Jewish artists participating in Dancing on the Edge July 7-16 include Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg in Pants. (photo by Wendy D Photography)
Several Jewish community artists are part of the 34th annual Dancing on the Edge lineup, which includes more than 30 productions July 7-16.
Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg will share part of a new solo called Pants, which is a work-in-progress. Tasha Faye Evans will perform in the première of Raven Spirit Dance’s Confluence and Vanessa Goodman’s Core/Us will see its local debut. Rebecca Margolick will bring the now-complete solo Bunker + Vault to the festival, whose home base is the Firehall Arts Centre.
Of Pants, Cheyenne Friedenberg said, “The full-length show will premiere at the Firehall in the ’23/24 season and centres around my experience as a ‘mostly’ female-identifying person who has been questioning the gender binary in private and in my art practice all my life. The younger generation, including my child, is inspiring the challenging of the gender binary in ways my generation never had the language for. Pants uses personal narrative comedy/stand-up and dance to trace how gender stereotypes and expectations affect a life, an identity, and how poking holes in all of it can bring healing and catharsis.”
She noted, “The piece is being created with consultation, interviews and collaboration from a variety of artists working outside the gender binary.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg created Pants in collaboration with choreographer Kate Franklin, theatre artist Cameron Mackenzie (ZeeZee Theatre) and dramaturge Joanna Garfinkel (who is also a member of the Jewish community).
Evans is a theatre and dance artist, writer and festival producer, with Coast Salish, Welsh, and European Jewish heritage. She described Raven Spirit Dance’s Confluence as “a beautiful weaving of Indigenous women from across these lands. The piece is about the things we carry as women, how we hold each other and how the land holds all of us.
“The piece,” she said, “was shared two years ago at the Talking Stick Festival and, days later, we all went into lockdown and our worlds changed.”
When theatres began to reopen, Confluence was the first piece that brought Raven Spirit together again – they performed an excerpt of it at Dancing on the Edge. “This year,” said Evans, “we are delighted to be brought together again, premièring the work and being able to take a deep breath together as life continues to unfold in these unprecedented times.”
Goodman’s Core/Us is a new group work that she has been in the process of creating on and off since the fall of 2019. During the piece, which runs about 70 minutes, Goodman said “four dancers transverse our perception of how we hear movement and see sound, with mesmerizing results. The live movement and sound score sculpt an ever-evolving atmosphere that builds gravity for the body. Patiently shifting states and layers of momentum define this piece, marked by its immersive world-building. The work asks for both tenderness and strength from the performing artists.”
Core/Us will be performed by Anya Saugstad, Eowynn Enquist, Ted Littlemore and Adrian de Leeuw with lighting by James Proudfoot. Shion Skye Carter and Sarah Formosa have also been a part of the creative process, said Goodman.
The group has worked closely with artist Brady Marks on the piece. “Her incredible knowledge of sonic composition has made a deep impact on our process together,” said Goodman. “We are looking forward to sharing the work in Seattle with On the Boards and Velocity just before DOTE, then we are excited to première it here in July.”
Margolick has performed the first 10 minutes of the solo Bunker + Vault in Vancouver previously and said she is excited to be bringing the full show to DOTE.
“It’s now a finished 35-minute solo,” she said. “I showed 20 minutes in Montreal, and I showed the full piece in Carcassonne, France, and in San José, Costa Rica, once in November 2021 and just recently in May 2022.
“The work is very much based on personal experience,” she continued. “In it, there is a lot of imagery steeped in memory, women, mothers, womb and resilience. Some inspiration and imagery in the solo came from reading through the archives at the 92nd St Y in New York City detailing the lives of immigrant Jewish women, from 1890 to 1950, residing at the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls, and where and how my experience has overlapped with theirs.”
Dancing on the Edge takes place at Firehall Arts Centre, Scotiabank Dance Centre and various other locations. It also features online performances, as well as dance films and discussions. Tickets are pay-what-you-wish from $15 to $35, and offsite outdoor performances are free. For tickets and more information, visit dancingontheedge.org.
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.
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”
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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.”
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.”
