3 min

Holy body runs wild

Noam Gagnon on being transported

The words sexy, sexual and erotic are words that critics and audiences often use to describe the work of The Holy Body Tattoo, one of Vancouver’s most daring and acclaimed dance companies-and specifically the dancing of its co-artistic directors, Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras.

But, says Gagnon, sitting under the sun outside Starbucks in Tinseltown, “it’s like trying to be cool. If you’re trying to be cool you’re not cool anymore. You’re just trying to be cool. If you’re trying to be sexy you’re not sexy anymore. You’re actually quite tacky. It’s a bad outfit.”

He adds, “I enjoy being considered sexy, but I can’t play sexy. It has to come as a result of something else.”

And that something else, according to the openly gay Gagnon, is his enormous chemistry with Gingras. “It’s a visual thing-we are extremely well-matched physically. But it also has to do with the fact that we are not your typical man and woman. We are not your typical cliché that you expect to see out there when there’s a man and woman. And I think that’s what makes it sexy. We are ourselves out there, and we make people see themselves differently.”

Of course, being atypical is something The Holy Body Tattoo takes pride in. Gagnon and Gingras founded the company in 1993, in part because they felt inhibited working within the choreographic framework of others.

“It wasn’t so much dissatisfaction with others. But doing other people’s work felt like it never used the best part of us-the most powerful places where, when we’re out there, we’ve created something that transcends us.

“Doing our work, like Dana said once, is like opening an avenue where you end up on the other side, where you’re like totally transported to this world where there’s no return. The moment you open the door, you’re in it.”

The company’s illustrious vita includes Poetry and Apocalypse, Our Brief Eternity and Circa, a show whose sinewy, Latin-tinged explorations drove dance critics from here to Slovenia into fits of rapture. The Vancouver Sun called it “A dead sexy masterpiece … If there were ever any doubt that artists are mere vessels through which greater forces flow, this astounding new work from The Holy Body Tattoo should settle the issue.”

The Slovenian newspaper Vener raved, “It is the precision of rendition on all levels that has persuaded me of the perfection of Circa.”

Gagnon is pleased with the international adulation but, he says, “Ultimately we really have to do it for ourselves, because our work is just not going to please everyone all of the time.”

Gagnon, a native of Montreal, didn’t start formal dance training until the relatively late age of 18. “[Starting late] is very, very common for guys,” Gagnon says, “which is kind of a shame, on some level.”

He explains that in his family, “You did the cadets, you played hockey, you played sports. You did the guy thing. And I did some of that. I enjoyed it, the hockey and all this. But I was always more inclined towards the arts.”

Immediately upon finishing his degree in choreography and modern dance at Concordia University, Gagnon moved to Vancouver-in effect, moving from a city with a rich cultural scene to one with significantly less.

“I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Vancouver because I wanted more culture and more nightlife, but there’s something else that Vancouver offers that no other place in the country offers.” Also, he adds, “in Vancouver [in 1987, when Gagnon first arrived here], you could become a big fish in a small pond. But that’s rapidly changing now.”

The Holy Body Tattoo’s latest show, Running Wild, is about relationships and the push and pull of relationships. It promises to be the most minimalist of the company’s shows to date, with an emphasis on pure dance. “It will still have high production values, all the things that Holy Body Tattoo is renowned for,” says Gagnon. “But the show will be purified to the essence.”

Gagnon ends the interview saying that he feels a little guilty doing it without Gingras, his professional soul mate for the last 16 years. “This really is about Dana and me,” he says, “because without Dana, there is no Holy Body Tattoo.

“My relationship with Dana is the longest relationship I’ve ever had. I love her like I love no one else. We don’t sleep together, but the love that I possess for this woman-it’s friendship. It’s family.


The Vancouver East Cultural Centre, 1895 Venables St (at Victoria).

May 13-22, 8 pm.

Tickets: 604.280.3311 or