Catching Up with Live Artist, Dancer, Choreographer Tanja Woloshen
Tanja Woloshen is a live artist, dancer, choreographer and teacher from Winnipeg, currently based in the Okanagan. She is a UBCO MFA candidate, and Room for the Underdog marks the end of her degree. Although this weekend’s performance encompasses many themes, it is primarily an exploration of queer and gender studies. Tanja, being one of the most manically difficult women to pin down, agreed to an email interview:
BB: It is impossible to discuss your art without mentioning rhizome. For those who don’t know, rhizome is a botany term that refers to the lateral growth of roots. It is a contemporary remodelling of the word, rhizousthai, which means to take root. How is rhizome interpreted in your performance practice?
TW: Yes! The rhizome! Thanks for bringing this up. It was near the beginning of my MFA program where I was feeling a bit like my head was lost in dense theory clouds, and my body felt very ungrounded. As a dancer, this feeling was quite unsettling to my practice to say the least, scary even. It was during a session in the dance studio, as I was improvising and preparing for a show, that the notion of rooting came through my movement and lyrical writing. I became very interested in how through the body we can connect new, past, and present experiences, and how they are / we are growing sideways, intertwining as part of a larger cosmology. It was from that curiosity that I structured a piece called lady rhizome. I can say that this way of being and perceiving – rhizomatics – has influenced my entire body of work, far more than any vertical, hegemonic or capitalist system The rhizome in my art lends to feminist, queer, and maybe even ecological perspectives.
BB: One fact that people may not know about you is your insatiable fascination with hmmm… objects. A few weeks ago you were kind enough to give me a tour of your studio, which features many of these object. I got to witness you dance through these props with a playfulness that I haven’t experienced myself since I was a child. Are these meant to channel your inner child, or do they serve another purpose?
TW: Haha! Yes- I am working with many ‘objects’ in Room for the Underdog, and I appreciate your discretion keeping them surprises for the show! The early research stages of this work focused on recognizing queerness; I was stumbling with how I wanted to explore this, without say, creating a queer wedding- which has been done before and is very politically complex. As I broadened my perspective, I thought of children, of how/when/why we teach them about ‘normal’ and how children are queer. By that, I mean that children are queer in time and space with their imaginations and perceptions of the world. I started to introduce my ‘objects’ to create a space loaded with memories of celebrations, anniversaries and rituals. I also like using them as metaphors of containers. They’re also suynthetic and fragile and fascinating… I could go on!
BB: I am going to digress to a little self-flattery now- what attracts you to my continuous line drawings? Although we specialize in different mediums, our styles complement each other quite well. Why do you think that is?
TW: Brit Bachmann, yes! You deserve some flattery, absolutely. It’s a bit magnificent that I found you! I feel so very lucky. In a very early stage of Room for the Underdog, I had taped some drawings to my studio wall, thinking I would expand them for my show. I wanted to intuitively create a space that was like a queer paracosm. However, creating drawings would have been a huge stretch for my practice. Rewind six months to when I attended a show in the FINA Gallery at UBCO- I saw an unfolded, almost accordion-like booklet of line drawings that completely intrigued me. So much so, that I took a picture of the work and made a mental note to find the artist. Fast forward to a couple months ago- I was asking around for artist recommendations and Amy Modahl suggested you! I love when connections happen like this. You and I were a collaboration waiting to bloom! And to answer your question, your work appeals to me because it branches off the same energy that I dance to; it seems that we both speak rhizome.
BB: One of our first conversations was about how you practice butoh as an expression of your studies in gender. Can you elaborate?
TW: Butoh, like the rhizome philosophy I mentioned earlier, is about dancing inter-connectively with the universe. The dancing body in butoh isn’t so concerned with gender, it is itself a queer practice in a way. The dance of butoh is a practice of transformation, fluid identities, experiences and shapeshifting perceptions. This may sound overly thoughtful, but it is actually quite freeing. To dance, and allow your body to be like a channel or a conduit is both empowering and humbling. In butoh dance, both feminine and masculine qualities ebb and flow. Although its energy can be very sexual at times, it is a non-gender specific practice, which is refreshing to experience.
BB: Although they can be meditative, practices such an butoh still require an incredible amount of physical and mental endurance. How do you keep your body and mind in sync? Are there certain ways you prepare for your performances?
TW: Definitely. Oftentimes people see butoh onstage or in film, and see it as slow or boring. Still curious, these people take a workshop and KABAM! Hooked. Because the work is largely guided by internal images – which could be anything from wrestling ghosts, having ants overcome your body, or having flowers blossom from your pores – the bodymind need to be both strong and relaxed. Butoh practices for me includes an immense amount of cardiovascular exercise, visualization of movement, and meditation. When I am sourcing a new work, I can spend hours in the studio. I rely on a responsive relationship with my bodymind as I create.
BB: Friday’s performance at the Alternator is the culmination of over a decade’s worth of university study in performance and art history. Now that you will have your Master’s degree, what comes next?
TW:Thank you. It’s nice to see the light and the end of the tunnel! I have been extremely fortunate to keep up my teaching practice and develop my pedagogy in addition to my studies. At UBCO I have had the delightful fortune of teaching movement classes in the performance stream, and (hopefully) inspiring students to discover themselves in their bodies. After my time at UBCO I will be continuing to teach. Fingers crossed! I also have a few dance projects in the cooker: a collaboration with Paris to Kyiv and Balanced Records, a group work about Temple Grandin, and the next shard to a series called Doctrine of Signatures: i Bloodroot, a project I began a few years ago that documents my time in British Columbia. If any botanists out there would like to suggest an indigenous Okanagan plant as this signature, I would be thrilled to hear about it this weekend.