When you watch a Company 605 performance, you see living, breathing masses of dancers travelling together, displays of extraordinary strength, cool, avant-garde electronic music, and the twists and turns of novel movement. Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin are the Co-Artistic Directors of Company 605, Vancouver’s favourite contemporary dance company. The company has made quite the name for itself over the past ten years, and their strong body of work has now culminated into a bold commission for Ballet BC’s spring offering, “Program 2,” which will play at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, on March 16, 17 and 18.
Gelley and Martin’s company is notorious for its innovative melding of dance genres, and their consistent boundary pushing through the use of unusual lines and formations, as well as lightning speed and pure muscle-power. Gelley specialises in contemporary dance. She teaches, choreographs and performs with Company 605. Her training from esteemed dance companies in Belgium, France, Italy, Israel and Canada, have informed her unique, visceral style of contemporary expression. Martin is similarly talented and accomplished. He has trained and performed widely in Canada, the US, and Germany, and is the master of precision. Gelley and Martin are passionate about sharing their gifts with young dancers through mentorship and by serving on the boards of dance organisations across the city. The award winning dancers are also brand new parents to little Baby Loa, (the happiest baby in the world), who provided a playful soundtrack to our conversation below, about collaboration, “Anthem,” and the driving forces of passion.
Company 605’s goals have always centred on collaboration, the integration of different genres, and an athletic style of dance. How did you as Co-Directors choose these aspects as central to your mission? Why were they so important to you?
Josh: We didn’t so much choose them as that’s how we found ourselves creating. These are the things we tend to be pulled towards and what naturally inspire us. Collaboration inspires us, working with different people inspires us, and having everyone’s contributions in the room is important to us too. We come from a background made up of many different genres of dance. Putting those genres together and forming “contemporary dance” happens naturally for us because it’s the training that we’ve had in our bodies. The athletic aspect also stems from the same reasoning. We feel drawn to pushing the extremes of our movement and our bodies, to see what’s possible. We end up doing athletic or highly physical work as opposed to something more gestural or subdued. We like to see where the body can be pushed.
Lisa: The things that are important to us at Company 605 are things that we are drawn to.
Can you tell us about your piece in Ballet BC’s “Program 2”? What are the themes you will be unpacking in this piece? And what genre of music will the dancers will be dancing to?
Josh: The piece is called “Anthem.” In many ways it is an extension of work we previously created for our company called “Vital Few.” Inside that work and that process, we worked on the idea of the ensemble and how to look at that in a new way. We wanted to show the individual inside of the group, and to find a new way of dancing in unison without dancing the same. We were looking to consider the themes of unity through diversity. The idea of everyone having their own voice and their own way of moving, but still looking like they’re dancing in unison and sharing the same intention and the same momentum. And in doing so, creating something that feels cohesive and whole, even though it is made up of different parts.
Lisa: In this piece in particular, we are trying to use the power of the individual that makes up the group as a means to instigate change or to bring the group somewhere new.
Josh: For the music, we have an eclectic mix but it does involve a lot of electronic music that is warped and changed. It’s in the vein of electro-acoustic.
What was unique about this collaboration? Where did you find your values overlapping with Ballet BC’s and where did they compliment one another?
Josh: For us the most exciting part of working with Ballet BC was having access to this huge number of amazing dancers and to be able to work on a scale that we haven’t been able to before, for purely financial reasons. They are a big company and they have great resources to make this work. Lisa and I have been commissioned to create work for their dancers.
Ballet BC’s dancers are so talented that it’s just so easy to work with them and find common ground. They are so diverse and they brought that diversity into the room and the collaboration with us. Their backgrounds allow them to access material very quickly and to bring the material into their bodies rapidly. So the physicality of our work was very easy for them to access. But then there’s a certain nuance in the vocabulary that we use in our company, which takes time to imbibe into the dancers, so that they can feel the movement the same way that we can. The dancers can make the shapes but you also want them to really get the feel. Transferring what the movement feels like is always a challenge no matter who you’re working with.
How do you work together as a team and how do you set the direction for the company? Do you specialise in different genres?
Lisa: Josh and I have been collaborating together for ten years under the 605 Collective and now Company 605. We have a longstanding relationship with creating work together. We have developed a very organic way of working together. Josh and I share a lot of the same interests but what also makes us a great team is that sometimes we have different priorities.
Josh: We’re a contemporary dance company, so basically there is no genre. It’s a blend of whatever we’re doing and feeling in the moment. We’re trained in hip-hop, ballet, tap, jazz and all these different dance styles, but it all falls under contemporary dance. Inside of our collaboration of ten years, we have built a vocabulary together of different movements and different priorities around movement.
