Rodney Diverlus’ inaugural work for the Toronto Dance Company invites audiences on a journey of home and place, of fantasy and finding your tribe…
By Jumol Royes
The long and weary winter is over. Spring is finally in full bloom.
As we emerge from our cocoons like butterflies, it’s time to experience artistic and creative works IRL, instead of through a computer screen.
Welcome, We’ve Been Waiting is this spring’s must-see production. Created by multi-hyphenated artist, performance maker, activist and Black Lives Matter – Canada co-founder Rodney Diverlus, the new Toronto Dance Theatre production premieres May 19 and runs until May 28 on stage at the Winchester Street Theatre.
The first full-length work for the company in over two years features an original score by 2022 Canadian Screen Award winner TiKA with Dillon Baldassero, and is performed by Jordan Alleyne, Yuichiro Inoue, Peter Kelly, Megumi Kokuba, Erin Poole, Devon Snell, Margarita Soria and Roberto Soria.
Welcome, We’ve Been Waiting invites audiences into “a world of whimsical play, spontaneous discoveries, magnetic dancing and on a journey of home and place, of fantasy and finding your tribe,” while Diverlus’ choreography “draws upon and deconstructs disparate styles including lindy hop, kizomba, hand performance, jazz, rhythm and groove and contemporary queer performance.”
In an exclusive interview with IN, Diverlus offers a glimpse into their creative process, opens up about creating a production during a pandemic, shares some of their queer influences and celebrates the return of live performances.
Take us inside your creative process.
I’m rediscovering my process. Like most artists, the past two years have upended the typical ways we work, and I welcome the many possibilities that come from that.
I allow my process to be responsive to where and how I am and what the project needs. As I’m still in the emerging phase of my choreographic practice, I experiment, try things out; play, fail, learn. I try not to over plan – I overthink things as it is – and I make sure to leave space for me to respond to what I’m seeing, to create from intuition and spontaneity. I like to integrate different interests within my process, be it writing, music, conversation or through observation.
At this stage of my practice, I’m interested in how we work, rather than solely fixating on what we work on. The work is important, yes, but too many times we’re forced to work in the most grueling and dehumanizing conditions. The type of art I practice involves people, not just materials or technology. Breathing and feeling humans. I challenge myself to spend as much time thinking about how to curate spaces of care and ‘vibes’ as I do on the material I’m working on.
How would you describe the experience of creating a full-scale production during the pandemic?
In short, tough. Somehow, I was brimming with a glut of ideas and creatively depleted; simultaneously eager to create and uneasy with the unpredictable climate. This process required us to relinquish control and settle into that feeling of uncertainty. There was a surrender that was required that I still struggle with, to be honest. It required us to be flexible and open to all possibilities. Nothing felt permanent.
We created this work under the most peculiar of conditions. Imagine highly skilled artists who have been working a particular way for most of their lives suddenly having to constantly adapt. Every little change has an impact on inspiration, on creativity and on our ability to do our best work. The things that brought me inspiration were no longer possible. I couldn’t go see live music, or take a dance class, or go to a soca fete to wine; no art shows, hangouts, or in-person experiences. At times it felt like I was creating inside a vacuum of time and space, and at times I felt like I was creating while the world around me was falling apart.
I also think we haven’t even begun to grapple with the post-traumatic effects of the shutdowns not only to our sector, but our psyche and spirit as live performance artists. Coming to work every day knowing full well that tomorrow might be our last has had its impacts. At the same time, I felt so incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to continue creating. And being able to rehearse safely in person felt like a blessing.
There was also beauty to this moment. As the pandemic evolved, my interests evolved. I allowed myself to take my time to really think about what I wanted to say in this work. It was less of a run-at-full-speed-toward-the-finish-line type of process, and more of a stop-and-smell-the-roses type. We moved at a pace that felt right for us; taking breaks from rehearsal to play games, to share a meal, a conversation; allowing breaks to be extended when needed, and offering each other the grace to be late, to stay home if we needed to, to sit and observe if we needed to. There’s a simplicity in creating something straightforward and easy to digest. As a creator, I relinquished the expectation of creating virtuosic, hyper-physical work where dancers were exciting their full range of physical possibilities or dancing themselves to exhaustion. Instead, we turned inward, welcoming in deep reflection, calm, personal groove, rest, connection…and simply being.
What do home and belonging mean to you as a Black queer person?
Home is such a complicated concept for me, for most Black queer folk I know. Much of my adolescence was defined by displacement and transience, by migration. Growing up, I moved countries, cities, schools and apartments. My blood family is spread out across this continent, most inaccessible to me physically. But I’ve learned to create home wherever I go, deliberately choosing who I consider family. For me, choice leads to belonging, belonging leads to freedom, creating families with intention. I choose myself every day and choose those who I wish to belong to. There’s so much power in curating your own existence.
Who are your influences when it comes to queer contemporary performers?
Ooooo, so, so many! I’m deeply inspired by artists across all modalities. I’m drawn to artists who are experimenting with the boundaries of their modality, who blend and mix approaches and refuse to be confined to one way of expression. Vivek Shraya is one. Her refusal to limit her creative practice to one singular thing is electrifying. Artists like all-around performer Ravyn Wngz; voguers like Matthew ‘Snoopy’ Cuff and tor and character creator Stephen Jackman-Torkoff; Francesca Chudnoff, Syrus Marcus Ware and Darryl Hoskins who blend performance and visual arts; queer vocalists like James Baley; drag artists like Tynomi Banks or Ocean Giovanni. I’m influenced by every artist I work with, and I’m inspired to create by their sharing and perspectives.
What are you most looking forward to about having your work performed in front of a live audience?
Just that: Having my work performed in front of a live audience. There’s nothing like live performance; the exchange of energies between performer and audience, the electricity that comes from human bodies feeling, and being. And honestly, the live reactions are what feel the most exciting (and nerve-racking). That moment when something magical or spontaneous happens and you feel the entire space shift – be it everyone finding a moment of joy or collectively feeling the performer’s performance – I hope this work can facilitate a collective shared experience.
I’m looking forward to sharing a little bit about myself as well. New parts of me with those who might already know me, and new parts of the performers to those who know them well.
I’m looking forward to celebrating live performance and our collective triumph over the mess that was the past two years. I’m looking forward to breathing in my seat and letting it go.
Tickets for Welcome, We’ve Been Waiting are priced at $30 for general admission, $20 for students, seniors and arts workers, and $10 for a livestreamed performance, and can be purchased online here.
JUMOL ROYES is IN Magazine’s director of communications and community engagement, a GTA-based storyteller and glass-half-full kinda guy. He writes about compassion, community, identity and belonging. His guilty pleasure is watching the Real Housewives. Follow him on Twitter @Jumol and on Instagram @jumolroyes.