Livona Ellis rehearses for the DanceCentre performance of Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present. (photo by Sylvain Senez)
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present at the Dance Centre Nov. 19-21 features Livona Ellis, Vanessa Goodman and Rebecca Margolick performing works that were created for Mary-Louise Albert. Albert herself returns to the stage, at age 65, after a 19-year hiatus, to perform the first phase of a solo work commissioned from Serge Bennathan.
The three solos being reimagined were created during the last six years of Albert’s 20-year professional dance career (see jewishindependent.ca/generations-combine). They have not been performed since.
“When Mary-Louise first approached me to share her ideas about this project, I was transitioning out of a company,” said Ellis, who is performing Woman Walking (away) by Peter Bingham. “It seemed like the perfect work to describe the state of transition I was about to enter. I was leaving something behind and going towards the unknown. For me, the piece deals with a lot of questions and conversations we have with ourselves; reflecting on memories and being curious about the future.”
Ellis is a dancer with Ballet BC. She is on the faculty at Arts Umbrella and is the programming advisor for BC Movement Arts Society, which was founded and is directed by Albert. The rehearsal process for Woman Walking (away) started with Albert teaching Ellis the solo before COVID hit.
“It was great to have her insight and point of reference,” said Ellis. “I then worked with Peter Bingham where, in particular, he talked a lot about the intent and physical and theatrical sensations. It was very much an open dialogue, my input with Peter was very welcome.”
Recently, Ellis started rehearsing again with Albert. “She is really interested in melding our two interpretations and finding more ways for me to fully embody the solo in my own way,” said Ellis, mentioning her excitement to be sharing “the evening with these other talented and strong women – Vanessa, Rebecca and Mary-Louise – and to experience again performing in front of a live audience.”
Making the dance her own has been something that Goodman also has been working on with Albert, and with choreographer Tedd Robinson, who created oLOS.
“The work is a journey and allows me, as an interpreter, to transport myself into an embodiment that is both full of form and deconstruction. This is a beautiful place to experience the work, which is both deeply intuitive and dichotomous,” said Goodman, who is a choreographer herself, as well as artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society. She first worked on the piece more than a year ago, in May 2019, spending time with Albert and Robinson reenvisioning it.
“We worked in Sointula, where Mary-Louise lives, visiting what the solo meant to all of us; examining the process physically and mentally of passing along a living archive,” explained Goodman. “Every time an artist embodies a work, it transforms with their system – this work continues to transform with, and for, me each time I inhabit it.
“oLOS has been a tremendous opportunity to be able to learn from both Tedd and Mary-Louise,” she continued. “They both have an incredible amount of information to share. Both of these artists have helped to shape dance on a national level, and it is a gift to be able to experience oLOS now with them.
“Both Tedd and Mary-Louise have been a part of my development for the last 18 years,” she added, “with Tedd teaching me in my last year of high school at CCDT [the School of Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, in Toronto] before moving out west and then providing me with great insight into my solo Container in Ottawa in 2015. And, Mary-Louise has supported me in so many ways as a creator over my professional career, allowing me to develop and share work…. These two artists have shared so much with me, and it is an exciting intersection to be able to work on this project all together.”
For Margolick, who is performing Allen Kaeja’s Trace Elements, the intersection is even more personal. The solo was created in 2000, she said, and she remembers watching her mother dance it at the Rothstein Theatre – Margolick was 9 years old at the time.
“Fortunately, Allen and I had our creation period prior to the pandemic,” said Margolick about the piece’s latest iteration. “We rehearsed without Mary-Louise during the remounting/creation process in Toronto. We had another week to finish the piece in Sointula, B.C., with Mary-Louise coming in to watch runs and sharing her thoughts and expertise on the work, past and present. As she is also my mom, she made sure to facilitate the space needed, with great sensitivity, for the work to become personal to me.
“Allen made space for me to experiment and try things out and his process can be summed up in three words – generous, kind and courageous. Every time I run the piece, it feels different emotionally and my reactions to the text vary day to day … it makes the work always feel alive. We say ‘reimagine,’ as we were all interested in how I can bring myself into the solo and give the tools needed to make it my own.”
Margolick is based in Brooklyn. A dancer and choreographer, she was a 2020 New Directions Choreography Lab Fellowship at the Ailey School and is a 2020 artist in residence at the Dance Deck here in Vancouver. As well, she is artistic associate of BC Movement Arts Society.
When Margolick worked with Kaeja in Toronto on the solo, she said, “We had many in-depth conversations around the subject of the piece, and Allen shared with me his experience around learning and researching his father’s story. Allen’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and creating work around the Holocaust became a way for Allen to process his dad’s experience. What came about from reimagining this solo was this merging of past and present with my movement and Mary-Louise’s movement, and a linking between different generations of the Jewish experience and family.”
Since Albert is her mother, Margolick said there is an “inherent natural connection I have to her movement and expression. It’s a beautiful way to explore this connection between us.
“This piece speaks to me on many levels,” Margolick added. “The text is a conversation between a young German man and woman, 22 years ago, referencing Nazi Germany propaganda and the apathetic, yet unfortunately relatable, responses from the young woman about her mother’s experiences during the war. It is eerily relevant to what is happening around the world, as we reckon with the ongoing oppression of systemic racism, colonialism, greed, antisemitism and the rise of fascism and the alt-right. This piece for me is an eerie reminder of how quickly things can change, and how easy it is to fall into apathetic thinking, which dangerously leads to losing one’s empathy.”
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present is part of the Dance Centre’s Global Dance Connections. In addition to the Nov. 19-21 live-stream shows, a recorded performance will be available online Dec. 3-17. For tickets and more information about both offerings, visit thedancecentre.ca.
Mary-Louise Albert returns to the stage Nov. 19-21 in a new work by choreographer Serge Bennathan. (photo by Maxx Berkowitz)
The Dance Centre presents Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present Nov. 19-21. Jewish Independent readers will be very familiar with Mary-Louise Albert, whose resumé includes a two-decade career as a solo dance artist and dance company member, as well as 15 years directing the Chutzpah! Festival.