LINK Dance Foundation will perform Why did the Chicken Cross the Road? at a few intersections in Vancouver during Dancing on the Edge. (photo from DOTE)
As part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival, which takes place July 6-15, LINK Dance Foundation will explore the age-old question, “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“The idea for Why did the Chicken Cross the Road? came about through various stages, like all things do,” said Gail Lotenberg, founding artistic director of LINK. “The germination to the actual realization was a process and it is still in development for the future.”
DOTE producer Donna Spencer invited Lotenberg to be involved in this year’s festival with a specific piece, but the timing wasn’t right. “So, I told her I had another idea for this year if she was open to it. We had a meeting and together we cooked up this piece,” said Lotenberg.
Leading up to the 2013 provincial election, she said, “I wanted to help attract young people to exercise their right to vote, so I spearheaded a dance performance at the intersection of Davie Street and Granville Street with signage from Rock the Vote BC.
“The dance did not deliver overt messages about voting (though there were subtle motifs in the choreography), rather it aimed to stop people in their daily lives to enjoy viewing a quick dance by an ensemble of dancers as they crossed a busy intersection. We had people stationed at the corners to hand out pamphlets with more specific information about voting day.”
The concept was introduced to Lotenberg in 2005 by a “close friend and colleague, Cara Siu, who came to Whitehorse, Yukon, when I used to live there. At that time, I was producing an annual festival called Dancing in the Streets. She came from Vancouver to make a dance at the intersection of two main streets in Whitehorse as part of the week of outdoor dance performances. I loved the idea and always knew I would use it again.”
For the 2017 incarnation, Lotenberg said she wanted to “include a large pool of less-well-known dancers in the community in a site-based work at intersections” and Spencer was all for it.
“In fact,” said Lotenberg, “it was her idea to involve young dancers from pre-professional training programs in the project. She also saw the benefit of having DOTE volunteers on the corners to provide more information to people about other shows they could see during the annual summer festival. Donna really helped to make the idea crystallize into what it is now, a work for eight dancers – mostly young dancers in the final stages of their training with the exception of two professionals. The two dancers who would normally be considered out of their training stage … will perform my core idea of a duet between pieces of white cloth to complete the show.”
Lotenberg, however, won’t be performing. “I will not be dancing in this work,” she said, “unless I’m wearing a chicken costume.”
She hopes “Intersection Interventions” will become “an annual part of DOTE, in the way Dusk Dances were a signature aspect of the festival for almost a decade.”
She said, “I believe in public art. I see myself as someone who evolved from the same fabric as the public frivolity movement of the 1990s – Unsilent Night, flashmobs, etc. These are acts of art that enhance our civic arena.
“I like art that engages people in community and invites people briefly into the humanizing experience of co-creating art. I don’t like art that does this by ignoring the principles of composition and virtuosity and esthetics, meaning they are inclusive but not very entertaining. So, I strive to find the duality that makes work provocative and pleasing to view, while at the same time offering some type of invitation to be an active rather than a passive participant.”
From 2008 to 2012, Lotenberg was an associated artist with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue. The academic director of the centre then, Mark Winston, supported many of her endeavours, she said, “because he saw my work as a model for how to employ art as part of public engagement and how to construe social engagement as fertile soil for making art. I am grateful to Mark for that period of cross-pollination of ideas and expertise. He, too, is a Jewish person and together we mined the depths of what it meant to be Jewish and engaged in our mutual professions, he as a scientist and director of the CFD, me as a dance artist and director of a dance company.”
She said, “When I was a younger artist, there was a hierarchy in my mind that put work onstage above public-engaged art practice. Then I met Liz Lerman, a famous populist choreographer from the U.S., and I shifted my perspective to a less hierarchical model.
“I love seeing how dance can enter the public domain and engage people in something that lives between the opposing ends of a spectrum. On the one hand, you have pure social dancing that is non-performative but fully inclusive and, on the other end, you have very formal dance performance, which occurs on a stage with no apparent involvement from the audience except as witness. I love the in-between.”
Over the course of her dance performance and choreography career, Lotenberg has created many works that combine dance and activism.
