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Artist Features

I Am YEG Arts: Molly McDermott

March 26, 2024

Molly McDermott is a dancer, choreographer and a teacher of movement. Over the course of her career, she has worked for a number of different companies and independent artists, and recently joined the Good Women Dance Collective as a collective member. In this week’s I Am YEG Arts story, Molly tells us about the value of collaboration, how training in the Japanese Butoh dance style has shaped her practice, and how her children’s love of scary stories inspired her latest dance piece In And Out Of Dark.

Tell us about your connection to Edmonton and why you’ve decided to make it your home. 

Edmonton is my hometown. I was born and raised here and I have a huge family here. I also went to college here at MacEwan in the dance program. I was actually in the last graduating class before they closed that program, and then I did move away. I lived in Vancouver for 16 years or so, for the bulk of my career up to this point. And then during the pandemic, and while I was pregnant with my second baby, I really felt the pull to be closer to family. So, I moved back here about three years ago. Since moving back, I feel like I was very warmly embraced by the dance community here. It’s a small community, but I think that’s ultimately its strength. There’s a real camaraderie and maybe, like an unspoken commitment to supporting one another and I just love that about the city. So, I feel really happy to be back. 

How important has collaboration been to your career, and why are you drawn to it?

I would argue that any creative venture is collaborative in nature. Even working on a solo project I’m collaborating with the music and the space around me and any materials or props or costumes that I might choose to use. So, I would say it’s vital to my career. And I think I choose highly collaborative environments because ultimately, they make for stronger work in my opinion. If I’m making my own work, I might come in with a specific idea or a trajectory or a vision for a piece, and then I expect that my collaborators will put their imprint on it and the piece will have its own journey, and it will shift and change and suddenly become about something else. And I think it ultimately becomes richer because some other human has put their little mark on it. The creative process can be sometimes a very vulnerable space and sometimes lonely, so I appreciate the company. And I feel very fortunate to all the number of artists that I’ve worked with over the years and who I’ve got to learn from; it’s such a gift. 

Butoh is a Japanese avant-garde dance form developed as a reaction against Western influence in Japanese politics and culture, focusing on the grotesqueness of the human condition, characterized by startling body contortions and shocking images. Tell us how your formal training in Butoh, along with contemporary and somatic techniques, and improvisation, influence your dance practice. 

When I was in Vancouver, for most of the time that I was there, I worked a lot with a company called Kokoro Dance and through them I trained in Butoh and danced in many Butoh inspired works. I think that one (Butoh), out of all of the training which has been really valuable and continues to be, is the one that really shaped me the most as an artist. There’s this intensity and physicality, and evocative imagery, which can be really grotesque and dark, but also really beautiful, and I value that. I also value the rigor and the discipline that’s involved in Butoh, but also, it’s not codified in any way. There’s a lot of freedom as to what it could even be. I feel like I embraced that in my practice, in my training, as well as in my creative choreography. 

I think there’s also a lot of improvisation that crosses over with Butoh, too. You can totally be rigorous and free. Those two things can go hand in hand. 

Something that the artistic directors of that company used to say that really stuck with me is talking about stretching time and space. I feel like Butoh really has the capacity to do that. It can expand and contract and mutate reality in a way that allows for the absurd and the surreal and the uncanny. I like that sort of transformation. 

Who’s someone inspiring you right now, and why?

There is a Danish artist who I love, her name is Kit Johnson. She’s done a lot of solo work, that tends to be the work that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen her live a few times and she is a completely transformative performer. Every piece of the work is etched, clear and engaging. I feel like there’s just no excess; she takes out any extraneous elements and it’s just distilled to perfection. So, I’m really interested in her.

Honestly, I feel very inspired by my peers all the time, like on a daily basis. The people I’m choosing to collaborate with now and the people that I train with, they’re all fabulous, hardworking, smart individuals that I learn from all the time. 

Audiences will be able to see your piece In And Out Of Dark at the 2024 Expanse Festival on March 29 and 30. Tell us about your inspiration for the piece.

The spark for that piece was my children’s obsession with hearing scary stories. They really like feeling afraid and they’re really into some children’s stories that are quite scary and strange. And it’s fun until it’s not. I feel like it’s really easy to cross this line where then it’s just genuine fear and it’s no longer fun for them. And so, I just got curious about this line between fun and fear, and also for myself, the sensations that I feel when I’m afraid that are sometimes pleasurable and even sometimes a bit silly, and it’s really easy to crossover into just fear. So that was the starting point. And then I used some imagery from children’s stories and some passages to begin, but I’ve allowed the piece to sort of have its own journey, and like I was speaking about earlier with collaboration, I feel like the other artists that are in the room have really informed where the piece goes. I think of it as being like this live organism that’s always changing. I don’t think it’s ever going to feel like it’s finished or fixed in one way. Maybe some of that will sort of still be there, simmering in the darkness, but I think it’s grown into something of its own beast.

Tell us a little about what you’re currently working on or hoping to explore next.

I really hope that this current piece at Expanse will continue to have more performance opportunities. Dance often has a really long rehearsal exploration phase, and a very short performance life. So that’s out there in the world trying to happen.

I’m performing next at Mile Zero Dance’s Connections/​/​Collisions Cabaret in a new work by Deviani Andrea from Good Women Dance Collective. I’m pretty stoked for that. And then I’ll be performing in my first Good Women production in the fall at Convergence.

And I have a little daydream about a series of site-specific performances that will be performed in various locations across the city. So, I might start planning that.

About Molly McDermott

Molly McDermott is a dance artist, gratefully performing, creating, and teaching movement in Amiskwaciwâskahikan. She is a graduate of Grant MacEwan College, and Simon Fraser University, receiving a BFA in dance in 2007. She has since interpreted work by a variety of inspiring artists and companies including Kokoro Dance, Co. Erasga Dance, Les Productions Figlio, Mascall Dance, Billy Marchenski, Deanna Peters, and Justine Chambers, among others.

Molly has presented her own choreography at Vines Art Festival, 12 Minutes Max., Nextfest, Good Women’s Creative Incubator, Mile Zero Dance’s cabaret series and the Magpie Collection. She is the recipient of the Good Women New Work Award 2024 and had the pleasure of curating the dance presentation at Expanse Movement Arts Festival in 2023. Molly is thrilled to recently join Good Women Dance Collective this season as a collective artist and looks forward to future collaboration and expanding her practice amongst other brilliant artists.

Alongside dance, Molly is a mother of two small humans and welcomes the gentle chaos that comes with balancing motherhood and everything else.