The JI last spoke to Albert as she was moving on from Chutzpah! to other endeavours (jewishindependent.ca/bidding-adieu-to-chutzpah). In that interview last year, Albert said, “At 64, I still have a bit of ‘oomph’ left to pursue.”
“The ‘oomph’ related to centring work and artistry, in this next journey of mine, on dance and having the energy and focus to do it well,” Albert said when the JI caught up with her in anticipation of the upcoming show. “This next phase of my working life includes not only personal dance creation and performance projects like this one, but, as well, developing new Canadian and international professional contemporary dance through the B.C. Movement Arts Society, which I co-founded and direct, that will take place in remote and rural areas of B.C. We have received the very good news of confirmed provincial and federal funding and our first series starts late spring to December 2021.
“The Solo Dances/Past into Present project was developed over the past two years. The three solos being presented were created and performed during the last six years of my 20-year professional dance career, when I was between 39 and 45 years old. Because they were created during this latter period of my dancing career, when I stopped dancing, they stopped with me. I was never really interested in choreographing so, when I stopped dancing, I didn’t look back. I was ready and wanted to head into the next chapter of my working life, which involved business school and ended with directing the Chutzpah! Festival and Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre for 15 years. We, the choreographers and myself, were all in our 40s and older and everyone moved on.
“But,” she added, “in the back of my mind, over these past years, I knew it was not right to let these beautiful dances end with me. I felt like there was ‘a little something’ still missing from this very enjoyable period of my career as a solo-commissioning dancer. A sense that something was not quite complete. It became clear that I needed to pass on the solos to this generation of outstanding female dancers and support their growth with performing options by way of building their solo repertoire. I received personal financial support from the Canada Council and BC Arts Council and this multilayered project of artistic sharing that brings two generations of dance artists together in the reconstruction of Canadian contemporary choreography began!”
Solo Dances/Past into Present features Peter Bingham’s Woman Walking (away), danced by Livona Ellis; Tedd Robinson’s oLOS, featuring Vanessa Goodman; and Allen Kaeja’s Trace Elements, performed by Rebecca Margolick. (More to come in the Nov. 13 JI.)
“The solos have not been performed since 2001 and have never been remounted and reworked,” said Albert. “As a dance professional, I feel strongly that it is important to revisit these eclectic and beautifully crafted solos and put them back in repertoire with Canadian (B.C.-based/-born/-raised) dancers who have the versatility and desire to further develop the works, enjoy and share.
“Working so intimately with Allen Kaeja, Tedd Robinson and Peter Bingham many years ago brought a level of understanding as a solo performer that I had not experienced before in such depth,” she said. “As people, they all had/have a wonderful down-to-earth approach to themselves and their work and this led to a generosity and nonjudgmental approach to their creative process with me.”
Albert said the three solos “are all very different and timeless.” She described oLOS as “a deeply intuitive and somewhat mysterious work that transports performer and audience on an inquisitive journey, via the nature-walking and naïve love of [Gustav] Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer”; Woman Walking (away) as “a journey of one, arriving or leaving, listening to memory that is gently propelling what is next for her in an exploration of a complex yet personal quest”; and Trace Elements “wishes that this work of memory of persecution was just a source of history uncovered, but the dance is as relevant today with the growth of fascism and antisemitism as it was 21 years ago when it was created.”
In addition to remounting these works with other soloists, Albert herself will be performing the première of the first phase of a new solo work, Empreintes (which means fingerprints), commissioned from Serge Bennathan.
“At the age of 65, I’m going back on stage after a 19-year hiatus. I am still a bit dumbstruck by this,” said Albert, “and will be honest that I still often find myself mentally whispering WTF? But it is part of this new dance journey of mine as a senior citizen. I’ve never shied away from challenges and listening to my soul. There are many dance artists still performing at this age but most have never stopped. This is certainly a special experience, with its range of physical and emotional exploration, to be coming back to it at the age of 65.”
Bennathan, she said, “is a profound dance artist and is a beautiful painter and poet, as well. This new work explores the layers of artistry, physical trust and depth of reflection that a new stage in life, which I am embarking on, opens up. Serge is interested in the artist in me that is now, and the work reflects this…. The simplicity, strength and internal depth of the work, and the trust we have in each other, is quite simply a gift.”
In creating a commissioned work, Bennathan said, “The process always starts by trying to feel the energy of the dancer, then trying to discover what is just behind, what is the essence of why the artist desires to do such a work. Then, once together in the studio, if I can reduce the process to one word it would be ‘listening.’ That is the most important, to be listening to the inner self of each other to create a dynamic.”
He said “the idea of Albert passing on works created for her by powerful creators to magnificent dancers is fantastic. What a beautiful and creative way to feed the texture of a community in all its dimensions.”
“I feel that Mary-Louise’s foresight and inspiration to reenvision her past solos with the original choreographers and giving them, if wanted, the freedom to also reimagine the solos on these three mid-career dancers, was brilliant,” agreed Kaeja. “Her project intrinsically melds past with present in a generational sharing for all of us involved.”
For Trace Elements, which “deals with present and past antisemitism and cultural intolerance,” Kaeja said Margolick brings “not only her natural Jewish genealogy, but her depth of self, range of talent and profound and thoughtful life experience into this creative process…. I love that Mary-Louise has also invited Serge to choreograph a new solo for her – created specifically for who she is now as an individual, dancer, creator, innovator, curator and powerhouse – is profound.”
For Kaeja, creating a commissioned work centres around the person commissioning it. “My process is called ‘structured innovations,’ whereas I create a series of parameters that are clearly defined in physicality, intent and quality and texture of the movement,” he said. “With these boundaries, the dancer begins to create movement vocabularies and physical ideas. I then invite variations to the movement suggestions, redefine these in many ways and finally create the final choreography. I have always credited the dancers as ‘created with and performed by.’”
The creative process “is different with each solo,” said Bingham. “It depends partially on what the dancer is used to. I would say that it is always collaborative and research-oriented. The search is to find a language, both verbal and physical, that becomes our focus. I stress that the search must be mutually creative, an exchange. We try physical ideas and curiosities until the piece begins to reveal itself. In short, it becomes a product of our relationship.”
