Small Town To Big City: Jillian Peever and Shannon Roberts Interview


From small town Ontario ballet exams, to Toronto Dance Theatre and graduate school at York Univesity, Jillian Peever and Shannon Roberts prepare to present Perception: A Way of Seeing and What We Do on July 18 and 19 at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation in the Distillery District.

We asked Jillian and Shannon to share some insight into their creative partnership and the inspiration behind the new work.

Can you describe how the two of you came to know each other and work together?


This brings us back to around 2001 when we were both young dance students in our respective small towns, Shannon in Stayner, Ontario, and me in Gravenhurst, Ontario. Each month I would travel the 1.5 hours to a studio in Collingwood to train for my ballet exams. After graduating high school, unbeknownst to each other, we both moved to Toronto to further our dance training – Shannon at Ryerson University and me at the Teacher Training Program at Canada’s National Ballet School. We actually bumped into each other on the street!

I began to take an interest in what Shannon was working on choreographically and went to see her M.A. performance at York University, while I was studying at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. When I began experimenting with my own choreography I asked her to be a part of the work and she said yes! From then on, we realized that we had been working on similar themes and  had similarities points of view, both having come from small towns. By pooling our different skill sets and connections acquired from four different training institutions , we felt that joining forces was the best plan of action in getting our choreography out there.


Our first experience working together dates back to 2002 when, as young ballet students, our dance instructors brought us together to train on occasion. After moving to Toronto to train at separate dance institutions, unaware of each other’s career choices, we literally crossed paths on the street. I originally asked Jillian to be a part of my thesis work at York University but she had other commitments, she did however attend my show. Afterward, she asked me to work on a piece with her. We discovered our works were both inspired by similar themes of femininity and the roles women play in society, and this is when we decided to create Perception: A Way of Seeing and What We Do.

Can you describe your creative process? What are some of the challenges? What are some of the inspiring moments?


This year I have been studying with Sasha Ivanochko as a choreographic mentor. Through working with Sasha my process has been flipped, shattered, and rearranged. So I’d have to answer this by saying that my creative process is taking a new shape of it’s own. I am working much more collaboratively and therefore am reliant on my dancers’ creativity. Because I am in the work, the most challenging thing is that I can’t see the work until I go home and watch the video. That being said, I do sit out and direct the group at times during rehearsal. These are the times when I am inspired by the uniqueness of the artists I work with. I see my ideas coming to life and go into places I wouldn’t have imagined. Those moments excite me.


This project has stemmed from my thesis work at York University based on choreographing with a specific image. At the time it was Edvard Munch’s A Woman in Three Stages. I have taken a solo from its original form and developed it further into a duet based off of several other images. My goal is to study these images, seek out how they inspire movement and enhance what I would like to communicate to my audience. It has been a challenging process, as this year I have been living in Newfoundland and didn’t have access to my dancers regularly. A lot of my research and exploration has been on my own, however, now it is coming together nicely in rehearsal with Rhonda Baker and Kiri Figueiredo.

Over Christmas I explored the idea of a male and female duet but over time I realized that the piece was meant to be two females. It was a challenge to take a step back and start over because it set back my process, but it was worth discovering what did not work in order to know what does. I have been inspired by the #Yesallwomen movement, articles I’ve read on how women are viewed in society such as John Berger’s Ways of Seeing and personal stories of friends and family. It has been most inspiring working along side Jillian Peever because she has been an amazing sounding board for my ideas and a positive voice when I need it.

The works focuses on ‘women’s search for self-definition’, can you describe why you decided to explore this subject matter?


I came to realize that my failures were as much a part of my self-definition as were my accomplishments. This lead me to consider the human pain in life and it’s role in creating a person’s identity. Society often requires us to conceal our pain and even ignore the pain of those around us in order to appear successful, confident, happy, beautiful. Suffering is a sacred component of life. It informs who we are. I want to give people the opportunity to see and maybe even appreciate their pain as a core part of their being.


It is tough to sift through what a woman is thought of to be historically, and what a woman really is today. I think we have all at times gotten confused as to what societies expectations are of us and what our own expectations are. I know many women who ask themselves ‘Why are we still allowing ourselves to be objectified and defined by the male spectator? Does our sexuality give us power or alienate us? How do I let my younger sister know that self-definition is not about pleasing another, looking a certain way, acquiring material items?’. There is a big difference between how I feel as a woman compared to what I am made to think by society standards. I think it is important to explore why self-definition, a person’s identity, isn’t coming from within ourselves as often as we would like to think.

Perception: A Way of Seeing and What We do will be performed July 18, 8pm and July 19, 7pm and 8:30pm at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation located at 9 Trinity Street in the Distillery District.Tickets can be purchased at the door and online.

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