Holly Small is an award-winning dance artist and educator whose professional career encompasses 40 years of dance creation, performance and teaching. With a longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, Small has instigated dozens of projects with dancers, musicians, composers, designers and new media artists. Her choreography, described as “a flawless integration of music and dance” (Globe & Mail, Toronto), has been presented in Dance, Music and Theatre Festivals throughout Canada, the US, UK, Europe and Asia. She has also been a Professor in the Department of Dance, York University, Toronto for the past 28 years. Her creative accomplishments have been recognized by a Millennium Award from the Canada Council, a Chalmers Fellowship, the Paula Citron Award, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Woman of the Year Award and numerous arts council and foundation grants, as well as four Dora Mavor Moore award nominations. In 2012 Small received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contribution to Canadian culture through the medium of Dance.
Choreographer Holly Small has a lively appetite for engaging fellow artists in questions of creative process and is in demand as a mentor and dramaturge for emerging & mid-career dance artists.
Currently she is researching Museum of Missing Things, a collaboration with renowned Irish poet Doireann Ni Ghriofa, winner of the prestigious Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Through dance, video, music and stagecraft, Small explores aspects of Ni Ghriofa’s exquisite poetry. Other collaborators include composer/media artist John Oswald, Toronto dance artists Jessica Runge, Rebecca Mendoza and Brendan Wyatt, and Jazmin Chiodi of Tipperary Dance Platform in Ireland.
Other projects include a new work for two talented emerging dancers, Oriah Wiersma and Evan Winther. Pool of Memory, set to music by Laurel MacDonald and John Oswald, flows backwards in time evoking memories of movement and water. It will premiere in Toronto in February, 2018.
In 2017 Small and Composer Robert W. Stevenson recreated their 1981 collaboration Cheap Sunglasses for DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Celebration. Cheap Sunglasses, a work for solo dancer and four vocalists, premiered 36 years ago in DanceWorks 21. Originally danced by Small with vocalists Stevenson, Michael J. Baker, Miguel Frasconi and Andrew Timar, this brand new version featured a gender reversal, with dazzling newcomer Evan Winther dancing Small’s choreography and four superb female vocalists, Jocelyn Barth, Mingjia Chen, Bea Labikova and Laura Swankey, performing Stevenson’s rambunctious vocal score.
In 2015/16 Small had the pleasure of re-visiting two of her signature choreographies. She re-worked her duet, Apparadiant, creating three different versions to reflect three different partnerships; the original for Jessica Runge and Michael Caldwell, presented by Toronto Heritage Dance; version II for Runge and Sean Ling presented by Vancouver’s Dances For A Small Stage; and most recently, version III for Runge and Brendan Wyatt. This last version including lighting and projections designed by William Mackwood based on paintings by artist Barbara Kerr, was presented by the Department of Dance, York University. Small has also been inspired by the gifted emerging dancer Oriah Wiersma to adapt her solo, a drowning, which was originally created for the superb dance artist Johanna Bergfelt.
Radiant (2009), created in collaboration with Toronto composer/media artist John Oswald and Quebec designer Emile Morin, received Dora Award nominations for outstanding choreography, music, performance and production. One critic wrote, “The supreme craftsmanship of Small's mesmerizing Radiant shows the full weight of her wisdom and experience. (Globe & Mail). Other collaborations include interactive dance and video works, Night Vision: Nyx and Draw a Bicycle, with Don Sinclair; Vermillion Arc, a work for gamelan-playing dancers with Nur Intan Murtadza; and 1 of 12, a solo for dancer Johanna Bergfelt with music by John Oswald, commissioned by the Toronto Dance Theatre for the 12 Solos Project.
Over the past 28 years, Small has created many new works for her students at York University. Most of these are large group pieces for the York Dance Ensemble, usually featuring live music, for example; Twist of Fate (2015) created with composer/pianist Casey Sokol; bronze by gold (2014) created with composer Emilio Guim; a new Rite of Spring, entitled Rite Redux (2013) created in collaboration with co-choreographers Carol Anderson and Darcey Callison, designers William Mackwood and Julia Tribe and musician Michael Coghlan; and Tangled Rags (2012) set to the music of James Tenney performed by Casey Sokol. Small is also adept at training dancers and musicians in the art of collaborative creation, devising structured improvisations and ebullient, mercurial performance works such as suddenly everyone…..(2012) and In Just Spring (2013)
Early Career Achievements
Small’s monumental collaborative work, Souls, a full-length piece for 46 performers ranging in age from 10 to 71, co-produced with the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre, was named “one of the year’s 10 best” dance productions of 2001 by both The Globe and Mail and NOW Magazine. Also on the “year’s 10 best” lists was the equally ambitious lecadavre exquis / frankenstein, co-created in 1995 with composer John Oswald and 22 renowned Canadian and international choreographers including Margie Gillis, Bill T. Jones, Denise Fujiwara and James Kudelka.
Throughout her career, Small’s work has been presented at venues such as the Canada Dance Festival and Magnetic North Theatre Festival in Ottawa; Dance Theatre Workshop in New York; the Newfoundland Sound Symposium; the Angelica Music Festival in Bologna, Italy; Vancouver's Women in View and dances for a small stage; the Winnipeg New Music Festival; as well as dance: made in canada, DanceWorks, SummerWorks and Nuit Blanche to name just a few Toronto venues. As a dancer and sometimes actor, vocalist and musician, her performances include the one-woman play cette petite chose with Quebec City's Recto-Verso theatre company; and guest appearances with REAson d’etre Dance, da Collision Dance, Kaeja d’Dance, Toronto Dance Theatre, Peter Chin, Susannah Hood and Susan Cash & Company among others.
Small has been a dance educator for 40 years, teaching in Canada from sea to sea, in five cities throughout China, at UCLA in Los Angeles and Bretton Hall, University of Leeds in England. In 1980 she co-founded (with Noreen Tomlinson, Maxine Heppner and Grindl Kuchirka) the Dance Program at Toronto's Claude Watson High School for the Arts. In 1988, she came to York University where she taught and researched for 28 years in the areas of Contemporary Dance Technique, Improvisation, Composition, Repertory, Inter-active New Media, Music for Dancers, Dance Production and Creativity Studies. Teaching both studio and theory courses at all levels in BFA and MFA programs, she created about two dozen dances for students, supervised untold numbers of student concerts and directed the York Dance Ensemble through 15 seasons. At the Graduate level, Small was instrumental in designing York’s innovative MFA in Choreography and Dance Dramaturgy. She worked closely with its select group of stellar graduate students as Thesis Supervisor, Choreography Course Director and Artistic Director of numerous thesis concerts.
Honours include the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, the UCLA Woman of the Year Award, a Millennium Award from the Canada Council, a Chalmers Award, the Paula Citron Award, and numerous arts council and foundation grants. Publications include chapters in This Passion (edited by Carol Anderson), Canadian Dance Visions and Stories (edited by Selma Odom & Mary Jane Warner) and The Place of the University in Dance (conference proceedings edited by Gurney Bolster), as well as articles for the Dance Umbrella of Ontario website, Local Heroes and for Dance in Canada Magazine where she served as assistant editor from 1978 to 1983. Small is one of the founding Board Members of the Dance Umbrella of Ontario and a founding member of Toronto Heritage Dance Foundation.