Artin Avaznia: Go Back and Get It
Written by Danielle Blais, Photography by Jason Champagne
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At 21, Artin Avanzia already has many experiences under his belt; leaving school to become a professional dancer and artist is just one of them. Now he and a collective of local dancers will be unveiling his most involving project thus far; The Velvet Rope: A Dance Short Film, in tribute to the album by Janet Jackson.
Artin began making music videos to showcase his talents around the same time he enrolled in Carleton’s social work program, though he had been developing his choreography skills long before. In his second year of school it became apparent which of these two futures was to become his vocation, and Artin decided to take a risk and give himself the opportunity to concentrate on becoming a professional dance choreographer.
“I wanted to use this time to take myself to another level, to elevate myself and my craft.”
While in school, Artin was unable to dedicate the time he needed to augment expertise in a profession that necessitates near-constant improvement. After accepting his new role, Artin took it upon himself to embrace every aspect of the music and dance industry; creating album reviews, improving his video production, generating vlog posts based around travel and music, all of which led to an increase in his viewership and found that his subscribers could already tell that this was an amateur no longer.
Artin has always had a love affair with music videos, especially those by his teachers and legendary artists Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Michael Jackson, who wove complex motifs into their performances and lifted the focus above the music and into its carnal expression. He feels that his generation of dancers was the last to really develop alongside this phenomenon of cinematic production, and it’s how he - like many others - learned their craft. Artin is a product of his time; he is what happens when you don’t give up on a dream.
“As a solo artist, I hope to elevate the foreground and creative representation of the craft with my self-produced dance visuals. With the incorporation of different plot settings, storylines and costumes, this is my attempt to introduce a new perspective to the song and defy the conventional description of a dancer.”
It is intoxicating to watch Artin dance. In documenting this piece I collaborated with the talented Jason Clifford Champagne, who specializes in black and white photography. Artin brought his cousin, Tina Sol, who, with their mutual friend Sofia Snook, have worked together for many years to create independent projects surrounding dance score. We met up at the Bridgehead by Preston and then walked a short distance to an overpass where we began the shoot. It followed the length of a long industrial building, but the left side was open with spots covered by brush and undergrowth. It was late in the day, a pearl-grey sky giving us clear light even under the overpass. Tina moved around us quietly with a GoPro, and we had some Janet Jackson - a formative teacher for Artin - playing in the background.
Artin is a very confident dancer and not afraid to play around to see what works. He expresses his love for learning, be it by experimenting under an overpass or working with other dancers to create something collaborative and emotionally powerful, illustrated by the mindset that subsumes him as he slips into his flow. Jason took a few static shots before asking him to dance. “Well, what do you want?” with Jason down on the ground testing out different light shots and angles, “Something Janet-inspired.” Artin delivered. He moved smoothly, a telling sign that he had practiced until he could do this in his sleep - though you could never mistake his eyes askance.
“Half of a performance is the skill set - the rest is the connection I develop with the audience. I’m in front of you giving it my all, and if I close my eyes or look away, that’s showing you I’m not confident in my own ability, that my mind is elsewhere. Why should you respect me if I’m not confident in my art?”
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After, he showed us his discipline by performing one of his own routines; its free flowing nature exemplary of an artist crafting dynamic sculpture from the air. With Janet in mind, Artin is able to express himself with grace and honest fun, becoming the physical representation of the feeling her music lends.
To reach his goals, Artin has used this year wisely. Recently, he has begun his most daring project yet: a 30-minute dance short film inspired by Janet Jackson's Velvet Rope. The album (which turns 20 this year) denounces homophobia and opened the conversation about abuse and mental health. Much of the music is centred around our obsessive need to feel special, and uses the Ghanese concept of ‘sankofa’ to tie together a masterpiece that deserves to be listened to in chronological completion in order to reveal the interdependent marvels that, much like our own lives, need to be worked through to fully appreciate the journey we set ourselves upon.
"In order to heal as a human being, you need to open up books you had closed, chapters you never finished. So I had to go back and finish parts of my story.”
Like many artists, he hopes that this would reach Janet, but most importantly Artin wishes his portrayal of Janet’s character will make his audience feel the same way he did the very first time he listened to her album in his room so many years ago.
He isn’t going on this journey alone, from the beginning he has had the love and support from his family and close friends. He is also collaborating with a wide array of local talent, those he knows will add their own flair to the piece. This includes seven Ottawa dancers; Chris WanKam, JR, Bboy Crazy-Smooth, Dirty, Geni Lou, Taylor Poscente and Armel Mzalina, their various styles ranging from break dancing, waaking, to contemporary performances. Also featured in the film is Prufrock, slam poet and hip-hop artist, who will be performing an original piece, with Tina Sol recreating the iconic violin piece originally performed by Vanessa Mae on the Velvet Rope. Also featured in the film are local Ottawa businesses, PPL. Nightclub and Planet Coffee.
Artin's dedicated team, Tina Sol, Sofia Snook, and Kalin Anguelov will be capturing every element of The Velvet Rope: A Dance Short Film. Set to be released October 7th, the film is highly anticipated to demonstrate Ottawa’s flourishing dance scene and rekindle Janet’s message through Artin’s own interpretation,
“Don’t ever let nobody tell you, you ain’t strong enough.”
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You can find Artin on his;
Hottawa :: [hot-uh-wuh]
a big town situated in the capital of Canada somewhere in a valley between the Ottawa river and St. Lawrence Lowlands and nested on the traditional, unceded territories of the Algonquin nation [noun]
a form of slang used to describe the nation’s capital overall freshness [adjective]
an underground group of taste makers reminding the participants of the Outaouais region that they are not forgotten [noun]
There is a group of individuals in this city whose part-time occupation is to keep us creatives thriving, partying and mingling together. The collective’s name is Hottawa and they are so underground, that strangers on the streets invite them to their own parties. The crew, which began with Max Halparin (Halpo), has grown into a mixture of common folk who make uncommon moves :: Hector, a VJ; Josh (Sportif) and Mikayla (Seiiizmikk), who decided to come on their own accord; Sara, a DJ by the name Mani Pedi; and Jordan David who is popularly known as JFUN, but to me he will always be Dr. David.
