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Ashley Burmaster: form and passion


With interpreters Josephine Jakubowski, Lindsay Harpham, Mikaela Orford, Sarah Mclennan, Dominique Tersigni

Ashley Burmaster


  • connect “constructing” approach with more “real-life” relations

  • analyze work, break it, rebuild

  • develop the main character in the piece.

Beginning with:

  • Ensemble dancing 5 sections of existing dance material

  • Two themes:

  • The form of snakes & ladders game as a constructive tool

  • Idea of “hedonic treadmill*”leading the dramatic development tool (*i.e. tendency to return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative experiences)


  • Find a skeleton for the work

  • Find trajectory of soloist journey i.e. character development

  • Find how to focus the viewers watching so the story is clear


  • What is the relationship of the ensemble to the soloist (advancing story, advancing dance composition)?

  • How to direct the Audience’s focus by consciously manipulating how the 6 principles* behave within the environment of the work? (Maxine’s 6 Principles: place, action, perception, duration, syntax, realization> see “principles” for more detail)

  • After discovering and practicing “authentic” and/or natural movement that expresses a theme, how to make it part of the formalized dance?

Challenges: (for choreographer and interpreters)

  • Creating material specific to forwarding the story while maintaining the integrity of the movement impulse and development.

  • Creating aggressive movement section (a fight) based on actual dynamics of wrestling, not symbolic dance fighting.

  • For story development- need to create through lines, conflict, tension, resolution.

  • For compositional development- need response and transfers between 6 Principles*.

Strategies used during CM to generate and develop material:

  • Dancers recall and practice previous material and perform it for choreographer.

  • Dancers perform sections in different order and choreographer decides on the order.

  • Dancers improvise specific theme to identify performance qualities they embody in that situation.

  • Choreographer demonstrated movement for dancers to learn.

  • Choreographer described dramatic situations that dancers improvised and gleaned un-premeditated movement material from the exercise.

  • Choreographer and dancers together experimented with physical solutions.


  • Delicate, minute detail adjustments can shift the whole meaning of the piece. It is worthwhile to experiment with adjustments to detail while not getting swallowed by minutae.

  • Technical: weight-bearing partnering can be as safe on horizontal as on vertical planes.

  • Some movement phrases (actions) have literal meaning, some movement phrases carry the theme of the work through their interactions of energy, form, force, time.

  • A through-line for dancers and/or choreographer can be essential for the success of the work yet is not necessarily relevant for the audience. The audience responds to what is literally being presented so the choreographer must try to also have a dispassionate viewpoint when looking at the dance as a whole.

Development and Skill building:

  • To research new movement material with improvisation that is direct to sensation. i.e. for the “fight” sequence, dancers literally wrestled with each other; for “falling” sections, dancers investigated actual falling on/into each other to deepen choreographic choices.

  • To build dance sequence from movement discovered in improvisations. Movement research can advance the dancers’ performance experience, and/or can advance the choreographer’s choreographic resources.

  • Strategies used when setting the choreography: in “falling” improvised actual falling so dancers experience sensations of falling then imbue the choreographed sections with the sensations identified during the improvisations; in “fight” choreographer observed dancers interactions and movement sequences in the play fight, identified preferred moves as dance phrases to use in a set choreographed section.

  • To recognize how, and work with, the passionate intention of creators (choreographer & dancers) that is lively in thematic choices and early research, so that it continues to live in the performed work.

Discussion points were:

  • How to direct audience’s gaze.

  • Bravery and Safety: dancers have personal responsibility and can talk to choreographer to adjust requests when fearful for their safety.

  • What is “authenticity”?

Questions from mentors:

  • How can we use the combined creative intelligence of both choreographer and interpreters to enrich the continuing development of the work?

  • What is “creative intelligence” in these movement arts situations? (i.e. who knows what and is able to channel the knowledge into the creation going on)

  • In a dance how does one set up opposing non-static points that are far enough away from each other (not only spatially distant) so that a return to stasis is visible within the world of that dance?

General Observations:

  • This ensemble proved that it is possible to work to physical and emotional limits that are difficult, as long as it is clear that the stretch is serving the creation of the dance.

To Practice:

  • Go from noun to verb: idea to action (e.g. aggression to aggressive movement)

  • Recall a series of choreographed phrases. Mark it. Perform at 50%. 100%. Mark it. 200%. Mark it feeling the internal 200%. Do at 500%. Mark it feeling internal 500%. Perform at 200% feeling internal 500%. Perform at 200% feeling 500%. Perform at 500% feeling 50%...etc. (note: increase %’s but do not change the movement!).

