Michèle Steinwald has been living (and wearing, as you’ll read in a minute) multidisciplinary art since she was a kid. After a teenage role fronting for a spit-themed Canadian punk band, she went on to become a dancer, choreographer, and arts administrator. In Seattle, she worked at On the Boards as an artistic associate; helped start up the film distribution site IndieFlix; and, most recently, founded 44 Arts Productive, a service organization aiding dancers and choreographers. As the Walker’s new performing arts program manager, she’ll be involved with all aspects of producing performance works, including blogging. By way of introduction, here’s an interview we did this morning.
I understand you were in a punk band called “Hork P’tew” when you were 14. What was your role?
Yup! I was the singer. We never had a gig. I actually was asked to replace the original singer who was in jail. I was asked because I couldn’t sing, and by the end of the summer the band split anyways, but not because of my singing. The guitar player, for those interested in 80’s Canadian punk, was Warren Peace of Grave Concern. His brother Paul Ste-Marie was the drummer. Tension grew when the original drummer of Hork P’tew stayed in the band.
What were some of your songs?
My favorite was “Oatmeal Blues,” which Warren wrote, but we also did an apocalyptic version of “Fraggle Rock.”
Where has your performing arts career taken you since Hork P’tew?
I am a trained contemporary dancer, now retired, and have done some choreography over the years. My favorite choreographers are Deborah Hay and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (of Rosas), who performed last season at the Walker. I flew in from Seattle to see Anne Teresa perform a solo here and it was so great! I also danced for Simone Sandroni when I lived in Europe. Simone brought his new company Déjà Donné to the Walker last year, too. My favorite Canadian choreographer is Benot Lachambre and he too was at the Walker with Meg Stuart last season. As you can see, I am a big fan of the Walker’s performing arts programming.
Where are you from?
I was born in Elmira, New York which is the hill next to Ithaca in upstate NY but was raised in Eastern Canada. We moved around a lot and I have continued to travel because of my career. In all I have lived, in order since Elmira, in Springfield, VT; Peterborough, Ontario; Sydney River, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia; Burlington, Ontario; Ottawa, Ontario; Montréal, Québec; Arnhem, The Netherlands; Brussels; Prague; Tokyo; and then Seattle for the last 8 years (the longest I’ve lived anywhere). Now Minneapolis! I am really happy to be here. It feels like home already.
As a young dancer of 17, I was asked to “perform” for a visual art installation at the National Gallery of Canada. The work called Remote Control II was by Czech/Canadian artist Jana Sterbak. I was suspended by the crotch in a large metal crinoline which had wheels and a remote control motor. The following year, the gallery called and asked if I could be a part of Jana’s solo show and hang in the metal skirt again but also, model a “meat dress.” My dad thought this was very funny as I was vegetarian at the time. I agreed and was sewn into the steak garment for a photo shoot. The piece is named Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Anorectic Albino and the Walker has one in its permanent collection. The picture in the Walker archive is of the original model, although I am still surprised to find pictures of me used in publications.
You wore the dress in the controversial showing in 1991?
That’s me. It was a big scandal in Canada so my picture was in the newspapers and on the evening news for a day which was exciting at 18 years old.
Image: Michele performing in Remote Control II, from the exhibition catalogue