Similarly, Robinson works closely with the dancers involved. “When commissioned,” he said, “I assess the room (the space) and performer (who will move in the space). I start with basic concepts that I have developed, steps that sort of help us to get to know one another. As I see how the performer(s) interpret what I show or say, then I am better able to assess the space we will cover, the space of the creation and the space that the performer will need to inhabit. From there, we work together to create.”
With regards to the piece he created with Albert, Robinson said, “It was a more technical solo than I might normally do, because Mary-Louise likes to move and move big, so that is what we incorporated, plus the small and detailed work that I often use. I also worked on some bigger dramatics and that attracted me. I liked to lip sync when I was younger, so I feel that we lip synced with our total body for this work of Mahler.”
The planning and creation process of Solo Dances/Past into Present began and was completed before COVID-19, except for her solo with Bennathan, said Albert. “There have been challenges,” she said, “as the dancers have gone back to the solos, needing studio space to rehearse for this show during the pandemic. Serge and I worked mainly in Sointula, which has an inherently blissful feel to it (and lots of humpback whales!) so it made creating during COVID easier. We also are working at the Dance Centre, as are the other dancers, which has been excellent.”
The Dance Centre has COVD-19 protocols in place. “Executive director Mirna Zagar and the entire Dance Centre staff are working tirelessly, making it possible on so many levels for artists to be able to get back into the studio and on stage and be safe,” said Albert, who also gave “a big shout out” to technical and lighting director Mimi Abrahams. “We have worked together now for over 10 years and she is truly the unsung hero that makes it all happen,” said Albert. “Her calmness and clear head gives us a grounded base as we gear up to perform in the middle of a pandemic.”
One could be forgiven for thinking there was a Jewish dance festival coming up, as there are so many community members participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge, which takes place July 2-11.
Adapting to the circumstances of the pandemic, which limits public gatherings, DOTE festival producer Donna Spencer recently announced that, while it won’t be possible to present the initially planned 30-plus live performances, the festival “will be offering instead some specially curated digital programming with live-streamed performances, premières of dance films, dance discussions, four outdoor live performances in the Firehall’s courtyard and one dynamic theatre performance at the Firehall Arts Centre theatre (all live performances for very limited audiences with safety precautions in place).”
Among the featured dance companies and choreographers are, in alphabetical order, Action at a Distance (Vanessa Goodman), All Bodies Dance (Naomi Brand, with Carolina Bergonzoni), Ben Gorodetsky, Ne. Sans Opera and Dance (Idan Cohen), Radical System Art (Shay Kuebler), the response. (Amber Funk Barton) and Tara Cheyenne Performance.
* * *
Action at a Distance is presenting Solvent, a new work created in collaboration with musician Loscil (Scott Morgan).
“I have been incorporating video footage into my work for years, and the recent time at home has provided an opportunity to generate material and experiment with new editing techniques,” said Goodman. “In some ways, this is an extension of our previous work together. Our first video collaboration was for a song on his album, Monument Builders. Since then, we have built four works together for my company Action at a Distance, including Never Still, which was presented by the Firehall Arts Centre in 2018.”
When the pandemic hit, Goodman said, “At first, I found myself grasping for something substantial to hold onto and tried to reschedule all the tours and premières that were being canceled. It was challenging to let go of everything. Eventually, I came to terms with the downtime and embraced the slow pace as best I could.”
When the need to isolate began, she said, “I started making short dance films for myself and my 96-year-old grandmother to help us stay connected. At times, it has been tough to stay motivated during the shutdown, and this was a simple way to stay creative.
“There’s no way to compare these sketches to a staged dance performance,” she said. “However, when I shifted my frame of mind and started to approach video as a whole new medium instead of an altered version of an existing piece, I became more comfortable with the idea of sharing work this way. I am very grateful to DOTE for bringing the community together to share work right now.”
Even in such times, arts and culture are “absolutely vital,” said Goodman. “Without them, we’re living in the dark ages. It is essential to have creative outlets for expression. Right now, finding connections through creativity can help cut through the isolation. Art can provide much-needed escape and levity in challenging times, as well as reframing current issues and inspiring insight around movements of essential social change.”
* * *
All Bodies Dance Project (ABDP) is bringing Ho.Me to the festival. “The film was commissioned by F-O-R-M, Festival of Recorded Movement, last year … and is a collaboration between longtime ABDP company members Carolina Bergonzoni (choreographer/director), Peggy Leung (dancer), Harmanie Rose (dancer), Mathew Chyzyk (dancer) and Vancouver-based artist Gemma Crowe (cinematographer/editor) and Alex Mah (composer),” said Brand. “Ho.Me explores themes of belonging and comfort in relation to inhabiting one’s own body. The film is comprised of three personal solos shot inside the dancers’ own apartments. In the piece, we get to see these three very different bodies dancing within the privacy of their own homes among the objects that have meaning to them.
“While the film was created long before the pandemic, the significance of moving inside our homes feels really different now since we’ve all been spending so much time inside. Many dancers have been figuring out how to turn our living spaces into places where we can also practise, explore and move, as studios haven’t been an option.”
Since the start of the pandemic, ABDP has moved some of its community dance programming online.
“We also started a weekly virtual gathering for our community of dancers in order to prevent social isolation,” said Brand. “Many of our projects have been on hold. There is so much about what we do as a company that just isn’t compatible with the necessary restrictions of COVID life. Our work is based on bringing people with different bodies, backgrounds, experiences and abilities together to move, share and make in real-time. We’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of things translate into the digital space and what things just can’t be replaced.”
She said, “Now more than ever we need community and collective experiences, as so many have been isolated during these past few months. People with disabilities in particular have experienced a lot of isolation and so we are even more committed to our purpose at All Bodies Dance Project.”
She added, “Dance is about each of our essential relationship to our own bodies. During COVID times, many of us have learned a lot about our own physical experience of moving through the world and the social choreography of physical distancing. There has been so much choreography on the sidewalks, grocery stores and, of course, in the streets during the incredible protests during this pandemic.”
