Conrad Alexandrowicz

Never underestimate the power of interdisciplinary chit-chat. When assistant Theatre professor Conrad Alexandrowicz met famed poet and Writing professor Lorna Crozier at the annual Fine Arts faculty retreat last year, he had no idea their discussion would soon translate into nearly $175,000 in grant funding.

“I introduced myself to Lorna and said, ‘I’ve really admired your work for a long time and think it’d be neat to collaborate on a project,’” recalls Alexandrowicz. And while Crozier was intrigued by his initial idea of adapting the work of Canadian poets into a dance/movement piece for the stage, it was her suggestion to write an entirely new poetry cycle that became the basis for Alexandrowicz’s winning Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant proposal.

Now titled Words Made Flesh: Staging Poetic Text, Alexandrowicz’s SSHRC project has evolved into a truly interdisciplinary Fine Arts production. Not only will it be based on Crozier’s poetry and his own directing/choreography skills (with the assistance of Applied Theatre graduate student Kate Bessey), but it will also feature a musical score by Alexandra Pohran Dawkins, head of woodwinds with the School of Music, and will be filmed and adapted into a digital format by associate Writing professor and experimental filmmaker Maureen Bradley.

“I wanted to examine different kinds of text and how they could lend themselves as a source for physical theatre creation,” Alexandrowicz explains. “But I didn’t want to do anything that was purely abstract; I wanted to do something that has a lot of emotional power and a consistent narrative line. It’s already hard enough to get people to sit still when you’re doing interdisciplinary performance, so you have to make sure they’re touched by what you’re doing emotionally.”

Alexandrowicz is no stranger to adapting words and music to movement; a noted director, writer and choreographer who specializes in the creation of interdisciplinary productions that address subjects central to the human journey, his projects have received critical acclaim across Canada for the past 30 years. But he says Words Made Flesh—currently preparing for a spring 2012 test-run, with the final production set for a fall 2013 debut—will be more than just another dance piece. “I want to embody the poetic text as much as I can,” he says, “so it’s not just going to be voice-over accompaniment; I’ve done that for years with my own work and I want to do something quite different here.”

Another intriguing aspect to this production is its cinematic future. “It’ll start off as a short dancefilm, then be developed into a chance-based application for iPods, Androids and Blackberrys using the I Ching, where you can shuffle together different pieces of text and music and movement”—which, in addition to addressing some of his primary research questions (“What kind of poetic text best lends itself to performance?”, “What becomes of the narrative voice of the poem when the text is staged?”, “How does the text interact with music, both improvise and scored?”), will allow Alexandrowicz to discover how the finished performance text is transformed via the additional media of film and interactive applications.

Ultimately, Alexandrowicz is grateful for the opportunity this generous SSHRC grant have given him to create new work—especially considering the current Canadian arts climate. “Even if you spread it out over three years, this is more than a lot of companies get in annual funding from the Canada Council,” he says of his nearly $175,000 windfall. “It’s a huge amount of money; it’s astonishing. I feel really grateful and lucky I was able to get this on my first attempt.”