For this year’s Dancing on the Edge, Alexis Fletcher and Ted Littlemore perform together in a work created and directed by Vanessa Goodman. (photo by Sylvain Senez)
This year’s Dancing on the Edge contemporary dance festival features a lineup of online and onstage live performances, including Tuning, a new duet created and directed by Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman. And Tara Cheyenne Performance is among the artists who will be presenting films (details TBA).
During its July 8-17 run, the festival will present more than 30 shows, with artists from across Canada. On offer will be some specially curated digital programming with recorded performances, premières of dance films, dance discussions, outdoor live performances in the Firehall Arts Centre’s courtyard, for very limited audiences with safety precautions in place, and theatre performances with limited capacity, if permitted, in the centre.
Commissioned by dance artist Alexis Fletcher, Tuning will be performed by Fletcher, artist in residence at Ballet BC, and Ted Littlemore, aka Mila Dramatic in the drag community. The new work focuses on how people tune to one another. In Tuning, the performers create a live sonic and physical atmosphere using their voices to amplify the conversations of the body.
Festival producer Donna Spencer also announced seven DOTE-commissioned projects, which will première at this year’s festival. Companies/choreographers presenting commissioned works include Ouro Collective, Raven Spirit Dance, Billy Marchenski, Immigrant Lessons, Generous Mess, Rob Kitsos and Meredith Kalaman. “We were thrilled to have offered this incentive, knowing that these commissions have enabled artists to keep creating new work during this challenging time for all,” said Spencer.
Jenn Griffin and Paul Herbert in Firehall Arts Centre’s production, The Enemy, which runs to Dec. 1. (photo by Pedro Meza)
A doctor in a small B.C. town discovers that the main tourist draw, the springs, are polluted. As she tries to raise the alarm, she runs into harsh resistance – after all, the town’s economic well-being is completely dependent on the tourism the springs, spa and waterpark attract. Among other things, her findings are discredited, the truth is characterized as “fake news,” and she ends up regarded as a pariah instead of a saviour.
This very current-day scenario is actually based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People, the themes of which are as relevant as ever. Firehall Arts Centre artistic producer Donna Spencer has adapted Ibsen’s drama, not only bringing the spa to British Columbia, but making the character of Dr. Stockman a woman in her version, called The Enemy, which runs at the Firehall until Dec. 1.
Spencer, who also directs the production, said in a press release, “Recently, we witnessed a decision south of the border that many of that country’s constituents did not support for good reasons. But the majority of those who had the power to vote supported the choice, angering thousands and potentially impacting hard-earned freedoms and rights. With the Firehall’s presentation of The Enemy, I have adapted Henrik Ibsen’s drama – which asks the question, is the majority always right? – and applied it to a contemporary issue not unlike the one faced by Ibsen’s version of Dr. Stockman. In this contemporary context of The Enemy, the role of Dr. Stockman is written as a female and illustrates the challenges that women face when confronting and disputing the ‘powers-that-be’ or, as some would say, ‘the old boys’ club.’”
Jenn Griffin plays the role of Dr. Stockman in The Enemy. Jewish community member Michael Scholar Jr., is also part of the cast.
“I play the role of David Horseman (after Captain Horster in the Ibsen), who is a pilot who charters flights to remote fishing and hunting locations across B.C.,” Scholar told the Jewish Independent. “He’s someone who used to work for oil companies, but is now his own boss, trying to keep a low profile, and stay out of political frays. David is a friend of Dr. Stockman, who tries to help her when she is censored and vilified. Throughout the story, we find the otherwise complacent David find his political voice, when he sees a restriction on freedoms of expression come to his small town.”
The Enemy explores the role of the media, the mob mentality, political extremism, corruption, elitism, the environment.
“Theatre is a very powerful medium,” said Scholar, who is also the founding artistic producer of November Theatre. “The way in which ideas are communicated in theatre are through emotion, images and even moral ambiguities. There have been scientific studies done on what happens to theatre audiences when they experience a play live, showing that, when a play is effective, the mirror neurons are firing on all cylinders, creating an emotional, engaging experience that can lead to feelings of empathy and, therefore, understanding.
“The poetic form of theatre, with its use of imagery and physicality, allow for abstract thought and even an awakening of the mind and spirit that is unlike any other form,” he explained. “The ancient Greeks presented dramas to allow their people to wrestle with moral issues communally. It was an important form of public discourse. And The Enemy and other socially conscious theatre are carrying on that tradition.”
Scholar said he is excited to be working with Spencer.
“I’ve known Donna for years, and am thrilled to be working with her and this amazing cast,” he said. “Some great friends of mine are in this show, like my old U of A school chum Daniel Arnold, Green Lake cast mate Donna Soares, and clown extraordinaire Peter Anderson. And I’m getting to know some other incredible talents, like Sharon Crandall, who I saw at Bard [on the Beach] this summer; Paul Herbert, who I’ve seen act since living in Edmonton; Agnes Tong, who was great in Les Belles Soeurs; Braiden Houle, who just did Kill Me Now at the Firehall; and our leading lady, Jenn Griffin, who I know as a playwright and is doing incredible work as Dr. Stockman.”
One of the many intriguing aspects of the play – both Ibsen’s original and Spencer’s adaptation – is how the hero, Dr. Stockman, is portrayed. The doctor is not a sympathetic character, in ways that liberals and progressives especially should note. Dr. Stockman considers herself superior to her critics and those who believe them. A recent article in the New York Times – about why Ibsen’s play is seeing so many remounts in the United States these days – compares some of Stockman’s language to that of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement, “or other comments that people – perhaps audience members themselves – have made that imply that those they disagree with are inferior.”
There is an excellent article in a 2010 issue of Public Health Ethics that can be found online. In it, Terrance McConnell uses Ibsen’s play to examine the competing responsibilities of a physician: to their own ideals, to their family, to their fellow citizens and to public health.
“One message of the play is that those with vested interests will try to silence the idealist,” writes McConnell.
“A second message in the play concerns how the idealist is portrayed by others,” he adds, giving examples of how Dr. Stockman’s opponents succeed in branding the doctor as crazy.
“In this age of divisive rhetoric,” said Scholar, “this play wrestles with the concept of speaking truth to power even at great personal cost. Ibsen’s story is sadly still relevant today, and Donna’s adaptation puts it in the here and now. I think this production will elicit much discussion, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
The Enemy runs at various times Tuesdays through Sundays at the Firehall Arts Centre, with post-show talkbacks Nov. 22 and 29. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased from firehallartscentre.ca or 604-689-0926.
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.