Surviving the Field

Surviving the Field

Written by : Melissa Monteros

Okay, is this happening to anyone else?

I’m losing my mind trying to keep up with all the roles required of me to create and present artistic work.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean this as a complaint but more as an observation. I have always been a fierce worker that dedicates all of my waking hours to my work as an artist, but lately, I am tied to my computer for 12 or more hours a day.

When I’m lucky, I spend two to four hours in the studio (on those same days), which is a luxury! How is this sustainable for an artist? It isn’t! So what to do about this? How do I devise a strategy to survive this? My answer is to go back to my roots and remember the words a friend said to me, “Just do your work, the rest will follow.” And yet, here I sit, at a computer again to reflect on making and presenting work today.

The Professional Series is a part of the University of Calgary’s Division of Dance season. It focuses on the presentation of work by established artists. This year it is a three-weekend festival focusing on creative connection and collaboration between visiting international artists from Poland and Austria.

To bring this year’s version of the Professional Series together, I have been the general manager, travel agent, production assistant, rehearsal director, costume consultant and more. But I know I need to do this because it is a chance for us, the W&M Physical Theatre, to share the work of some of our international colleagues from Poland and Austria with Calgary audiences. It is also an opportunity to work on a new creation, WE_SELLE.PL , in front of an audience, allowing us to work out our ideas and present and discuss them with a live audience before we premiere the work in Poland.

The departure point of our new creation is the Polish play Wesele (The Wedding), a defining work from the turn of the century (1901) by Stanisław Wyspiański. Our take on it begs a comparison to the current political climate in Poland. Wesele has had a tremendous influence on Polish culture with its deeply Polish symbolism addressing political corruption and the clash between the classes. At this wedding, the guests, who symbolize the nation, waste away their chance at national freedom. They continue dancing “the way it’s played for them” (a Polish folkloric proverb) like puppets, failing in their ultimate mission.

It is a play of corruption and folly, and a fun way to explore the huge shifts in politics taking place today.

Back to my roots and how they have helped me to survive. Yes, Los Angeles, where I was born and lived the first 35 years of my life. Yes, to my roots and experiences in the contrasting life I discovered in Poland in 1991, where I found a place for my true artistic voice.  Let me share some of what I carry with me from those experiences.

Seven things to know about every Polish artist I have worked with:

  • They are as serious about art as they are about social welfare and politics
  • They are almost as serious about either vodka or cigarettes (or both) as they are about art
  • They know their theatre history
  • Status or acknowledgement matter desperately, or not at all
  • The stars are rich, the rest are broke
  • Interdisciplinary is the natural state of their work and I never hear that word spoken there
  • They believe that artists make a difference

What do I love about Poland? 

  • Artists are not afraid to be intense. The Poland I have known best, existed through the early 90s and the first decade of the millennium. Life wasn’t easy there and art, social welfare and politics had real meaning.
  • The expectation is that art strives to have an impact. While the idea that art is entertainment has gained ground in the last decade, it has not replaced the long history of work that held that theatre, and art generally, were designed to speak the truth.
  • Audiences are experienced in viewing and discussing art
  • Young people come to the theatre and talk about it with you after!

Seven things to know about Southern California:

  • It is so beautifully warm, and the ocean so near, that you can forget all of the things that are wrong with it.
  • There were orange groves everywhere when I walked (yes, alone) to school as a child
  • Spanish is spoken almost as often as English and it there is great diversity in the population
  • You can find spectacular fruits and vegetables all year
  • Your winter wardrobe are closed shoes and a light jacket
  • Edgy artistic work is thriving but completely on the fringes
  • Not driving is not an option

What do I love about Southern California?

See above.

All of the above serve me as a survival guide. I arm myself with these memories to keep me focused on who I am as an artist and as the basis of my artistic impulse. The passion, intensity and belief that art matters from Poland together with the release and ‘let go” attitude of California and the multi-cultural environment it embraces, allows me to thrive and drives my work and the importance of the constantly-changing political environment of both. So when I want to complain about the many roles required of me, I remember to be grateful for the broad base of skills I have acquired and to keep my intensity without apology. I celebrate the possibilities I have to work as an artist. I treasure both the challenges and the support that have come my way. And I remember my roots.

melissa headshot

MELISSA MONTEROS is the Artistic Director of W&M Physical Theatre, which she founded in 1994 with Wojciech Mochniej. She has been a guest teacher and performer for dance companies, universities and festivals in Europe and North America, and her artistic work is informed by her frequent collaborations with international artists. She was a Fulbright Award recipient to Poland and is named in the Report on Contemporary Dance for the Congress on Polish Culture (2009) for her contributions to contemporary dance. With Mochniej, her work has been seen in Austria, Estonia, Finland, France, Poland, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Canada. Monteros is a Professor at the University of Calgary in the School of Creative and Performing Arts and Chair of the Division of Dance.

