We sat down with David Norsworthy, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of TOES FOR DANCE, to learn a little bit more about what inspires him.
What was the motivation to found TOES FOR DANCE?
TOES FOR DANCE emerged from the aspiration to do exactly what our mission statement says: sharing art and connecting people. Kristen Carcone, who is the other co-founder and co-director of TOES FOR DANCE, and I feel really passionate about bringing dance education to young people and creating platforms for artistic exchange, among artists and between artists and community. We are very inspired by the people around us - our collaborators and our audience - and we are adamant that, just like how a class can’t function without it’s students, audiences are totally necessary for a piece of choreography to be complete. This is something that Peggy Baker says all the time. I have had the honour of dancing with and for Peggy on a number of occasions — and I really admire this outlook that she embodies.
Kristen and I are doing everything we can to create, within the context of our events, a sense of belonging for the people that dared to arrive and a welcoming, inclusive environment that allows them to feel like they are somehow necessary for the work. Because they are. We want to remind people that they matter, and that they have their own kind of creative power; even if they haven’t discovered it yet.
How does your career as a dancer inform your directorial style?
The most important thing for me is that I'm always learning and so I am constantly layering all of the different perspectives that I'm gathering as a teacher, as a performer, as a director, as a choreographer. I really feel like each of these experiences informs the other experiences. For example, I started teaching while I was studying dance at Juilliard. As soon as I started teaching, I entered classes as a student in a totally different way because I realized that I had all the tools and strategies at my disposal to be a better student; the same tools and strategies that I would encourage my students to use. It was just a matter of applying them to myself and holding myself accountable for them. And vice versa. I think I quickly taught myself to be a pretty decent teacher because I was still really connected to the experience of being a student. The same layering of information and perspective happens when I’m working simultaneously as a dancer in another choreographer’s project and as a choreographer or director leading my own project. Choreographers and directors have the privilege of being in a position of power - in most of the conventional structures for dance-making - and so right now I'm in the process of learning how to respectfully use that power for a collective good which includes making sure that the goals and curiosities of my collaborators are considered but also that our relevance is in question. Why does this matter within the greater scope of our community? As I'm working for other choreographers I am making sense of the things that I really appreciate and admire about other choreographers, and the things that I wish happened differently, and doing my best to apply those learnings when I take on the choreographer or director role myself.
What inspires your work?
I'm really inspired by an equal balance of thinking, feeling, and doing. For me, the beauty and necessity of performance really emerges when these three elements happen simultaneously. My choreography strives to create the conditions for this balance to be found. My teaching is largely based on inspiring my students to be searching for the “sweet spot” in which all three, thinking, feeling and doing, can be in dialogue with each other.
In a lot of ways my work, especially in the past two years, as a dancer, as a teacher, as a choreographer, has been primarily about choreographing or curating the 'how.' Asking how I can create the conditions for the kind of work I want to do and looking closer at the way that interactions happen between me and an audience member, student or collaborator. I'm trying to figure out a way for the work of the 'how' to actually become the 'what.' Can the work of the process actually be the “product” in some way? It's about creating platforms and spaces that are curated in terms of the qualities or the characteristics, the kinds of energy that are present in the room, to allow other things to surface. I’m trying to step back from the importance of my own point of view and work on being in dialogue with the people that are around me, the spaces and the history. I’m not super interested in proliferating my own ideas, but instead asking how I can learn from an artistic experience. So in some ways, my choreography is tied to seeking information more than it is to generating a specific kind of pre-determined meaning. This way of working for me is connected to my political stance. I am really adamant that listening needs to come first.
You mentioned in your piece 'Responsibilities of a dance artist' that one of these responsibilities is “to practice (and continuously refine) a set of values”. How have you seen your values shift and evolve through your artistic practice?
That is such a good question. I should start by saying that my practice is at its humble beginnings but what I can say, is that I am growing into seeing the value in constantly re-evaluating and re-calibrating my values. There is more intention behind what my values are now because I am not taking them for granted; they are known and articulated instead of felt and somewhat ambiguous. In terms of my current values, I’ll reiterate that for me, listening always has to come first. That is the intention that I strive towards— of course I’m not always successful.
What else? I'm really in the process of learning how to ground myself, to take care of myself, so that I can exude an outward generosity. I've also been working a lot on transparency: saying what I feel, even if it is just my temporary position. How can I really be in the practice of cycling my thoughts in and out, so this process of communication feels fluid. I strive to not be stubborn, or assertive, but just open and clear. I would say the last value that I feel is important to talk about is enthusiasm. For me, this is about asking myself what I can be excited about, and grateful for, and how to allow those things to permeate into my external space. It is about asking myself what is driving me, and staying in touch with my motivation; and to also remember all the reasons I have to be really appreciative for the circumstances. We are just so privileged as artists, and as people living in Canada.
How does it feel to be nominated?
Tears! It's incredibly validating. It feels really wonderful to be noticed. A lot of emerging artists aren't noticed. I am incredibly grateful for this little pat on the back. It will help me continue. It feels like an inhale. There's excitement, gratitude, surprise, and the feeling of being at the start of something. It feels like fresh air. Rejuvenating. Supportive energy. So I thank everyone at Toronto Arts Foundation.