Choreographer, Dancer, Teacher
Gwen Noah in SEND
From the age of eight, Newfoundland-born Gwen Noah knew she wanted to be a dancer. In 1970 she began training in St. John's, studying ballet, jazz and Spanish dance. Noah later took classes in Halifax at the DanceExchange and Halifax Dance studios. At the age of seventeen she moved to London, England and attended the Nesta Brooking School of Ballet on scholarship, earning certification as an Associate in Classical Ballet, Cecchetti Method in 1981.
Returning to Halifax at nineteen, she began teaching while performing with Nova Dance Theatre and for other independent choreographers. In the early 1980s, she worked with Halifax choreographer and dance teacher Pat Richards in a local choreographers' showcase. She introduced Gwen to modern dance.
In 1984 Noah choreographed her first work, Migrations, which was followed by Aqua, a duet created for herself and Francine Boucher in 1985. The duet, done to the music of Philip Glass, was presented at the 1985 Dance in Canada conference held in Halifax. Subsequent works include: Gorgeous Dresses, Gorgeous Girls (1986); Like Us (1987); Me and You (1987) and God is in Dartmouth (1988).
Teaching provided Noah with a means of self-expression through dance, however it left little time and energy for choreography and performing. The 1985-1986 season proved to be Gwen's year of transition when she recognized she would have to find a way to make the transformation from teaching to dancing. She realized if she wanted to dance she would have to do her own choreography. Her determination was sustained by Halifax's Eye Level Gallery and its Canada Council-supported New Dance Series for independent Canadian choreographers solo-dancing their own work.
She joined the Split Second Dance Collective (Halifax) in 1987. During the next three years she was a member of the Julie West Dance Foundation (Ottawa), touring Canada, the United States and Africa. Julie West became her biggest influence and helped Noah develop her survival strategy, compulsive drive and the freedom to believe in herself. Her association with West through intensive choreographic studies from 1996-1999 was significant and productive.
In 1990 Noah founded her own company in Halifax, Gwen Noah Dance, and has been artistic director ever since. Through the 1990s she choreographed, performed and taught at many venues across Canada. Featured works were: Home (1990), Passion Undercover (1991), Just a Little Dance or Two (1991), Dances and Winds (1992), Take Heart (1993), Which Side of the Line (1993), John Wayne is Dead (1994), Trust (1994), Two Marys (1994), The Wedding Dance (1994), Paint it Yellow (1995), The Last Show (1996), A Dance for One Woman (1997), A Dance for Eight Women and Two Men (1997), A Dance for Seven Women (1998), Untitled Solo (1998), SEND (1998), Slow Bloom (1998) and Chrys an the mum sky (1999).
Gwen Noah's awards include the Arts Award Service of the Canada Council, Creation, Dance Section (1993) and the Arts Award Service of the Canada Council, Creation, Touring, Production, Dance Section (1996-1999; 2002).
Noah's love of movement permeates her life. As she has no interest in telling stories, her focus is not on narrative choreography. Her dance is more abstract in form. The basis for her work is emotional rather than intellectual. It is here that she derives her inspiration. The act of creation is a sacred journey for Noah; she believes her destiny is to share her personal discovery on the stage as a kind of public prayer. (She does concede that intellectual aspects come in later in terms of editing for timing and rhythm, and for "what looks right".)
Noah's riveting style is impressive in its force and form. Unafraid to show her strength, she reveals her robust muscles and long sinewy back as she bends and curves her way across the stage. Her movements, mostly sharp, brusque, and angular are often slow, enriching her dance with a breathtaking animal grace. There is a gravity to her work that is echoed even in the music she commissions for it.
Gwen Noah was never one to choose conventional soprano melodies and by 1994 was exploring various types of original music. She began commissioning composers (including a bagpipe player and a saxophonist) to create works for her to dance to. Interested in working with live musicians, she collaborated with Brian Bourne, Gordon Laurin and Paul Cram. Since 1996 she has worked with Norman Adams, principal cellist of Symphony Nova Scotia and artistic instigator of the improvisational ensemble suddenlyLISTEN.
Paul Cram composed the original music score for SEND, a prestigious Candance Network and Live Art Productions commission. In Notes, Gwen discloses: "Everything sends me. My relationships to and in this world. The continuous movement, even in dreams." ("Notes", SEND programme, 2001) Her team for this 50-minute work includes Norman Adams, cellist accompanist; Holly Crooks, costume designer; and Philippe Dupeyroux, technical director. Noah admits it took a long time to find these collaborative partners but now refers to them as her artistic family, her dream come true. They form, with Noah, Gwen Noah Dance, the contemporary dance company that has been company-in-residence at Halifax Dance (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development of dance and movement arts) since 1998.
