Linda Arkelian, ballet dancer, instructor, Vancouver, British Columbia
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What gave you the inspiration for the video, “Hands”? What is it about this part of our body that conveys so much of our soul and spirit?
Linda Arkelian: In the brain, the regions which control the hands, facial expressions, and speech are quite close to one another. Hands speak the language of the soul. The image of an unfolding hand speaks more than words. After being stricken with pneumonia and being forced into bed rest for two weeks, my hands became my only source of entertainment and comfort as I mourned for dancing with and teaching my students. I decided to choreograph my hands. When I approached David Cooper with my “Hand”s concept, I must admit I was intimidated at first, having known him twenty-four years ago as a young dancer when he did publicity shots of me for a dance company with which I was performing at the time. Even then, I considered him the ultimate dance photographer: he was able to miraculously capture the elan of the dancer in a jete like no other. Happily, when I proposed the project to him, he welcomed the idea of a creative exchange.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Did you choreograph the piece ahead of time or was it all performed impromptu?
Linda Arkelian: A little knowledge is dangerous. Knowing a little about film, I prepared some hand drawn shot sheets laying out the frame design of potential hand entry sequences for our first planning session. David quickly rigged up a set and composed a trial shot to test my concept. When we met again to begin filming, I brought a wide selection of contrasting music to inspire a variety of rhythms, textures and emotions to which I could improvise. We decided to use natural lighting. At first David filmed with a stationary camera on a tripod. He then decided to experiment with a mobile camera which opened up a whole new world of creative interplay involving his own instinctive choreographic choices. It was very exciting. In a sense, David with his hand-held camera became my invisible dance partner.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: I love how you were not afraid to show the veins in your hands, how your dance conveyed a sense of maturity, honestly and depth of experience.
Linda Arkelian: To prepare for the filming, I exercised my hands, rolling balls and squeezing them to achieve the vein definition and finger articulation that I was seeking. I enjoyed the challenge of focusing my attention on the isolation of one body part in this film.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: How did it feel viewing the finished piece?
Linda Arkelian: Although I was very excited to view the final edit, it was somewhat disquieting. It was like watching myself perform naked. I felt a new vulnerability, having expressed my sensuality on screen like that. Although it is only my hands which are seen, it felt, in essence, that my very soul had been exposed. Film viewers reflect that they feel deeply moved by our film, giving me a sense that my hands have reached out and touched many people across the world. Posting our film on Vimeo has enabled me to connect to a broad audience. Since late February, “Hands” has had over 14k viewings on Vimeo.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What is it about dance in general that you find most exhilarating? Are there ideas you find it easier to express through your body rather than by using words?
Linda Arkelian: In many ways my first response to the world is a physical expression. I often emit a gesture, a movement, a facial expression, or a sound effect as a response to a question or situation. I use all of these non-verbal modes when I teach. This non-verbality encompasses my character and makes it so normal and so comfortable to express myself through dance. And my immersion into the art of dance has deepened as I have matured. There is a fulfillment in literally breathing life into movements that connect me to an audience and other dancers; this breathing life into a leap or a turn ties me to a universal family. Even in my dance classes, I find this feeling of family emerges organically. The universality of physical expression is the raison d’etre of dance.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: What drew you to become a dancer?
Linda Arkelian: Destiny brought me to dance. I could have gone other directions, perhaps into theatre since I have always twisted situations and the world in humorous directions. My family swears I do have a little Charlie Chaplin trapped inside of me. Or I could have gone into visual art, as to this day I have a passion for visual imagery. But as a child, I watched my sister in dance class and so negotiated with my parents that I could dance if I saved enough money to buy a pair of shoes. So here I am now wearing out my one thousandth pair of dance shoes.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: The loveliest feedback you have ever received for a performance?
Linda Arkelian: Perhaps twenty years ago I was performing a choreography which ended with me blowing a kiss into the audience. Following the show an audience member approached me to tell me how much he had enjoyed my performance, touching upon that unforgettable moment when he felt my kiss caress his face. Connectivity is so important to me. It warms my heart to know that my emotions can reach across distance to penetrate people. Art is transcendent. I live to connect to people. It is my burning passion.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: As a dancer what are the moments that bring you the richest reward?
Linda Arkelian: Collaboration with a choreographer can be very rewarding, particularly when the choreographer opens the door to his or her imagination while borrowing from my physical imaginative output – when egos disappear and creative souls merge. I must say, collaborating on “Hands” was the most rewarding collaboration I have ever experienced. I enjoyed every moment of the process. The music by Stephan Moccio was a source of great inspiration to us. I saved this music to play until the very end of our filming session, because I intuitively knew David would like it the most. When we played Stephan Moccio’s composition, it was magical. His music fit “Hands” like a glove! Fortunately, we were granted permission to use it. His managers described our film as “visually striking and stunning” and wished us much success.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: How can we encourage our sons to consider dance as a means of physical expression?
Linda Arkelian: Our culture now has become fixated on technology and materialistic goals that entice our sons away from the arts. The question is: How can we wean our boys away from computer games and keep them engaged in relationships and authentic communication of emotion?
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Where do you see yourself going next, both as a dancer and as a teacher?
Linda Arkelian: I love to collaborate with artists of all disciplines whom I have invited into our family of dancers. My most fulfilling contribution has been “Bringing Artists Together,” wherein I invite visual artists, musicians, photographers, poets and videographers to explore their art in the dance studio during my advanced ballet class. Dozens of artists have shared their works with each other and the dancers, and the creative pulse of each event has impacted the lives of the artists and dancers significantly. Artists have found new directions for their work; dancers have bought the artists’ paintings; artists have re-connected outside my studio for new collaborations; and the dancers have engaged in other projects with the artists they have met. Cultivating collectivity is my lifelong pursuit.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: Greatest words of advice you’ve ever received?
Linda Arkelian: “Breathe!” Life begins and ends with breath. In the creative process, as we express ourselves through movement, the breath fuels the dance expression even at the cellular level. Awareness of the breath takes us to the deepest levels, touching the unconscious. To breathe is to live.
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Linda Arkelian has performed internationally with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Theatre Ballet of Canada,
the Anna Wyman Dance Theatre and the Judith Marcuse Dance Company.
She was the recipient of a Canada Council grant.
Linda recently collaborated with David Cooper on the widely-viewed dance film, “Hands.”
Linda Arkelian teaches ballet at the Dance Center in downtown British Columbia.
Please visit their website to learn more about her classes: