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.