Interview with Peter Balkwill – MIMIC
PEOPLE OF DJD//
There are many people that make up the community at the DJD Dance Centre. From artists, administrators, volunteers and beyond, these walls are pulsing with personality.
PETER BALKWILL – Co- Creator of MIMIC
Co-Artistic Director of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop
1. TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY, THE OLD TROUT PUPPET WORKSHOP
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop was founded in 1999 by a diverse group of artists excited by the undiscovered potential of the medium of puppetry. We began on a ranch in southern Alberta, collecting eggs and feeding the pigs for our rent; we built our first show in an old barn, and premiered it to a bunkhouse full of cowboys and Hutterites. Over the past sixteen years, we’ve grown to be recognized as one of the leading creation theatre companies in Canada.
We’ve created many shows, for both children and adults, and toured them across the country, the US, and Europe. Perhaps we’re best known for our shows: Ignorance, The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan, and Famous Puppet Death Scenes, which has now played 37 engagements to over 40,000 people in 28 cities worldwide.
We’ve received numerous awards, including the Calgary Mayor’s Award for Innovation in the Arts and the Alberta Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Achievement in the Arts.
In our workshop in Calgary, we also make puppet films including a Juno Award-winning video for Feist and a half-hour Christmas special with the NFB. We make sculptures, including a forty-five-foot-tall cosmological puppet clock for the Big Rock Brewery, as well as a sculpture garden located in forest around the YMCA Camp where we all first met many years ago. We have an apprenticeship program, teach many workshops, and this year founded the Canadian Academy of Mask and Puppetry. It is a project that’s gathering momentum towards the establishment of a full-time post-secondary program. We even have a house band, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, which tours here and in Europe.
Currently the Old Trouts are creating a new opera in partnership with the Calgary Opera called “Ghost Opera”
2. WHAT IS YOUR CONNECTION TO DJD?
I have known Kim ever since I played in a band with her brother Brent called the Will…(There were actually three dots after the Will…)
I actually didn’t know her then, but she used to spy on us playing in the basement. She always came to Old Trout shows and we would talk there. I used to take tap classes at DJD back in the day and even had one of the dancers, Shannon Pennington, choreograph a dance in my solo show Dziddleyboom Kim also did some choreography on a puppet show that I built with the Old Trouts called Trunk Puppet
3. WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN DANCE?
I have always been drawn to the physical aspects of performance. In my training, I was voracious in the connection of the body and its ability to convey emotional thought without words; to push the bounds of body language as it were. I also trained to be a dancer in the show Stomp, which I got into after a rigorous audition process. However, at the same time we moved to create The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, so I opted to build something with my best friends instead.
4. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PUPPETRY INSTEAD OF ANOTHER FORM OF THEATRE?
Oddly enough I trained mostly to be an actor. When we started our company, everyone wanted to do puppets. I had had a puppet when I was quite young and in some manner, had an innate ability to work with and make puppets live. I think that puppets call those who can animate to the task in a strange metaphysical way so I think I was doomed on that front.
But puppets embody a physical form of performance so in many ways it made sense to my obsession of this way of reaching an audience.
5. HAS THIS EXPERIENCE CHANGED HOW YOU WILL WORK IN THE FUTURE?
This project has immensely changed the way I will work. I have learnt a ton in working with meter and choreography which I think there is much that actors can harness from this way of working. I am also no longer afraid to suggest certain ways of moving to a body of performers.
6. WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT TO TELL US ABOUT?
I am quite excited about the accessibility of dance to the general public. This is something I am learning. It seems that more people dance more than anything else. It is an innate form of expression in all of us and I think this insight will carry a way to address how we approach acting and how we can reach more people with this kind of pursuit.