Anna Wyman Winter Concert of Dance 2019, Centennial Theatre, Saturday, Dec. 14, 4 p.m. Reserve seating available at tickets.centennialtheatre.com.
In Anna Wyman’s world, all movement is a form of dance. And in the great dance of life, she’s done a lot of moving.
After a lifetime spent teaching new generations of dancers how to move and shake and glide through the air, Wyman is celebrating five decades of her acclaimed dance school this year.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 50 years, and on the other hand, it feels like it’s been 500 years,” muses Wyman, from her apartment in West Vancouver. “It’s strange,” she observes, “thousands of children have gone through the school, starting at the age of three and stopping at the age of 18 …”
She trails off. The Anna Wyman School of Dance Arts may be quietly nestled in between 14th and 15th streets on Marine Drive in West Van, but its roots stretch back far and wide, eclipsing countries and generations.
Born in Austria, Wyman started dancing at age four as a principal with the children’s ballet at the esteemed Opera House in Graz.
In the late-1940s, Wyman moved to London to continue her study with dance artist and theorist Rudolf von Laban, whose Laban movement analysis, a method for describing and visualizing human movement, had an impact on the young dancer who would go on to employ the method when it came time to develop her own practice as a teacher and choreographer.
She lived in London for 14 years. Seeking adventure and new opportunities, Wyman and her then husband were in a restaurant with friends one evening pondering moving from England to the Big Apple – but luckily a tablemate steered them elsewhere.
“Somebody leaned over and they said, ‘Don’t go to New York. It’s not a good place. Go to Canada,’” says Wyman.
A few months later, in 1968, the couple landed in Vancouver.
“When I arrived I opened the school right away. Somebody said there’s a place and we need people like you. The Canada Council gave us immediately $5,000 so that I could start a school,” she says. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay here, but all our furniture came here and we said, ‘OK, let’s stay for a little while.”
Wyman never left. Or at least, she continued to call Vancouver home while also travelling the world.
The opening of her dance school also coincided with the creation of another project, her own dance company called the Anna Wyman Dance Theatre, which debuted in 1971.
In a 1985 article published by the New York Times looking at the company’s New York debut, the paper notes: “Any visitor to Canada interested in dance has often heard Miss Wyman’s name mentioned. There is no doubt that she has played a role in the burgeoning dance activity now evident in major Canadian cities.”
A lover of collaboration between dancers and artists of various trades, Wyman’s tenure running her dance company was marked by an emphasis on improvisation, which was novel when first introduced, as well as other remarkable flourishes – such as lights, props, film, and even lasers – which would have seemed more suitable for the theatre than the dance stage. But this was modern dance and the rules were being broken, explains Wyman.
“It was choreography dance theatre, it wasn’t just dance. It was dance theatre, which involved a lot of things and involved a lot of other artists working with me. We worked together as a team,” she says.
With her 1972 piece, Here at the Eye of the Hurricane, Wyman was a winner at the International Young Choreographers Competition in Cologne, Germany. Another one of her most well-known pieces, Dance Is This and That, incorporated Wyman’s philosophy that all movement is a form of dance by showing how a football player crashing on the field, a tennis player in their flow, or even simply walking to get groceries, could be considered dance, if it was observed the right way.
“Dance is life. We are all dancing, but we formalize the dance. It’s living,” says Wyman.
After two decades, the Anna Wyman Dance Theatre completed its run in 1991, but not before the company had accomplished a number of amazing feats, such as becoming an international sensation which toured the world, including being the first modern dance company from the West to tour China in 1980.
Following the end of the dance company, Wyman continued to administer and teach at her dance school in West Vancouver. For her, dance was, and continues to be, life itself.
“Whether it’s the company or whether it’s the school, for me it’s important that I am involved with dance,” says Wyman. “I think it’s important for children, whether they become dancers or not it doesn’t matter. To take classes is important, it helps them going through life.”