Uptown Moves: Dance Night Out Creator Timea Wharton-Suri on How Dance Has the Power To Illuminate Collective Experiences

Uptown Moves is North York’s new and inspiring dance series that celebrates all forms of dance while connecting and spotlighting overlooked audiences, dance forms and dance artists, creating an immersive and thought-provoking experience shared by the artists and audience alike. This weekend, they will present their inaugural double-bill presentation, Dance Night Out, which includes a Korean-Canadian cultural trifecta of film, food and dance.

Timea Wharton-Suri is the creator and programmer who brought this inspiring and diverse evening to life. With twenty years of experience directing dance productions, cultural programs, and arts education projects, she aims to create presentations that are accessible to a broad range of communities, including the ones that are often marginalized. Challenging traditional categorizations of dance while embracing artists’ cultural roots, Timea wants to demonstrate how dance has the power to illuminate our collective experiences, regardless of background or environment.

We caught up with Timea this week.

SDTC: For those who know nothing about Uptown Moves, what’s your one-line pitch?

TWS: Uptown Moves is an immersive and inclusive dance experience that brings together local, national and international artists who are creating compelling contemporary dance work.

How did this inaugural double-bill presentation come together? 

While researching ideas for new dance programming, I reached out to several communities in this city (choreographers, neighbourhood associations and different cultural communities) to learn what dance opportunities they were interested in. “More opportunities” was the overriding feedback from both audiences and artists, and people living outside the downtown core want more opportunities to see and interact with art closer to home.

Once TO Live decided to invest in Uptown Moves programming, I reached out to two artists that I had been interested in presenting for some time, Hanna Kiel (Toronto) and Bora Kim (Seoul). They are both rising star contemporary choreographers, women forging unique paths in the arts. The film screening subject, Professor Nam Jeong-ho, is a woman who forged a lifelong career in contemporary dance. The fit was perfect, and the presentation came together from there.

What would you say was the initial goal for the evening?

My goal for Uptown Moves as a whole is to create access to performances for audiences outside the downtown core and access to more performance opportunities for local artists. The goal of this Dance Night Out evening of film, food and dance is to create a more inclusive cultural experience, beyond a dance performance on its own, to help create multiple access points for audiences to enjoy dance-related activities.

How was dance nurtured in your childhood/youth?

I followed my older sister to ballet classes when I was four years old and never stopped dancing. But there was always a spirit of dance and music around me growing up, with dedicated dance floors set aside at house parties and family gatherings. And aside from my parents supporting my participation in ballet classes, I would get together with my sister and school friends and we would copy dances we saw in music videos on MuchMusic. Then we would impress our friends and families by forcing them to watch our performances.

One of the things that later inspired me to become a professional dancer was a performance of Fosse at what is now called the Toronto Centre for the Arts, where Uptown Moves is programmed. The ballet, house parties, Paula Abdul imitation, and amazing stage performances in my neighbourhood led to me dedicate myself to dance for life.

What excites you most about Saturday’s show?

For this inaugural Uptown Moves weekend what excites me most is simply that a diverse crowd will connect with these two wonderful choreographers and their dance works. It is exciting and encouraging when people come together to connect in this way and experience something that may surprise them and perhaps deepen their understanding of each other. By the way, we also have a Sunday, May 12, matinee of the dance works that begins at 2:00 PM.

What do you think this program will teach audiences about Korean culture?

That it is multifaceted, contemporary and continually evolving, just like all other cultures. In our multicultural city, we sometimes believe that we “know” about a culture from brief encounters; for example, meals at a favourite restaurant, or K-pop videos, or images of Korean dancers in historical dress performing at a festival. But while many are working to preserve those rich, ancient forms of dance, there are also dance artists creating exciting contemporary works influenced by the past and present, at home and abroad.

How has working on Uptown Moves inspired you?

Building the Uptown Moves series has inspired me to create even more opportunities for local artists to interact with national and international artists, and to reach out to more communities around the city that may not be used to seeing contemporary dance from a variety of cultures.

Uptown Moves takes place this weekend at Toronto Centre for the Arts. Get tickets here.

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