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Erin Robinsong: Interview with an Art Maker

Erin Robinsong

West coast born, Toronto-based artist Erin Robinsong has been collaborating with tiger princess dance projects over the past two years. As our resident poet and co-teacher for Swallowing Clouds, Erin has been inspiring kids to talk about and dissect her poetry, use it as a starting point for movement and music, and to write their own! Sweeping in and out of the libraries, running to and from our various projects around the city and country, we don’t always get the time I wish we had to talk and learn about each other. I’ve been intrigued by Erin as a person and an artist and finally got the chance to find out a little more about her!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your dance background? 
I grew up dancing to live bands, records at my grandma’s house, my dad’s tapes, and making performances with my friends, cousins, anyone.  I desperately wanted to take dance classes, but I lived in such a small community that there weren’t any. When I finally moved to a city as a teenager I started taking ballet, modern, improv, African dance, everything I could, then studied dance at university (I did an interdisciplinary degree that focussed on dance and writing) and then went to MainDance in Vancouver, and somewhere in there started creating pieces. It’s hard to make up for  early years of training that I missed, but I think it would have been harder if I’d wanted to pursue a really dance-pure career. Instead it’s been an extraordinary kind of training and form for making art that sometimes contains live bodies in motion.

2. When did you first cultivate a love of writing? 
Writing has always had a magnetic attraction for me. Like a lot of kids I memorized poems, and apparently when I met the great beat poet Allen Ginsberg when I was three, though I could barely write I wrote out a poem I had memorized and presented it to him. But that’s just a story I’ve heard- the first writing memory I have is of an endless  novel I wrote day in and day out in grade 3. It took place at a swimming pool and I think it was pretty terrible, but mainly I remember the amazing feeling of disappearing into it.. into attentiveness itself, as Jane Hirschfield would say. Then, when I was a teenager I began to write and read a lot of poetry which completely rearranged the way I related to language, experience, perception, everything, because it taught me a language for thinking and speaking about what we don’t yet know, and also for uncovering/discovering the surprising ways we do know. This was huge, and I think a lot of teenagers find poetry for this reason, because it turns on the prismatic quality of language that is so necessary for describing the non positivist parts of our experience, which would be most of it.

3. Do you remember making a conscious decision to pursue a career as an artist? 
No. But I have at times made the conscious decision not to pursue a career in art, and that never goes very well. I always come back.

3. Do you ever meld dance and writing in your work? 
Sometimes. My newest piece, Wolves & Selves, has a lot of text in it. But I’m not sure I would call it ‘writing’ in the traditional sense- most of it was composed orally and later we would transcribe parts of it that are spoken live or as recordings in the piece. I’ve lately become very interested in writing this way- similar perhaps to recording an improvisation to create choreography from. The syntax and flow and surprise of oral composition is so different from sitting at my computer and typing- which is also a good way to write! But completely different things arrive either way.

4. How did you first connect with princess productions? 
Soraya Peerbaye, a wonderful poet and former dance officer at the TAC introduced us.

5. What do you enjoy most about working with children? 
Their contagious approach to artmaking. They seem to come at it like it’s any other adventure (which it is), with so much enthusiasm and honesty and lack of concern about making ‘good’ art that what comes out of the process is often far more interesting than simply ‘good’, though it’s that too. I am continually inspired by the focussed, experimental, delicate, deeply invested but also non-precious quality to the way they make.

Art making at Swallowing Clouds.

6. Can you tell us about an upcoming project you’re excited about? 
Yes! I’m so excited to present Wolves & Selves with Andréa de Keijzer at the Bain St-Michel in Montréal later this month! (June 16 – 24). We’ve been working on this project for over a year, with many layers of research, creation, conversation and text which looks at our relationship to ourselves as animals – both extremely domesticated animals who use money and technology, and also animals who have extraordinary senses and instincts that can’t be domesticated. This year I’ve also been working on a performance writing project called Osculations on a Theory of Islands with Kathleen Brown, a poet/sound artist/scholar who lives in Calgary. It’s much more text and sound based, and we’re also working with musician David Ip and shadow pupeteer Sean Frey to create visual and sonic layers to the narrative, which unfolds through interviews, fables, meditations, a shapeshifting landscape and vocal processors. We’ll be showing it later this year and next.

7. What book are you currently reading? 
I’m reading Jonathan Burrow’s Choreographer’s Handbook – the best book on performance making I’ve read. I’m also just starting into a collection of essays called Science, She Loves Me and recently finished Mercury, by Ariana Reines, which is an astoundingly good book of poetry.

8. Any exciting summer getaways to look forward to? 
I’ve been away so much this year that as boring as it sounds, I’m really looking forward to being in Toronto for July, working in my garden (I have a huge vegetable garden) and reading. And then in August I’ll be on the west coast -Cortes Island, Vancouver and Tofino –  visiting my family and swimming in the ocean!
*More to come! Part two: the tables turn and Erin interviews me (Mairéad)!

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