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.
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.”
The cast of Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project. (photo by Wendy D. Photography)
Among the more than 20 choreographers and companies from across Canada, Brazil and Korea that are participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival are local Jewish community members Alexandra Clancy (Soleful Dance Company) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance).
Soleful Dance Company’s Where the Music Begins will take place July 12, 8:15 p.m., in the Firehall Arts Centre courtyard, and Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project (working title) is part of Edge 5 July 11, 9 p.m., and July 13, 7 p.m., at the Firehall. DOTE runs July 4-13. Click here to watch the festival trailer on YouTube.
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Where the Music Begins, created by Clancy and composer and musician Mike W.T. Allen, was commissioned by Dances for a Small Stage for its Summer Series.
“Mike and I had played music together but never officially constructed any works for stage,” Clancy told the Independent. “Throughout the rehearsal process, there would be a back and forth of ideas; sometimes I would have a rhythmical phrase of tap dance and Mike would then create a melody over top, and sometimes Mike would compose a phrase of the melody and I would choreograph specifically to that part of the tune. After some give and take between our prospective instruments and ideas, we solidified a melody and then decided upon the structure of the tune. Some of the tune is improvised, some is a conversation, and some is very set and predetermined. We both enjoyed the collaborative process and found a harmonious way to create music and dance together.”
Clancy grew up in Vancouver and has always been involved with the Jewish community. “I was raised Jewish; attending Hebrew school on Sundays, becoming bat mitzvah, and participating in holidays and traditions,” she said. “After going on Birthright a few summers ago, I was re-inspired by the beauty of the culture and have tried to stay more engaged in the community by attending Axis events and other social gatherings, as well as going to synagogue when I can. I am grateful for the support and familial kindness that I have received from the community, consistently reminding and encouraging me that I am capable of whatever I put my all into.”
And she has put her all into a lot, having trained in all genres of dance, studying at Danzmode and the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She was a member of Tap Co., a pre-professional youth tap dance company, and has trained and performed across North America.
“After graduating, I lived in Austin, Tex., and was a member of Tapestry Dance Company in its 25th season,” said Clancy. “I then moved back to Vancouver and have been performing and teaching ever since. This past year, I taught at the Arts Connection, Dance Co., and the Pulse, sharing my love and passion for tap dance and educating the next generation of talented dancers.
“As recital season comes to an end, I am currently in a creative residency with Dances for a Small Stage, where we are developing works for our Summer Series and exploring digital literacy in dance. As well as preparing for DOTE, I am also in the studio rehearsing and creating for our upcoming performance at Jacob’s Pillow later this summer. In the fall, I will be moving to Calgary to attend the training program at Decidedly Jazz Dance Company.
“My goal,” she said, “is to broaden my toolbox to assist in expressing myself and telling stories through dance. This upcoming year, I hope to continue to collaborate and create through Small Stage, develop more new works with Soleful Dance Co., film a concept video, and share dance through as much teaching and performing as possible.”
Jacob’s Pillow is located in western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. Clancy auditioned for and then attended the inaugural tap dance program at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010 and returned two years later (again with an audition) for a second summer of learning and dancing. “My time at the Pillow was the most influential training thus far in my life and it has always been a dream of mine to perform my own work at the Pillow,” she said.
That dream will become a reality this summer.
“Jeffrey Dawson and I co-choreographed a piece for an online competition Jacob’s Pillow was running this year, and we were lucky enough to be chosen as Top 6 and then voted Top 3, meaning we will get to perform our work live at the Inside/Out stage on Aug. 17,” said Clancy.
In addition to choreographing and teaching, Clancy established Soleful Dance last spring. She and some other dancers “felt we needed a name and a clear avenue to share the work we had started developing. Based in Vancouver, this company is a platform to express ourselves and tell stories through the music of tap and the movement of dance.
“Although under my direction,” she said, “Soleful Dance Company is rooted in collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to make audiences feel something. All of the members of the company’s primary focus is tap dance; however, everyone brings a versatile background to the creative process, spanning from contemporary dance, to acting, to playing music and more. We hope to continue to grow and create more works to share with audiences in the near future.”
Clancy described tap dance as “a magical art form that allows one to not only express through movement but connect and emote through sound.
