Artistic Vision

Nika Stein / Photographer: Julia Mercier

Artistic Vision

For a conscious being, to exist is to change, and to change is to grow, and to grow is to continuously engage in the process of self-creation.
Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

This biography traces a few through lines which feel most significant at this moment in my path. The mystery remains in what existed within my being before the imprint of cultures and various formal and informal trainings, and in the internal space of creation and decision-making which led me to be where I am today.

I was born in Russia, and lived in Ukraine until the age of fourteen. Then, after nine months in Italy, I came to Canada with my family. I have been living in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal ever since, except for a three-year period spent studying dance in Texas. My native tongue is Russian. My mother is Russian and my father is Jewish. Though I find nourishment in diverse cultural traditions, my Russian, Jewish and Ukrainian roots remain a vital source of inspiration.

I completed my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Contemporary dance at Concordia University in Montreal. This training centered around creative processes, and choreography. The pedagogical framework – that any and all movement can be taken as material to make a dance – gave me the freedom to become the artist that I am. For this I will always be grateful to the Concordia dance program and to my teachers.

By a happy coincidence I completed, at the same time as my bachelor’s degree in dance, a professional training in body-inclusive psychotherapy at the École québécoise de formation des psychothérapeutes (now closed). My grandparents were so terrified of the prospect of me trying to make a living in dance that they offered to pay for half of this training and convinced my parents to pay for the other half. This training in body-inclusive psychotherapy remains an infallible compass for aligning, in each new creative process, my artistic intentions with the realities of the body and the psyche. Shame and fear, for example, can sometimes block the creative process. Body-inclusive psychotherapy helps me to release and digest these emotions and to enable creative flow.

Nika Stein / Photographer: Nico Contreras

After I graduated from Concordia, I danced, I invented choreographies, I taught dance, worked as a massage therapist and worked in community organizations as a psychosocial counselor. My grandparents were not mistaken. My training in psychotherapy was useful to me, to earn my living as much as to learn about life. My first awkward communications with curators of dance and granting agencies left me rather puzzled. Eventually I learned the lesson: in North America, at least, an artist has to have strong sales, management and communication skills, or partner with someone skilled in those areas.

Five years after graduating with my BFA in dance, I went to Texas to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Contemporary Dance at Texas Woman’s University. This rigorous three-year program allowed me to solidify my experience in the fields of improvisation, choreography, performance and pedagogy. It was also there that I experienced for the second time the discomfort of a new cultural environment. Except this time, I was without my family. Once again, I was forced to open up to new people and new ways of thinking. I realized that Texas is much less culturally and ideologically uniform than one imagines from Montreal. I will keep this lesson in nuance and openness for the rest of my life, wherever life takes me.

Since my return to Montreal, I have continued to dance, to choreograph, to participate in interdisciplinary projects, to teach, to work as a massage therapist, to coordinate community outreach (or cultural mediation projects) and to work as a counselor in community organizations. Every one of these activities greatly enriches my artistic practice.

Daughters, Nika Stein with performer Cristy Jefferson and musician Susan Myatt, scenography by Wendy Robbins / Photographer: Wendy Robbins

Artistic vision

My creations celebrate life, while opposing the societal structures and practices that prevent its expression. I use this word, life, in the sense of the fundamental process that manifests itself through living bodies and the natural environment.

I identify as an interdisciplinary choreographer and performer. I readily transcend the boundaries of particular disciplines to find a vocabulary and a context that match my artistic intentions.

Creative Process = Transformation Process

A choreographic challenge will usually emerge from my desire to embody something that doesn’t exist in my world. To me, to embody means to create a reality within the performers’ bodies, in the relationship between the performers or between themselves and the environment.

My body and psyche, my laboratory

As a young choreographer, I primarily focused on choreographic research within and through my own body. I recognized this creative process as an empowering one which produced opportunities to express the many facets of myself, to cultivate my autonomy and agency, and to develop my choreographic language. As much as I love the dynamics of working with performers, I regularly reconnect with myself as a solo performer of my own work. This periodic return is what allows me to stay in touch with this demanding but highly enriching process. I wouldn’t want to ask performers to commit to a process to which I would not commit myself. It’s also a great way of connecting with the humility of the human condition: what I want to bring into existence in my body is consistently beyond my current capabilities.

Collaborations multiply our joint creative possibilities

It is a delight and a privilege to discover the world of each person with whom I collaborate. Diversity of disciplines, of cultures and traditions, of bodies and ways of thinking, of strengths and weaknesses, all diversity enriches our creative work. The magic of each creative team is unique and defies explanation. However, in all of my collaborative projects, three fundamental values remain:

  • Communication 
  • Consent: I only want to ask performers or other collaborators to contribute that which they want for themselves.
  • Fairness: The exchange must be perceived by all participants as fair. In other words, participants are satisfied with their contribution to the project in relation to its rewards.