Alumni Feature: Clarke Blair
Clarke Blair began dancing at the School of CCDT at a very young age, and over the years danced her way up to full CCDT Company membership by age 15. Her three years in the Company included biannual Toronto productions and numerous tours across Ontario performing in works by esteemed choreographers including Kevin Wynn, Colin Connor, Deborah Lundmark, and Ofilio Sinbadinho, among others. Notably, Clarke danced the role of The Mother in her final year performing Carol Anderson's iconic Nowell Sing We, and was also featured as one of the four sisters in Sinbadinho's 2015 remount of Anomykz.
These days, Clarke has struck a balance between her academic studies and maintaining an active career as a Toronto-based freelance dance artist with companies including Social Growl (Riley Sims) and Frog in Hand (Colleen Snell -- another CCDT alumna). Read on to learn more about Clarke's journey since moving forward from CCDT in 2015.
Briefly describe your history with CCDT.
I danced at the school of CCDT throughout my childhood - I did creative movement classes as a small child, then started modern and ballet classes when I was 7 and joined the Young Apprentice Program. I danced with CCDT Company for 3 years while I was in high school.
What have you been up to since leaving CCDT?
I’m currently in the process of finishing my Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto in Cell Biology and Neuroscience. I’ve also been pursuing my own continued dance training outside of a post-secondary institution via intensive programs and workshops, and I’ve been working/performing with Colleen Snell/Frog in Hand and Riley Sims/Social Growl Dance.
What skills did you gain from your experiences at CCDT that have been useful and/or transferable since you have moved on?
Growing up doing Limon at CCDT for essentially my whole childhood gave me a deep, deep love for the technique, not just for the syllabus (which I still love but definitely can't do as well as 15-year-old me could), but also the fundamental qualities underpinning the technique. Getting to revisit the basics of the technique at the start of every new year for so many years probably fuelled the way I now am really excited by digging into the guts of a concept and really figuring it out from the inside. The level of technical training I got from dancing at CCDT, as well as the work ethic and professionalism in rehearsal, definitely gave me a strong foundation to move forwards as an emerging artist after leaving.
Did you have any favourite work(s) you performed during your time with CCDT? What made it the most fulfilling or memorable to you?
That’s a hard question, CCDT has so many pieces in its repertoire that I really loved! Carol Anderson’s Nowell Sing We will absolutely always have a special place in my heart. And I don’t think I appreciated it enough at the time, but in retrospect I absolutely would love to perform Musical Chairs [choreographed by Gerry Trentham] again.
Clarke Blair and Paris Forbes dancing the roles of Mother and Child, respectively, in Carol Anderson's 2014 remount of Nowell Sing We.
Who is currently giving you inspiration?
Clown is giving me tons of inspiration right now! I’m really interested in exploring physical character building and nonverbal storytelling, so I really want to do some cross-training in mask and clown. The tiny bit of clown I've been able to try so far was really exciting!
How did you balance the training and performance demands of CCDT with school, family commitments, and the rest of your life? Can you offer any advice for current CCDT members?
It definitely takes a lot of strategic prioritization and schedule planning way (like sometimes months) in advance, and honestly communicating your schedule to teachers/family/the people you’re working with. Being realistic with yourself about what you’re able to accomplish both in terms of schedule/time management but also your own emotional energy is really important. Same with learning how to say no to things and asking for help when you need it. That all sounds intense but these are things I started to learn at CCDT and am continuing to learn as I lead my double life as a scientist and a dance artist! It can be a lot of work but it’s definitely possible!
Clarke Blair, centre with mouth open, performing in the original cast of To Repel the Demons by Kevin Wynn.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about auditioning for CCDT?
Know that it's a big commitment, but also an unparalleled opportunity! If you're at all interested in pursuing a career in dance, this is a phenomenal place to start. And even if you're not necessarily interested in a career in dance but you just love dancing and learning and performing, you'll get to do all of that A LOT with CCDT. And you'll get to dance Nowell Sing We which is basically the same thing as experiencing pure joy.
Wear a bright colour to the audition so the panel will notice and remember you.
Closing remarks: Is there anything else you would like to share; other memories or advice, words to live by, show recommendations, future aspirations for your career, etc?
Go see shows! Show up to things you care about! Tell people you like their work, and what you like about it! Bring non-dancer friends to shows! You're allowed to not like shows that you see, and sometimes not liking things is just as important for learning as seeing things you really enjoy!
Check out the video excerpts of some of Clarke's recent work below, and stay tuned to the Toronto dance community to keep up with her upcoming artistic collaborations and performances!
Follow Clarke on Instagram: @clarrrke
Frog in Hand: Stories in the Woods
Social Growl: Amorous Playlist
1) Clarke's head shot by Francesca Chudnoff
2) The Fall by Colleen Snell - photo by Francesca Chudnoff
3, 4) CCDT performance photos by David Hou