“This traditional American art form has a rich and complex history that is intertwined deeply with jazz music and culture,” she explained. “There is a sense of community that I have always appreciated about tap dance, and I feel a great amount of respect and gratitude that I get to perform and participate in its culture. It just feels good to get to move your body and dance and then, on top of that, creating and connecting with music opens endless doors of expression.”
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The Body Project is a new interdisciplinary performance created from interviews, symposiums and roundtables.
“I started research on and around the theme of ‘female body image’ about a year ago,” Friedenberg told the Independent. “Part of our research/creation process has been interviewing female-identifying and non-binary people (many dancers and actors). To date, 35 people have generously participated.
“In the studio, I have been mining my own complicated and unhealthy relationship with my body as a dancer in a female body with the help of my amazing collaborators/performers. The process so far has involved exploring how the forms of stand-up comedy and dance can express this difficult, and often absurd, story of struggling with body image that many of us share.”
The performers – Bevin Poole, Caroline Liffmann, Kate Franklin and Kim Stevenson – came into the process shortly after Friedenberg began her exploration of the topic.
“We are working very closely with intimate and difficult material so, although I am leading the process, it is essential that all the voices/bodies in the room are present in the work. For example, there is a section choreographed by Kim Stevenson – much of the gestural language has been created through our own gestures as we’ve spoken about our personal experiences with body image.”
About the creative process, Friedenberg said, “These are very busy people, so we have had times when we are all in the studio and other times when it’s just me and one collaborator. Making room for people’s lives and demands, including parenting and caring for parents, is an important part of our feminist practice.
“Justine A. Chambers is our dramaturge/outside eye and Michelle Olson will be involved in the project as a consultant and possibly a performer in the next phase of development.”
As professional dancers, the performers/creators have shared some common struggles and coping mechanisms regarding body image.
“The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of the ‘dancer body’ has been difficult and complex for all of us,” said Friedenberg. “There’s the pressure to be very thin, small, more muscular, or less muscular. Pressure to fit an oppressive ideal of beauty. We each have found ways to navigate these limiting ideas. Sometimes we have had to remove ourselves from certain arenas in order to survive. Sometimes we have found power in defying the stereotypes of what a dancer should look like to the euro-centric patriarchal gaze. But I keep coming back to the effort and energy required to bare these expectations and what we can transform with that energy instead.”
She added, “It must be noted that the many voices, words, time and contributions from the people we have interviewed are alive in the work through our bodies and presence. Their names will be listed on our website. Although the work, at this early stage, is a version of my story, it is also very much a result of being together in conversation about body image, in a circle, speaking, listening, moving, supporting and sharing with many powerful female-identifying/non-binary people – ‘the personal is political.’”
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.”
Martin Gotfrit co-created Real Time Composition Study, which is part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge. (photo by Paula Viitanen)
To celebrate its 30th year, this July’s Dancing on the Edge festival will feature more than 30 performances, including Real Time Composition Study by Rob Kitsos, Yves Candau and Jewish community member Martin Gotfrit.
“We are three artists with varying interests in dance, sound-making and music, etc., who are exploring creating abstract work spontaneously within the confines of a set space and time,” Gotfrit told the Independent in an email interview. “The work is entirely improvised but, since we’ve been rehearsing (i.e. meeting and exploring movement, sound and light) for 10 months, we have been building an awareness of each other in the space and of our collective efforts. We also work with large conceptual ideas, as well as simple structures, to make it all a little more coherent. The work is not intentionally narrative but words and themes can occasionally emerge.”
Gotfrit not only performs in Real Time, but is its composer. He has numerous recordings to his credit, and has received much recognition, via awards and grants, for his work. Among his affiliations, he is associate composer, Canadian Music Centre; founding member, Canadian Electronic Community; and member, Guild of Canadian Film Composers. He has served two terms as director of the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University and been associate dean and dean of SFU’s faculty of communication, art and technology.
“I’ve just retired after 37 years at SFU as a professor in music and administrator,” he said. “I’ve been performing for a very long time in a variety of ensembles and in many different contexts. As a composer, I’ve created music for film, as well as for new media, theatre and dance performances. I’ve also had the opportunity to move on stage occasionally in those contexts as well. If I had to summarize what I do, I’d say I’m an improviser who has worked in many different forms.”