“I’m a political person,” she said. “I grew up that way. As a Jewish person, I was taught to think in terms of how I could contribute to making the world a better place. I use my attributes as a choreographer to bring people together in a way that feels beautiful or powerful or profound or just fun.
“Take the Occupy Movement, for instance. I see something like that and I think, ‘Oh, imagine how easy it would be to occupy more space by getting people to not just stand around and chant but rather to do a square dance, which inherently takes up a lot more space.’ In occupying space with a square dance, people are using dance politically and the results are varied. People are having more fun. Authorities may not feel so threatened because the impulse is to relish life, not to be destructive, which is true of most political movements that are not hate-based. So, dance for me is an interface between the institutions we hope to shift and the people who are trying to have sway in shifting those institutions.”
Being Jewish has informed Lotenberg’s way of engaging with the world in various ways.
She said, “Being Jewish made me a political person and that feeds an aspect of my choreographic interests…. Being Jewish also surrounded me with people who embrace ritual and ritual is an important aspect of art. Being Jewish led to many opportunities to be in community through song and dance, and there is nothing more uplifting than that. In fact, I would say that these acts of sharing voice and song are what do connect me to my spirituality.
“And finally, I grew up as a New York Jew and my parents were very involved in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. We moved to a town that was emerging as a leader in desegregation of schools, so I went to a school right from Grade 1 that was racially mixed.”
Lotenberg earned her bachelor’s degree at University of Michigan, was a dance teacher and skier in Crested Butte, Colo., for about five years and then did her master’s degree in history at University of Washington. In Seattle, she said, “I met a Vancouver boy, graduated, sold everything, moved here and then, within a year, we left for the Yukon.”
While Yukon was home from 1993, Lotenberg returned to Vancouver often for dancing. In 2007, she and her family moved to Bowen Island – “bad for my dancing career but otherwise wonderful,” she said.
Lotenberg took an approximately three-year break from dancing to be more present for her daughter, who has a learning disability, she said. “She’s good now. She’s strong and knows how to self-advocate for learning support that allows her to perform well in school. And, she basically is my happy place. But, I missed dance and being with other dancers – people who see and sense the world through a different lens.
“I feel gratitude at the opportunity to re-enter the dance milieu from the place I am today. I am grounded; I have a good job as a pilates instructor; I want to have my work seen and appreciated but that desire does not define me anymore. I am eager to share my work, but I feel strong and I feel confident and I trust that my work is valuable because it is honest and well-crafted and unique.”
Lotenberg is in the midst of developing a new stage work for next year’s DOTE in which she will be dancing.
“It is a piece I am challenging myself to take on because it feels important for me to step back into the dancing body to tell my story in a real and vulnerable way,” she said. “In fact, the application to show this work I’m describing is what actually led to having Why did the Chicken Cross the Road? happen at this year’s festival. Life is a beautiful journey that way. You sow seeds but you don’t always know how they will bear fruit.”
The promotional material for Why did the Chicken Cross the Road? asks the question, “Rather than walk, why not dance to get to the other side?” What can be gained from dancing, even if only across the street?
“Dancing is liberating,” said Lotenberg. “Dancing is frivolity and elemental connection (at the same time). Dancing is one of the first forms of art and, in some cultures, it is the glue that defines who they are, how they touch the earth with their feet and what is the rhythm of their heartbeat.
“I tried to leave dance and choreography to become a better mother. I did become a better mother but I also realized in that period that dance is essential to who I am.
“Dancing across the street,” she said, “is a way of celebrating life, is a way of being part of making the world a more beautiful place, is an invitation to be part of a happening that makes today just a bit more rich than yesterday or tomorrow.”
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.”
Meghan Goodman will perform next with Dusk Dances at Dancing on the Edge July 4-6. (photo by Dan Cento)
Meghan Goodman, a Vancouver dancer and yoga teacher, has always been daring. “Since I was a kid, I’ve had a big sense of adventure,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “I loved biking fast, doing interesting things.”
