From Manon’s bedroom pas de deux to Sonya Tayeh’s entwined ensembles in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, intimacy is everywhere in dance. It’s also sensitive territory, and some companies are turning to intimacy professionals for guidance. During its recent production of John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire, which addresses interpersonal violence, mental health issues, sexual orientation and consent through intensely physical choreography, the National Ballet of Canada engaged intimacy consultant Anisa Tejpar. A former dancer with ProArteDanza in Toronto and a rehearsal director with Côté Danse, Tejpar spoke with Dance Magazine about how she helps dancers feel safe while staying true to the choreographer’s vision.
Starting the Conversation
It was as if Tennessee Williams had an intimacy professional in mind when he wrote scenes depicting sexual assault, mental illness, suicide, homophobia, sexual physicality and plain nastiness. Simulated sex, nudity and aggression in performance have to be processed through today’s much-needed requirement of consent. Dance historically has been last at the table in these conversations and yet is the most physically and emotionally charged of the performing arts.
Creating Safe Spaces
The challenge was to help each artist make the provocative material work for them within their own boundaries. Give them space to vent, dialogue, question and make the choreography their own and something they consented to…the antithesis of what the play is all about.
For the performer, the questions are personal. How do we show consent in an onstage kiss that is meant to be consensual, when there are no lines? Consent matters, and today’s performance environment requires sensitivity and recognition of the performer’s individuality and boundaries.
It’s About the Audience, Too
My lens also filters care for the bystanders in the studio or onstage who watch, listen and are affected emotionally by the weighted acts being performed by their colleagues. I created content warnings for the program and website to mitigate unwanted surprise in the theater.
NBoC participated fully and created a collaborative environment for all players in the production. In this groundbreaking approach, I was mandated to have confidential conversations with artists throughout the process and performances, and communicate concerns up the chain.
A Growing Effort
An intimacy professional is invaluable to new creations and remounted works with challenging themes. Scottish Ballet recently hired intimacy coaches for their adaptation of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, and Rambert engaged Yarit Dor as an intimacy director for Rooms in 2021.
Moving Art Forward
This is a new, exciting and powerful time for performance. A time where voices can be heard, where an individual’s boundaries become a creator’s opportunity, and where those of us who have a passion for storytelling and onstage magic can support artmaking in a way that protects and nurtures performers as they reach new heights.
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