* * *
Gorodetsky, who is Russian-Canadian, is one half of the political comedy duo Folk Lordz, with Cree co-creator Todd Houseman. The pair tackle racism, among other social ills, and have created a 15-part series “[r]eflecting urban-Indigenous, immigrant and activist perspectives through the lens of biting satire.” A second series of sketches is on its way, but Gorodetsky is bringing a very personal work to this year’s DOTE.
“It’s a movement video piece honouring my grandfather, Dolik (David) Lutsky. He died on April 3, 2020, and, since we could not gather for his funeral due to the pandemic, we were left to sort through our grief alone,” he shared. “One small relief was my grandmother mailing me a box of his clothes. Using these garments as performance artifacts, I created a digital video piece reimagining grieving rituals in the age of COVID.
“I explore the ceremony of wearing Dolik’s clothes and reactivating the narrative, cultural and physical threads of his life. Spoken oral histories exploring my grandfather’s immigration (I was born 10 days after they landed in Canada), identity (he was the official communist ‘propagandist’ at the coalmine he worked at in Ukraine) and faith (he went from being an ardent anti-religious communist to a practising Lubavitcher Jew) provide textual counterpoint to the dance video. The visuals themselves were all created through aerial drone photography, creating a fluid visual style for this interdisciplinary new video work. Country roads, forests and lakes frame this physical score exploring grief, memory and family history.”
Gorodetsky said, “I think if I had been able to grieve, remember and connect with my family after Dolik’s death, I would have no need to explore these ideas artistically. But, since I have not, I have a nagging need to articulate this particular pain through movement, story and visual composition.”
Since COVID, Gorodetsky has become the fulltime caregiver for his 2.5-year-old son. “Time and energy have become scarce resources,” he said, “so I’ve had to get better at working furiously fast while he naps. Focused blasts of creativity.
“Also, my family has been displaced from our home and all our possessions in Brooklyn, N.Y. We were in Kelowna (where I was teaching on a one-term contract at UBC in the performance program) when the border closed and we could not return to our home as planned. So, we’re in Waterloo, living at my sister-in-law’s house, until [who knows when]. Honestly, my mental health is brutal right now. Anxiety grips me in a way I had never experienced before, and I have had to find tactics for replenishing my depleted stores of happiness and hope. One thing that really helps is long bike rides with my son Gus. We get out of the city and follow country roads – we live near Amish country! It’s a small way to feel free, alive and empowered in the midst of these deeply destabilizing times.”
For Gorodetsky, who grew up in Metro Vancouver – in Burquitlam – “dance is a way of moving your grief around. It helps me shake the weight and sediment of catastrophe off and meet my grief as an equal, rather than as a victim.
“Gus and I developed a habit of walking to a beach or body of water, finding a big tree stump, climbing on top and dancing to a playlist called ‘Klezmer Dance Party at Home’ (lots of Klezmatics, Michael Winograd, Frank London, Socalled and Di Naye Kapelye). It’s been a real lifesaver.”
* * *
Ne. Sans Opera and Dance’s Trionfi Amore (The Triumph of Love) was commissioned by Peter Bingham for EDAM’s Spring Choreographic Series, April 2019.
“It is a trio created for three phenomenal Vancouver-based performers, Kate Franklin, Jeremy O’Neill and Ted Littlemore,” said Cohen. “Besides being excellent dancers, these three are also trained musicians, and the piece utilizes their many talents.
“The trio is inspired by the opera Orfeo ed Euridice and is a part of my ongoing research on the theme of Orpheus,” he explained. “It speaks of love, and of the power of music and art to move, entertain and touch us. It also speaks of the power of manipulation and control on the individual and, as we prepare it for DOTE during this time, we find that new meanings present themselves to us.”
Cohen said, “The act of presenting something as abstract as the notion of love in a dance performance is quite a challenge by itself, and nowadays even more so – how do you speak of love without being able to touch, to be close to one another? Instead of looking at this as an obstacle, we choose to look at it as a source of inspiration, a new adventure. As artists, we reflect what we experience and then monitor, or direct, those notions into our actions and creative choices. My responsibility here is to stay true to the origins of this piece, but also to protect the viewers and the performers while offering art that speaks of relevant issues and current experiences.”
It hasn’t been easy.
“Ne. Sans had to stop our season and rethink and rearrange our commitments,” said Cohen. “It has been painful to see how many creative ventures that have been in the planning for quite awhile have been postponed or canceled, and to realize the ensuing financial and emotional toll…. I believe in the value and presence of arts in our community and in our lives, in countless ways, and tackle issues that I find not just relevant for myself, but that reflect on many lives. At the same time, I recognize how privileged I am to be here, in Vancouver, and to be safe and healthy.”
Whether theatre, music or dance, one thing common to all forms of live performance, said Cohen, “is that they are alive.” They all involve the human body, both “the performing bodies and the ones watching.”
“As an artist who uses movement as a primary artistic discipline,” he said, “I have a huge love and respect for the human body in its most basic form. When you learn to love and accept your body, you can truly love and respect people. That love is also where my queer identity(ies) meet my Jewish ancestry. So much hate is being inflicted on the body; if we don’t learn to love and appreciate our bodies, how can we truly love and appreciate someone else’s? How can we heal? With so much violence in our history and in our present, in a world polluted with ignorance and hate, how do we learn to love and forgive our ancestors, our pasts? The arts bear a huge responsibility. Artists need to change our priorities, acknowledge our inherited racism and create new stories.
“Ne. Sans is an organization that is centred on Western European music and dance, and my origins are in Western Europe,” he continued. “Our main goal in Ne. Sans is not to present a notion of nostalgia, romanticism and artificial beauty, but to raise the issues of violence and inequalities created by that culture, recreate its narratives and bring those up into the surface.”
In Jewish teaching, there is the concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world. “We can all be involved in tikkun olam at any given moment,” said Cohen, “and we need to keep adapting and correcting our values, individual or systemic. We have a responsibility to help and support one another. We have survived horrible historical events. Looking straight at our bleeding past and present: in the face of injustice, we cannot and will not stay silent.”
* * *
Kuebler, who has performed at the Chutzpah! Festival and is connected to the Jewish community through his sister’s family, will be presenting Momentum of Isolation at DOTE. Started last year, he said, “This first chapter of research is a chain of solos, for seven performers, that was developed by company artists online and in isolation.”
