Skip to content

ArtsPlace showcases unique artist collaboration between dancer, photographer

CANMORE – Two peas in a pod, you might say if you saw Ariole Kesari Alei and Alexis McKeown together, brightly smiling and laughing with one another as they discuss their most recent joint artistic project.
Alexis McKeown Portrait-Ariole_6314
Ariole Kesari Alei is captured mid-pose in a photo by Alexis McKeown.

CANMORE – Two peas in a pod, you might say if you saw Ariole Kesari Alei and Alexis McKeown together, brightly smiling and laughing with one another as they discuss their most recent joint artistic project.

Alei, a classically based contemporary dancer, and McKeown, a portrait photographer specializing in photographing dance and women, joined together their individual talents to create something beautiful together – Soul Stories.

The opening reception last Wednesday (March 20) at artsPlace in Canmore, was for a collaborative project that included a photography exhibit topped off with two solo dance performances as well as a workshop, was the kick off to what promises to be unique and inspiring experiences.

“I don’t call it entertainment, it’s a journey,” said Alei.

McKeown accompanied Alei to her rehearsals, and with a camera in hand, she’d photograph as Alei danced.

“It’s almost not one subject to me especially in dance when there’s different things being portrayed in each piece,” said McKeown. “[There’s] different elements like the styles of each solo.”

Speaking on what made her comfortable, Alei added it was easier to look at it as a McKeown project rather than a photography session in which she is the subject.

“I perceived it as Alexis’ solo-photography show and that was less daunting for me initially because we decided how we were going to do it, how many photo sessions in costume in the theatre,” said Alei. “Then I showed up, did my thing, she showed up, did her thing… I gave her pretty much free reign.”

The duo’s process yielded results in what proved to be an incredible photography compilation that shows the interworking of Alei’s process, as well as the raw emotions that go into each and every movement.

“I think any time artists work together, there’s this element of vulnerability,” said McKeown. “You have to let the other person in. Even though I was somewhat working like a fly on the wall, I wasn’t directing Ariole or anything so we weren’t necessarily interacting while I was shooting, but she’s revealing a vulnerable side.”

The exhibit is meant to be interactive, with a book for children to draw in, red stickers visitors can put next to their favourite photo, and as well as a video component showing some of Alei’s moves.

Nicole Fougère, program manager at artsPlace, said McKeown also showed her work at the facility last year, but the interactive aspect this year has been a unique addition.

“I like that it’s an exhibit linked with a performance linked with educational workshops,” she said. “I’m hoping this will inspire more dance collaborations to happen at artsPlace.”

In terms of how well Alei and McKeown work together, McKeown said it’s easy to be inspired because no two of Alei’s dances are the same.

“They all have a different feel, they all have a different story, so I don’t necessarily feel like I’m just photographing one dancer,” she said.  “I’m photographing all these characters that she’s bringing to life so it’s always interesting, it’s not repetitive.”

Fougère’s feelings weren’t too far off from McKeown.

“My background is in contemporary dance, so dance is deeply important to me,” she said. ”I’m inspired by Ariole’s passion to bring contemporary dance to this Canmore audience.”

Backstage with Alei, a dance demo and workshop, will be held next Wednesday (April 3) at 7 p.m. There is a program fee of $40 or $34 for program fee members. As for the performances, they’ll be on April 12 and the 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 or $21.25 for program fee members. The photography exhibit itself is on until April 18.

You can find out more about the creative collaborations of Alei and McKeown at

About the Author: Alana MacLeod

Alana MacLeod is a reporter for the Rocky Mountain Outlook. Previously, she worked for Global News Toronto as a news producer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @Lans_macleod
Read more