TRACE ELEMENTS choreographed by Susan Lee, part of the CanAsian International Dance Festival (with works by Jocelyne Montpetit and Hari Krishnan) at the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Tonight (Thursday, May 2), 8 pm. CanAsian continues to May 12 (performances to May 4). Free-$30. canasiandance.com, 416-973- 4000.
After travelling a long and winding road, Toronto choreographer Susan Lee is back on the mainstage of the CanAsian International Dance Festival. A supporter and board member of the neophyte festival back in the early 90s, Lee fell out of love with it for a time.
"I always felt they were doing good work," she says, "but as a cocky young thing grappling with identity issues, I began to question the differentiation of Canadian Asian artists from other Canadian artists. I'm Canadian, and there are parts of me that are Asian, but I hadn't really explored what that meant. It caused a lot of friction in my life."
Lee, who was born in Canada, thinks of herself as Western. But she's come to recognize the connections to Eastern philosophies in her performance practice.
"I came back through a side door to discover the link between my Western, modern training and my Eastern roots. I don't struggle with it so much any more - I just accept it for what it is."
Trace Elements, the solo work Lee is presenting at CanAsian, is an expression of that resolution. Danced by Takako Segawa (Lee made the solo for herself but is nursing an injury), the work features interactive scenic elements including a digital sand floor that responds to the dancer's movement.
"My work with digital media reflects my complex relationship with identity, because it's ever-changing," says Lee. "It explores the impact on us of our culture, our upbringing, and how we personally affect so much that's around us."
Co-founder Denise Fujiwara says CanAsian has both clung to and evolved its specifically Asian perspective.
"I think Asian arts are a fundamentally different paradigm from European-based art," says Fujiwara. "There's something really valuable in learning about that stuff - it's a whole other world, a whole other approach to life, creation and art. People who work with CanAsian are all interested in that paradigm - and in sharing it with a larger public."
Highlights of this year's international iteration (in alternate years CanAsian features exclusively home- grown performers and presentations) include charismatic Tokyo-based butoh artist Taketeru Kudo (May 3-4) and fire-wielding Viennese whirler Ziya Azazi (May 2-4).
Fujiwara is also excited about CanAsian's inclusion of disciplines other than concert dance. This year the festival offers a range of workshops in writing, calligraphy, body awareness and butoh.
"We're using the perspective of contemplative art practices," she says. "A lot of Asian arts are contemplative in nature, and people participate in them at all levels and at all stages of life. In the West, we often think of art as being for specialists; at CanAsian we like to look at and promote art as a life-long practice."