To find out more about the history of Made in BC – Dance on Tour and its network of artists, visitors to madeinbc.org/history-project just have to hover over one of the images displayed and click on it. (screenshot)
It is easy, in Metro Vancouver, to take certain things for granted, such as access to live theatre, music and dance. But the pandemic, with its limits on social gatherings, has given urbanites an inkling of what smaller communities regularly experience. The relative scarcity of live performance in places like Prince George and Revelstoke is one reason that Made in BC – Dance on Tour was created in 2006. It is unfortunate, then, that Made in BC’s 15th anniversary falls in a time of travel and other restrictions. But that hasn’t stopped the organization from celebrating, and innovatively so.
Made in BC (MiBC) has collaborated with artist and graphic recorder Adriana Contreras to create an interactive online illustrated map “offering viewers the opportunity to take a visual and audio trip through the last 15 years of work, celebrating the numerous artists, presenters and community members that have been a part of this history.” Among these artists are Jewish community members Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance), Amber Funk Barton (the.response), Naomi Brand (All Bodies Dance Project) and Vanessa Goodman (Action at a Distance).
“Especially in an art form that is so ephemeral, documentation is important not only for our personal memories, but for the history of the organizations and communities that we work with,” Brand told the Independent. “These kinds of records are really valuable for us to learn from what has happened before and to remember the accomplishments and discoveries that came before us. The map is a beautiful and creative way to write our history in the present while it is still relatively fresh in the bodies and memories of those who participated in it.
She added, “The field of contemporary dance in Canada is small enough that most of us are connected through a few degrees of separation that can be traced through our lineage of teachers, mentors and collaborators…. The map project represents all of that visually across the geography of this province.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg also spoke about the ephemeral, or temporary, nature of dance, making it hard to keep track of accomplishments.
“We spend much of our time and energy justifying and fighting for our art and art-making, it’s no wonder many of us don’t take time to reflect or celebrate the wake behind the boat,” she said. “It’s also very important to take note of what artists have brought to communities around the province and how these communities have influenced the art and the art makers. We are an ecosystem and it benefits all of us to appreciate how we have grown and developed as an artistic community. I know my work has been greatly influenced by my relationships across the province. I know folks who started making their own work after seeing a show or taking a workshop. I think part of the reason I’m still making work is because I feel part of this artistic ecosystem that is ever-evolving.”
Made in BC statistics show that, over the past 15 years, MiBC “has provided opportunities for over 50 dance companies incorporating over 200 dance artists to tour their work, reaching over 20,000 people around the province. And over 30,000 people have participated in and experienced the joy of other community-engaged dance activities, beyond the theatre.”
“MiBC as a network is about fostering relationships between artists, presenters, audiences and new communities,” said Brand. “As dance artists, we work with living, breathing, feeling people as our material (as opposed to clay, or an instrument, or paint brushes). This human-to-human, personal interaction is so important to what we do in the studio, as well as through emails and Zoom these days. We’re lucky to have an organization like MiBC that supports artists and has brought so many incredible experiences to communities across the province.”
Brand recalled one experience in particular. “In 2017,” she said, “my colleague Sarah Lapp and I did a residency through Made in BC at the Rotary Centre for the Arts (RCA) in Kelowna. It was our first experience touring with our company All Bodies Dance Project and bringing our artistic practice to a new community. We met such beautiful, courageous and lovely participants in the weeklong workshop and learned a lot about ourselves through sharing what we do with a new community. That residency had a huge impact on Sarah, who actually ended up relocating to Kelowna a year or so later, and beginning an integrated dance project in partnership with RCA with a collaborator that she met during that residency.”
Cheyenne Friedenberg first toured with MiBC in 2009, when the organization selected her first full-length solo work, bANGER, to tour along with Day Helesic’s piece Surge.
“I had toured a lot in the U.S., across Canada and Europe, but this was my first real experience taking my own work around the province,” said Cheyenne Friedenberg. “I was, and continue to be, very interested in connecting with the land and the people closer to home. Why have we as a culture believed touring Europe is more prestigious than touring the West Coast? It’s not. Since that first tour in 2009, I have toured, taught, created and learned around B.C. over half a dozen times and I can’t wait to get back out here!”
