The Remembering Amelia Project Notebook
Claudia Moore / Moonhorse Dance Theatre Photo: Daniel Paquette
Courtesy The Remembering Amelia Project
The closing installment of Remembering Amelia took place November 25th - 30th 2014 at New Dance Horizons in Regina.
Final gatherings, held 2pm Saturday November 29 and Sunday November 30th, were hosted by Robin Poitras, lead curator and initiator of Remembering Amelia.
Claudia Moore Photo: Daniel Paquette, Courtesy The Remembering Amelia Project
The unforgettable Claudia Moore (Toronto) performed in homage and spoke of Amelia; Jennifer Mascall (Vancouver) contributed excerpts from her video-in-progress on Amelia. An example of her video portrait/poem can be found below.
Kana Nemoto and Ashley Johnson provided an overview of documented work, and I told stories, shared biographical information and photographs.
To connect with Remembering Amelia please email me your contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
With friends of master teacher and legendary dancer Amelia Itcush (1945-2011) - a varied bunch from across the country and beyond - Jumpstart Performance Society is participating in a process and exhibition called Remembering Amelia. led/curated by Robin Poitras and New Dance Horizons .
Kana Nemoto, Ashley Johnson lead
Itcush into Dance
photo: Susan McKenzie, Courtesy The Remembering Amelia Project
Regina gathering, 2013
first published in Dance Saskatchewan Newsletter, fall 2013
The nomadic life of Canadian movement pioneer Amelia Itcush (1945-2011) involved an influential dance career and a pioneering life of teaching, researching and bodywork practice.
In memorium, the 2013 Remembering Amelia Project, Display and Gatherings invites those influenced by Amelia to gather and examine her legacy under the aegis of New Dance Horizons. During 2013, the touring display and accompanying gatherings of Remembering Amelia have been installed at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, the North Battleford Chapel Gallery, the Victoria Open Space Art Society, the Vancouver Dance Centre, Calgary's Dancers Studio West, and are slated for Saskatoon and Montreal in 2014. The project installation continues dialogue and teaching of the work, sparking connections as it crosses the country.
Amelia Itcush, Toronto 1966 Photo: Jim Plaxton Courtesy of The Remembering Amelia Project
“Amelia was Toronto Dance Theatre’s most powerful female dancer” said Toronto Dance Theatre Co-Founding Artistic Director Patricia Beatty in 1989. “She took more risks than any dancer I’ve seen. Beautiful, not athletic; spiritual but not emotional. Courageous. Revolutionary. “
Itcush taught plain physical things - standing, sitting, walking, breathing - with clarity as infinite and pure as a prairie horizon. Her complex work, a lifetime’s study, offered immediate experience of change. Resistant, locked body parts realigned into the simplest, most economical route possible, that of gravity; muscles released, habit abandoned, movement freed, pain extinguished. It took time and it wasn’t easy. But it was revolutionary.
Born in 1945 on a farm near Viceroy Saskatchewan, Amelia Itcush received dance training in Regina. A teenage studio photo of her arabesque reveals an effortless sense of line. Years later, her teacher Nehemiah Cohan, originator of the Mitzvah Technique - the soil from whence the Itcush Method sprang – put it succinctly: “When Amelia dances, everything is in the right place.”
student Amelia Itcush, Regina early '6os
Courtesy of The Remembering Amelia Project
Leaving a skeptical family for Winnipeg and Toronto she was twice rejected by the National Ballet. After some hand to mouth living, Beatty discovered her and, in 1966, invited her into the radical, Graham inspired New Dance Group of Canada (later the Toronto Dance Theatre). At Connecticut College, age 22, she encountered Graham, Limon and other American modern dance greats firsthand. She was “devastated” by the power and depth of their work, saying “I had at last found a powerful enough way to communicate what I had to say.”
Amelia - charter member of Toronto Dance Theatre in the seminal years:
Angelic Visitations #1 choreographed by David Earle.
Photo: Eric Dzenis
Courtesy of Dance Collections Danse
Amelia was a Canadian modern dance legend. Audience members tell of an unforgettable, rivetting presence reminiscent of a wild animal. Spare, long boned, fluid, androgynous, feral, they say. As a Toronto dance student, Vancouver choreographer Jennifer Mascall recalls seeing the dance troupe enter parties - a “wild, intense artist tribe at the center of everything.” These were seminal, exciting years for modern dance and the arts in Canada.
Her career was marred by ever-increasing struggle with injury and pain that drove her to ceaselessly explore new approaches. In 70’s Toronto, Nehemia Cohen was a crucial influence; she was the first teacher certified in his Mitzvah Technique. Through Cohen, her work descends from two somatic giants, the pioneering Feldonkrais and Alexander. Like Amelia, these groundbreakers were propelled by injury to overturn existing notions of postural correction primarily through the use of pedestrian movement range and hands-on interaction with the student/client, with significant results for the development of Somatic practice internationally.
Itcush studio 2010 Photo: Ashley Johnson
Courtesy of The Remembering Amelia Project
A lifelong fierce researcher, Itcush ultimately returned to the prairie, her research base an old church turned studio in rural Saskatchewan. Students speak of the grain elevator and stark horizon as a presence in their study. She was a visual, kinaesthetic communicator who observed animals and nature keenly, and gathered information from eclectic sources. She produced eloquent drawings of her work, developed, recorded and constantly evolved curriculum, refining exercises and offering manual-style materials in tandem with her courses.
At the centre of Amelia’s understanding were the natural balancing forces of the body and her goal was the body’s “opening” - a living, constant state of fall, shift and release. Tightnesses anywhere in the system pass from one place in the body to another, interfering with range of motion, breath, and ultimately the health of internal organs.
Amelia communicated hands on, and tried to eschew imagery. The work used a pedestrian physical range. Its’ potentially life changing results were accessible to a public which was not confined to experts of any kind. It had significant application to injury and chronic pain. This widened her practice, and led to affinity and exchange between her work and First Nations perspectives on healing, Asian medicine, Japanese culture and martial arts practices. Her favorite book was Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Archery studies in Japan
Courtesy The Remembering Amelia Project
Remembering Amelia has offered classes from some of the teachers (based in Canada and Japan) who inherit her teaching technique; participants learned from artists, educators, mental and physical health workers whose respective practices are influenced by studies with Itcush.
Jennifer Mascall’s provocative musings, titled “Lone Women Artists and Their Invisible Legacy” articulated questions in tracing the shadow of a life about movement, lived in dance. How best might we represent Amelia Itcush’s life and work for future use? What does it mean to be a seeker of the sort Amelia was, far from the madding crowd? What we do know is that Amelia’s discoveries and influence live and continue to spread in the world in their cells and through their daily breath. And how much we will miss her.
Photo courtesy Kathy Morgan
An invitation from Robin Poitras and Ashley Johnson:
The Remembering Amelia project looks to explore the history, legacy and current relevance of the work of movement pioneer Amelia Itcush. We are doing this by traveling the country presenting workshops, hosting discussions, collecting interviews and discovering how the work has evolved and changed through the daily practice of it's enthusiasts.
It is our goal to create a community where body based practices continue to grow and thrive through on-going collaboration of people from all walks of life.
Your input and feedback is greatly appreciated as we move towards our goals. Please take the time please fill out our short online survey and, of course, share with us your comments, stories and advice, past and future.
Message from Ashley Johnson
following the recent Vancouver leg of the exhibition:
Some of you expressed interest in the possibility of setting up a practice group in Vancouver. I think that this is a wonderful idea!
It often takes the motivation of a specific time/place and others to keep us diligent in our daily practice. Some of the people who have expressed interest have many years of experience in the work and others are relatively new. I believe that in getting together on a somewhat regular basis you can learn from each other, strengthen your connection to the work and your own healing journey.
Elaine Hanson has graciously accepted the role of instigator of the practice group. Hopefully you can get together to work on floor, standing and chair work and - if you like - even skype me in on occasion to give you feedback and answer questions.
Looking forward to being back in Vancouver some day soon but until then good luck on your path to improved body function.
If interested, contact email@example.com - I'll connect you with Elaine.