Canadian Dance Assembly-Calgary Conference

The presence of the Canadian Dance Assembly in Calgary has been an opportunity to join a dialogue that reaches across the country.  Too often,  the conversations focus on the centers east and west, with the rest of the country described as ‘regions’ which from the outset seems to make it a situation of ‘us’ and ‘them’.   I am an artist who lives in Calgary and I love my home here.  However, I don’t think of myself as a ‘prairie artist’ (the prairies as a location and/or natural environment are not featured in my work) and I resist the idea that anyone would categorize me as such.  I wonder if it is possible to find a way to support artists who may be less visible nationally without separating them from the rest of the country.

In our own community in Calgary, my observation is that we are often unaware of the kind of work and initiatives that go on around us, or if we are aware, we allow it to continue unacknowledged.  I was surprised to find W&M not just unmentioned in our brief community profile but lumped into a description of “several small dance companies”.  When space was brought up, C-space was mentioned but W&M again, was not, though it is the rehearsal base for a number of the artists who were in the room.  DSW was only mentioned briefly as having a festival.  Both of these organizations have been making huge contributions to the milieu for decades.  They both work from mid-range operating budgets.  I looked around the room and realized that of our Calgary cohort in attendance, close to half have been supported through W&M programming; as dancers, choreographers, through workshops and education, or by utilizing subsidized space for their projects.  I watched Melanie Kloetzel do months of work collecting statistics and organizing community meetings to develop a snapshot of the dance community, but her work also was not properly acknowledged by those who utilized it.

Someone asked Wojtek why they hadn’t heard of us despite our international work and our clear relationships with other artists in the room, and Wojtek replied with humour that we are too busy working.  I would also add that as a dance community, we don’t promote or acknowledge each other’s good work nearly enough.  Not to funders, not to each other.  We don’t play well together, it seems to me.  And that is something we can fix.

So, to other artists working here in Calgary who were not acknowledged yesterday (due to time limitations or other) for their artistic and  other contributions to the scene, I want to mention by name Davida Monk, Tania Alvarado, all of DSW as well as the DAG artists,  Anne Flynn for a list too long for this small space AND for starting the group “Building Community through Dance” (many years ago), Allara Gooliaf and Tara Blue of Three Left Feet (though Allara was briefly introduced yesterday), Linnea Swan (whose work is featured in the Fluid Fest), Rosanna Terraciano, Michéle Moss….but that is just a start.  And to the large organizations that were mentioned, and to DJD for hosting the conference, THANK YOU for all you have contributed and continue to contribute.

To all, send us info, we would love to profile your work on our site.      W&M


with Sasha Kleinplatz (MONTREAL)
January 28 & 29 | 10:00am – 2:30pm
$120 regular | $96 pre-registered before January 12th
To register visit:

This workshop will offer us time to consider the challenges we face as contemporary performance creators and interpreters. Through a combination of conversation, moving, and choreography, we will directly confront our expectations of performance practice and creation. The workshop will lead participants through different types of doing and not-doing, destabilizing personal ideas of “good” and “bad” in the hope of provoking new interests. The re-think comes out of our desire to:

1. Practice choreography.
2. Engage in criticality and feedback.
3. Share creative tools and strategies with other artists everyday.
4. Move simply and savagely.

Through these daily practices, we will create an environment where previously un-imagined ways of working and thinking about performance can appear.


In her decade of work as a professional contemporary dance choreographer, performance curator, and teacher, Sasha Kleinplatz has focused on exploring the meanings and applications of community, care, and ethics within performative practices.

