Dr. Celeste Snowber, Professor, Artist, Poet, Dancer

Celeste Nazeli Snowber: Writer, Dancer and Choreographer

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YEREVAN / VANCOUVER, Canada — Celeste Nazeli Snowber, PhD, is a performer, poet, professor, speaker, dancer, writer and award-winning educator. She is a professor in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and author of books on dance, art and poetry as well as numerous chapters and articles in scholarly books and journals. Her books include Embodied prayer and Embodied inquiry: Writing, living and being through the body. She is author of three collections of poems, Wild tourist: Instructions to a wild tourist from the divine feminine and co-author of Blue Waiting and The Marrow of Longing, which explores her Armenian identity. Celeste creates site-specific performance and has been the Artist in Residence in the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden creating full-length performances connecting poetry and dance out of each season. Celeste also creates one-woman shows integrating voice, comedy, and dance and has performed across North America and Internationally in a variety of venues, including concerts, galleries, museums, conferences and outdoor spaces. She can be found at www.celestesnowber.com.

Celeste, I first read about you and your poems in Ararat Quarterly in 2005. Then I included your short bio in my study Armenians in World Choreography. I am sure it is high time — even late — to introduce Armenians worldwide to their compatriot. Poetry and dance are theoretically similar, but you prove them to be practically similar too. How do they correlate in your artistic world?

I see writing and poetry as both emerging from the body. My work is contextualized within embodied ways of inquiry, and I am dedicated to writing in ways that I dance. Therefore, I want rhythm, poetry, movement, pause, and vitality to enter the language of my writing, as they also inhabit my dance. I often write after I dance, and my poetry comes into my dance through speaking and dancing at the same time. I often interpret my poems through contemporary dance, voicing them as I move. I see both these art forms as beautiful companions and inspirations to each other.

You once said: “When we can open up to the body, we can open up to the heart.”’ But before that perhaps we should open the mind?

I think the mind, body and heart are interconnected and if we open one, we can open the other. However little attention has been given to opening the body, which I believe is deeply connected to intuition, trauma, healing and shifting into new ways of being, reflecting and perceiving. I want a mind with body and a body with mind. And of course, heart, always.

Celeste Nazeli Snowber

It was interesting to find out you studied hula dancing — a Polynesian dance form accompanied by chant or song.

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A big piece of my own dance practice is site-specific performance in the natural world. I feel the creation is a place to listen to what emerges and I am in co-creation with the trees, sky, sea, and plants and integrate interpreting nature through contemporary dance, improvisation and poetry. Hula is an old tradition of dance deeply connected to the sacred and creation. It would take me a lifetime to master hula, and I find studying hula roots in indigenous ways of knowing and movements, which are compatible with my values of listening to the earth. I do not perform hula, but it supports and inspires ways of moving which I value.

They say dancers usually do not read. You are an author of studies on dance. Who is the target group for studies of choreology?

My scholarship is rooted in arts-based research and embodiment, and I have not situated myself within choreological studies. I have dedicated the last twenty-five years to developing writing from the body, embodied ways of inquiry, which include dance, movement and somatics, and have links to various fields including ecology, holistic education, spirituality and dance/arts education. I often call myself a “recovering choreographer” since I do a lot of work in improvisation and mix forms of improvisation, contemporary dance, modern dance, voice, poetry and even comedy within my performance. I feel the audience for dance scholarship has increased to many more fields besides dance studies and it has been my invitation to bring dance, the body, somatics to wider audiences.

Your middle name Nazeli (gracious) hints at your Armenian roots. Each Armenian’s personal story is a part of global Armenian history. What kind of stories, geographical and cultural names and artefacts do you cherish connected to the “old country?”

My mother, Grace Terzian, left Kharpert with her father and mother in 1913, right before the genocide when a baby. She was the only sibling born in Kharpert, and of course my other ancestors were killed in the genocide. I believe she had unresolved trauma her whole life that I have taken a lifetime to unpack. Here there is much difficulty of course, but there is richness in the culture which I am claiming back in my life. That is the reason I do not have many artefacts. I have a few photos, which I cherish. However, I have fragments of stories and the beauty of a food I was raised with.

Is this heritage somehow reflected in your dance and poetry?

Yes, very much so. There are many poems and dances I’ve created connected to, let say, grape leaves and khatchkars, Armenian architecture: the churches and monasteries have also always fascinated me, as I was introduced to them as a child in books. I had a one-woman show several years ago called, “Woman giving birth to a red pepper,” and I explored some of my Armenian heritage, and the poem I wrote, “Beneath the skin of plum black,” which is about eggplant is in the show. I have been finding writing poetry is a way to excavate the fragments of my Armenian identity, to explore the difficulties, but also the exceptionally rich culture. I often say, these “fragments can hold a world.”

You have explored your Armenian-ness in your 54 poems, that compose your last collection The Marrow of Longing. This poetry of historical memory and identity recognition has existed among Diaspora Armenians for almost a century. How do non-Armenians perceive this kind of deeply personal and interpersonal literature, especially if they do not deal with current-day trends?

I have been absolutely fascinated that so many non-Armenians relate to this book. Many people are exploring their identity and particularly indigenous populations have a history of genocide. Many have told me that the book has given them courage to search their own troubling pasts and find the courage to connect to their own cultures as a place of healing. I thought Armenians would be most taken with this book, and some are, but what is a delight is the positive response by non-Armenians and it is also a place to share our culture and story. 

The 106-year-old genocide has been an alarming presence for the Armenians, yet today we faced a new genocidal experience after the 44-day war in Armenia. As we see, nothing has been changed. Despite everything, Armenia and its people always welcome its sons and daughters. Have you ever been in your motherland? If not, you know that you will be cordially welcomed there.

I went to Armenia in 2007 and studied Armenian dance. I loved being there and I have been longing to go back ever since. I was most taken when I was in a village in Yeghegnadzor, where I felt most at home where my now friend Antoine Terjanian also lives part time. When the dancer, Ruzan, brought lavash bread out and we all danced the Kochari in the street with the village’s Armenian dancers, there I felt deeply at home. In fact, there is a poem, “One dancing heart to another,” in my latest book that speaks of this. The last lines are:

Here are my origins

a time I do not know

but have been aching for.

I long to return to Armenia when covid restrictions change. I know my time is not done in this beloved country.

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