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Joe Ink celebrates 25th anniversary

Retrospective revisits work of Joe Laughlin

Joe Ink Retrospective: 25 Years, March 6-9, 8 p.m. at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver. Tickets: $35/$28. Part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, March 2-23. For tickets and information, visit or call the box office at 604-662-4966.

TO get into character for her most recent dance role, Karissa Barry spent a lot of time watching men.

She studied the way men stroke their beards, mimicked the way they cross their legs and shift their body weight, and paid special attention to the way they gesture, not with flared fingers, but with a loose fist.

Barry, an occasional instructor at North Vancouver's Vanleena Dance Academy, has taken on a masculine role in the latest Joe Ink production, which runs March 6-9 as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival.

Joe Ink Retrospective: 25 year's Vancouv Years celebrates artistic director Joe Laughlin's 25th anniversary as a choreographer, reprising three of his favourite contemporary works.

The first piece revisits Harold, Billy, Stan and Jack (1997), inspired by French writer Jean Genet and an old black-and-white photograph of Laughlin's father and three uncles. Barry and three other female dancers explore themes of masculinity and belonging in the high-energy performance.

"It's quite athletic which, in combination with having to maintain a character of another gender, is quite challenging," says Barry, 31.

The second segment of the retrospective revisits Left (2003), an intimate pas de deux (two-person dance) for man and a teacup. Danced by Kevin Tookey, the work is a portrait of a man coming to terms with his life.

Barry reappears after the intermission in a condensed version of Laughlin's most recent work Dusk (2011). He choreographed the piece - a series of movement poems - following the passing of a close friend and his own near-death experience from a heart attack.

"I wouldn't classify my role in this piece as a character, but more as a vessel to interpret loss or feelings associated with death," Barry says.

Barry started dancing at age seven. After building a strong foundation in ballet, she expanded her training to include other styles of dance. Though she has known Laughlin for many years, this retrospective marks the first time she has worked with him.

"He has a great sense of humour, he's funny, he's easy to talk to and he really allows for us to bring our own interpretations of his work to the table," she says.

Laughlin has been asked several times if this retrospective marks the end of his creative career, but the 51-year-old assures there is much more dance-making in his future.

"It's not a retirement, I mean, I really feel like looking back has prepared me for the next phase of my creative life and has re-inspired me with dancing," he says. "I have a whole bunch of plans and projects that I'm going to get into after we finish."

Reflecting on a quarter century of dance has allowed Laughlin to watch his work evolve over the years.

"As you age, you shift a little bit in the way you work. I don't process through my body the way I used to. I think I'm a better director in terms of articulating what I want with words and not necessarily with my body and showing it," he says. "I think my eye is keener than ever and I've really sharpened my directing skill."

Laughlin is a former gymnast who started dancing to rehabilitate his injured ankle after a tumble gone awry.

"Initially I just loved the rigour of (dance) and the physical demand and the incremental training. I could relate to that from gym," he says.

Much of his choreography incorporates athletic elements inspired by his gymnastics background.

"I do love the emotional and spiritual possibilities I think that dance as an art form offers and I don't think athletics really has that range," he says.

Laughlin founded Joe Ink in 1995, created 11 productions for the company and has some 50 other works to his credit. Though his focus is contemporary dance, Laughlin has also dabbled in ballet, opera, theatre and television.

It wasn't easy to narrow his life's work down to just three "greatest hits," but Laughlin says the final production is reflective of his diverse choreographic career.

"I think that these three works from different times reflect a lot of my interests and ways of working," he says. "They kind of run the gamut from being funny and quirky and theatrical to darker, moodier more emotional work."