Her predilection for adventure frequently informs her choices, even now. At school, she was torn between the arts and sciences. At university, she majored in dance and minored in math, but eventually dancing as a career won out. “Dancing is exciting and challenging, and it has a nice community of people doing it,” she said.
Dancing also offers a variety of jobs and the ability to schedule her professional life. And, it feeds her desire for perpetual learning.
“The more I dance, the more I learn. There is always something new to learn. Never a dull moment. I noticed that mature dancers can do more, maybe not physically, but they have more inner richness, know how to channel emotions. Dancing has been an interesting and educational journey for me. I would probably be bored with a regular job. I like that my every day is different; I like the fluctuations. There are busy times and free times. Some days, I have three jobs a day, but there are periods when I don’t have anything scheduled. Then, I can rest or travel.”
Her craving for new and stimulating experiences led her to Aeriosa Dance Society, a company that performs dancing in the air, or rather on walls of tall buildings and other vertical surfaces.
“I’ve been a member of Aeriosa for about five years,” said Goodman. “I had seen them perform … and thought it was amazing. When, before the Olympics, their director asked me if I wanted to join – of course, I said yes.”
She revels in aerial dancing. “I love it. I have six or seven contracts with Aeriosa every year, about one-third of all my jobs…. My highest performance with them was about two years ago in Toronto – we performed at the level of the 33rd storey. But, more often, it’s eight- or 10-storey buildings, like the Vancouver Public Library. Or sometimes it’s the trees. It takes a special type of person to perform in the air and lots of training. It needs a different technique than dancing on the floor, because of gravity. When we dance on a vertical surface, we use different muscles.”
Goodman also has her own company, which is an adventure in itself, like any small business. In 2008, she co-founded Body Narrative Collective (BNC) with two friends, one of whom left the company soon after. Julia Carr and Goodman still keep it running.
“We don’t even remember how we first met, Julia and I,” Goodman said, laughing. “Maybe we had classes together or performed together. Now, we have BNC together. A collective needs three people, so we always bring at least one other person for every project, maybe a composer or an artist, usually more than one. Our latest project, Dark Room, had over 20 people.”
She explained that BNC has an interdisciplinary focus, viewing various artistic disciplines through the lens of dance. “Julia is interested in photography, and Dark Room was a collaboration between photography and dance. We explored different photographic techniques by integrating dance and huge, blown-up images. The show premièred in December 2013.”
Another aspect of Goodman’s life is teaching yoga. She began practising yoga in 1998 and received her first teaching certificate in 2006. Seeking ways of working with a wider range of students, she began studying Iyengar yoga. In 2013, she completed the Iyengar Intro 2 teaching certification.
“Iyengar yoga is suitable for all ages,” she said. “It’s good for people who like precision, science and math, like me. We use lots of props – ropes, straps, blocks – and slow, careful movements, so everyone could benefit from a pose, study it. This kind of yoga is excellent for those recovering from injuries and surgeries.”
For Goodman, Iyengar yoga has become a path to stability. “It’s good for settling myself after the excitement of a dance or aerial performance. It feels still and calm, brings me into a quiet space, provides a balance for my dancing and my busy life.”
She teaches predominantly adult students. “When I was younger, I often taught kids – first tutoring at school, later dancing lessons. I like teaching but now I prefer teaching adults. It requires a different level of passing information. Mostly, I teach yoga but I still teach dance once in awhile, usually in specialized workshops. I taught a workshop of contemporary dance to figure skaters. They discovered that they compete better with some dancing training.”
“Dancing is always extra – extra income and extra joy.”
Goodman sees teaching yoga as her future. “Dancing doesn’t last forever, but yoga teachers get better with age, improve. I can practise and teach yoga in my eighties,” she said cheerfully. “Right now, teaching yoga adds security to my life. It pays the bills. Dancing is always extra – extra income and extra joy.”
Goodman’s next performance will be with Dusk Dances, a Toronto company specializing in dancing in parks and other outdoor spaces. Part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival, the free shows will take place in Portside Park from July 4-6, 7 p.m. For more information, visit meghangoodman.wordpress.com or dancingontheedge.org.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].