Iain Rowe was born and raised in Canada. Educated and trained at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, he went on to join The Royal Danish Ballet at the age of eighteen. He had the honour to perform in an extensive range of classical and contemporary repertoire including world premiere creations from such internationally renowned artists as Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, Karine Guizzo, Jorma Uotinen, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Creating his own work is something Rowe has explored from a young age and since his first foray into choreography he has amassed over twenty original works. In 2009, eager to shift focus more exclusively toward the development of his own choreographic voice and to further pursue his keen interest in compositional study, he moved to New York City.
By 2011 he had attained a master’s degree in choreographic studies from New York University and was garnering wider attention for his choreographic work, achieving both critical and audience acclaim for his ability to produce new dance work in a wide range of stylistic modes and for an extensive range of artists. This level of versatility is certainly a rarity in any field and is a subject which Rowe feels passionately about.
“I’ve never felt the need to subscribe exclusively to any one genre of movement and I attribute that to my experiences at Canada’s National Ballet School and The Royal Danish Ballet. I’m lucky to have been exposed to such an array of movement styles from such a young age. I think I developed an appreciation and respect for all the many forms of expression because of it. Choreographically, I find that creating in solely one mode... is limiting. [Because] it can easily become a projection of something onto the performer [and] this can be a real disservice to both them and the audience. I think that one of the responsibilities of having a directorial role is to elicit something truthful from the performer... sometimes even something that they didn’t even know they had inside themselves...and the fact is that in order to do this you must see them for who they really are... and not for who you might like them to be.”
Rowe’s long list of collaborators and surprisingly diverse range of source material offer further insight into what is clearly a sense of creative principle that he works diligently to maintain. Those who know him attest to his always having been decidedly unfettered by commitment to any specific style and indeed he will often begin his creative process by assessing and/or researching the person or group for whom he is creating. There is a clarity in his work, both when you witness it and when you speak with him about it. Somewhere along the way (Rowe began dancing at age five) he developed an enthusiasm and ability to articulate the many subtleties and layers of dance as an art form in a way that will somehow make sense to just about anyone, whether they know that much about dance or not. I can vouch that his passion is contagious. When this is coupled with his uniquely unencumbered creative process it is not surprising to learn that he seems to attract other like-minded artists who share similar kinds of creative principles; those who seek to work within like-minded creative frameworks and who see them as freeing and not limiting.
Rowe’s previous commissions and collaborations have included classical ballet, modern dance, musical theater, experimental movement theater, spoken word performance, live pop/rock music, various performance artists, fashion design, architecture/installation, as well as Baroque and 18th century dance traditions, notation and vocabulary. His work has been seen on stages throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Whether narrative or abstract, stage or film, Rowe’s interest lies in developing work that consistently challenges artists to engage both their physical proficiency and theatrical range. It is through this that Rowe aims to be able to provide for audiences a powerful and concise sense of theatrical intention that can elicit individual response, generate discussion and cement continued interest in the art form.
“Beyond anything else... whether for the audience, for the people I work with or for myself... I can only hope to bleed, you know? Because... at least to me, that’s the only kind of material that ever seems to work. When an artist is able to remain true to themselves and their original intentions...well... I feel like an audience can tell. It takes the material to another level. So, I hope to remain honest. I hope that maybe that commitment might encourage other people, especially young people, to do the same. I certainly hope it encourages people to think. I hope that in some small way, it encourages people to re-establish, for no one else but themselves, exactly what dance and performance means to them - and whatever their respective answers, to stand up and own theirs with dignity.”
- N.P. All Rights Reserved
Have you ever wondered why it seems that we all encounter (at different points in our lives and to varying degrees of severity) conflict with others that is not because of our respective differences, but because of what we have in common? Why is it that we can feel threatened or aggravated when we encounter similarly tempered people? Is a ‘‘love/hate’’ relationship actually possible? What does a “brother/sister” relationship even mean?
All of these questions were buzzing around my head when I created this piece for two gifted young dancers - Nick Katen and Ross Katen.
»I See Myself in You« premiered as part of The DanceNOW Festival in New York City where we were honoured to win the Grand Prize Award.
