Putting Karen Kaeja’s creative process into words can be a difficult task – even for the dancer herself. “It’s based on the essences of human nature,” she says. “As opposed to experiencing the normal, I try to draw attention to something that’s more awkward that we tend do as human beings that can be exaggerated into movement and turned into something that’s both full and emotional.” It’s between this emotional base and the fluidity of improvisation that Ms. Kaeja situates her creative practice. She tries “to perceive and catch the moment as it arises, without expectation, and seize that moment.”
In short, the Toronto-based dancer and choreographer is a shape shifter. She bends, winds, whirls and propels herself into movement-based stories – in period costume onto an elaborately designed set, nearly nude on a bare stage, in a pair of mundane yoga pants through a city park; sometimes alone, often with partners.
It’s a routine Ms. Kaeja has brought to Newfoundland for six weeks, starting in October, as Memorial University’s first dancer-in-residence. Her plan is to spend two weeks at Memorial’s St. John’s campus, two weeks at the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook and two weeks with the Gros Morne Cooperating Association in Cow Head, at the northwestern edge of Gros Morne National Park. At each stop she will work with fine arts students and connect with local dance communities and research groups, thanks to a partnership with Dance NL.
Ms. Kaeja started dancing seriously at 18 as a student in York University’s dance program. Since then, she has toured internationally with various companies, founded the Kaeja d’Dance company with her husband Allen Kaeja in 1991, and has been recognized with a number of national awards and fellowships, often for her company work. “Now, I’m really looking forward to being on my own and just indulging in my own creative work and being around a community of people I’ve never been with,” she said.
Ms. Kaeja’s emphasis on community made her a unanimous choice among the selection committee, says Todd Hennessey, committee member and head of Grenfell’s fine arts division. “Outreach seems important to her work,” he says.
The residency is a first for Memorial and, as far as Mr. Hennessey knows, it’s a first for any Canadian university. If the selection committee has it their way, it could create the necessary momentum to spin off into a permanent dance studies program at the university, which would be the first for Atlantic Canada.