She said it was hard to pick just one MiBC experience that was especially impactful or memorable, so she offered two:
“1) Smithers, 2012: after seeing my solo Goggles, a couple (who are now my friends) were so taken by seeing me and my family (who I tour with) taking questions and, probably, breast-feeding after the show, that they decided to have a baby and continue to make art.
“2) Dolly Alfredson, a Wet’suwet’en language speaker and teacher shared many post-show thoughts with me, all in Wet’suwet’en. It felt very special. This was after my show I can’t remember the word for ‘ I can’t remember,’ in 2018.”
Contreras, who collaborated with MiBC in collecting and communicating these types of recollections from the dance artists, said her favourite part of the process was listening to all the stories, “getting a glimpse at a special moment in time from the many artists I had the pleasure to work with in part.”
It was Jane Gabriels, executive director of MiBC, who invited Contreras – in spring of 2020 – to be part of the 15th anniversary history project.
“I had just left my full-time job as director of programming and communications with New Performance Works Society to work as an independent graphic recorder, illustrator and designer,” Contreras told the Independent. “This was also around the time that COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the province went on lockdown. Needless to say, this project was a bright light in a very uncertain moment.”
On the project, she worked closely with Gabriels, as well as Debora Gordon, MiBC manager of community dance connectors, statistics and promotions, and Zahra Shahab, a dance artist and choreographer who was the 2019 creative residency artist at MiBC.
“The process was one of collective discovery and experimentation,” said Contreras. “I knew that MiBC has a vast archive documenting the work of all the artists that have been part of its programs, but I wanted to go back to the essence, the aspect that makes MiBC so unique, the unifying element of supporting B.C.-based artists to present their work and connect with communities throughout the province; bring contemporary dance to audiences that don’t often get to experience it.
“During my time as an arts administrator supporting dance artists,” she continued, “I had heard many anecdotes and memorable stories that happened during MiBC tours. Many of these occurred in the theatre, others in the liminal space, on the road. Many others in everyday occurrences that nurtured community. We decided that these were the stories we wanted to highlight.
“MiBC reached out to artists and asked if they wanted to share their stories, which were audio-recorded to be featured on the website. We then chose an object to represent each of the stories, and those are the elements you see in the drawing, one for each artist or collective.”
She added, “Creating this work reminded me why I love the performing arts so much, and I can’t wait to sit in a theatre and experience live dance, theatre and music again.”
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.”
Magic & Remembering opens at Scotiabank Dance Centre on June 1, which is B.C. Access Awareness Day. (photo from All Bodies Dance Project)
The themes in this show range from home and belonging to our collective connection to self, city and architecture,” All Bodies Dance Project co-founder and facilitator Naomi Brand said about Magic & Remembering, a program of dances and films, featuring dancers with and without disabilities, that runs June 1-3 at Scotiabank Dance Centre.
“A lot of ABDP’s choreography highlights the relationship between different bodies moving in different ways,” said Brand, who is a member of the Jewish community. “We try and make work where our differences as dancers are celebrated and exploited for their choreographic potential. We’re always looking for new territory that challenges notions of the ‘typical’ dancer and the typical ways of making dance.”
A similar motivation sparked the idea for this show.
“Magic & Remembering was born out of the desires from artists in our company to lead their own choreographic processes, as well as an idea to explore new territory in dance filmmaking,” said Brand.
The program comprises three dances and three films. Most of the works are new for this production and created by longtime members of All Bodies Dance Project.
“ABDP works in a very organic way as a collective of artists who work through collaboration and improvisation to devise new choreography,” explained Brand. “Each of the pieces came about in a different way through a different creative process. My role has been to act as an ‘outside eye’ to support the choreographers, offer feedback and suggestions; sort of an editor to help clarify the pieces.”
Two of the three filmmakers are local, she said. Martin Borden – who is also a visual artist, woodcarver and educator, and has been documenting ABDP’s work for many years – collaborated with dancers/choreographers Rianne Svelnis and Harmanie Taylor on Sanctuary.
Gemma Crowe worked with Carolina Bergonzoni on Ho.Me. “Gemma is a dancer who has been working in video for a number of years,” said Brand. “As a dancer, she brings a keen understanding of how the camera moves almost as a partner in the dance.”
