonia received initial Odissi dance training from Anne-Marie Gaston and Saveeta Sharma (2000-2004). With the support of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, she pursued her professional development with guru Aloka Panikar and more recently Smt. Sujata Mohapatra (2005-2014). Her interest in music has led her to study basic mardala (Jitendra Swain), hindustani vocals (Smt. Meeta Pandit) and classical western singing (Stephanie Beames). She performed Mexican folk dance with the company Ballet Folklorico Aztlan for 4 years (2001-2005).

Q&A with Sonia St-Michel

1. Your career has been marked by an interest in diverse styles, primarily from India and Mexico—can you tell us a bit about your interest in these cultures?

I have always had a keen interest in cultural expressions through art, whether it be that of my own, which is of Quebecois and Acadian background, or different cultures. I feel artistic expressions can be both very specific to a culture, and at the same time, completely universal. This is fascinating to me.

2. You’ve studied a number of singing styles. What appeals about Hindustani vocals? Classical western singing?

My basic studies in Hindustani vocals were about learning more regarding the musical structure of the style in order to support my work as a performer and choreographer. I focused on classical western singing as well. I am passionate about music.

3. You’ve worked with a number of performers and gurus in the Odissi style. Could you explain the style for those who aren’t entirely versed in the tradition?

Odissi is one of the classical dance of India and it originates from the eastern state of Orissa. Like most of the other classical styles, it is strongly rooted in Hindu temple dances. This means that the dance was part of the religious rituals in Hindu temples and dancers were linked to the community in that way. For historical reasons, the dance came to decline over time and in the 1950's, scholars and artists decided to revive it. At that point, the dance started to be "performed" in theatres. It is therefore a dance with its origin in ritual, but is now presented on stage more as entertainment. Although for the performers, the essence of the practise still remains in fostering states of offering, Bhakti (devotion) and transcendence.

4. Your sense of story is apparent in your work. How does one translate narrative into physical movements? What are the challenges in transmitting these ideas onto stage?

Fortunately, if one has a keen interest in mime and how we express emotion through the body, you can quickly come to enjoy observing ways of saying so much through gesture. This is one of my interests and it has been useful to me. However, it has been a challenge to learn songs in Sansrkit, Oriya or Bengali in order to render them in gesture.

5. Your work has been described as refined, sensitive and with a quest for the authentic self. This seems like a moving target. Do you feel you’ve found your authentic self? Any advice for others on this huge, great quest?

I think that one’s authentic self is always here. We are always living in the moment. I just don't feel that I am always aware of the full content of that state of being! I feel like my practice of dance, singing and yoga helps me be a little more "grounded" and I always hope to carry the residual effects of these practices into my daily life.