Given the restrictions required to control COVID, this part of “the project has taken on a much more singular focus on each artist’s personal interpretation,” said Kuebler. “As these solos were developed in home spaces and in isolation, the artists are performing their solos in smaller performance spaces – averaging six-by-nine feet – as well as performing these solos in relation to walls and surfaces in their environment.”
Of COVID’s impacts, he said, “There was certainly sadness and stress from losing work and touring opportunities. The company was two weeks away from a European tour when all the social protocols came into place. We were fortunate to receive some support and, after assessing the financial losses, we were able to move forward with a different creative practice for this phase of this project.
“The new creation practice of working online and in isolation actually revealed some very interesting new approaches and beneficial tactics. This online format had us focus on different dance techniques and improvisation tasks that could both challenge our individual movement skills and develop more group unity in movement. It also opened a window for focused study around the social content in the project.”
Kuebler said, “For myself as an artist, this time has offered me some space to ‘fill the well.’ I have been creating, traveling and supporting multiple projects simultaneously for a solid amount of time. This time in isolation, although not in the form that I would have wished for, or for anyone for that matter, has offered me space and time to just research and train…. I’ve found that, with this space, I’ve been more creative and have developed further outlets to express my creativity.”
He said, “I think that art holds a very important place in society. It offers people an escape from certain stresses and can help inspire them to find their own creativity. I believe that being creative can help you live with greater curiosity, humility and awareness of the world around you, which can make you a better member of society…. From this standpoint, I believe that art and artists gain greater relevance during challenging times and times of change.”
* * *
Barton’s company, the response., will host a special-edition, two-day version of Dance Café, which will feature eight Vancouver-based professional dance artists during DOTE.
“Together with my administration assistant, Kaia Shukin, we have been presenting Dance Café since 2017,” said Barton. Originally, it was held once a year as an informal, free event in studio, but, since May of this year, they have been presenting professional dance artists online using Instagram Live, and did so in June, as well. Given the positive response, Barton would like to keep the free event going monthly until the end of the year, but it will depend on resources, and she hopes people will donate to help make that happen.
With the arrival of the pandemic, Barton said, “It felt like many of the things I do changed overnight. At first – and there are still many moments at present – I felt overwhelmed with the learning curve of teaching and rehearsing on platforms such as Zoom. I feel that the act of participating in these online platforms, whether you are ready to or not, forces you to be creative just by showing up. In many ways, the act of applying for grants and the typical administration side of what I and the company do haven’t changed, but the artistic side of it is what I find is in question. How can we continue and how can we share and create work in a safe environment? Those are my biggest questions right now.”
For Barton, “Art can be a reflection of what we are experiencing in the world and can act as a mirror. It can be cathartic. It can also help us escape. We are all listening to music, watching films and trying to make sense of what is happening and/or trying to make time pass by. No one can deny that their consumption of art is interwoven in the daily fabric of their lives.”
* * *
At DOTE, Tara Cheyenne Performance will share two films made in collaboration with Allison Beda/Amuse Productions and possibly a live online performance, said Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg. “These works are a continuation of my solo I can’t remember the word for I can’t remember, which premièred at the Firehall in 2018.”
For Friedenberg, life during COVID has been “up and down.”
“Some days are good – home schooling actually happens (we have an 8-year-old), I might even take an online dance class and have a virtual rehearsal with my dramaturge Melanie Yeats. Other days, making lunch and trying to figure out Grade 3 fractions is too much,” she said. “I’m not loving the many, many Zoom meetings. I feel like our brains and bodies are compromised being in front of screens so much.
“Artistically, it has been invigorating and challenging – also very frustrating and often sad, to be honest – to try to reach my audience. I was recently working on a video of past work and noticed that, in every show, I literally climb into/onto the audience. My focus right now is how do I break the fourth wall when it is a virtual fourth wall.”
When asked the importance of the arts in such a stressful social and economic period, Friedenberg said, “We absolutely need to share stories and experiences right now. I feel like it is my duty to offer levity, commentary and my own feelings in order to facilitate those moments of community and recognition. My grandfather toured Europe playing piano for Maurice Chevalier leading up to the war, then here in Canada during the war. I feel like it’s in my blood to offer what I make, especially during difficult times. I’ve been making these very silly satire videos of my character Laura Lockdown, which people are enjoying I think because they allow us to laugh at the extreme situation we are all living through.”
Friedenberg also has been recording, for almost a year now, the podcast Talking Sh*t with Tara Cheyenne.
“I interview artists about their work, their lives and how they manage,” she said. “These interviews are even more interesting in the time of COVID-19. Creativity, and how we navigate its absence in the face of difficulty is so useful for all of us. Right now, I’m leaning towards interviewing artists of colour – voices, art and ideas that need to be heard.”
Alexa Mardon is part of the creative team of Never Still, which is at the Firehall Sept. 26-29. (photo by Ben Didier)
It is fitting that Firehall Arts Centre is launching its 36th (double chai) season with a new work by Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman, artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society.
Never Still is described as “a highly physically piece that dives into the distinctions and overlap between three different systems of circulation: global water cycles, communication technology and fluids within the body.”
“The initial ideas for Never Still really began to emerge in 2013, when I made two separate works inspired by similar themes. Both dealt with our relationship to water, either in our environment or our bodies,” Goodman told the Independent. “On a very basic level, we are all between 50% to 70% water, depending on our age, and the earth’s surface is covered by roughly 70% water. There is some nice symmetry and, the deeper I dug into these themes, the more they revealed. Social, political, personal, environmental – no matter where I went with these themes, it checked all the boxes of what inspires my work.
“For me, it was just a matter of time before I began to focus on these ideas as a full-length. But it wasn’t until 2015, when I met Scott Morgan (Loscil) through Small Stage, where we first collaborated together, that I could imagine this work growing into what it is today. Each project requires the right collaborators to bring it to life.”
Goodman’s research began in 2016 during a creative residency in New Brunswick hosted by Connection Dance Works. “Loscil and I also made Floating Upstream that same year, a shorter piece that explored these ideas and worked out some staging concepts,” said Goodman. “In 2017, I continued the research through a local choreographic residency at EDAM.