The third film is called Inclinations and it was created, said Brand, “by our friends and colleagues Danielle Peers (Edmonton) and Alice Sheppard (based in New York) and features a cast of four manual wheelchair users, including Harmanie Taylor from All Bodies Dance Project.”
Quoting from Sheppard’s website, Brand described the piece as one that “contrasts the playful connections when disability esthetics, disability community and a gorgeous ramp meet the institutional histories and discordant inclinations that can lurk just below the surface.”
“We are excited to include this beautiful film in our production,” said Brand, “as a way to connect and support disabled dance artists in our network from outside of Vancouver.”
The press material for the production notes that the films are “of dance works reimagined for the camera.” As to what that means, Brand explained that Sanctuary and Ho.Me were originally created as dances performed live: the former for the 2018 Vines Art Festival and the latter for last year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival.
“We’ve taken those dances,” she said, “and ‘reimagined’ them through the lens of the camera by using the same movement material, but reconfiguring it into a new piece. The camera allows for an intimacy and detailed insight into the dances that opens up whole new possibilities. For example, Carolina Bergonzoni’s Ho.Me, which consists of three personal solos, was shot in the dancers’ own apartments. We get to see these unique bodies and their movements in their private spaces, surrounded by objects of meaning to them.
“Sanctuary is shot in a busy urban location. The duet is accompanied by a soundscore created from the sounds of a typical Vancouver afternoon. Video allows us to take viewers into new worlds and to see the dancers and the dances in new ways.”
As for the dances in Magic & Remembering, Brand said they “use the dancers’ differences in unexpected and evocative ways. For example, Harmanie Taylor and Peggy Leung’s duet, Inflect, was born out of the simple choreographic question, what would happen if both seated and standing dancer used wheels? Peggy dances on a wooden wheelie board that facilitates all kinds of interesting and surprising ways of relating to Harmanie, who is a manual wheelchair user.
“Romham Gallacher’s trio, Re/integrate, delves into some deep and personal territory by exploring the process of bringing trauma-shattered pieces of oneself back together. The piece makes use of some intricate contact duet material between Adam Warren and Peggy Leung. Adam is a wheelchair user but dances the pieces without his chair.
“Cheyenne Seary’s Clove Hitch is a quintet based on themes of identity, individuality and belonging in a group,” she said. “The piece is set to music by Juno-nominated indigenous artist Cris Derksen.”
All Bodies Dance Project has many collaborators and partnerships that make its work possible, said Brand. “For this production,” she said, “we have partnered with the Roundhouse Community Art Centre and the Gathering Place, where we do most of our rehearsals, and are grateful to have received grant funding from the City of Vancouver.”
Magic & Remembering opens on B.C. Access Awareness Day, which is “a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about disability, accessibility and inclusion,” said Brand.
In line with ABDP’s efforts to remove barriers, “all of the performances are scent-reduced with sliding scale ticket pricing – no one is turned away for lack of funds,” she said. “Our two performances on Monday, June 3, include ASL interpretation.”
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.”
Dance Centre’s 12 Minutes Max features works from five up-and-coming choreographers on June 12. Pictured here is Con8 Collective: Charlotte Newman, left, and Georgina Alpen. (photo by Andy White)
An abundance of riches. Scotiabank Dance Centre’s 12 Minutes Max on June 12 showcases the talents of five up-and-coming choreographers – three of whom have Jewish community connections.
Started in 1994, 12 Minutes Max was redesigned and relaunched last year, “with a strong focus on choreographic development, critical feedback and dialogue.” In a season, there are three modules and the June show features artists selected from these sessions, with each performance lasting 12 minutes or less. Among the artists featured are Caitlin Griffin, Charlotte Newman (Con8 Collective) and Naomi Brand.
Griffin was featured in the JI last August for a piece that was influenced by her time in Israel in 2013 with the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, as part of its Dance Journey (Masa) program.
An exploration of the impact of war on women, what was then called The Way They Walked Through the World featured three dancers, and pairs of army boots played a central role. In 12 Minutes Max, Griffin’s work is performed by Delphine Leroux and set to Bach’s Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann.
