Arts Work Series
Of all the art forms that can go public – like paintings mounted in a gallery, literature in the form of a reading by a novelist or poet, music in a concert hall, stadium or coffee shop, and, of course, theatre – contemporary dance “may be the toughest sell,” Jackie Latendresse believes.
Latendresse, who bills herself as “proprietor, choreographer, artistic director, instructor and promotions and marketing manager” of Saskatoon’s Free Flow Dance Theatre, is also its executive director and still manages to do some dancing. She is the heart and soul of contemporary dance in the northern part of Saskatchewan. Her company, along with Robin Poitras’s New Dance Horizons, in Regina, are the only true purveyors of professional dance in the province. Sometimes the two companies have joined forces – “we have similar esthetics.”
Because of that “hard sell,” Latendresse has avoided OSAC, the well-established Saskatchewan arts booking service, and opted instead for developing relationships with potential showplaces.
Not that the dancers have been seeking performance venues during the two years and counting of the pandemic. Instead, they’ve expanded their horizons enormously, in ways they’d never dreamed of, through the use of outdoor venues and computer technology.
In addition to their performances, the company hosts classes and workshops, focusing on community groups, not-for-profits, seniors “and anybody not ordinarily able to get involved in dance,” Latendresse says. “We once brought a professional dance show to the cafeteria of a seniors centre. We’re pretty grassroots.”
The company’s mandate is “to make dance accessible to everybody.” (One way of achieving that is variable admission prices, with audience members choosing how much to pay.)
The pandemic has hit all arts groups hard but Free Flow Dance perhaps especially so. A much looked-forward-to 25th-anniversary year of events, including one with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, in 2020 had to be canceled and the company had to learn how to adapt to “transforming program delivery in the age of social distancing,” something they hadn’t even thought about earlier.
With the help of a grant from SK Arts, the company was able to buy some equipment and computer software to enable it to continue delivering performances and workshops, including free dance workshops to community groups, “in spite of the challenges” brought by Covid.
The pandemic has actually had a silver lining for the dancers, allowing them, via the internet, to expand their audiences. “People tune in from all over the world,” Latendresse says. “It’s super cool. We’re able to bring art to people in places where they don’t think about it” – this an extension of the thinking behind the troupe’s Back Alley Antics performances, “one of our most popular programs,” delivered, literally, in back alleys.
The pandemic and the use of online programming have allowed the company to book guest artists who ordinarily wouldn’t be available, Latendresse notes. ‘They weren’t busy, so a lot of amazing artists were able to teach classes for us. Many of them are eager to come here,” among them internationally famous dancer-choreographer Danny Grossman, who’ll be in Saskatoon with the troupe later this year.
Free Flow has done quite a few in-person performances since the start of the pandemic, including some outdoors, in the Saskatchewan winter.
In normal times, the dancers have performed at the Remai Arts Center, the Refinery, the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan site and various parks.
The company has also performed in a number of Saskatchewan communities, including Battleford, Saskatoon, Regina, and beyond.
Born and raised in Ontario, Latendresse formed her dance company almost 30 years ago, operating first out of Toronto and briefly the U.K., and Winnipeg before “finding a home” 18 years ago in Saskatoon. Along the way, she picked up several awards, including most recently the Woman of Distinction award, in arts, culture and heritage, from the Saskatoon YWCA.
Professional dance in Saskatchewan is a small community, Latendresse says, “and a company like ours, which is highly visible, helps legitimize dance as an art form,… it brings it up to the level of professional theatre in people’s minds as an art form that exists here. More and more people are giving dance a chance…we’re part of the education process of what dance can be.”
This article was written by Dave Margoshes. Dave Margoshes is a fiction writer and poet living in the rural Saskatoon area after many years in Regina. He was a newspaper reporter and editor, in New York, San Francisco, Calgary, Vancouver and points between, before escaping to the literary life.