Gotfrit is part of the Vancouver band Sulam (which means ladder in Hebrew), where he contributes his guitar, mandolin and vocal talents.
“I’m quite active in my synagogue (Or Shalom) and, for more than a decade, I’ve been a part of the band of the monthly Hebrew chanting event Chanting and Chocolate,” he said about his other community involvements. “I returned to be more actively involved in Jewish life as my kids approached bar mitzvah age. I found many like-minded souls at Or Shalom.”
Gotfrit met Kitsos when he started working at SFU, and Candau when he joined the school as a graduate student. About how and when Real Time Composition Study came into being, Gotifrit said, “Rob and I had worked together in the past and we share a love of improvisation and a similar esthetic. We both find Yves’ work very interesting and compatible with our interests. We three started meeting weekly in September of 2017. The work has evolved in many surprising ways since then. For example, when we began, I was sitting off stage playing the music live. As time went on, I began to move more into the centre of the movement space as Yves and Rob (a professional drummer himself) began to take on other roles as well.”
As to what he plans on doing now that he is retired, Gotfrit said, “In addition to playing a wide variety of music with a number of groups (and practising of course), I’m studying to be a pilates instructor. I’ve been a practitioner for almost 40 years. I’m currently interning at the Vancouver Pilates Centre.”
Real Time Composition Study is part of EDGE Seven, July 13, 7 p.m., and July 14, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre, as is Pathways, by Jewish community member Noam Gagnon (Vision Impure). Other community members involved in Dancing on the Edge this year include Amber Funk Barton (the response.), Gail Lotenberg (LINK Dance Foundation) and Vanessa Goodman (in MascallDance’s OW!). The festival runs July 5-14. For tickets and the full schedule, visit dancingontheedge.org.
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.”
Naomi Brand’s En Route will be performed by members of All Bodies Dance Project. (photo by Chris Randle)
New works and the pushing of boundaries. Just what audiences expect from the Dancing on the Edge contemporary dance festival, and just what the three participating Jewish community members have created.
This year’s Dancing on the Edge (DOTE), which takes place July 7-16, includes work by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, Amber Funk Barton and Naomi Brand.
Friedenberg’s I can’t remember the word for I can’t remember is an excerpt from a work-in-progress – a new solo she is creating with director John Murphy.
“I will be performing but a lot of what we’ve been making has come out of our conversations about memory and the displacement of our memories in the digital world,” she explained. “The piece explores how our minds, our selves escape us and the panic that brings.”
Friedenberg and Murphy met years ago, when she was choreographing a Fringe show in which he was performing.
“He is one of the funniest performers I know and a very smart playwright and director,” said Friedenberg. “I wanted to do research into narrative structure and comic writing, as well as explore being ‘myself’ onstage. Once John and I started researching, we both got excited about turning the research into a piece. Marc Stewart will create an original score for the work as well.”
As for other future projects, Friedenberg said she had recently returned from a residency in Italy where she was collaborating with Italian dance-theatre-performance artist Silvia Gribaudi. “We will be premièring our duet next year at the Scotiabank Dance Centre – it’s a co-production with the Dance Centre and Chutzpah!”
In addition to DOTE, Friedenberg is also choreographing West Side Story for Theatre Under the Stars this summer.
“It’s my first time working for TUTS and the cast is fantastic!” she said. “The amazing Sarah Rodgers is directing – I also met her years ago on the same Fringe show where I met John. It’s a very edgy take on West Side and I am able to bring my contemporary vision to it.”
Barton is also bringing a new work to DOTE that she hopes will evolve into something larger – Village, a 15-minute group piece, performed by members of the response.’s apprenticeship program.
About it, Barton said, “I am always interested in working with narrative and story and, lately, I seem to be inspired by small towns and their intimate interactions. When I travel, I find it fascinating that, as a human race, we all have a similar rhythm to our lives but the diversity of how we carry out this rhythm is what continues to make us interesting to one another. We all wake up. We all eat breakfast. We all go to work. We all struggle to define what our short lives on this planet mean. We all love and have our hearts broken. We all want to be loved. We struggle to attain happiness…. So, I’ve decided that I would like to make a dance that reflects these inspirations; I want to portray a group of people who live by the sea and survive a storm.
