Dance, music and the final frontier

We spoke to Toronto musician Jennifer Castle about her collaboration with choreographer Ame Henderson: Voyager, coming to Montreal’s FTA fest next week.

Voyager amejennifer

Ame Henderson and Jennifer Castle


Toronto’s Jennifer Castle is widely respected as a singer-songwriter, an artist who’s unfurled a vivid and fresh take on Canadian folk with her records Castlemusic and Pink City (and two previous, more under-the-radar LPs released under the name Castlemusic). She’s recently back from touring Europe, and plans to begin recording her next album this summer. In the meantime she’s in Montreal preparing for a series of performances next week that will expose slightly different talents, as an improv pianist and vocalist, and accompanist to a contemporary dance show.

In the winter of 2014, Castle and choreographer Ame Henderson presented nine permutation of Voyager, a dance show inspired by the journey of NASA’s Voyager probes (launched in 1977, one of which has now gone interstellar), created in conjunction with Toronto Dance Theatre. Now the pair and the dancers are reuniting to bring the show to Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques.

Castle and Henderson initially connected on common ground in Toronto’s dance community — Castle has previously accompanied work by choreographers Barbara Lindenberg and Aimee Dawn Robinson, experience that led to Castle’s rep as a choreographer’s musician.

“[Ame’s] pitch was clear: It was an opportunity to compose one long song with no repetition, and I was open to that,” Castle explains. “It wasn’t so much that I was writing a song,” she says (though there is a compositional aspect to her music in Voyager). “Improv is like a technique that I use to reflect the principles that Ame set out: continuous, non-stop, non-repetitive, perpetual movement forward. I can’t just do whatever I feel like in the moment because I’m adhering to those principles, and the dancers are, too. It’s something I feel through my general sensibility in front of the piano. Something occurs that I could never compose on my own.”

Voyager Castle Henderson

Over the nine performances of Voyager at Toronto’s Winchester Street Theatre, Castle noticed the inevitable sonic evolution of the piece.

“It changed because we were changing,” she says. “The way I started to think about it was that the performances were installments of the same trip, so I thought of each show not as restarting but always continuing. There was change throughout — a lot of the work relies on the information that we’re taking in. The practice is really detail-oriented and specific to your scene and the space you’re in. It’s a work that’s really specific and subtle at the same time.

“Certainly the mood every night was affected by the people in the room. The dancers go with the way the mood and the movements take them. There’s different energy, different reactions. The audience is on a journey from the moment it starts and it doesn’t stop — it arks throughout the hour.”

Being in a different city and working with a new space (Agora de la danse) will alter Voyager all the more, as will the passage of time from the last performance of the show, over a year ago.

“It’ll be an adventurous and challenging week ahead as we begin to remount it and throw ourselves back into it. We’re meeting this weekend to see the specs and re-set it, reconfigure it,” Castle told me a week ago. “It is so site-specific — you just have to bring the principles to the room, let them exist in that space, and create an environment for the audience. Then we’ll just spend that hour together in the best way.” ■


Voyager will be performed as part of the FTA at Agora de la danse (840 Cherrier) on Wednesday, June 3 and and Thursday, June 4, 7 p.m., $39/$33 for people under 30/$36 for seniors. The artists will meet and greet the audience following the show on June 4.