Reviewing SEND in the Halifax Daily News, Lisa Cochrane wrote: "Without a doubt Halifax's most accomplished choreographer, Noah, graced the Dunn Theatre with her latest creation, SEND, a complex work showing a new level of maturity for this dedicated artist." May 16, 1998, p. 27) Following Halifax, SEND was presented in St. John's, Montréal, Calgary, Vancouver and at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as part of the Canada Dance Festival.
In 1998 Noah also worked with Canadian musicians Sylvie Proulx and Alexandre St. Onge at the International Sound Symposium in St. John's. Her choreography Untitled Solo was performed by Leica Hardy that year as part of Halifax Dance's "Black Tie with a Twist". In 1999 she participated in a video dance workshop produced by the Centre for Art Tapes and hosted by Halifax Dance.
January 2000 saw her performing, in Halifax, the world premiere of Exit Zero, accompanied by Norman Adams. It featured the work of choreographers Karen Kaeja, Suzanne Miller and Noah herself. It was also presented in Annapolis Royal, Fredericton and Ottawa at the Canada Dance Festival. Additional works choreographed that year were: November Dance, In the Garden, America Loves Ballerinas, Red Tulip and Round Up.
The 2001 season included performances with singers Laura Smith and Carroll Godsman; with musicians Norman Adams and Danny Orr at "Out of the Forge", a festival of new music and movement, presented by Symphony Nova Scotia in Halifax; and with other local celebrities in the Halifax production of the Vagina Monologues. Choreographic works during the year were Love Letter Gone Wrong, and Ranunculus.
The 2002 season saw the return of SEND at the Sir James Dunn Theatre, an excerpt of SEND presented by DANS Mainstage Series, and choreographic works Trace and Push It.
In 2003 SEND was presented in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre as part of "Atlantic Scene", a festival of Atlantic Canadian arts and culture. A work in progress titled I Have Done Nothing Wrong was performed at the du Maurier Theatre and Noah did improvisational performances with Norman Adams at the launching of three companies-in-residence at Halifax Dance and at the Khyber Arts Centre in Halifax.
Currently Gwen Noah Dance is working on two creations: Descendant, a full evening's-length concert, and a new solo for Nova Scotian-born and Montréal-based dancer Ken Roy. In addition, Gwen is an instructor at Halifax Dance, teaching contemporary dance, composition and fitness.
Noah's exploration into the solo dance form continues to branch out in new artistic directions. She is very excited to be participating with Montreal sound artist Chantal Dumas in Artiste dans l'âme / Spirited Artists, a documentary series for Radio-Canada and ARTV (French version) and Bravo! (English version - subtitled). The project involves bringing two Canadian artists together to share something of themselves. Dumas creates fascinating soundscapes that echo deep within. Noah delves in the world of intuition to inspire movements that turn the body into an exquisite instrument of truth and healing. Their creation, Episode 22, "Sonority of Movements / Sonorité des mouvements", 24 minutes long, was broadcast by ARTV at the beginning of August 2003.
