Bob Greenwood playing the Rat and Dana Luebke playing a Neko Roshi in Three Samurai Cats, part of Clever Cherries in Šibenik, Croatia in 2010 . PHOTO: MATTIAZZI

It was 1977 and performers Bob Greenwood and Dana Luebke were successful within the Canadian artistic community. Greenwood was the chairman of the acting-directing program at the University of Calgary, and Luebke a dancer in the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet. 

However, Greenwood and Luebke were both dissatisfied with their jobs and planning their exits. Greenwood had grown tired of the workplace politics as chairman, and wanted to be more directly involved in performing. Luebke had grown tired of performing “crowd-pleasers” and craved more challenging choreographies and themes, such as Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table.

It was around that time when Greenwood and Luebke attended a conference at the University of Manitoba. Although they didn’t know one another yet, Greenwood and Luebke had both taken classes from classical dancer Menaka Thakkar, who was also at the conference.

It was through Thakkar that their lives would eventually change through the founding of a groundbreaking theatre company, Sun.Ergos. That company has thrived around the world, but now faces new challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the day’s conference proceedings turned into the evening, Greenwood and Thakkar recalled in interviews that that they were both wearing white as they emerged from the university’s light-red brick Georgian-style Taché Hall and descended the old concrete staircase outside to the yard below. There, Greenwood and Thakkar waited for a bus to take them to dinner and a performance. 

As they talked, they saw someone approaching. It was Luebke. Thakkar introduced the two. On the university bus, Greenwood and Luebke began to plan launching their own theatre company. Combined, Greenwood and Luebke had three credit cards and $2,000 to their names – and had to get creative to make their dreams a reality.

One of the first jobs Greenwood and Luebke took to fund their company, Sun.Ergos, was at Alberta College of the Arts (now AUArts), posing for students. The two modelled both nude and clothed for a variety of classes from sculpture to drawing to painting. 

Dana Luebke performing Liturgy, one of Sun.Ergos’ signature performances. PHOTO: ROBERT GREENWOOD

Greenwood says the experience “kept us very humble, when you’re naked standing in a cold cement studio, let me tell you, it’s breathtaking.”

The hours-long classes took their toll. Both Luebke and Greenwood ended their sessions with black-and-blue limbs after allowing the students to pose them for hours, with only a small break between sessions.

That was just the beginning of the pair’s long career of making and sharing art. 

Greenwood and Luebke have travelled the world doing just that in their decades-long career. But the COVID-19 pandemic has severely restricted their abilities to perform and do workshops live due to physical distancing restrictions.

Growing up, Greenwood accompanied his parents to see vaudeville shows, which his parents started attending to keep warm during the Great Depression.

When Greenwood was five years old, his father asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, his response, “an actor!” Despite only having a Grade 8 education, Greenwood’s parents did everything they could to make his dream happen.

“If we are to survive as a species, if we are going to survive on this planet, it is by connecting with each other, connecting to our common humanity, finding common ground, being able to listen and hear each other.”

Dana Luebke

Luebke also grew up watching plays. His father worked as a drama teacher and directed plays and musicals

After moving to Minneanapolis at the age of seven, his parents took him to Guthrie Theater to watch plays by the likes Molière and Tennesse Williams. 

“There was something so magical and exciting to me about going into a theatre and sitting in my seat, and the lights would dim, and having no idea what I was going to see,” Luebke explained.

Together, Luebke and Greenwood founded Sun Ergos on Aug. 24, 1977. Luebke chose the name, which is Greek for “working together,” to express the goal and mission of their theatre company.

Sun Ergos’ mission is to help audiences recognize similarities in one another, celebrate differences among cultures and people, and promote greater compassion through the use of theatre, dance and visual arts. 

The duo explores these themes by re-telling traditional stories from around the world, as well as through the creation and telling of new stories.

One such piece that Luebke remembers fondly is titled Clever Cherries. The piece contains four traditional Japanese stories, each from a different period in the nation’s history, and each with a different moral lesson.

Greenwood and Luebke did all of the work for the play, making the costumes, masks, and sets themselves, drawing from traditional Japanese theatre styles like Kabuki and Noh for their piece.

Greenwood (left) and Luebke (center left) receiving Croatia’s highest cultural award, the Redom Danice Hrvatske s Likom Marka Marulica from then-President Stjepan Mesić (right) and festival director Dragan Zlatovic. PHOTO: IVO ZUPANOVIC

Not only does Sun Ergos perform for audiences, they also work in communities and schools to teach performance arts, and have taught and performed in 24 countries.

The company’s hard work has earned them recognition globally and dozens of awards and scholarships for their efforts. During the Balkan wars, Greenwood and Luebke were awarded honorary Croatian citizenship, and in 2004, Croatia’s President Stjepan Mesić awarded the two the country’s highest cultural award, the Redom Danice Hrvatske s Likom Marka Marulica. 

Despite the success and accolades, the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic have been anything but easy to overcome, especially as performing artists.

Both Greenwood and Luebke believe in the importance of the arts in connecting and bringing people together, and the power of the arts to heal people.

“It [theatre] saved my parents’ lives during the Depression. They were able to go and think about something else, to feel something else,” Greenwood explains.

But unlike the Great Depression, COVID-19 has made it impossible for many people to attend theatres and connect with others in-person.

Venues are closed, gatherings are limited, and nobody knows how long restrictions will last. How can they plan for a future that is so unclear? Their conclusion is that they can’t, and instead must work with what they have available – the current reality.

“You have to deal with the reality, we’ve been in posh theatres where we’ve had wonderful dressing rooms with all that, but you also have the other experience, and the same thing I think has been true with COVID-19. Some days, everything… flows and everything seems okay, and the next minute some stupid thing happens and it’s very upsetting and you have to deal with it,” Greenwood explains.

One of the pieces Greenwood has worked on during quarantine of a mountain. PHOTO: ROBERT GREENWOOD

For Luebke, COVID-19 has given him the opportunity to work on making the most of whatever is thrown his way.

“I’ve learned the importance of resiliency, I am grateful to find out that I have resiliency… What COVID-19 has given to me is a time to really practice that important skill that is accepting what is, and then finding out what I want to do in response to what is,” said Luebke.

In response to what is, Luebke currently teaches classes online, trying to make the most out of the pandemic and stay connected with others. Luebke has been using his skills and training as a dancer and performer to help people improve their mobility. By helping people manage their physical health, Luebke hopes that his students will be better able to manage other life challenges, such as  COVID-19.

For his part, Greenwood has been spending his time lately with visual arts, painting, and working towards teaching online. Greenwood and Luebke also want to put more of Sun Ergos’ stories and performances online, and share their passion with larger audiences. 

Despite the pandemic, and the challenges Greenwood and Luebke have faced, they are doing everything they can to continue doing what they love, sharing their art and connecting with people.

“If we are to survive as a species, if we are going to survive on this planet, it is by connecting with each other, connecting to our common humanity, finding common ground, being able to listen and hear each other,” Luebke says.