Yvonne Ng is a choreographer, presenter, arts educator and founder and artistic director of princess productions. Her works have toured internationally for the past fifteen years, her company’s education programs are active in 18 library branches and she also is the driving force behind the dance: made in canada/fait au canada Festival, taking place this August at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.
Photo of Yvonne Ng by Sean Howard
The Muriel Sherrin Award is presented to a creator or artist who has made a contribution to the cultural life in Toronto. This year, it’s being presented in the field of dance. Why is having a vibrant cultural life important to a healthy city?
Why is it not? How could you not have a vibrant city? When you have people coming in from all over the world, and you’re embracing them, they will tend to create. If you allow people to blossom, it creates a vibrancy of its own. I don’t think you need to try so hard. I think by allowing diversity within the city and embracing it, vibrancy exists.
You’re the founder and Artistic Director of princess productions (1996). Since then, the company has accomplished a lot. What are your proudest achievements at the company?
Staying alive. Staying active. Being allowed to practice the way we want to, create the work that we can, and being a player in the community is what keeps us alive.
You also founded dance: made in canada / fait au canada. a biennial festival that presents contemporary choreographers from across Canada. What sets Toronto apart in terms of its artistic output in comparison to other major Canadian cities?
I can only speak to what I know based on my experience in Toronto. The city has amazing artists that the locals should look upon as superstars. That’s the one thing that the city sometimes forgets, so we start programming artists from elsewhere – which is not a bad thing – but I think that sometimes people forget that there are superstars here.
How would you describe your approach to and style of choreography?
A lot of the ways I work is driven by curiosity, the creative process, experimentation, getting things wrong, and hopefully getting some things right. I tend to be driven by visuals. I feel that images have a lot of impact and can give us meaning – we always try to find meaning – so I tend to make work that has a lot of visual images in it. My work also ends up having an under shadow that is dark and stark. The work that I make for myself draws deeper from my own personal experience. When I work with other dancers, I draw from their personal history, but it still comes from my own personal curiosity, and that comes with a history.
In addition to being a choreographer, you’re an arts educator. Your Arts Education programme Swallowing Clouds (youth) and Picture Us! (Cross-generational) will continue in select Toronto Public Libraries. What do you gain as an arts educator, and why is arts education important?
When I created Swallowing Clouds and Picture Us!, I realized that my practice has a kind of interdisciplinary approach, and I wanted to share it. I created the programs because I wanted to share what I was practicing, what I was learning, what I was discovering, the process, and the importance of it.
I believe that arts education is important because education should be holistic. It should include the arts. The arts are part of ourselves, just like learning science and biology. It all interweaves and intersects. I can’t imagine learning math and not understanding how it creates the room we’re standing in. This is architecture, and architecture is a form of art. It seems crazy when it’s separated. I’m lucky that my parents exposed me to the arts and they encouraged it.
What are you currently working on?
I created a trio in November 2016 in which the process included three dancers working in isolation for about a year. It was based on one simple question: what happens if we were all given the same map? Each dancer got a map, and then I wrote them a poem; the poem has become the score. Out of that, three solos were created, and I brought them together and Frankensteined it. So now we’re going back, and I’m revisiting some of the solos as solos. Back to one on one.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m grateful that the city provides recognition to its artists.
Learn more: www.princessproductions.ca