Mahaila Patterson-O’Brien is an emerging choreographer in Vancouver, BC, located on the unceded, ancestral, and occupied, traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nations of the Coast Salish peoples.

She holds a BFA (Hons.) in Dance from SFU School for the Contemporary Arts where she studied with Judith Garay, Henry Daniel, Rob Kitsos, Cheryl Prophet and Marla Eist. She has also studied at The School for Contemporary Dancers in Winnipeg, MB, and at The University of Winnipeg. Other influential mentors have included Justine A. Chambers, Susan Elliot, Wen Wei Wang, Jennifer Mascall (MascallDance), and Constance Cooke.

Her choreography revolves around form and abstract gestures through the use of unison, repetition, and complex patterns. The use of projections and light play a prominent role in her work creating architecture for space and punctuation for the movement. Many of her works are collaborations with composer and new media artist Remy Siu

As a choreographer her work has been presented at multiple venues, including Dancing on the Edge 2018 + 2019, Victoria Dance Days 2018 + 2019, Dance in Vancouver 2017, Project CPR (Choreographic Practice and Research), 12 Minutes Max (The Dance Centre), Dance Allsorts (New Works), ROMP! Festival of Dance 2015 + 2017(Victoria). The dance film Turquoise made in collaboration with filmmaker Sepehr Samimi was shown at Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner, Montreal International Film Festival and NSI Online Film Festival. 

She was selected to participate in the inaugural Dance Victoria Choreographic Lab in 2017 mentored by Wen Wei Wang and returned in 2019 under the mentorship of Justine A. Chambers and Susan Elliott. 

In 2016 she came together with fellow artists Felicia Lau and Erika Mitsuhashi to form the collective Farouche. They made their debut with a self produced show at the Gold Saucer. They have gone on to participate in the Simon Fraser University’s SCA Alumni Dance Lab (2017), were artists and residence at the Anvil Centre (2017), facilitated a workshop with the first year students of the SFU Dance program (2017), and premiered their first full length work, We Talk Disco One Day, at the Gold Saucer (2018). 

Currently, she is an artist in residence for COLLIDER, project-based residency for Vancouver artists, revolving around the PushOFF platform facilitated and mentored by Theatre Replacement and Company 605

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Artist Statement

This is my pathway through a work:

  • Structure and form create a pathway.

  • Repetition creates hierarchy and “meaning” (whatever meaning means.)

  • Create tasks as an entry into the work but let the movement dictate where it wants to go. 

  • Affective movement does not always equal affect. 

  • Do not listen to my instincts when creating movement phrases, they are usually unimaginative and do not lead me to anything new. 

  • Listen to my instincts when looking at structure and form. My unconscious brain is often making connections that my conscious mind has not yet been able to recognize.

I have always viewed my choreography as a view through a window. I am interested in creating the sense that this is not a complete picture, that the work exists long before the audience arrives and will keep existing long after the audience departs.  I am trying puzzle my way through the ephemeral existence of being, without ever addressing it directly. I use abstract gesture, clear form, repetition and unison to try and build something bigger than itself by letting it be only what it is.

WTDOD-Mahaila