“I always knew I wanted this to be a group piece and, in the spring of last year, I finally had the whole performing team together: Shion Skye Carter, Stéphanie Cyr, Bynh Ho, Alexa Mardon and Lexi Vadja. The work would also not be complete without my longtime collaborator, lighting designer James Proudfoot, who is a master of painting space with light.”
Sound and projection design for Never Still is by Loscil, with costumes by Lloyd clothing. EDAM’s Peter Bingham is listed as the piece’s creative mentor.
While the work has evolved since conception, Goodman said, “There’s not necessarily one element I can point to that’s different. When I began working on this piece, it was just me alone in the studio imagining all the elements, so being able to work with five incredible dance artists, lighting, sound and projections definitely pushes everything forward quite rapidly.
“It is always exciting how a work takes shape in each unique venue, too. Ideas that you may have thought would work sometimes don’t and other new elements reveal themselves, so it’s important to stay flexible. The work is constantly evolving, even through the final performances. That is one of the many exciting parts of live art: it is constantly being transformed by those who inhabit it.”
This idea ties in perfectly with the themes explored in Never Still.
“On a molecular level, liquid water is never truly still, which acts as a beautiful metaphor for dance. It offers myriad avenues to explore anatomically and thematically,” said Goodman.
About Never Still, she said, “I feel like it’s very easy in a developed urban setting to take water for granted and overlook its true value, so, if anything, parsing so many different aspects of water with this piece has helped me appreciate it that much more.”
The work also considers the “inherent conflict or dichotomy of water.” By way of explanation, Goodman said, “The most obvious textural example is water’s often-violent reaction to shifts in temperature, from the crack of ice to the vapour rising from a roiling boil. On a larger scale, the effects of flooding and drought, which, on one hand, represent polar opposites, often share conflict and devastation.”
Echoing these concepts, Firehall artistic producer Donna Spencer said in the release for Never Still, “We are living in an increasingly polarized culture. And it is our role as artistic creators to encourage audiences to consider, through what they are seeing on stage, how inextricably linked we all are in finding our way through these challenging times.”
Firehall’s programming this season, she added, “is about choices – the ones we make, the ones we think we should make but don’t, and the influences around us that colour that decision-making. Live performance allows us to experience a unique and powerful collective sharing of emotions and information that resonates through our day-to-day lives long after we have left the theatre, and indeed may influence the choices we make in the future.”
Never Still runs Sept. 26-29, 8 p.m., at the Firehall, with a talkback after the Sept. 27 show. For tickets (from $20), visit firehallartscentre.ca.
Vanessa Goodman is part of MascallDance’s OW, which premières at Dancing on the Edge. (photo from DOTE)
Audiences saw a glimpse of MascallDance’s OW last year at Dancing on the Edge. This year, the full work premiéres at the dance festival, with six performances July 6-14 at MascallDance’s home, in St. Paul’s Anglican Church downtown.
OW “analyzes timing, accents and rhythms of the sounds that erupt from the body as expressions, building a libretto of repeatable human emotions. Exploration is physically challenging and unpredictable; what has emerged to date is fast, rhythmic, often wildly funny and noisy,” explains MascallDance’s website.
Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman, artistic director and choreographer of dance company Action at a Distance, is one of the dancers in OW.
“One of the interests in the work that we keep coming back to is finding out how sound moves the body and how the body moves sound,” Goodman told the Independent. “As we dive deeper into the process, we are often faced with more questions about accessing the authentic experience of voice and movement. We started by exploring what sounds come from the body with specific physicalities and then also tried to see what happened physically when we made specific sounds.”
Goodman has been involved in the project since 2012, when MascallDance Society founder and artistic director Jennifer Mascall started doing research with her “to explore some of the thematic content that is present in OW,” said Goodman. “Then I was brought back into the process in January 2017 to continue with Walter [Kubanek], Eloi [Homier] and Anne [Cooper].”
The website notes that 17 dancers perform in the production. Also performing will be composer and violist Stefan Smulovitz and specialist in experimental voice D.B. Boyko.
“One of the inspirations for this work,” said Goodman, “was musicals – we watched a lot of clips from older films and observed the complexity of their compositions. They use tons of counter and polyrhythms, and our material was set so that we could achieve a similar result. What you are going to see is definitely not a typical musical formula, but, inside OW, some elements have been inspired by their compositions.”
Goodman has worked with Mascall before.
“My first experience with Jennifer was in 2005, when I was a student at SFU [Simon Fraser University] and she created a piece in my rep class exploring the voice of Glenn Gould. One of my favourite memories from that experience was that she watched the piece from the corner one day in rehearsal. It was one of our final runs before the show and, after watching, she declared that was how the work was meant to be seen, so we adjusted our ‘front’ to this new diagonal perspective. I loved this, as it allowed us to have a brand new experience inside the work and showed me that the creative process is always in a state of evolution.”
Working with Mascall “is fantastic,” said Goodman. “She has a deep practice of finding movement for the body from physiological systems. This is a vibrant place to work from, and I am also interested in anatomical processes and how they relate to movement.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of OW for Goodman has been working with all of the production’s collaborators. “Each artist involved on the team offers unique and critical information,” she said. “Performatively, this process has expanded my practice and has allowed me to discover new interests and curiosities.”
Wells Hill has its world première Nov. 24-26 at DanceHouse. (photo by David Cooper)
“What does it mean to imagine a world where we are not connected all the time?” This is just one of the many questions choreographer (and Jewish community member) Vanessa Goodman is exploring in Wells Hill, which has its world première Nov. 24-26 at DanceHouse.
Goodman is artistic director of the dance company Action at a Distance. Wells Hill was commissioned by Simon Fraser University’s Woodward’s Cultural Programs (SFUW) and is co-presented by DanceHouse and SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. It is a Celebrate Canada 150+ event, but its genesis goes back a few years.
“In early 2014, SFU’s Michael Boucher and I were out for coffee discussing my work,” Goodman told the Independent. “At the time, I was planning what I was going to present at the Chutzpah! Festival in 2015. In our conversation, I shared the anecdote that I grew up in philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s former family home [on Wells Hill Road] in Toronto and that Glenn Gould would sometimes visit. As two towering figures in 20th-century Canada, the idea of being a fly on the wall during their conversations was fun to imagine. Michael helped me recognize the seeds for a piece in this story, and has since supported its creation and production through SFUW.”