You have both worked internationally with esteemed companies and choreographers. What do you hope to recreate from those experiences in the Vancouver dance community?
Josh: Back when we first started Company 605 there was a company called Ultima Vez in Belgium that was super inspiring for us when we started creating work together. We even brought a dancer from that company to Vancouver to work with us,German Jauregui. We recently made a duet collaborating with him called “Albatross”. We hope to do more of that. Bringing artists from outside of Vancouver home and sharing their work in our communities.
Who are you influenced by in your choreography? Were there any specific inspirations for this “Program 2” piece?
Josh: Not necessarily for this piece, but just being part of this program with Leslie Telford, Win Wei Wang, and Crystal Pite- people we look up to in our communities, has been a huge inspiration for us. Inside of the Vancouver dance community there is so much happening that we are influenced by it at all times. The artists that are working around us on a daily basis inspire us.
Why is it so important for you to mix and create new styles of movement? Do you experience any backlash when doing so?
Lisa: The reason we have the type of movement that involves many genres is that the dancers we work with, as well as Josh and myself, have backgrounds that involve many different forms of training. When we first started creating our vocabulary we pulled from all the different sources of training at our disposal. This mixed form was not really intentional. We weren’t trying to rebel or defy tradition.
Josh: The whole point of contemporary dance is to keep exploring and finding new things that are interesting and that push the dance-form forward. We feel compelled to be on that side of dance where we get to explore movement in different ways. Of course there, are different audiences for different dances. Ballet BC for instance, used to be a more traditional ballet company and has very much changed over the last 5-6 years by becoming a very contemporary ballet company. There is an audience who wishes to see traditional works, your Giseles and Swan Lakes, and then there are people who get excited by new things they’ve never seen before.
What is next for your team? What stories are you looking forward to telling?
Josh: We just finished a couple of big productions, so over the next year we’ll be going back to the studio to research brand new work. We want to draw out the research process so that we’re spending more time thinking about all the surrounding details of the piece before really attacking it. We also want a break! We have this new baby, our new creation, and we want to take our time with the next steps.
You must have had a busy year with choreographing this with the baby on the way!
Josh: It was definitely challenging. We were in the studio creating with Ballet BC when she was only three weeks old. To have a baby in the studio with you and learning what parenthood is, while creating a piece for fourteen dancers was definitely a big challenge. We were lucky to have a team of dancers who were happy to have a baby in the room while we were working. Since then our Baby Loa has gotten so very used to being in the studio with us that it’s quite a pleasure actually.
What do you think are the most effective ways to get people interested in dance, especially youth?
Josh: We try to work with as many young people as we can, especially those starting their careers. We try to involve dancers at a point where they understand how dance is made as opposed to just going to see dance. I think there is a lot more appreciation that happens once you realise how much goes into the choreographic process and how much goes into the rehearsals. So we try to open up our process so that more information is passed on to the younger dancers.
Lisa: Music choices also play a big role in youth engagement.
Why do you love dance? And why did you decide to make it your life?
Josh: For myself, I reached a point where I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love the idea of being able to work on something new every time and changing my job everyday. I love the challenge of being creative with the one tool you’re born with which is your body. I took a couple of dance classes a week when I was younger and decided to take the leap after graduating from high school.
Lisa: Because I’ve been dancing all my life it has become a language for me. It is another way for me to tell stories and to communicate. That naturally becomes important when you’ve been doing it for such a long time. Eventually it got to a point where I was lucky enough to pursue dance as a career. I started training when I was five at a dance studio and kept going until I graduated from high school. Then I continued training with different studios and workshops, and built my training base.
Can you recommend one video that someone can pull up on Youtube and that will make someone fall in love with dance or just plain floor them?
Josh: “Café Muller” by Pina Bausch is a piece from the late 80s. She has an incredible solo in the middle of the piece and if that doesn’t get you hooked on dance then I’m not sure what will! And any of Michael Jackson’s videos.
There’s a dance film that we did called “Inheritor Recordings”, which was a collaboration we did with a filmmaker named Brian Johnson. That was a section from a stage-work that we did and we re-imagined it through film. That’s something that we’re proud of and that was a lot of fun.
Lisa: Thom Yorke from Radiohead has a song called “Lotus Flower” and there’s something about watching him move to his music that’s very inspiring for us to get up and dance.
Get your tickets here!