As co artistic director of the company Wants&Needs danse Sasha works to generate contexts that allow artists to take creative risks while developing new, heterogeneous dance publics. Sasha is the co-creator and curator of three performance initiatives (Short&Sweet, Piss In the Pool, and Involved), which have had multiple iterations at festivals throughout Canada, and satellite editions of these events have been presented in Oakland, California, London, and Paris. Sasha’s choreographic works have been presented at venues throughout Canada and the United States, including Performance Mix festival in NYC, and as part of the Danse Danse series at Place des Arts in Montreal. In 2015 she was an invited faculty member at Université du Québec at Montréal, where she taught the course Spectacle dirigé which culminated in the full-length choreography L’Échauffement. Sasha is currently pursuing an MFA in Contemporary Art at Simon Fraser University.


Thank you to W&M Dance Projects and community volunteers for supporting MSDP 2017 winter workshop season.

January Activities

Usually a quieter month, there is a lot of activity going on at W&M.  We were happy to share our space with the Moving Series from Canada’s National Voice Institute; teachers Gerry Trentham (a guest artist in the Dance Division at the U of C), Drama faculty Dawn Marie McCaugherty, and David Smukler shared their remarkable skills in a full day workshop. Heard that it was a great success.  The Artists in Residence are hard at work and making good use of the studios.  Wojtek and I are working away with Calvin on season plans, grant writing, and in planning for the arrival of dancer Anna Krysiak (February) and the production of our March show.  Keep your eye out for Anna’s workshop, March 4th; she is a force!  As well, we have our heads down,  buried in the editing process, as continued work on our films gets some priority time.  As you might have noticed, we are also revamping our website.  Not an easy task but one that Mochniej and I try to enjoy.  The end of this month (January 28th) our space will host a meeting of the dance community with an aim to identify strengths, weaknesses, and needs in our community, to allow us to develop an effective plan for the future.

BOW: post from the field #6: October 26, 2015

BOW: post from the field #6: October 26, 2015

| from St. John’s, unraveling after the performance

Rolling down the hill to the harbour became a meditation for me. One task in our performance score was to roll along the sidewalk of Prescott Street, while holding a wine glass filled with water. This was the option I solely focussed upon for the one and a half hours it took us to travel from hilltop to harbour fence. Through three intersections of increasingly heavy traffic, past little girls in windows, passersby, horn honkers, an old man painting his stoop, and an amazed, emotional audience I listened for the waters of the past. I saw in constant rotation: sky, wineglass, fellow dancers, cement, sky, wineglass, fellow dancers, cement, repeat.

Other options in the score included: rolling vertically along the buildings, drawing with sidewalk chalk, balancing a wineglass on your head, dancing in any way you wish, sitting out/observing, carrying a jug to refill the wine glasses. A cast of St. John’s dancers and actors joined us as well as: Lois who brought her ongoing String Art practice, the St. John’s Vocal Exploration Choir who gargle-sang, protected our actions and uttered experimentally, nine-year old Benjamin who traced our bodies with sidewalk chalk and dancers Elaine and Tracy who lead the way with blue lengths of silk rising and falling in the wind. I can’t think of a better mob with whom to roll along a river’s ghost to the ocean. Thank-you to the St. John’s crew; we could not done this without you.

BOW: post from the field #5: October 14, 2015

BOW: post from the field #5: October 14, 2015

| from St. John’s, discovering the ghost of rivers

Here in Newfoundland, we ask ourselves, “what comment can we effectively make about water and people’s relationship to water on a island where people have lived relied so closely on water for survival and culture for generations?”. Anne has the idea to investigate hidden and historic waters of St. John’s after learning that some of the steeply hilled downtown streets were originally rivers flowing into the harbour. Discussion with residents and research at the provincial archives showed us that Prescott Street used to Keen’s Brook. Early settlers in St. John’s built their homes along Keen’s Brook (and the other rivers), threw their waste into the river, and eventually transformed the river into a sewer housed beneath stone and pavement. Standing at the top of Prescott at Rawling’s Cross, I can easily imagine the fast waters of the brook; I can almost hear her silenced gushing sound.

Prescott Street is compelling for other reasons. The new fence surrounding the harbour skirt is visible from almost all points along the street. Built for “security and safety” reasons a few years ago in spite of much protest from St. John’s residents, this tall black fence cuts off the working harbour from the people who have enjoyed accessing its’ activities for centuries. We begin to imagine making a physical statement against the fence. We begin to imagine rolling down the steep hill of Prescott to meet the barrier fence between the ghost of Keen’s Brook, us, and the ocean beyond it.

