Way Out West: Susan Elliott

There is a special place in my heart for this week’s featured WOW instructor, Susan Elliott.


Susan and I recently performed Mal de mer, a site-specific dance in Crab Park for the 2010 Dancing on the Edge Festival. A three year process, I have come to know Susan as not only an amazing dancer and improviser, but a wonderful friend, a fellow lover of the sea, and a fantastic source of information on wine. We spent many wonderful nights drinking wine, laughing and dancing in New York, Vancouver and Armstrong BC, and I count myself lucky for every damn minute of it.

Susan Elliott was born and raised in Vancouver, is the Artistic Director of Anatomica, and has been an active member of the Canadian dance milieu for over twenty years, working as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and rehearsal director. Recent activities include a choreographic commission from Mocean dance (Halifax) premiering in March 2010 and participating as a mentor to emerging dance artists at the VECC Spring 2010. Elliott held the position of dance Artist in Residence at The Vancouver East Cultural Centre from 2000-2004, is the inaugural recipient of The Isadora Award for Outstanding Performance in her solo, Falls the Shadow.

Here are some of her thoughts:

How does improvisation play into your artistic practice, both as a performer and as a choreographer?

It’s an inherent source of everything I do, from the improvisation of riding the bus every day to the formal training undertaken in the studio. I was very fortunate to train in improvisation (as a company member of EDAM) at the same time that my “technical” modern dance training (ie: Cunningham, Limon, Graham, Ballet) began and that simultaneous exploration has worked like a dream for me, has kept me balanced and creative as an evolving dance artist. I haven’t been improvising in performance or as a choreographer much these days because an injury has kept me out of play for a couple of years now but it was present in a piece Tanya Marquardt and I recently made together and I loved the experience of dancing an improv score that we had been developing over a number of years. I just created a short piece on teenagers and used improvisation to help them generate material to create the work. They were incredible…very open and excited to play improvisationally with the material that they came up with. It was inspiring for me to watch them make choices in the moment based on what other dancers were doing, what the performing space invited and that their compositional minds were alert and instinct was tangibly present.


When you are performing improvisation, how do you deal with composition in the moment? When do you feel / know that what you are doing is working?

I can never be absolutely certain that something is working.

My observation is that people who practice and perform in this form get very skilled at recognizing moments almost before they happen or right at the moment they do and by tuning into such deep responses they develop an ability to actualize the seemingly mysterious nature of image, content and structure born in the moment. I love the negotiation of intuition, skills, cognitive thought, emotion and sensation that mix when dancing improvisationally.

What is inspiring to you right now?

The people that I meet through my dancing life and my conversations and interactions with artists, students, teachers, presenters and audience members. Other continuing inspirations include travel, theatre, music, reading, films, nature, architecture, art, eating and drinking (especially wine), and Radiolab podcasts…actually, I am completely obsessed with Radiolab.

photo of Susan Elliott taken by Jesse Garlick

Susan Elliott is teaching Contact Improvisation at Way Out West, Mascall Dance’s Summer Intensive, August 23-29th, 2010. All classes are held at Mascall Dance, 1130 Jervis Street in Vancouver’s West End. For more information visit mascalldance.ca and to register contact WOW Producer Tanya Marquardt wowclasses@gmail.com