Photo by Patrice Mathieu, Courtesy Ashbee

25 to Watch 2018: Daina Ashbee

Creating dance as a medium for eliminating taboos has been cathartic for radical, riveting Montreal-based dancer and choreographer Daina Ashbee. Her highly physical, personal work dealing with topics such as female sexuality, anorexia, trauma, loss, the menstrual cycle and Indigenous women has garnered accolades: At the prestigious 2016 Prix de la Danse Montreéal, she received both Le Prix Découverte de la Danse (emerging artist award) and the Prix du CALQ for Best Choreographic Work (for When the ice melts, will we drink the water?).


Growing up, Ashbee struggled with an eating disorder and body-image issues. After studies in ballet and jazz, and stints in television and film, life gradually began to shift when she joined, at age 20, the Raven Spirit Dance Society, an all-women contemporary aboriginal dance company in Vancouver. Of Cree Métis and Dutch heritage, she has always embraced her aboriginal legacy. "These women are role models, and gave me another vision of seeing beauty and caring for the body," says Ashbee.

Transforming pain through dance has been healing, allowing Ashbee to become more confident. This bold, exceptional artist is unafraid of affecting people and, as she says, "hitting them in the gut."


Find out who else made Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" list this year.

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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