After finishing a number of more narrative-based projects, I was keenly interested in this piece serving primarily as vehicle for these stellar dancers’ (Nicola Curry and Sterling Baca of American Ballet Theater and David Prottas of New York City Ballet) formidable technical abilities. I wanted to create on a more abstract plane of thinking that embraced the subjective and trusted the technique of ballet itself to speak dramatically. I think it important to remind ourselves of just how much subjectivity there is in dance and performance. I believe that this is far too often forgotten.
While studying in university I was fortunate to meet and interview a prolific and much-heralded artist whose work I had long admired. After speaking to him about some of the challenges I had encountered in my attempts to study a creative art-form in an academic setting, he offered a piece of advice that has proven so lasting in my life it can only be described as golden. Looking at me squarely and with great intent he encouraged me: “Be wary of those who claim to have the ultimate answer to anything in this field... certainly anyone who claims authority on what makes good or bad work... or asserts a ‘true’ understanding of dance or composition... or of any piece of art...” This observation of his provided encouragement and validation in a struggle which challenged me immensely during my time in university. This particular exchange would become, without a doubt, the most influential of my entire course of academic study.
Amidst a universe of variables I had confirmed for myself one thing to be true and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. The elitist (not to mention delusional) type of claim he was referring to is, and always will be, a facade. It is a tiresome game played by an unfortunate few, and almost always played in order to attain a false sense of control. I will happily call their bluff. I will do it with a smile.
This work began out of chance. My happening to see a missing/unidentified persons report about a man who was found in London’s River Thames had significant and particular impact on me.
I am appreciative to everyone at the London Police Department and especially Inspector David Howe (Missing Persons Unit, London Division) for their generous help in the creation of this solo work. I would also like to thank Laurel Haac and Rebecca Phillips for their exemplary design contributions. Your belief in the material throughout meant a lot to me. It would not have happened without you.
In times of strife, people will typically either come together or fall apart and I wanted to make a work about people coming together. I also wanted to show an example of those who do so, not in spite of their differences, but in celebration of them. When making this piece I was navigating my way through a particularly challenging time where I was beginning to ask some fundamental questions about what I wanted in my professional life and weighing with that what others might want for me. These questions ranged from what kind of work I was going to make and what direction I wanted to go - but mainly centered around what I was willing to do (or not do) to get there. I am grateful that I was eventually able to reach a kind of resolution despite not being able to, at least definitively, answer all of my own questions.
I realized what I did know. I realized what I actually had control over. I learned that what I wanted - above all else - was possible because I had seen it first-hand in many of the artists I look up to. It was about integrity. I made peace with the fact that I didn’t know all the answers - but I did know how I wanted to go about seeking them. I knew how I wanted to work - wherever and with whomever that was going to be. I wasn’t going to create anything I didn’t believe in and I certainly wasn’t going to demoralize myself in hopes of getting anyone to see it. My sense of ethical principle was clear: by compromising your beliefs in order to further your own personal or professional agenda is to sacrifice something of yourself that you may never get back. I do my best to remind myself of the people who achieve tremendous growth without fracturing their own character or by stepping on anyone along the way. I know that it sometimes means standing alone.
I am speaking about true arbiters of integrity in very trying times. It is about choosing to do the right thing. To me, this is brave. Their presence in this world alone continues to offer me much more than just an (albeit luminous) example of damn good taste - but of a life led damn well. They are the strongest people I know.
The Ballet Russes was a theme chosen for a workshop program of newly created works presented by The Royal Danish Ballet in their 2010/2011 season. The Ballet Russes has had and continues to have a profound effect on the dance world as we know it today and the magnificent array of artists so bound to its revered history was an excellent subject to draw inspiration from. I was elated to get to work.
Dance has been passed down through generations because it has had to be. It is only through human interaction and personal exchange that it has been preserved, since no single widespread or universal code of recording choreographic form exists to date. This poses a number of difficult questions: How much responsibility do those in charge of re-setting past work have toward the initial vision of the choreographer? How much responsibility does a dancer have toward the respective interpretations of those who have performed the role before them? How much artistic, interpretive license should be granted to new artists when taking a role or ballet to new places, without sacrificing the integrity of the original intention?
I asked a fine young Australian composer, Elias Constantipodus, to create the score for »Memento« and I initiated our creative preparation by presenting three scores originally created for the Ballet Russes by Igor Stravinsky. I asked him to explore using them as a musical foundation from which he could then build from and create something new. I am grateful to him for his beautiful work, and also to Susanne Grinder and Ulrik Birkjaer - two brilliant dancers from The Royal Danish Ballet who each provided a genuine and unwavering commitment to the project from beginning to end. They danced with a thoughtfulness and level of skill that defies comparison. I thank them both very much.