BOW: post from the field #4: September 25, 2015

BOW: post from the field #4: September 25, 2015

| from Calgary, developing the performance score

We hauled a heavy wooden table and four chairs over and down the retaining rocks that skirt Prince’s Island, through the water and onto the small, pebbled island visible from the Peace Bridge. The Surge Co. dancers’ performance score is simultaneous to ours; they begin in duos and trios across the entire length of the bridge and ultimately join us by wading through the water to the island, which marks the end of the performance score.

Calgary dance artist Oriana Pagnotta dances with us on the small island. Seated at the table armed with a stapler, pens, a stamp, a stack of manila file folders, a jug of water and four wineglasses, Oriana becomes the representation of the blind mechanisms of bureaucracy. Mostly seated on chairs, Anne, Wojciech, and I present Oriana’s character with pebbles or stones and wait with trepidation to see if she will file or reject the object. She holds the stone a loft, feels the weight of it, examines its’ texture and other properties before either: vigorously stamping it, labeling it, and stapling it into a file folder; or throwing it far away. If Oriana’s character is particularly displeased with the object offered, she slowly pours water into a wineglass, and then flings it into our face (or other parts of our bodies). When we are doused with water, we must fall from our chairs onto the stones, and stay put until we have the gumption to collect and offer another object. Nothing we do goes unnoticed by Oriana’s character: our dance is monitored by her. We are thrilled by Oriana’s willingness to play such an unlikable character. We are also delighted by the questions our actions provoked in incidental audiences during our rehearsals.

BOW: post from the field #3: September 22, 2015

BOW: post from the field #3: September 22, 2015

| from Calgary, thinking about rules

It’s easy to break the rules, especially when they are invisible. Conflict has surfaced in Calgary because we broke unseen rules regarding where we are permitted to create art. During the first stage of the process in Calgary, we rehearsed and taught freely on the pebbled shore of the Bow River near Edworthy Park. We felt part of the community; people were curious about, and welcoming to, our site-specific research. During this second stage, we are adapting the work to a site on and near the Peace Bridge. Though permits and insurance have been issued for the second site, of the two places, it’s much more dangerous. Last night Anne, Wojciech, Melissa and I sat on the rocky shore there, watching the river claim the bit of safe beach where we hoped to dance.

The intersection of bureaucracy and dance reminds me of a story dancer/farmer Min Tanaka told me about the time he was arrested in France for, “moving too slowly in a public place”. It’s permissible to walk, ride a bike, run, or jog across the Peace Bridge, but if one wishes to dance there (and invite people to witness this) we’ve been told one must apply for a permit 30 days in advance. Meanwhile, most of contemporary human culture has forgotten the agreements with the Bow River, with water and the rest of the Nature. But the river has not forgotten. She continues to welcome people and tries to provide for us and all other life forms, even when people have so horribly broken the agreements we had with her. 

BONE SONGS: A Leap of Faith

We hadn’t seen Miku Tsuchiya for 3 years but after working with her for the four years before that, she is family, and we are connected as artists.  We had never met Mark Medrano but saw him perform in Calgary, in a work in progress created by Mark and Kayla Henry;  Wojtek was absolutely sure that this was someone who could embody what was his role in Bone Songs.  I agreed. It was a leap of faith– we make a lot of those.

We were in the world of Kauai which I hesitate to describe.  It is a special place.   We had discovered it in January while at a conference and searching for locations for our video,  The Neruda Projects.  Once there, we knew this had to be the place to shoot this work. Bone Songs is one of the works we are deeply connected to as an important point in our creative, collaborative relationship.  We toured it for many years and always found more depth and resonance in our performance, never tiring of exploring that world.  The beauty and purity of nature in Kauai is a perfect environment for this work.  One reviewer said that we were “lost children of paradise”.  Well, Kauai is surely that paradise.

The performers, Miku and Mark, were amazing.  Focussed, open, ready to work and ready to brave rocks, sand, sun, waves, creeks, caves, underwater shooting….and let’s don’t forget that Miku had warned Mark (based on her long experience with us) that we often forget to stop, forget to eat, forget to take breaks, forget that time is passing.  So, they were prepared with water, snacks, sun block, towels.  They rolled right with us.

Now, we are sitting with all the footage, viewing, logging, rating shots, arranging and re-arranging…missing spending all day and all evening together as a team and enjoying reliving some of those moments.

Looking forward to sharing some of the process here!