Noam Gagnon’s Vision Impure performs Pathways at the Roundhouse, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, which runs March 4-30. (photo by Erik Zennström)
“It’s important that dance and art ask questions, even without necessarily explicitly spelling out the answers,” Noam Gagnon, artistic director of Vision Impure, told the Independent.
Vision Impure presents the world première of their latest contemporary dance work, Pathways, at the Roundhouse Performance Centre March 20-23, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, which runs March 4-30.
“The works I create are not meant to be stories but rather are meant to be seen as a series of powerful images and states that hopefully anchor, engage and stimulate the audience to have their own powerful experience,” said Gagnon, who is a member of the Jewish community.
Pathways is described as a work that “illuminates the stories we share, exploring the intricate push and pull of relationships impacted by urban living. Simple moments lead to more complex ones, questioning our ability or inability to connect with one another and what makes us react more strongly to some than to others.” It was performed as a work-in-progress at last July’s Dancing on the Edge festival.
“Pathways has lengthened and developed considerably since Dancing on the Edge,” said Gagnon. “It is now a full-length work, approximately one hour long, presented in two parts with an intermission in between. The company has continued the research and investigation into Part 2, which informs what has already been seen, what else was potentially needed, and then added the alterations necessary to create better cohesion for Pathways as a full work.”
Gagnon is an award-winning choreographer and his work has been performed internationally. He is regularly commissioned by dance artists and companies, and is an associate dance artist of Canada’s National Arts Centre. He has collaborated often with other artists, and Pathways is no exception.
“The creation of Pathways has been a long process of research and accumulation in multiple cities involving multiple companies and dancers,” said Gagnon. “The initial concepts for Pathways started germinating in May 2012 during a choreographic laboratory under the mentorship of Davida Monk at Dancers Studio West (DSW) in Edmonton, where I was given the opportunity to develop the original concept on seven amazing dancers.
“In 2014, I was invited to create a dance work on 17 crazy, generous student dancers at L’Ecole de danse contemporaine de Montréal (EDCM). It was in Montreal where the first version of Pathways Part 1 came to life and was subsequently presented as part of the EDCM Professional Program spring presentation Danses de Mai, Opus 2014.”
Back in Vancouver, in 2017, Gagnon was invited to create a work for EDAM’s (Experimental Dance and Movement’s) Spring Choreographic Series and to develop additional material for the piece with a few other dancers. And, in the spring of 2018, he said, “I was invited by Lesley Telford to do research/creation at Arts Umbrella on nine of their very gifted PReP program emerging dance professionals, further expanding on some of the concepts of the previous works.”
The development of Pathways continued in 2018 with nine dancers at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts and 27 dancers at Modus Operandi.
“The current cast of 10 incredible young dancers for the new full-length version of Pathways, to be presented at Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF), has been my heart, soul and brain,” said Gagnon.
In addition to the dancers involved, composers James Coomber (Vancouver) and Guillaume Cliche (Montreal) created Pathways’ sound design.
“My creative process always starts with images, which evoke various states in me initially and then evolve, arousing strong desires within my imagination that make me want to act upon them. Then the hard work and countless hours to bring a piece to the stage begin,” explained Gagnon.
“For the Pathways project,” he said, “I first came up with a series of questions, with answers coming from the responses of each of the dancers. I then started to generate a physical vocabulary, which would become my text. I immediately reshaped the movement vocabulary that was given to me in order to generate a more cohesive bank of movements and to ensure that all the artists involved were part of the same world. With this bank of movements, I then started gathering and creating worlds of moving physical landscapes in various states of action and transformation. Each movement phrase evolved over time to support the vision that first drove me initially.
“It is also extremely crucial for me to tailor the work perfectly for who is dancing it and to always create the strongest structure possible,” he added. “I then challenge or reshape the work with movement that creates strong intent and keeps these incredible dance artists alive and real in the world I have envisioned.”
Part of Vision Impure’s mission is to create “performances that explore the intricacies of human relationships and the dynamic tension that move us … [and to reflect] the intimate concerns, ideas and attitudes that shape our relationships to ourselves and each other.”
When asked what he has learned through his work and life experience about how we connect and isolate ourselves and others, Gagnon said, “Everything in life starts from within ourselves first, the choices we give ourselves, how we negotiate what comes our way, what we do with what we have and then being honest and real enough to accept the facts and be accountable for the choices we make. Action-reaction is real and undeniable to me. In relationships, I find communication to be the biggest challenge, seemingly constantly lost in translation.
“Recently,” he said, “I have begun to strongly believe that, as a species, we are hardwired for extinction. Despite our biggest strength being our ability to learn to adapt, it seems lately we as a whole are not able to learn from our experiences or the past experiences of others. We are living in an era of social amnesia. Our desires have become powerful weapons going in uncontrolled directions.”
The Vancouver International Dance Festival presents many artists during its run, including the Japan-based butoh ensemble Dairakudakan, Vancouver’s Raven Spirit Dance, Ottawa’s 10 Gates Dance, Montreal’s Daina Ashbee and Tjimur Dance Theatre from Taiwan. The festival features workshops, as well as many interactive dance activities at various venues throughout the city. For more information, visit vidf.ca.