Itcush Method and Mitzvah teacher Ashley Johnson's hands, Remembering Amelia Vancouver Gathering 2013
Photos: Susan McKenzie, courtesy The Remembering Amelia Project
Kana, Robin, Ashley lead the Vancouver gathering, Sept 2013
On Project Remembering Amelia
I am the scribe who collects stories and written materials for Remembering Amelia. I've sometimes acted as an "outside eye" on underlying curatorial themes and decisions. Robin Poitras (Artistic Director of New Dance Horizons, curator of Remembering Amelia ) calls this “curation dramaturgy”.
Remembering Amelia pulled together glimpses of Amelia’s life and work through the practices, widely varied perceptions, and storytelling of its' contributors. Our collection of fragments illuminates her role in many people’s lives. Amelia had a career in dance and also a teaching and bodywork practice that transected many walks of life, so there are diverse perspectives. The touring exhibition's journey continues to spark connections and memories. Many have contributed remniscensces in oral or written form, as well as documentation and/or body work.
NDH has infused this unusual project with invention and a deep sense of responsibility. Poitras, a true iconoclast, is once again carving new ground, Now in the latter stages of collection, curator Robin Poitras and I cull the amassed body of usable resources on Amelia's life and work. The writing will enter the public domain under the aegis of New Dance Horizons.
I admired Amelia Itcush deeply, felt a kinship with her, and studied with her in brief stints between the late ‘70s and the oughts. I didn't know her well or work closely with her; it has been a privilege to witness some of the memories of those who did.
Amelia was non-verbal - a kinaesthetic, visual creature; she laboured over drawings, worked to flesh out curriculum and refine the trajectory of exercises, producing manual-style, information-laden materials in tandem with her courses.
For several years, before and after her death, I played a walk-on part in Amelia's repeated attempts to record her work in the form of a book, video, CD or website - interviewing her during her Vancouver visits. Efforts by Amelia and those closest to her continued.
During Remembering Amelia we took classes from some teachers (based in Canada and Japan) who inherit her teaching techniques, and had opportunity to learn from artists, educators, mental and physical health workers whose respective practices are influenced by their studies with her.
Questions arise. How best might we represent Amelia Itcush’s life and work for future use? What does it mean to be a seeker of the sort Amelia was, far from the madding crowd? Jennifer Mascall’s provocative musings under the title “Lone Women Artists and Their Invisible Legacy” are an outstanding catalyst for examining these questions.
We are tracing how one lives a life that is about movement, lived in dance - a form which vanishes, and is passed on in what is still essentially an oral tradition. In grieving Amelia, we face the question of how one lives a life and then vanishes. We’ve explored these questions in the presence of many whose lives have been profoundly influenced by Amelia’s work. Her discoveries and influence live and continue to spread in the world in their cells and daily breath.
Concerning personal privacy Amelia held strong views. Some aspects of her experience were public, others resolutely private. We have glimpses of her remarkable life story, punctuated by profoundly subterranean strands. The historical trajectory of her life and her part in cultural history is of interest in itself.
As a modern dancer, it is a fact that she was a legend in Canada. It is not necessarily true that the greatest dancers have the strongest after-image or widest reknown. Her dance life took place before video. Her times were exciting – Amelia identified with the Beats, and found herself at the epicentre of a culturally fascinating Toronto period among an intense, bohemian tribe of artists with the New Dance Group.
Her practice emerges from a compelling historical lineage, the international development of Somatic practice that began in the late 1800s. Through her studies with Nehemiah Cohen in 70s Toronto, her work descends from Feldonkrais and Alexander. These were groundbreakers were, like Amelia, experienced performers, propelled by injury and impediment to seek solutions, and conduct research that addressed postural correction primarily through pedestrian movement range and hands-on interaction with the student/client.
This lineage is a central strand in the growing tide of somatic approach espoused by such western Canadian dance companies as New Dance Horizons and MascallDance (two prime movers in Remembering Amelia as well as in somatic practice).
It was fitting that, during the Gatherings, the "somatic compare and contrast sessions” were outstanding. Practitioners discussed Itcush exercises from their varied perspectives - martial arts, body mind centering, Itcush/Mitzvah, and others. This brilliant curatorial direction offers a crucial “missing piece” toward the maturation of somatic practice as a whole.