Brian Webb steps back from his company but keeps his feet on the dance floor
By Cory Schachtel | January 3, 2024
When we first covered Brian Webb, we remarked on the accomplishments he’d already achieved in the course of a 30-year career — in 2009. So, what’s he been up to lately?
“Dancing. It’s what I’ve been doing my whole adult life.” He specifies “adult” life because as a 1951-born child growing up in “many small towns, Alberta,” he simply wasn’t exposed to it. But he was exposed to playing piano, and became good enough to put himself through undergraduate school by teaching it while living at home.
Then he moved to New York, was exposed to the musicians there, and realized “I am a terrible pianist!” After nine years of watching acts like Blondie and the Ramones at famed club CBGB, he came back to Edmonton for love. While getting his Bachelor of Fine Arts, he took a movement class and recognized, for the first time, “This is me.”
But it’s never just been him. Webb says that the institution now known as MacEwan University was “instrumental” to the creation of the not-for-profit Brian Webb Dance Company (BWDC), which was MacEwan’s dance company-in-residence until 2001, before setting out on its own. And, over its now 45-year existence, it has enjoyed “huge” public and private sector support and help from hordes of volunteers.
“I don’t think anybody can do much by themself. And I’m not an isolationist,” he says, adding he’s proud to have been on the first board of Compassion House, in addition to chairing the boards for Latitude 53, Salute to Excellence and the Edmonton Arts Council. “I’ve tried to link myself with other contemporary artists, visual artists, composers, musicians and sculptors. I want to be out there, and out there, at every level,” winks Webb, who realized he was gay, long after some people in his world already knew, on the day he arrived in New York and first had sex with a man.
His impact as a teacher has reached places like India, where he’s gone to teach over the last few years, and Hong Kong, where a former student now resides and recently reached out to say he’s influenced her whole life. But he believes that “especially in dancing, there is a time to stop teaching. Am I a B-Boy? No. Do I love B-Boy’ing? Absolutely, but it’s not for me to teach.”
Webb also feels it’s time to step back from presenting shows through his world-renowned dance company. He’ll “dance till the day I die,” and continue performing, but he’s grown tired of the production and business side of things, and worries his well-informed dance criticism (“I want art to be really fucking good”) is turning into cynicism, so it’s “time to let someone else in the door.”
That someone is Ainsley Hillyard, co-founder of Good Women Dance Collective, who will take up the BWDC artistic director mantle this July. Webb likes that she is not afraid to express an opinion and, crucially, isn’t Webb. “She and I do not agree on everything — we can go at it, and that’s good, because why should she be me? Ick.”