Single girl’s steps

Susie Burpee makes spinsterhood moving

THE SPINSTER’S ALMANAC choreography by Susie Burpee, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). Opens Wednesday (March 14) and runs to March 17, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Saturday 2:30 pm. $18-$22. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNNN

Susie Burpee has Dionne Warwick to thank for her latest dance piece.

A few years ago, she took a well-worn Warwick disc to Holy Joe’s, and for 40 minutes improvised movement onstage to standards like What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?

The songs won’t be heard, but some of the choreography has remained in The Spinster’s Almanac, Burpee’s first full-length work.

“I love doing things like that in intimate spaces,” she says about that improv session. “You get a lot of information by throwing stuff out there on the fly.”

Burpee’s long been fascinated by the archetype of the older, never-married woman.

“I had a moment when I realized that, had I been living in another era, given my age I would have been called a spinster,” she says. “It made me reflect on the things you fill your life with when you don’t have a partner or a family. I got curious about the things we attach ourselves to, the rituals we take on to survive.”

Burpee says that while there’s a negative connotation around the word – there’s no comparable word for never-married men – it’s oddly empowering.

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“The idea of the spinster challenges society’s idea of what’s normal,” she says. “It makes people slightly uncomfortable and makes them think differently. In some ways it’s a feminist archetype. Look at Athena. She’s a goddess, a warrior, and she didn’t want anything to do with men. She lived pretty successfully without them.”

Creating movement for the character was a challenge. Burpee came up with three different sides of the woman: her eccentric side, her outcast side and her sexual side. All three aspects are expressed in movement. How?

“You’ll just have to see for yourself,” she laughs, refusing to tell me about the character’s narrative arc.

One thing she will tell me about is singer/songwriter Christine Fellows, who has contributed a song cycle.

“Christine’s a great writer and incredibly poetic,” she says about Fellows, with whom she collaborated on her last work, the Dora Award-winning Mischance And Fair Fortune.

“It’s definitely a risk to use songs with lyrics, especially in the modern dance world,” she says. “But I think the songs are full of wonder. They let you imagine things around them, in the same way that contemporary dance lets you dream around the things you see.”

This year marks Burpee’s first as an independent. For the last six years, she was with Dancemakers and, before that, Ottawa’s Le Groupe Dance Lab and Winnipeg’s Ruth Cansfield Dance.

“I miss the umbrella of support that’s there when you work daily with a dance company,” she says. “I miss the friends. But creatively it was the right thing to do. And for this piece, going into the studio alone was such good source material. It can be quite lonely. I embraced that solitude.”

Additional Interview Audio Clips

On winning the prestigious K.M Hunter Award for choreography

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