This work for three dancers was originally created for a live summertime performance at an outdoor venue in downtown New York City. I spoke with my collaborators at length about what type of vision I was hoping to achieve. I described my fascination with musical fugues and the construct of harmony: the idea of two or more distinct and separate melodic entities becoming simultaneously complimentary.
The sense of balance or beauty that is felt when hearing separate melodic entities perform together as one harmonic unit is a common experience. It is, however, precisely this deceptively uniform sense that can make one hesitant to break down the construct of it enough to recognize and fully comprehend the individual parts that comprise it. To fully understand the constituent parts of just about anything may feel harmful or risky when the very nature of those parts performing together is so exquisite.
Sometimes, that first impression, that convergence of different colours into one collective voice, is all you want to stick with because it’s so delicious. Like any good thing, deconstructing it may lead to its core – but why spoil the party? Whatever the reason, it seems that many choose not to entertain the question... which is precisely why I ask it. I suppose I have always been particularly willful like that.
I have always found art and its emotive power mysterious, particularly when it comes to music. Because of this curiosity, I like to learn what type of music people listen to when they workout. For some reason, there seem to be very specific types of music people listen to when they seek a feeling of empowerment or motivation, and often many of these musical choices seem to have a rather aggressive or hard-edged sound to them.
»This Fire Will Burn« explores the idea of both physical and mental aggression: where it can start, what it may look like, and where it can ultimately culminate. At what point can motivation transform into aggression? Deconstructed electronic music is stripped to its bare bones and as it and this large group of dancers begin to co-exist within the performance space, it is my hope that the viewer may begin to question just which one is instigating the other.
In 2010 I decided to create a solo work using Paul Robeson’s soulful voice and songs as inspiration. Aside from giving us all music so stirring to listen to, Robeson led an exceptionally noteworthy life of ups and downs. I feel very much that these echoes of fragmentary, impermanent experience can be heard in his music, and it became my goal to create something that might draw from or build on the terrific range of emotional responses often elicited from the listener when hearing it.
I became resolved to overcome this self-imposed challenge of translating something I had heard into something I might see. I wanted to offer further colour - to amplify, visually - for the audience - something that continues to draw such a resonant and multi-sensory response from me. I have always believed in seeing music. I can think of no real reason why a dance cannot sing.
Before I moved to New York City in the summer of 2009, my strongest illusory vision of what the city might be like, was articulated through the words of the poet and artist Jim Carroll. An ardent supporter of Jim, I have long held reverence for his voice and for his singularly innate ability to illustrate with words the electric essence of New York City. He was so much in my thoughts in the first few weeks of living in this legendary place and when I learned he had suddenly passed away that autumn, I felt it was only appropriate that the first work I make here be for him.
As a young person trying to figure things out, Jim Carroll’s writing transcended the page and spoke true words like only a friend can. His words were the stir that brought about a revolution in me. They still capture what beats very deep in my heart.
»An Elegy for Us« uses the unraveling relationship between a man and a woman to define its dramatic sense of narrative. I was interested in exploring the unspoken language in relationships: the emotional connection between two people that can, at times, be so strong that communication happens without the need for words. This dialogue can be the foundation from which a lasting relationship is built, or the ground on which it irrevocably deteriorates.
The world premiere took place on March 18th 2009 at The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize in Toronto and was danced by Hilary Guswiler and Alban Lendorf of The Royal Danish Ballet. To be given the chance to choreograph a work for two such phenomenally gifted people was an honor. I’m proud to call them my friends. »An Elegy for Us« entered the main repertoire of The Royal Danish Ballet in 2009/2010 and toured nationally in 2010/2011.
»...for Nick« is for a large group of dancers and was my first ever professionally commissioned work. As a teenager, Nick was a very good friend and incredibly supportive of my creative ambitions - even when he didn’t always understand them or when it meant my moving away to the other side of the world.
The dancers in »...for Nick« are instructed simply to live within the choreographic framework given to them through the physical steps. In doing so, I hope that both they and the audience may be reminded of the profound delectation movement can provide. I miss Nick a lot. I think about him everyday.