high concept choreographer

And Toronto's experimental dancers, 1972-1987


Lily Eng: 2LilyCEAC_72p073.jpg

"Lily Eng's works are rigorously rooted in physical experience and come across as intensely intelligent in their exploration of bodily process." The Globe and Mail: Glimpses of a Postmodernist Past

"This dancer/performance artist details a spectrum of language. Eng becomes a martial artist, a fierce woman warrior whose hands often feather into the coquetry of the seductress." The Toronto Star: Detailing a Spectrum of Gestural Language

Lily Eng: Pickering2_72p.jpg

Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, Pickering, canada; choreography lily eng, concept and photography corinne palmer

The work of experimental choreographer Lily Eng is performance art and conceptual art—she has performed primarily in art galleries. From 1972 to 1982 she choreographed in partnership with interdisciplinary artist Peter Dudar—together called Missing Associates. As well as performing from coast to coast in North America, Missing Associates were the first Canadian experimental choreographers to tour Europe and do so repeatedly.

Since 1984, Eng has performed mostly as a solo artist in international venues. Lily Eng is this year's Canadian Spotlight Artist at Toronto's Reel Asian International Film Festival (November 10, 2011).

"I need to feel that something new is emerging from the flux of choreographed movement and unleashed emotion. I re-evaluate myself non-stop. But I can't be anticipated. I can be wild one instant, and quite elegant the next." Lily Eng

Gallery-based experimental dance by Toronto choreographers lasted from 1972 to 1987. In the following summary of that scene, Lily Eng's activities are shown in context with other experimental choreographers.

(This summary is based on a detailed timeline, available as a download at the end of this article.)

all photos and videos are lily eng



gallery Activities Of Toronto-Based Experimental Dancers, 1972-1987

From April 1973 to November 1974 Lily Eng and Peter Dudar (Missing Associates) were the only experimental choreographers working in Toronto galleries-totalling seven performances at A Space. Former National Ballet of Canada dancers Lawrence Adams and Miriam Adams were also choreographing experimental works, but still performing in theatrical venues, including the future location of 15 Dance Lab in Toronto.

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A Space, Toronto, canada

In November 1974, Lawrence Adams and Miriam Adams initiated 15 Dance Lab as a parallel gallery, with a performance by Anna Blewchamp. Jennifer Mascall and Martha Bell, both graduates from York University's dance department, performed next. Very quickly, 15 Dance Lab became the starting venue for experimental choreographers emerging from York University. Others included Susan Aaron, Mimi Beck, Elizabeth Chitty, Louise Garfield, Johanna Householder, Terrill Maguire, and Joan Phillips.

Also in 1974: Lawrence Adams, Miriam Adams, and Terry McGlade created Visus Foundation, the video arm of 15 Dance Lab, to document the dance scene and provide instruction on video production.

Initially, the parallel galleries were the only venues for nascent experimental dance, some specialized like 15 Dance Lab, and others like A Space associated more with visual art. Though Lily Eng and Peter Dudar 'performed' at the Isaacs Gallery in 1974, in Michael Snow's film Two Sides to Every Story, no Toronto commercial galleries hosted experimental dance performances from 1972 to 1987 and no mainstream dance organization did so until the mid-1980s. (Melodie Benger did a "phantom dance" at Isaacs Gallery in June 1975.)

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15 dance lab, Toronto, canada

Prior to 1974, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council refused to support performance artists, tossing applications from one department to another, with none accepting responsibility. After directly confronting Ontario Arts Council officers on the issue, Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar) were awarded the Ontario Arts Council's first Technical Assistance Awards as experimental choreographers from the Dance Department in 1974, opening the door for others. Next, Lily Eng and Peter Dudar opened the federal door by also directly confronting Canada Council officers. Missing Associates were made the Canada Council's test case and awarded the first Art Grants as performance artists from the Visual Arts Department in 1976.

Margaret Dragu, born in Saskatchewan, arrived in Toronto via New York and Montreal. She was the next experimental choreographer to work in a non-specialized gallery: A Space, in May 1975. She also performed with Susan Swan and Mary Canary at Cinema Lumiere in October 1975, setting early precedents for using venues outside visual art and dance, and for collaborating with artists from other disciplines.

In May-June 1975, 15 Dance Lab hosted the Festival of Women and the Arts. The independent choreographers in the lineup included Anna Blewchamp, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, Lily Eng, Louise Garfield, Johanna Householder, Jennifer Mascall, and Carolyn Shaffer.

