Remembering Amelia

The life of Canadian movement pioneer Amelia Itcush (1945-2011) spanned an influential dance career, a teaching, researching and bodywork practice. In memorium, the 2013 Remembering Amelia Project, Display and Gatherings invites those influenced by Amelia to gather and examine her legacy under the aegis of New Dance
Horizons. The touring display and accompanying Gatherings continue dialogue and teaching of the work, sparking connections as it travels the country.

“Amelia was Toronto Dance Theatre’s most powerful female dancer” said Toronto Dance Theatre Co-Founding Artistic Director Patricia Beatty in 1989. “She took more risks than any dancer I’ve seen. Beautiful, not athletic; spiritual but not emotional. Courageous. Revolutionary. “

Itcush taught plain physical things - standing, sitting, walking, breathing - with clarity as infinite and pure as a prairie horizon. Her complex work, a lifetime’s study offered immediate experience of change. Resistant, locked body parts realigned into the simplest, most economical route possible, that of gravity; muscles released, habits abandoned, movement freed, pain extinguished. It took time and it wasn’t easy. But it was revolutionary.

Born in 1945 on a farm near Viceroy Saskatchewan, Amelia Itcush received dance training in Regina. A teenage studio photo of her arabesque reveals an effortless sense of line. Years later, her teacher Nehemiah Cohan, originator of the Mitzvah Technique - the soil from whence the Itcush Method sprang – put it succinctly: “When Amelia dances, everything is in the right place.”

Leaving a skeptical family for Winnipeg and Toronto she was twice rejected by the National Ballet. After some hand to mouth living, Beatty discovered her and, in 1966, invited her into the radical, Graham inspired New Dance Group of Canada (later the Toronto Dance Theatre). At Connecticut College, age 22, she encountered Graham, Limon and other American modern dance greats firsthand. She was “devastated” by the power and depth of their work, saying “I had at last found a powerful enough way to communicate what I had to say.”

Amelia was a Canadian modern dance legend. Audience members tell of an unforgettable, rivetting presence reminiscent of a wild animal. Spare, long boned, fluid,
androgynous, feral, they say. As a Toronto dance student, Vancouver choreographer Jennifer Mascall recalls seeing the dance troupe enter parties - a “wild, intense artist tribe at the center of everything.” These were seminal, exciting years for modern dance and the arts in Canada.

Her career was marred by ever-increasing struggle with injury and pain that drove her to ceaselessly explore new approaches. In 70’s Toronto Nehemiah Cohen was a crucial influence; she was the first teacher certified in his Mitzvah Technique. Through Cohen, her work descends from two somatic giants, the pioneering  Feldonkrais and Alexander. Like Amelia, these groundbreakers were propelled by injury to overturn existing notions of postural correction primarily through the use of pedestrian movement range and hands-on interaction with the student/client, with significant results for the development of Somatic practice internationally.

A lifelong fierce researcher, Itcush ultimately returned to the prairie, her research base an old church turned studio in rural Saskatchewan. Students speak of the grain elevator and stark horizon as a presence in their study. She was a visual, kinaesthetic communicator who observed animals and nature keenly, and gathered information from eclectic sources. She produced eloquent drawings of her work, developed, recorded and constantly developed curriculum, refining exercises and offering manual-style materials in tandem with her courses.

Remembering Amelia offered classes from some of the teachers (based in Canada and Japan) who inherit her teaching technique; participants learned from artists, educators, mental and physical health workers whose respective practices are influenced by studies with her. Jennifer Mascall’s provocative musings, titled “Lone Women Artists and Their Invisible Legacy” articulated questions in tracing the shadow of a life about movement, lived in dance. How best might we represent Amelia Itcush’s life and work for future use? What does it mean to be a seeker of the sort Amelia was, far from the madding crowd? What we do know is that Amelia’s discoveries and influence live and continue to spread in the world in their cells and through their daily breath. And how much we will miss her.

Dance Saskatchewan Inc. is pleased to host Remembering Amelia at the DSI Centre in April 2014. “Don’t Miss this Special Opportunity to get a glimpse of the work of Amelia Itcush and there is more to follow. You can dive into an intensive weekend of ITCUSH work in April at the Remembering Amelia GATHERING #7 led by guest teacher Kathy Morgan. We are very excited about this residency opportunity and look forward to being in Saskatoon and to meeting and exchanging in dance and somatic dialogues.”

- Robin Poitras, NDH Artistic and Managing Director