George Brown Dance (GBD) Alumna Spotlight: Elise Tigges on Dance Training, Choreography and the 2nd Annual Lights Dance Festival
Elise is an emerging artist based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Vancouver, BC, she grew up training in various styles, including Ballet and jazz, completing her Royal Academy of Dance exams. Upon graduating high school, she moved to Toronto to continue her training at George Brown College’s dance programs. She has since completed summer programs with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen (Toronto), the Goh Ballet Academy (Vancouver), Colorado Ballet (Denver), and Alias Dance Project (Toronto). In 2015, she graduated from George Brown’s Dance Performance Preparation program, and is a 2017 graduate of the Dance Performance program. While at the school, she has performed in productions of Unleashed, and had the opportunity to work with artists such as Ryan Lee, Sharon Moore, and Nicola Pantin. Elise currently works with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s education department, both administratively and in the studio. Outside of the studio, Elise has been working with The Dance Current since the spring of 2016 as a listing intern and writer.
Although recently graduated, Elise already has a hand in many aspects of dance. She applied to the GBD Ensemble Program and had her piece All in Life selected for the IN HäUS showcase and displayed at the 2nd Annual Lights Dance Festival.
I had an in-depth, candid interview with Elise to explore this young dancers’ training, aspirations and her upcoming piece at the 2nd Annual Lights Dance Festival. What follows are edited excerpts from that conversation.
First off, congrats on your piece from IN HäUS being chosen for the Lights Dance Festival, you must be excited…
I’m very excited. It’s nice to have my work showcased into something more. You put so much effort into creating a piece for just two shows, so having it presented again is really exciting.
At what age did you know you wanted to pursue dance?
Seventeen. I was not going to pursue dance. I was going to go to university, but then I got into George Brown. I figured I might as well go for a year and see what happens, I could always go back to university. However, I loved it here and applied again for the two-year program, and now I’m still here.
Why did you choose GBD?
A friend of mine that took the CBJ Summer IV program recommended it to me. She said it was a great program and that I would like it a lot. I actually didn’t know that there was a Postsecondary program at GBD, so when I found out I thought that would be a great fit for me.
The P101 program is designed as a preparation program. Coming out of that program, you are more prepared to go into another one and continue studying. The P101 program focused more on basic technique and really building that foundation to be a strong technical dancer. In the P105, two-year program, I found that I had more time to continue to develop that technique and add more of my creative and artistic side to my dancing, especially when you get to do composition and more rep pieces. P101 did get to do repertoire but only in second semester. You then take repertoire all the way through P105 program. You also start doing Ballet Jörgen rep. Both programs include ballet, modern, jazz, and pointe. You also have vocals, acting, music and theory.
Does GBD follow any classic styles and techniques that teachers incorporate into their class? For example, Graham technique etc…
We don’t specifically only study one technique. All the Modern teachers come from a variety of backgrounds and so within their classes, they touch on a variety of techniques. We’re lucky to have a wide variety of Modern training between all the teachers. It allows you to go into classes, after you graduate, feeling comfortable and confident in what you’re doing. Ballet was similar.
Let’s talk about your piece “All in Life.” I saw it at GBD’s winter showcase, IN HäUS and I was very impressed by the maturity and emotion in your choreography. Can you talk about what this piece is about?
It was originally inspired by choices—that was the very simple theme of it at the time when I started creating the piece for our composition class in January 2017. I was looking back at the choices I had made and how they had affected my life for the path that I had taken. I thought that it was a theme all the dancers in the piece would find relatable since we’ve all ended up at the same place for now. When I continued to develop it for the Ensemble Program, I discussed further with my dancers the choices they’ve made through different conversations. It ended up developing into smaller themes about the choices we make, the affect they have on our lives, the relationships that we develop with people as we go through these experiences, and the relationship that we ultimately have with the choice itself — whether we feel like it has given us countless opportunities or its basically just created a brick wall for us.
How emotional was it to create your own work?
In a way it was emotional. It was stressful during the creation process, but I also found it very therapeutic while I was creating it. I used it as a way to work through stuff that I was dealing with because I’m such an over-thinker. Seeing it on stage was probably the most emotional part. Seeing the dancers put everything that they have into it and being so committed to the work was so amazing. It was really weird to just sit there and not be able to say anything, not being able to yell something like, “take your time on that!” Just to sit and watch and taking it in as a regular audience member was really strange.
For people who don’t know what the Lights Dance Festival is, please explain the concept around it?
It’s a Toronto based festival running this year on May 26, 2017 at Aki Studios. It’s only the second year of the festival. It will consist of dance and film.
How did your piece get chosen?
My dancers knew that I was looking to apply for festivals with it. One of them sent me the application for this festival two days before the deadline and I thought I might as well give it a shot. I sent it in kind of last minute and my piece ended up being accepted.
I had to submit content including synopsis, the theme and how it relates to this years’ festival, what my voice and style is as an artist, as well as some footage of the choreography.
I think this is a great accomplishment for a young dancer/choreographer and sends the message that young dancers can achieve their dreams. I see this as an inspiration for both students graduating and students just starting their training…
It’s totally possible to do what you love and be able to do it successfully.
What are your aspirations for the future and do you have anything in the works?
I hope to keep doing this for a while. I have no idea where it’s going to take me. I’m definitely in the mindset of doing whatever comes for me and I think I’d like to keep choreographing. I’d obviously like to dance but those opportunities haven’t arisen as much for me.
I’m working on a project with a friend. She came to me with an idea to combine dance and theatre so we’re working on a way to do that. So far, it’s a story of one person, but we’re telling it from the perspective of a whole bunch of different people’s lives, and we’ll see where it goes. I’m also working on something with my roommate along with another friend. We started playing around with this duet that we’re hoping to become a trio and potentially make a film.
And finally, looking back, what advice would you give to yourself entering your first year at GBD?
Don’t be so closed-minded. I was so closed minded when I got here and thought that I was only going to do Ballet because that’s the only thing I’ve ever done, there’s nothing else for me to do. Otherwise, I’ll go to university. I wish I realized early on that I really did love Modern and Jazz and had been more open to those ideas. Don’t be so closed minded, things are going to happen and there’s a place for you. We had a teacher that told us in second year, “there’s a place for everyone in the dance world, but you just have to figure out where that place is.” I took that to heart afterwards and figured it out.