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Finding Sophia through dance and music By Kaija Pepper Who: Katherine Labelle Dance Society What: Becoming Sophia Where: Our Lady of the Mountains When: June 4-5, 9 p.m. As a dancer, Katherine Labelle has carved her name in many hearts and minds for her compelling artistry. In intimate theatres like Vancouver's Firehall and Norman Rothstein, Labelle's attention to detail and nuance are always impressive. She's equally at home on the much grander stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, where her modern dance contribution in John Alleyne's Don Juan Variations for Ballet B.C. called for broad, confident strokes. Labelle's dance career was drastically reduced, however, after an injury to her knee while rehearsing for a European tour with her company, Katherine Labelle Dance. Although that tour had to be cancelled, she made it to Russia a few months later, in fall 1998, to be part of an international dance festival. "I did perform in Yaroslavl, with limitations!" she says "I chose the pieces carefully." In addition to dealing with the most serious injury she's ever had, Labelle has reached an age, her early 40s, when many dancers no longer perform. "Performing is very hard to let go of," Labelle says, "and maybe I will be able to again. But it's made me question that turning point for myself within a career, and to question more intensively what is the next step for me." Fortunately, besides being a dancer, Labelle is a seasoned choreographer. She created her first work in 1984 at her Alma Mater, the University of Waterloo, and went on to choreograph for theatres, art galleries and video. Being forced to concentrate solely on choreography, at least for the present, means for once "my focus isn't split." Labelle's latest creation, Becoming Sophia, is about a woman's search for self-identity. "What I'm after in the work is the transformation Sophia goes through to really understand who she is." Part of the title's inspiration is actress Sophia Loren, who Labelle describes as "one of those really beautiful, voluptuous women." But is that surface beauty the whole Sophia? That's what Labelle's character, performed by dancer Marla Waal, needs to discover. Becoming Sophia is a collaboration with Vancouver composer Jeff Corness. Working with a male composer has strengthened the investigation of the female-male, yin-yang energies Labelle feels her Sophia can't ignore in the search for wholeness. Corness's method of combining the dance and music in a semi-improvised fusion makes the relationship between the dancer and the three musicians an active one. This becomes part of the female (dance) and male (music) dichotomy, and also creates a lively musicality. At the rehearsal I watched, the composer's notes to his musicians were about their need to forge a conscious relationship with the dancer's kinetic "voice." In fact, the dancer is almost like a conductor, and violinist Mark Ferris, percussionist Nick Apivor and guitarist Ted Hamilton watch her like hawks! Though following Corness's score, the subtleties of timing and emphasis are dependent on the dancer, so they need to stay fully alert to her performance. Waal, of course, listens intently to them and after a particularly successful run of one section, she reports having felt "gently persuaded" by the music. Waal trained in Victoria and then went east, where she danced with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. She interprets the choreography's expressive hands, off-kilter skips and high and happy kicks with a coltish freedom and a technical confidence that seem an appropriate combination for this examination of today's feminine. For Labelle, one of the drawbacks of Whistler (where her husband's work has taken them) was that she had nowhere to rehearse or present in. Now that she's found Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church, Labelle is thrilled to be able to present her art to the Whistler community. Whistler is not, she insists, "just a place to ski and do outdoor activities, or to go shopping and spend money." Entertainment and culture are also part of the scene. Becoming Sophia is Labelle's contribution.