“My intention in creating Village for the festival this year,” she continued, “is that it is a starting point for a much more developed work with possibly a larger cast. But, to start, I am working with four dancers – Andrew Haydock, Antonio Somera Jr., Marcy Mills and Tessa Tamura – who have all gone through my company’s apprentice program. So, this is also a special endeavor, as it is giving these emerging dancers an opportunity to perform in the festival, as well as working with them as professional dancers. It’s really exciting to witness their growth. I’ve also decided not to perform in Village because I want to focus solely on the creation of it.”
Another focus of Barton’s has been working to make VAST, her first full-length solo, a reality. “I’ve been doing a lot of movement research and performing works-in-progress in support of it and I’m currently working towards a 2017 première,” she said.
“I’ve also held two more cycles of my company’s apprentice program. It’s hard to believe, but my company’s 10th anniversary is on the horizon, so I’m dreaming about what I would like to create to celebrate that. I’m also teaching regularly and am currently on staff as the head of contemporary at Avant Dance Company in Burnaby.”
And, if that weren’t enough, Barton recently did a residency with the company EDAM Dance.
“This spring,” she said, “with the support of EDAM, I was invited to create a 20-minute work for three dancers. I called the trio Scenes for Your Consideration and it was recently performed at EDAM’s Induction performance series.” The work featured Elya Grant, Somera Jr. and Haydock, she added, “and became a collection of scenes and interactions where the relationships between the dancers continued to shift. When I watch the work, I see them shift between friends, enemies, lovers, siblings – all the various roles that we encounter in our everyday lives.”
Brand’s work for DOTE is about a different form of shifting. Called En Route, it “explores different ways to traverse public spaces and negotiate our place in a crowd. The piece celebrates and exploits the fine line between practical and performative ways of getting from point A to point B.” To the program description, Brand added, “Directionality and determination to get somewhere are contrasted with meandering, circuitous pathways towards our goal.”
The piece will be performed in the inner courtyard of the Woodward’s Building, which, she said, “requires me to think more creatively about the three-dimensional experience of watching a living choreography. The Woodward’s space is also a space with its own complex choreography of people moving through it in myriad diverse ways towards their own destinations. We are excited to build upon the existing dance of that space.”
En Route will be performed by members of All Bodies Dance Project, which she described as “an inclusive group of movers who experience and perceive the world differently.”
Brand launched All Bodies Dance Project in September 2014 with Mirae Rosner and Sarah Lapp.
“The three of us were/are interested in making a space in Vancouver to explore an inclusive dance practice that was open to movers of all abilities,” said Brand. “We have been really fortunate to partner with the Vancouver Parks Board and the Roundhouse to make this project possible.
“All Bodies Dance Project is accessible to anyone and welcomes difference as a creative strength,” she continued. “Our work poses questions about dance and how it is practised: Who has access to dance training? Who gets to make dances? What is the artistic potential of different types of people dancing together?
“By bringing together ‘standing dancers’ with dancers who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids, our practice seeks to challenge the ideas of normalized dancing bodies and make space for a new and innovative community of dance makers. We want to widen the spectrum of who dances and what dance can be.”
All Bodies Dance Project has created two full evening productions to date, See & Be Seen (2015) and TRACE (2016), and have done numerous community performances in local festivals and events, said Brand. “We are interested in continuing to create new and innovative pieces of choreography, allowing new audiences to see the choreographic possibilities of difference.”
In the fall, she said, there will be a new session of the group’s open classes at Trout Lake Community Centre and the Roundhouse, in addition to a new class it is launching for young dancers ages 8-12 at Mount Pleasant Community Centre and a new group at Sunset Community Centre (allbodiesdance.ca).
In addition, Brand continues “to make and perform contemporary dance across a wide spectrum of contexts, from my own solo work to work with professional dancers to dance with diverse populations. I have just completed a three-year residency at the Roundhouse, where I was working with an ensemble of 20 older adults called the Ageless Dancers.”
As well, when the JI contacted Brand by email for this interview, she was on Toronto Island where, she said, “I am working with a group of 24 dance makers from across Canada on a project called 8 DAYS. This is my fourth time at this intergenerational gathering that aims to connect choreographers, to share their practices and create dialogue about the form.”
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.”