40 years of Dance Montage

The last time Anne Flynn was the artistic director of Dance Montage in 1995, most of the student dancers in this year’s show were still in elementary school.

After previous artistic director Dawn Dymond moved to the United States with her family, University of Calgary dance professor Flynn wasn’t intimidated about going back to the thick of organizing the extremely popular show.

“Because I was involved in the show as Artistic Director from 1979-1995, I have a personal long history of involvement of it,” says Flynn. “It just seemed like I was the obvious person to step in and do this. It’s because I have this history — Shirley Murray, who’s been involved with this show since the beginning, is retired — I’m the next in line to know about the history of the show.”

Montage started in the Faculty of Kinesiology (then the Faculty of Physical Education) in 1969, and is easily one of the Fine Arts Faculty’s best-attended productions. Flynn has one of the longest associations with the annual November show: she has attended each year since her 16-year stint as artistic director.

As it’s in its 40th year, Flynn and company have chosen to do a thematic anniversary show. Of the 10 dance pieces mounted, four recreate choreography from Montages past, one from each decade: 1976, 1982, 1995 and 2003.

“We’ve got about 400 dances in the repertoire so we chose four of them to recreate and all of the original choreographers for those pieces have recreated those dances,” says Flynn. “We have some original cast members dancing in the 1982 piece and the 2003 piece.”

Over the 40 years, there has been a constant sense that Dance Montage is far less intimidating than the normal professional dance experience. Most of the dancers are either students or community members, so audiences aren’t the typical high brow crowd most would expect to see.

“People are going to watch their neighbours dance and their neighbour’s kids dance. It’s got that feeling that it’s somewhere between a school recital and a professional production,” says Flynn. “It’s pre-professional. Certainly for our dance majors these are performing opportunities.”

While it gives U of C students an excellent opportunity to perform in front of an audience and gain the experience that will help solidify themselves as artists, it also is an opportunity for non-professional Calgarians to show their stuff.

“The thing about Montage is that there are people who are downtown office workers who will never be professional dancers,” explains Flynn. “They are recreational dancers, dancing is their recreational passion and they get to participate. This is one of the few places that you get to see very skilled but recreational dancers perform.”

The 40th anniversary is the best example of the complex community of dancers that has been created by the show. Murray, a U of C dance professor emeritus, performs in one piece by a young choreographer. In another, a mother who performed in a previous Montage teams up with her daughter — new to the show — each as a way of making the 40-year anniversary that much more pronounced.

“There’s probably more alumni back for this show because we created a website, a Facebook page and a lot of social networking to get in touch with people to bring people back,” says Flynn.

“When the whole cast comes together — they’ve been together for a studio run through and [they were] together for the first time [on Tuesday night] — when that happens and those 80 or 90 people come together in the theatre and there are people in there who are in their 60s and there are people who are 18 — it’s something else,” says Flynn.

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