In creating Wells Hill, Action at a Distance collaborated with a team including composers Loscil (Scott Morgan) and Gabriel Saloman, lighting designer James Proudfoot and projection artists Ben Didier and Milton Lim. The promotional material notes that, in the work, seven dancers “splice together themes of technology and communication.”
“In Understanding Media, McLuhan stated that different media invite different degrees of participation on the part of the person who consumes it,” explained Goodman. “For me, this draws parallels to consuming dance and is one of the themes I explore in the piece. McLuhan divided media consumption into two categories: hot and cool. Hot media consumption requires the viewer to intensify the use of one single sense and is called ‘high definition.’
“McLuhan contrasted this with cool media consumption, which he claimed requires more effort on the part of the viewer to determine meaning due to the minimal presentation of detail. In these cases, a high degree of effort is necessary to fill in the blanks in areas where the information is obscured. It demands much more conscious participation by the person to extract value and meaning. This type of consumption is referred to as ‘low definition.’ When applied to dance, the audience would be required to be more active here, which includes their perceptions of abstract patterning and simultaneous comprehension of all the working parts.
“In this work,” she said, “I apply hot and cool media consumption to crafting the material and finding authenticity within the embodiment of the performers. While I still believe that the audience needs an entry point into the work to become invested, I am interested in defining the hot and cool medium consumption in my staging, demanding the viewer work through their high and low definition comprehension. I am interested in the interplay between hot and cool as a continuum: where they are measured on a scale and also on dichotomous terms.”
Wells Hill isn’t about raising or answering any specific questions, she said, “as much as it is about observing and interpreting some of McLuhan and Gould’s fascinating ideas. In making this work, I kept coming back to the Douglas Coupland quote, ‘I miss my pre-internet brain.’ What does it mean to imagine a world where we are not connected all the time? In some ways, it’s comforting to be plugged into this collective human mass. On the other hand, there is an anxiety linked to this relationship and violence associated with this ceaseless bombardment of data. As McLuhan predicted, technology has become an extension of our nervous system. This is why I feel dance is such an incredible medium to explore these ideas: at its core, human movement is neuromuscular connectivity. I have developed movements with my collaborators that are derived from tasks from our physical reactions to technology: from our Pavlovian responses to messages and social media notifications to the deeper impact on our attention spans while we’re connected. I want to capitalize on both the order that we receive information in and the chaos it can create.”
In response to a question about what McLuhan and Gould each offer by way of the content or structure of Wells Hill, Goodman said that the sound score “is heavily influenced by the history of the house.”
She said, “Eric McLuhan, Marshall’s eldest son, told me that Gould would often come to the home for visits, where he would discuss media, performance and art with his father. Gabriel Saloman and Scott Morgan, both incredible composers that I have been collaborating with over the past few years, have each composed pieces of the music for Wells Hill. They have incorporated audio samples of both McLuhan and Gould speaking about their theories. This adds an interesting entry point to the ideas that inspired Wells Hill. The house has a rich past that has been documented through the written form but has never been explored performatively. I am drawing from this story for the staging of this work, which creates an environment and historical context for the non-linear story arc.”
Wells Hill is at Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, on Nov. 24-25, 8 p.m., and Nov. 26, 2 p.m. In conjunction with the show, there are a few community events. Speaking of Dance Conversations on Nov. 21, 7 p.m., at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (free), is a community roundtable conversation around McLuhan and the Global Village, led by moderator Richard Cavell, founder of UBC’s Bachelor in Media Studies program and author of McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography, and guest speakers. There are also pre-show chats Nov. 24-25, at 7:15 p.m., at the centre, and a post-show social on Nov. 24. Tickets and more information can be found at dancehouse.ca or by calling 604-801-6225.
Ziyian Kwan and Vanessa Goodman perform together in Simile, which concludes the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s open house on Sept. 10. (photo by David Cooper)
The Scotiabank Dance Centre’s open house on Sept. 10 culminates with Simile, featuring new work and performances by Vanessa Goodman of Action at a Distance and Ziyian Kwan of dumb instrument Dance.
All three pieces in the show – Kwan’s Still Rhyming, Goodman’s Floating Upstream and the collaboration In Vertebrate Dreams – are connected yet unique, Goodman told the Independent.
“Ziyian’s piece, Still Rhyming, is a beautiful work that responds to Patti Smith’s book M Train, and the piece has an incredible live sound score by Jo Passed,” she said. “It is a whimsical journey for the audience and Ziyian captures and transports my imagination while I am watching the piece. For me, Floating Upstream explores the notion of having one’s head in the clouds in a very simple sense: it is the idea
of being a dreamer, where anything is both possible and impossible. And, in In Vertebrate Dreams, we are creating a surreal world where human and animal instincts are being explored and subverted.
“In many ways, I think all three works are playing with a skewed perception of reality. However, I also believe that all three works are entirely different in their tone and expression. I think this has created a very diverse and engaging program.”
According to its description, Floating Upstream “plays with the fantastic being mundane and the mundane being fantastical.” Goodman explores these elements “through simple actions and coordinations that I employ daily, like walking or speaking,” she said. “In the opening of the work, I deconstruct the act of walking and try to transform it to feel as if I am floating through the space. Or simple gestures that I do while I am talking – with these gestures, I have experimented and distorted how I can embody them until they are unrecognizable.
“Floating Upstream has an original sound composition by Vancouver-based artist Loscil,” she added. “Loscil and I have been collaborating on several works over the last year, including my solo Container that just toured to Seattle’s On the Boards’ Northwest New Works Festival and Portland’s Risk/Reward Festival. It is so great to be continuing our creative process together, as I find creating with his soundscapes so rich and driving.”
Goodman has also been working with Kwan for some time, “supporting one another and collaborating in a number of ways since 2013,” she said. “Simile is, in many ways, a culmination of our interest in each other’s work and friendship. It is always such a pleasure and honor to collaborate with colleagues in new ways, to see where you can grow and be challenged inside your artistic practice.