Barnard, Elissa. "Dance sends Noah to new place : a beautiful polished performance for Halifax-based dancer". Chronicle-herald [provincial edition]/Mail-star. (May 16, 1998). P. C11 CH; P. A17 MS
_____. "Dancers in residence : Halifax Dance provides support to professional companies". Sunday herald [Halifax]. (March 2, 2003). P. B5
Barnes, Christopher. "Gwen Noah's contemporary dance". The Brunswickan [online] Vol. 133, issue 19 . [Cited June 6, 2003]. Access : www.unb.ca/bruns/9900/issue19/entertainment/
Cochrane, Lisa. "Dance review : Noah's art : Halifax dancer keeps getting better : with confidence, dancer invites audience to share in her emotions". Daily news [Halifax]. (May 16, 1998). P. 27
Collins, Daniel. "The fringe of the edge : site specific and late night cabaret at the 1992 Dancing on the Edge Festival". Vandance international. Vol. 20, no. 3 (Fall 1992). P. 8-9
Cranston, Marla. "Anti-millennium movement : Gwen Noah ponders our departure from '99 in Exit Zero". Daily news [Halifax]. (January 19, 2000). P. 31
_____. "Dance with me : Gwen Noah performs a prayer for season". Daily news [Halifax]. (December 11, 2001). P. 23
_____. "Noah back in full force after Last show". Daily news [Halifax]. (November 14, 1997). P. 34
Downton, Dawn Rae. "In the flesh : Suzanne Miller with Allan Paivio : Dances and winds : Gwen Noah with Paul Cram". Arts Atlantic. Vol. 43 (Spring/Summer 1992). P. 46
_____. "John Wayne is dead and other works by Gwen Noah with guest artists George Stamos & Marise Vachon". Arts Atlantic 49. (Spring/Summer 1994). P. 44-45
_____. "Lee Saunders, Renée Roux, Gwen Noah : Eye Level Gallery New Dance Series". Arts Atlantic 35. Vol. 9, no. 3 (Fall 1989). P. 57-58
_____. "Noah's art : the long-distance loneliness of the solo dancer". Arts Atlantic 43. Vol. 11, no. 3 (Spring/Summer 1992). P. 25-27
EXIT ZERO. (2000 excerpt. Choreography/performance : Gwen Noah at the Sir James Dunn Theatre Jan. 21, 2000) [video recording]. Halifax : [Gwen Noah Dance Society], 2000. 1 cassette, ca. 8 min., VHS - Col.
Halifax Dance. "Profiles : dance companies in residence : Gwen Noah Dance Society" [online]. [Cited June 6, 2003]. Access: www.halifaxdance.ns.ca/profiles-dance_co.html
Howe-Beck, Linda. "Sa Geste a mixed bag : female offerings heavy, obscure". The gazette [Montreal]. (February 28, 1998). P. D11
MacDonald, Cathy. "Noah's toughest step beating the boardroom". Daily news [Halifax]. (November 27, 1991). P. 26
_____. "'Unorthodox' dancer Noah at Courtyard; dramatic performer will incorporate lampposts, ledges, city sounds into show". Daily news [Halifax]. (June 19, 1991). P. 26.
Majka, Christopher. "Noah, Gwen". Encyclopedia of theatre dance in Canada / Encyclopédie de la danse théâtrale au Canada. Edited by Susan Macpherson. [translation, Liliane Busby]. Toronto : Arts Intermedia Canada / Dance Collection Danse, 2000. P. 440-441
National Arts Centre. "Gwen Noah & Norman Adams / El viento flamenco" [online]. [Cited June 6, 2003]. Access : www.nac-cna.ca/fr/whatson/results.cfm?EventID=3600
Nemetz, Andrea. "Noah moves in different direction : Kaeja, Miller choreograph dances for Exit zero". Chronicle-herald/Mail-star. (January 20, 2000). P. B4
"Notes". SEND programme - Gwen Noah, Norman Adams : dance and cello. Halifax : Gwen Noah Dance Society, 2001. unpaged. [Also published as "Notes by Gwen Noah" in Prélude Spring 2003 [Ottawa]. The National Arts Centre's Atlantic Scene presents Gwen Noah & Norman Adams April 27, 2003, Studio.]
Pederson, Stephen. "Cellist performs meditative momentum : dancer Gwen Noah eloquent". Mail-star. (April 9, 1998). P. D9
_____. "Noah dances with 'marvellous expressivity'". Mail-star. (January 21, 2000). P. B7
Ramsay, Linda. "Send a good opening to the festival". Telegram [St John's, NL]. (April 29, 1998). P. 37
Rodenhiser, David. "Noah re-lives coming-of-age period in latest work". Daily news [Halifax]. (November 20, 1994). P. 41
SEND. (Gwen Noah, Norman Adams : dance and cello December 15, 2001) [video recording]. Halifax : [Gwen Noah Dance Society], 2001. 1 cassette, ca. 50 min., VHS - Col.
Smulders, Marilyn. "AGNS sculpture to get dancing welcome". Daily news [Halifax]. (June 2, 1995). P. 39
_____. "Dancer Gwen Noah inspired by Virgin Mary, John Wayne". Daily news [Halifax]. (February 25, 1994). P. 38
_____. "Key players : Gwen Noah". Daily news [Halifax]. (February 21, 1997). P. 36
Welcome to : Gwen Noah Dance [online]. Halifax : Gwen Noah Dance Society, 2001. [Cited June 6, 2003]. Access : http://users.andara.com/~gwennoahdance/index.html
Zimmerman, Kate. "Gripping themes in Dancing Off The Edge". Calgary herald. (September 26, 1992). P. D11