November 1975: Dance Artists 75, a 15 Dance Lab series, saw the first use of the term "dance artist", coined by Lawrence Adams and now ubiquitous. This first group identified by the term were Susan Aaron, Lawrence Adams, Miriam Adams, Jill Naomi Bellos, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, and Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar).

That same month, Elizabeth Chitty was the first of the former York University students to migrate from 15 Dance Lab to A Space.

The D.A.N.C.E.series of June 1976, organized by 15 Dance Lab with the assistance of Margaret Dragu, used outdoor performances, forums and cablecast, to recontextualize experimental dance into a wider world and mind set.

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Beursschouberg Performance Art Festival, Brussels, Belgium

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Museum of Modern Art, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, Italy

Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar) had started performing outside Toronto in 1975 (Montreal, Halifax). In October 1976, Missing Associates, contact improvisor John Faichney, and performance artist Ron Gillespie comprised CEAC's (Centre for Experimental Art and Communication) First Canadian Performance Art tour of Europe. They were the first Canadian performance artists to tour in Europe. Missing Associates followed up with two self-organized tours of Eastern and Western Europe in 1978 and 1980. Missing Associates and John Faichney were the only Toronto experimental choreographers to tour in Europe. Missing Associates were the only experimental choreographers to tour in Europe repeatedly.

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Galerie Nachst St. Stephan, Vienna, Austria

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X6 Dance Space, London, England

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Galerija Suvremene Umjetnosti, Zagreb, Yugoslavia

November 1976: Dance Artists was next morphed into a 15 Dance Artists extension program, and presented in a former church: St. Paul's Centre. The 1976 dance artists were Jill Naomi Bellos, Elizabeth Chitty, Peter Dudar, Lily Eng, Charlotte Hildebrand, Johanna Householder, and Nancy Schieber. Subsequently, off-site series increasingly became part of parallel gallery programming in Toronto.

Louise Garfield and Carolyn Schaffer performed at York University in 1976, starting a return to academia. (Some of the experimental choreographers are now university faculty.) Also, Garfield and Schaffer, as well as Margaret Dragu performed at the Dance in Canada Conference, Halifax, to be followed later by other experimental choreographers. While some were trying to expand the definition of dance to include themselves, others like Elizabeth Chitty and Johanna Householder would eventually self-identify as performance artists, not dancers.

From 1976 to 1978, Lawrence Adams and Elizabeth Chitty published SPILL newspaper ("geared towards the experimental arts, focused on dance") out of 15 Dance Lab. (Betty Oliphant, National Ballet of Canada: SPILL "didn't have the right to exist.")

As of January 1977, former York University students and colleagues flooded into A Space: the influx included Mimi Beck, Janice Hladki, Johanna Householder, Jennifer Mascall, Jean Moncrieff, Brenda Neilson, and Paula Ravitz.

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Internationaal Cultureel Centrum, Antwerp, Belgium

In February 1977, Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar) performed at Artists Space in New York. This was the first New York performance by Toronto experimental choreographers.

New Work, at the Music Gallery, March 1977: initiated by Johanna Householder and Martha Lovell, a collective of dance artists started the Dance Works and Improvisations series, predecessor to DanceWorks-which is still ongoing. Also in the group were Irene Grainger, Janice Hladki, and Joan Phillips. This was the first use of the Music Gallery as an ongoing experimental dance venue. The series included improvisations with the CCMC, whose lineup included Larry Dubin, Nobuo Kubota, Allan Mattes, Bill Smith, Casey Sokol, and Michael Snow.

In June-August 1977, Margaret Dragu (with Enrico Campana) did a Cross-Canada tour-Halifax to Vancouver. She was the only Toronto experimental choreographer to go coast to coast in a single tour.

Organized by Elizabeth Chitty, Dance Artists was reborn in 1977 as Dance Artists Soho, without gallery affiliation and located on Queen Street upstairs from the current Rivoli. The lineup included Elizabeth Chitty, Louise Garfield and Johanna Householder.

Lily Eng performed with Joseph Beuys Free International University at Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany, in September 1977. She was the only Toronto experimental choreographer to perform at Documenta.

Joseph Beuys Free International University, Documenta 6, Kassel, Germany; video documentation

In November 1977, the Art Gallery of Ontario's Looking at Dance-Live, on Film, as Video included Toronto experimental choreographers Charlotte Hildebrand and Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar), as well as American experimental choreographers Trisha Brown and Sara Rudner. This was the first time experimental choreographers had been included in AGO programming.