“The idea for the duet seeded for us when we were doing a photo shoot for the production and we got several props to work with to create some imagery to publicize the show,” she explained. “We started exploring these masks and all of sudden we decided that we were compelled to make this work. What has become clearer for me as this process has gone on is that the work is about how we both are different animals when it comes to creation but, in a strange and wonderful way, we also complement each other and have created something that is unique to us working with one another.”
The evening also features lighting design by James Proudfoot.
Goodman expressed gratitude to the Dance Centre for Simile’s inclusion in the open house, saying that she and Kwan “are very excited to be sharing this program that we have been dreaming up for the last two years.”
The Sept. 10 open house starts at 11 a.m. with an hour class on pow wow, followed by a class on tap and then many other dance styles – including swing, Brazilian, Scottish, hip-hop, ballet – throughout the afternoon to 5 p.m., as well as a workshop on injury prevention. All classes are free and suitable for beginners.
Simile starts at 8 p.m. at the centre, which is at 677 Davie St. Tickets are $25/$20 from Tickets Tonight, 604-684-2787 or ticketstonight.ca. For more information, visit thedancecentre.ca.
Tara Cheyenne Performance’s how to be, part of Dancing on the Edge. (photo by Wendy D Photography)
This year’s Dancing on the Edge festival, which runs July 2-11, once again features the talents of many Jewish community members. The Jewish Independent asked several of them to describe the work they are presenting in the festival and to explain what makes it “edgy.” Their responses appear in the order in which their work appears in the festival.
Container, choreographed and performed by Vanessa Goodman, with original sound composition by Loscil, is a new work “that explores heritage, culture and resilience.” (Part of Edge 1, July 3 and 4, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“What makes the work ‘edgy’? Well, I am not 100% sure that I would categorize the work as edgy,” said Goodman. “However, I would say that the physicality/embodiment shifts between different extreme states, taking the witness/audience on a journey of my experience within the work.”
Re:Play: a duet choreographed by Naomi Brand and performed by Hilary Maxwell and Walter Kubanek. (Part of Edge Up, July 5 and 6, 8 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“The piece is a playful exploration of the space between two bodies in dialogue,” said Brand. “It looks at what we choose to display and disclose and what gets hidden and smoothed over in conversation. The element of play is a theme that drives the duet as the dancers show and tell, watch and listen, repeat, respond and react to one another. The piece is set to a sound score that brings the process to light, with dancer Walter Kubanek practising Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 on piano, and sound clips of the dancers in rehearsal. Playing on the edge between cooperation and competition, the dancers engage in a dynamic negotiation of space.”
Feasting on Famine: choreographed by Shay Kuebler, Radical System Art. (Part of Edge 5, July 9 and 11, 7 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“This performance looks into the extremes of bodybuilding culture and how it references capitalism and the corporatization of the human body – growth edges out all other aspects of self. One man’s physically charged journey into the depths of extreme health and fitness will leave the audience on the edge of their seat.
“The work combines theatre, dance, and martial arts to construct an edgy and modern look at the extremes of society,” said Kuebler.
Duck Dances “promises to be a whimsical exploration of curious imagery, woven together with the color red to reveal a charming tableau of events within the framework of Dusk Dances,” reads the description on Dancing on the Edge’s website. (July 9, 10 and 11, 7 p.m., at Portside Park.)
“I am creating a piece in collaboration with Jennifer Mascall and Susan MacKenzie for Dusk Dances. We’re calling it Duck Dances,” Amber Funk Barton told the Independent. “For me, this work is ‘edgy’ because I have never created a site-specific work and our intention is that our performers will also be all ages and abilities. Using Crab Park as a studio instead of a studio is not only inspiring but challenging me to work outside of my comfort zones and creativity.
how to be is “the latest ensemble creation to emerge from the strange mind of Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance). The piece examines how we think we should ‘be,’ how we think others should be and how impossible and futile it all is. Using ideas found in malignant social media, cultural restrictions, and the ceaseless voices in our heads, how to be traces five characters as they navigate how to be.” (Part of Edge 6, July 10, 7 p.m., and July 11, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“I consider this piece ‘edgy’ because it plays with text, audience relationship, what is ‘appropriate’ in life and in performance,” said Friedenberg. “This is not a typical dance piece, but it is a piece only highly trained dancers could do. I expect to tiptoe very near the edge of extremely uncomfortable and deliciously funny.”
Left to right, Michelle Lui, Bevin Poole and Vanessa Goodman. (photo by David Cooper)
Dancers Dancing and SFU Woodward’s present the world première of 20.20.20, in which audiences will not just see, but feel the city come to life onstage. At the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts Sept. 24-27, the show captures the atmosphere of urban Vancouver in all of its complexities from a unique lens.
Celebrating 20 years of working in Vancouver, choreographer Judith Garay looks at 20 intersections in the city to set 20 dancers in motion – inspired by interactions of architecture, pigeons, overpasses, green spaces, mountain views, skateboards and especially the people, old and young. Contrast and contradiction drive the work to be physically exhilarating and thoughtful, prosaic and emotionally charged.
The artists – including Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman – have dug their heels into the world of Vancouver, and brought their experiences and observations back to the studio, where it has been a process of using pedestrian research and full-body articulation to create beauty in otherwise overlooked aspects of city life. The synergy of their work is expressed organically in the process, as the dancers have felt charged by the city itself. They expect a similar visceral reaction for audiences.
As the team continues to organically replicate the city life to stage, they have been surprised in how the process is revealing Vancouver. Contrasts keep resurfacing, like urban and green, rich and poor, young and old and the infamous weather that changes a sky of grey clouds to one of blinding sun. These balances reflect the ever-evolving city from day to day, and naturally beg for a creative portrayal that is full of movement and life.
With music by Stefan Smulovitz, lighting by John Carter and costumes by Margaret Jenkins, 20.20.20 steers away from a traditional tour of Vancouver, instead providing multiple ways to emotionally experience the city. Performances at the Goldcorp Centre, 149 West Hastings St., are at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online at sfuwoodwards.ca or dancersdancing.com.