  • Develop and find different jumping-off places as your personal methods to discover foundations of material. As you continue to create, notice the successful methods-ways, so that you can continue to use them in that creation or in subsequent work. Maintain a flexible spirit so that these methods do not bog you down.

What next:

  • Continue research of the original theme of “hedonic treadmill” and investigate what it is and how it can be portrayed in dance particularly moving from neutral/stable to positive and/or negative to neutral/stable.

  • Examine the work done at the CM to further develop the piece using particularly: (for internal material development) exploration of “actual” movement to choreographed movement; (for overall dance) work on neutral/stable sections as they are the points from and to which the central action moves.

Ashley Burmaster (2018 Prince George, BC) studied under Andrew Pronger and KerryLynn Turner (Victoria Academy of Ballet). In 2015 when she began her journey at The Conteur Academy’s post-secondary program (Toronto). During this time, she had the opportunity to work with esteemed choreographers such as: Eryn Waltman, Dani Matte, Sheona Bell, Kelly Shaw, Patrizia Ferlisi and many more. The academy presented Ashley with several choreographic opportunities. One of her awarded creations was showcased alongside works choreographed by Ryan Lee, Alysa Pires, Peridance and several others. Recently, she had the pleasure of attending ProArteDanza’s Apprenticeship Intensive and The Movement Invention Project located in New York.

Josephine Jakubowski (2018 Richmond, BC) at The Richmond Academy of Dance until 2013, recently graduated Ryerson University with honours (B.FA in Dance Performance). Throughout her past four years in Toronto, Josephine has had the opportunity to work with prominent artists James Kudelka, Robert Glumbek, Roberto Campanella, Matjash Mrozewski, Marie-Josée Chartier, Louis Laberge-Côté, Kenny Pearl, Tori Mehaffey, and Alysa Pires. Her passion for researching new movement techniques have led her to intensives and workshops with San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, ProArteDanza, Rock Bottom Movement, and a training/performance in Hydra, Greece.

Lindsay Harpham (2018, Saskatchewan) early dancing in Saskatchewan inspired her to train in Vancouver at Harbour Dance Centre’s Intensive Training Program. With The Aviary Company she experienced many performancing situations including IYI Dance Inspired and VanCity Projects. Lindsay graduated from The Conteur Academy’s two-year training program where she worked closely with distinguished Toronto artists Eryn Waltman, Shoena Bell and Ryan Lee. Most recently she danced in RedSky Performance’s award-winning Toronto premier of “Backbone”.

Mikaela Orford (2018, Burnaby, BC) began dancing at Spotlight dance centre gradually refining her studies towards modern/contemporary dance. Her artistic education has taken her to San Francisco, Toronto-completing the professional training program at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre(2016), Israel, and England. Rcently she was choreographer/performer at the 15th annual AMCA Toronto gala and new blue’s Festival 2017. She is an understudy for the Toronto Dance Theatre company and guest artist with Gadfly.

Sarah Mclennan (2018, Toronto) a graduate of the performance dance program at Ryerson University, Sarah’s first trained at the Richmond Academy of Dance, performing classical ballet repertoire including: Paquita, La Bayadere, Raymonda and Serenade. At Ryerson University she worked with esteemed Toronto dance artists including: Alysa Pires, James Kudelka, and Heidi Strauss. She has attended summer programs of Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Northwest Dance Project, and the Movement Invention Project. Sarah premiered her first full length work this year featured in the New Voices Festival at Ryerson University.

Dominique Tersigni (2018, Toronto) began dancing at Interplay as a competing in ballet, contemporary, jazz and improvisational techniques. Summer intensives include Ignites (David Norsworthy, Kristen Carcone), and ProARtse Danza (Tori Mehaffey, robert Glumbeck). Choreographers she has worked with include Riley Sims, Kylie Thompson, Shawn Bracke, Christina Digiuseppe, Emily Law, Bianca Trulli, Melissa Williams, Allain Lupien, Jessica Ford. Events include Fever After Dark, Choreographers Ball, Industry Night, The Next Step TV show, Parapan Am opening ceremonies. Currently, she trains with Chimera Projects Company B run by Malgorzata Nowacka.

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