K. Lewis Performance
Dancing with/as nature and against the grain.
About K. Lewis Performance
K. Lewis Performance is a project-based performance company focused on creating and disseminating inter-disciplinary, dance-based performance works. It serves three main functions. First, it houses the original performance work of Kristen Lewis. Second, it fosters collaborations with others (artists, theorists, writers, musicians, lawyers, others), with a focus on creating work opportunities for dance artists. Finally, K. Lewis Performance is dedicated, through its children’s and community-based dance classes, to educating the public about the embodied insights discovered at the cutting edge of dance art, with a view to nurturing the growth of communities where basic kinaesthetic literacy is more the norm than the exception.
About Kristen Lewis
I am a dance artist, first and foremost, but my practice is very much performance-art oriented in its practices, dispositions, and aesthetic; I like long-range processes, value sacrifice as a fundamental ordering-device of the performative act, and regularly interrogate, through both my practices and thinking, the audience/performer relation. Currently, my dance training practice includes a variety of contemporary dance and performance techniques, many of them improvisation-based, as well as ongoing training in the Russian martial art systema. My training goal is to be able to dance, as I draw my final breath at what I hope will be a very late age, a single gesture worthy of the gods, the land, the mighty dead and, especially, the generations-yet-to-come. Patience and a view to the long term are my modus operendi—along with a certain rigour, discipline, and grit that have carried over from my days as an elite-level distance runner.
From 2012 to 2017, I developed work in collaboration with elder David Westcott, through our production company, Walking Bear Productions. Westcott’s rich, deep, extensive experience in the ceremonial traditions of the Cree (Nehiyaw) and Lakota people gave our work, product but especially process, a timeless, priceless depth and texture. This period yielded 3 evening length solo dance works, as well as many shorter works (in both theatre and gallery settings), combining text, gesture, and image, as the dancer in me started to walk on two legs. During this time, I also founded and ran a unique child-centered dance school, the Children’s Dance Workshop, where I developed an approach to dance education based in a combination of the Laban/Bartenieff work and a deep honouring of the relations between the dancing genius of each child and its connections with the natural world.
Since then, my practice has evolved to include extensive cross-pollinations with academic work, sourcing social theory as a mode of interrogating the ways that movement and gesture might inform justice-oriented social change; these cross pollinations developed over the course of my law degree (JD, class of 2020, University of Victoria Faculty of Law) and continue in my graduate work. In my ongoing performance work, I collaborate regularly with legal scholar Dr. Sara Ramshaw (University of Victoria Faculty of Law) and with critical theorist Dr. Emile Fromet de Rosnay (Director, Cultrurall Social, and Political Thought Graduate Committee, University of Victoria).
My primary practice over the next creation-cycle (2021-2025) involves the building of networks of co-researchers, primarily from dance and academic social and legal theory, to build pods organized around three central concerns: 1) masculinities/femininities and the ways archetypes and embodied anatomy intersect to construct and trouble gender norms; 2) the role of touch in an uber-digitized society; 3) and the relationship between silence and the voice. Performance projects, both small-scale and large, result from these entangled concerns and the conversations and collaborations organized around them. I continue to work with children through occasional residencies in public schools, through the B.C. Arts Council’s ArtStarts programme, and through the Salt Spring Arts Council’s Artist-in-the Class programme.
Past work has benefitted from the support and institutional infrastructures of the University of Victoria Cultural, Social, and Political Thought graduate committee, from the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, from the Salt Spring Arts Council, Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre, and from residencies at ArtSpring, on Salt Spring Island.
I was raised and received my formative training in Mi’kma’ki territory, in present day Halifax, NS. First dance teachers include (in addition to the cold wind and magnificent ferocity of the North Atlantic) the wonderful faculty at Halifax Dance, where, in the early 1980s, preschool creative movement classes included live music and profoundly skilled dance artists as instructors, who exposed me and my blue-leotard wearing cohort to foundational tenets of American modern dance, coming out of the great experiments of the 1960s and 70s. Later training included a 5-year stint in competitive gymnastics at the Maritime Academy of Gymnastics/NovaGold, a short-lived but intensive period of Balanchine-based ballet training with the legendary, inimitable Clare Bader at the Halifax Ballet Theatre, and, later, eight years of elite-level distance running, culminating in a Canadian national 10km road race title in 2003.
After I was finished with my distance running career, I slowly became a dancer again, in conjunction with my emerging work in experimental performance—my early text-based works (first experimental play appeared at the Atlantic Fringe Festival in 2002) made it clear to me that I needed to articulate ideas through gesture. Thus began a slow, tedious, but very joyful process of giving birth to my dancer self anew. This occurred, as in those beginning preschool creative dance classes in the early 1980s, through an exposure to, and deployment of, foundational principles of American modern dance, especially the Laban/Bartenieff work. I complemented this with a deep, multi-year study of embodied anatomy, through the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, with whom I continue to study whenever I get the chance.
This rebirth happened, too, through the discipline of several solitary years of daily, largely solo training in large, empty church halls, often with only my faith in the emerging process to guide me. During this time I developed a practice of engaging the natural environment and land as primary training and research partners, rebuilding the primary relations I came to see exist between bodies and land—the rural landscape of Salt Spring Island, where I lived during this time, slowly called me back to a remembrance that we, humans with bodies, are not separate from the lands that form us. I learned to dance that relation and more than that, to let it dance me. Dancing with and as nature, in and on and as the land remains my primary, fundamental discipline. Performance work springs from and returns to that source.