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Tornado Project 2012

Saskatchewan:  Spring, 2012:  Susan McKenzie


I love a plane with no tvs.  I like to cross a tarmac.  I'm 55 now, and when I was  20  I  went to Regina to join a small dance company of amazing people called Regina Modern Dance Works,  long since defunct.  During my years there, I began dancing a solo called The Silke, my first piece of choreography -  homage to Loie Fuller in 40 yards of bone coloured silk fabric, and I went on performing it for two decades, in venues from prairie legion halls to metropolitan opera houses. 


I choreographed on other bodies, explored it in many directions, ultimately (two decades later) creating a work with over 300 yards of flying silk and 9 dancers,  so many silk seeds flying in all the directions the wind could blow it.  Once I even heard that my image in the silk was being used as a colour test pattern in Germany. This spring, my silk  is being called home. 


The previous time I set foot here I was teaching creative process in movement. at a New Dance Horizons summer intensive.   Our daughter was then two months old, and the day I came home from Regina I saw a photo of her for the very first time.  When I was last in Regina, my every heartbeat and footfall was about this baby.  Now she's 12.


Sure enough, through the plane window I see below those geometrics that entranced me, those forever plains, and steeply angled sheets of rain, flashing needlepoint explosions on a shining mercury runway.  Ahead across the tarmac before me are memory, weather and invention.


Artist notes on Breath of the Universe


The Tornado Project`s point of departure is our remembrance of an elemental, terrifying encounter with the wind here in Regina one hundred years ago:  the day the city trembled.  Using art, science and nature as our lenses, we`ve taken this searing moment in the city`s memory as a touchstone, and embarked on a wild ride through layers bursting with mystery and ideas.



Breath of the Universe reflects the beauty, magic and power of the wind that blows lonely and ceaseless over the prairie. Margie Gillis said yesterday that

"the dance is wind rendered visible, from the soft kindness of breath to the force of tornado."


pg_73381381552765.jpgBreath of the Universe by Robin Poitras, Susan McKenzie and Margie Gillis 2013 NDH /  film:  Silk Cyclone, Rob King

Our silk mingles with music by Gordon Monahan and colleague Pauline Harris.  The delicate harmonics of the score, shifting like a bird on a wire, remind us of the haunting and ephemeral moments of being that mingle with wind and wing in the creative process we share with you tonight.


pg_73391381552813.jpgBreath of the Universe by Robin Poitras, Susan McKenzie and Margie Gillis 2013 NDH 


Like the music`s harmonic shift, we have moved through place and time to create this work.  A fruitful exploration under the auspices of Vancouver`s MascallDance was followed by the unforgettable experience of shooting the film short Silk Cyclone in collaboration with Rob King and Regina`s superb film community. 


 Breath of the Universe by Robin Poitras, Susan McKenzie and Margie Gillis 2013 NDH 


For us, this was an opportunity to see and laud the solidarity of that community in hard times, as the elimination the provincial tax credit structure hurtles through  a fruitful and gifted community, leaving in it's wake wreckage and the loss of resources for which Regina has long been highly regarded in the film world. 


The project was also an unprecedented opportunity to unleash the power of dance slowed to make visible far more of the silk`s power than the human eye sees in real time, spread across the scale of the Imax screen, and transmitting a legendary performance by three unique dancers of different generations down through time to people of the future.



We touched down at Swift Current to feast on some of Saskatchewan`s finest winds, kite dances and silks taut against 90 mph winds; we`ve delved into the science and adventure of tornados through Greg Johnson`s storm chases, following the wild ride of Tornado Alley.




We have witnessed a yellow brick road trod by 200 pairs of ruby red shoes, the faces of the city`s delighted children dancing among wizards, Totos and tin men, led by two silk funnel clouds through the centre of the city, and gifted by an honoured Metis elder with a rabbit dance with which to follow the rainbow.

Our dance is steeped in the articulate beauty of the Spiralling Forces exhibition,from the canvases you see here to Connie Gaults falling words, around us in this stark and airy venue.  We have experienced extreme weather, and stood transfixed by the sheer beauty of rare, post tornado mammatus cloud formations lit by Regina sunset.


Reaching far into earth`s life line, long before the bees and birds, this landscape was made green by the force of the wind, which fertilized this prairie with ferns.  Dance, most ephemeral of arts, is transmitted aurally and passed back and forth through cellular memory, through generations, histories, peoples, bodies and time.

The project is about place and time.  Past, present and future mingle.  As the cyclone hit Regina a century ago this weekend, an American in Paris named Loie Fuller and her silk dances catapaulted to international fame .  Breath of the Universe is in her lineage, and that of the practice of dancing in and with fabric and wind throughout human history.  The young artists invited into the project were selected, says NDH Artistic Director Robin Poitras,  because


“…  I had seen them dance in their own cultural practices, which had resonance.  I had been exploring silk and wind, and I wished to honour the passing on of the practices by melding these background disciplines and cultures together with the artistry of my collaborators and the unifying forces of the breath.“


We invite you into Breath of the Universe.  Enjoy!


Robin Poitras, Susan McKenzie and Margie Gillis


June 29, 2012 7:30 and 8:30 PM                                                       

MacKenzie Art Gallery, 3475 Albert Street, Regina SK, Canada      

THE TORNADO PROJECT FESTIVAL                                            

June, 2012