Photo by Nicolai Gregory
The name came from a discussion Halpo was having in 2015 with his friend Guy Halpern (DJ That Guy), about this city having so much to offer, but lacking the platters to serve it properly.
So, he got to work and began putting the right people into the right place, starting with DJ sets after concerts organized by Showbox at the fabled Mugshots, and then a community grew. Early collaborators Sarah (Sarita) and Olivia (ohjay) regularly drop hot ish under the moniker, FEELS.
Exclusive PACE-tailored Hottawa mix: curated, arranged and woven by Halpo
Today, they write Hottawa onto dusty garage doors, fingers all messy and ask one another, “where the dirt bags at?” They walk past diners on Bank street and contemplate why breakfast has gone from $9.00 to $14.00 before the $15.00 minimum wage kicks in. One of the members ambitions in community radio - another volunteers time at and donates parts to a local bike co-op. Some of them mix in their rental rooms where KRK speakers are propped up atop law textbooks and turntables be cornered in small nooks - to get there, you pass last week’s empties and offer to help clean. Someone mutters “nah” and down the hallway we go.
Photo by Nicolai Gregory
We met up for a shoot on a cloudy, muggy evening and of course,
it rained so we hid under other people’s balconies
until babies’ mommas shoo’ed us away,
most likely mistaking us for local
Photo by Nicolai Gregory
There’s always winners and losers, and Ottawa’s about to relapse off weighted movements or washed out attempts of entertainment sickery. Hottawans believe that if it doesn’t exist, create it. They are passionate about this city and care for its inhabitants. They are valuable activists, outspoken contributors to society and stand in line wherever you stand in line. So it goes.
For example, at their last event, they received feedback that some of their female attendees felt unsafe, so the next day, they reached out to Hollaback! Ottawa - a group of volunteers acting as a mobile safe space - to intervene if anyone is assaulted or made to feel uncomfortable at their next event.
Photo by Nicolai Gregory
That is action and democracy // we begin to see that dialogue and conversation is possible in all aspects of society - even nightlife - and in encouraging it, we remove the taboos associated with particular types of outings.
When we view ‘going out dancing’ as an estranged activity in which assault is a normal thing, something is wrong with our societal fabric. Act. Hottawa gets that.
Photo by Lukasz Lukaszek
Hottawa is doing something special on Friday, July 14th at Babylon, and we’ll be there helping out. While the crew is known for fusing parties with classics and fresh cuts, sometimes pouncing from soulful funk to techno and acid house, followed by a Trick Daddy track, they have some other ideas up their sleeves for this week.
PACE will be curating the visual screen behind the DJ decks, which will be mashed and presented by VJ Paradisse all night,
A special entrance combo: $15.00 for PACE’s third issue + ticket to the event,
$5.00 all night entrance for PACE contributors,
to make sure everyone enjoys a respectful dance floor experience, Hollaback! Ottawa will be acting as mobile safe spaces to intervene if any creeps make you feel uncomfortable.
Nicolai Gregory’s photo collection:
Photos provided by Gent Zaplluzha (GZ) and Stephane Mukunzi (SM). Scroll down for photo essay.
00 :: straight out the whole-y land, we wondered if Sir Robert remembered himself at one point, as his own band's only fan. a mesh of common folk were billeted underneath the tent like an army of activists waiting to hear a filling of wise words or thick trumpets, whichever came first.
01 :: lately, fidelia says he can't even find the time, while for me, blunders are popping amass like two fools in love and last night was no exception. Dr. David worked his magic and let PACE document the Robert Glasper Experiment kicking it before their show at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.
02 :: burritos, salads and other delicacies we couldn’t munch on // in a trailer by an avenue once known as Maria Street - all before Willie Laurier was honoured.
03 :: the blunder / during one of the introductory hellos, a member opposite was asked if he were the tour manager. “No,” he responded, followed by laughter from his sitting neighbour and c'était fini.
he later revealed himself to being their exceptional guitarist. sincere sorries.
04 :: a bunch of young kids won meet and greets with the band & the best advice man's could hold down as they climbed the trailer stairs was, "remember, they're regular people, just like the rest of us."
05 :: there were about six or seven of them, politics was a little off grid and so the idea of visiting parliament was more than they could make allowance for.
thankfully, Timothy mentioned Oscar Peterson’s statue by the National Arts Centre and that lit things up.
we then had about a minute and four seconds to snap the equipment on stage. Dr. David kept vigilant track of time.
06 :: "Fuck! This is so psychedelic."
- overheard in the crowd.
07 :: Robert glassed his keys, the guitar swapped for a saxophone, the drummer all purposefully off beat as he set the speed particularly in advance to a better place // a live jazz jam session.
and that cover of Roxanne.
08 :: the show was over and the group's DJ dropped UGK's Int'l Players Anthem. have I ever told you that Bun B has the voice of butter floating a river in India aboard a maple canoe?
there were screams for an encore. Sir Robert came out, said it wasn't possible - the usual blabber about noise levels and other whimsical irrelevancies. a young lady popped her head from out the curtain and chucked her thumb up.
we hope she's still employed.
09 :: and in the voice of the Experiment, the crowd was asked, “who are we?” and the response was, “we are awake.”
PACE would like to thank the staff and volunteers at TD Ottawa Jazz Festival for granting us permission for this exclusive piece. None of this would be possible without Dr. David.