Throughout 1978, performances by established Toronto experimental choreographers were ongoing at A Space, 15 Dance Lab and the Music Gallery. Margaret Dragu (with Enrico Campana and Terry Crack) added The Funnel, more associated with film, to the mix of parallel galleries hosting experimental dance with a performance in March 1978. But in June and July 1978, the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council withdrew funding from CEAC, subtracting that venue.

In August 1978, Elizabeth Chitty, Johanna Householder, and Janice Hladki became the only Toronto experimental choreographers to perform in San Francisco, as part of the La Mamelle/A Space Literal Exchange.

Also in 1978, choreographers Louise Garfield, Johanna Householder, and Janice Hladki, with initial participation by Elizabeth Chitty, formed the lip-sync group The Clichettes (1978-1990)-a cabaret act.

The Art Gallery of Ontario's Independent Choreographers Series in February 1979 featured an all-Toronto lineup of experimental choreographers and collaborators: Miriam Adams; Anna Blewchamp; Margaret Dragu and Enrico Campana; Louise Garfield and Susan Swan; Johanna Householder and Janice Hladki; Terrill Maguire and Roberta J. Mohler; Jennifer Mascall and Paula Ravitz; Carolyn Schaffer.

Recent Pasts, the first Toronto experimental dance retrospective, was staged off-site by A Space at Harbourfront and curated by Elizabeth Chitty in May-June 1979. The veterans on the program were Anna Blewchamp, Margaret Dragu, Louise Garfield, Janice Hladki, Johanna Householder, and Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar).

15 Dance lab, having presented 135 artists, closed in May 1980. (Miriam Adams: "People were starting to repeat themselves and the work was becoming less interesting.")

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Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal, Montreal, Canada

Throughout 1980, Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, and Missing Associates (Lily Eng, Peter Dudar) were mostly performing outside Toronto, ranging from Vancouver in the west to Warsaw (Poland) in the east. Elizabeth Chitty and Margaret Dragu continued to do so for several more years.

In Toronto, two new galleries accommodated experimental choreographers in the next few years: Mercer Union (Missing Associates [Lily Eng, Peter Dudar]), 1980; Elizabeth Chitty, 1982) and the short-lived ARC (Lily Eng, 1984). But the frequency of gallery performances declined-the 'less conceptual' choreographers were working more with dance organizations such as DanceWorks.

Margaret Dragu performed twice in Europe with visual artist Tom Dean: at Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels, Belgium in 1981 and Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Germany in 1983. Elizabeth Chitty performed at the 3 e symposium d'art performance in Lyon, France in 1981.

dp, film (R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, toronto, canada); choreography lily eng, concept and direction peter dudar

Peter Dudar had been screening experimental dance films since the mid-1970s. Elizabeth Chitty screened at the Festival of Festivals, Toronto, (Video/Video: State of the Art) in 1981; on CBC television (Prime Time Video) in 1982; and at Canadian Images, Peterborough (A New Look: Women and Film) in 1982-part of a tendency to more screenings by experimental choreographers.

Lily Eng and Peter Dudar last performed as Missing Associates during Language and Representation, a co-venture by A Space and The Funnel, curated by Philip Monk, in February 1982. Lily Eng started performing again in 1984.

Experimental dance in Toronto galleries ended in 1986 (Lily Eng, Music Gallery, March 1986).

Elizabeth Chitty and Margaret Dragu were no longer performing by mid-1986. (Margaret Dragu moved to Vancouver in 1986.) But they would eventually return to choreographing and performing: Elizabeth Chitty: Lake, Bill Bolton Arena, Toronto, 1990; Margaret Dragu: Pheromones, Artropolis, Vancouver, 1990.

drive, video; concept and choreography lily eng, production united media arts studies

Though Pavlychenko Studio was not a gallery, director Larisa Pavlychenko initiated series of collaborations between independent choreographers, visual artists and musicians-an intermix once common in Toronto galleries. Collaborations in Dance, Visual Arts and Music (September 1986, December 1986), plus Vortex (June 1987) included collaborations between Gail Benn and Suzy Lake; Bill Coleman and John Oswald; Lily Eng and Peter Dudar; Jo Leslie and Michael Snow; Louise Parent and Stephen Cruise. Pavlychenko Studio closed down 'temporarily' in 1988, but never reopened.

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pavlychenko studio, toronto, canada

© 2011 Peter Dudar

Lily Eng: Reel Asian Canadian Woman Warrior, by Coman Poon


detailed timeline ENG




detailed timeline STANDARD