Conversations with dancers II: Mairi Greig

What do you do on a non-working day?

Saturdays I would rest a lot… probably wake up and go have a coffee somewhere, do the  things I wouldn’t have time to do otherwise, laundry, cleaning my house, stuff like that… But Sundays I play on a floor hockey team.

What’s older for you, dance or hockey?

Dance, but I played field hockey when I was in high school quite competitively… I always liked sports. I come from a family with six kids and we’re all competitive with each other. I played sports all my life. Dance for a long time looked to me sort of softer, didn’t seem to be that serious… Until I realized I really wanted to pursue it.

Was there a clear point when you thought, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?

I would say it’s a process. I wouldn’t say that I would choose to see a dance show. But physically I would choose to dance over do something else. And the more dance I see that I like, my commitment grows. And my desire to be able to achieve a certain physicality, or access a political stance in choreography – all that makes me want to dance more.

You’re one of the tall dancers of the company.

I am the tallest female, but Brodie [Stevenson] is a bit taller than I.

So lovely to see a tall woman dancer. Is there anything different, choreography-wise, for somebody your height?

I’d say timing changes – if it’s allowed to change, that is. It takes me a lot longer to get from the ground to standing than someone who’s much shorter. I would say the movement changes too because of the length of my body – for me to straighten an arm it’s different than for somebody who’s shorter, takes not only more time but also more space.

I’d probably say I have to work harder to be able to do these things in a certain time frame – it’s a totally different physicality.

How do you remember a sequence of movements?

Repetition. At first you don’t really know what you’re doing. Then you make choices, and then you remember those choices, and you begin to know what you’re doing. Or if somebody’s teaching you movements, the first time it looks foreign. But… I don’t know… the body just remembers. It becomes something that’s in your system. Sometimes take notes, but it’s not a thought-driven exercise, though it may seem that to the viewer. It’s more to do with the senses.

Dancers apparently change their performance in small ways every night.

It would be harder not to change it. It’s almost impossible to do the same thing twice. Especially when you’re twelve people, the variables are endless. But from an outside eye it would look the same.

Do you ever go on autopilot?

Depends on what it is; sometimes, for a moment, I do, and quickly snap out. But you can turn your mind off while dancing in another way — you’re still alert, but with a different kind of consciousness.

I hear you have an unusual summer job that you return to once a year.

My father’s a geologist out in BC, I was born out there. And I started assisting him in his field work when I was younger and I really liked it, and later he started hiring me. Last summer I worked for a company up in the Yukon, where there’s a second wave of Gold Rush happening now. If prospectors want to find a mine, I am the first person on the ground. You fly in the helicopter and they drop me off somewhere; and I take notes of what the soil content is and take samples of soil so that it can be chemically analysed. You’re alone in the wilderness for a set amount of time, and then you get a radio pickup from the helicopter and they take you back to a camp.

You do that every summer?

Yes, it’s perfect. I’m never alone here in city. To have that time to just do the walking and hiking and finding your way over mountains and through bushes… it’s so physical and it’s being in a different realm.

Does a person who doesn’t trust language decide to become a dancer? You often hear from dancers (recently in the Wim Wenders documentary Pina, for example) that language is insufficient and flawed.

I’ve thought about that. I’ve always had hard time articulating and writing, but I wouldn’t say I don’t trust language… in fact, I really like words and poetry, and I respect it so much. But I’m definitely a bit afraid of expression through language myself.

Do dancers ever go out on the town and dance unchoreographed in clubs?

They do. Me, not so much. I don’t like clubs, but I would go out and dance where there’s some decent music. I’d like to be able to let go and just dance for the feeling alone but I always have an eye outside myself noting how I’m dancing [she’s assuming a prissy high-pitched voice]: And what are you doing? What does this look like?  It’s nice to be able to drop in to something where you’re just dancing to let go of things and feel good and have fun…. But it’s hard. I’m my own dance critic.

Is there anything outside dance that nourishes your artistic practise?

Yes. I sing in a choir, and I love how music structures itself in choral singing. We sing lots of different things, choral arrangements, some religious hymns, rock arrangements, pop music, we’re doing Yiddish songs right now, lots of Latin, Italian music, Christmas music… The organization of harmonies appeals to me… If you’re looking at a piece of music where you see everybody else’s parts and you’re reading along to your own and at some point you’re able to take your ear out of your own voice and hear these other harmonies being built… I love that, and it translates into movement in the same way: dance is the same thing in a different medium. It’s all about timing and space between, the notes have different spacing and they create tension and contrast. Movement works the same way.

Photo by David Leyes

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