“The work has evolved significantly from last September’s showing in several ways,” Griffin told the JI. “The process I went through of collecting choreographic material and experimenting with the boots has distilled my areas of interest and inspired new curiosity about the themes of conflict and femininity. While I am still working with the boots in other offshoot projects, in this incarnation, here or there focuses on the established movement vocabulary, transplanted into a classical music environment without boots. It has become a study of the potential within the movement. It is the development of one layer of my continued interest in the material.”
Griffin said The Way They Walked “served as an invaluable project to create a sketch of my interests and goals in this stage of my artistic development. Since then, I have been selecting small seeds from within that larger sketch and developing them into their own short solos. Ultimately, I may use them in combination in a more developed, longer work, but for now I am learning a lot by seeing them as individual studies to explore and cultivate my creative process.”
Con8 Collective’s Newman is new to the JI. Born and raised in Seattle, she moved to Vancouver to study at Simon Fraser University, graduating last year with a BFA in dance. She told the JI that she hopes to call Vancouver home “for the foreseeable future.”
Con8’s contribution to 12 Minutes Max is Vanilla to the Touch. Created and performed by co-artistic directors Newman and Georgina (Gina) Alpen, in collaboration with Robert Azevedo and Elliott Vaughan, it is described as “a quick-thinking, tongue-in-cheek look at growing up in West Coast suburbia, pulling from experiences of bras, boys, rolled-over jeans, juice boxes and more.”
“Like many young girls, I started dancing around the age of 3 and simply never stopped,” Newman said about the beginnings of her career. “In the past 20 years, I have had amazing opportunities to work with varying groups of dancers, in the context of performances, festivals, site-specific creation, music videos and more. I am especially passionate about choreography. I love investigating movement through the lens of our own physical limitations and strongly believe in the power of sharing ideas, concepts and questions through sharing movement.”
Newman said she “grew up with many cultural connections to Judaism.”
“I have many fond childhood memories of Chanuka dinners of endless latkes, Passovers with friends and Shabbat dinners at my grandparents’ house,” she shared. “Only in the past few years, having moved away from my family and many of these rituals I took for granted, have I become more cognizant and questioning of this identity – how do I want to bring Judaism into my own life? On this journey of exploring my own Jewish heritage, I had the amazing opportunity to join in the gift of Taglit-Birthright on a 10-day trip to Israel in May of 2014. The trip was eye-opening, thought-provoking, inspiring and pushed me to continue investigating how Jewish culture fits into my life as young adult – a question I’m still answering.”
She’s also exploring dance, of course, and its manifold permutations and meanings.
“Con8 is a play on the word ‘connate,’ meaning existing from birth and uniting to form a single entity,” she explained. “Gina and I feel these definitions truly encompass the collective’s artistic values – we strive to constantly explore through an innate creativity and unite the collective’s collaborators to make a stronger body of work as one.
“We also embraced the idea of a ‘con,’ meaning a confidence trick. Throughout our choreographic process, we often explore physical games, tricks and rules that lead to very specific movement choices and rhythms, leading to secrets within the performance that the audience will never see.
“Among many similarities,” she concluded, “we share the same birthday – May 8.”
Con8 leans toward “extremely detailed and stylized pedestrian movement that has been brought into the framework of dance performance,” said Newman. “Tight unison, rhythmical timing and a playful attack to serious movement exploration complement this movement vocabulary.”
She said, “Vanilla to the Touch began months ago as a radically different idea. With each new process, Gina and I use rehearsal space as a blank slate – in the beginning of a process, no idea is knocked down and, in a few minutes, we’ll be tossing out ideas one after the other as fast as we can. This process leads to hours of ultimately discarded material, many physically impossible and improbable proposals, and the usual bruises and bumps. We feed off of the other’s energy so hungrily, every rehearsal feels like play. In the midst of this process – around late February – we realized we had about four hours of movement to mold into 12 minutes, thus beginning the second phase of trying on, molding or discarding existing movement as we narrow our vision.
“In Vanilla to the Touch, as we are both performing the entire time, we relied on the eyes of collaborators for their outside perspectives and questions. Through the constant process of cutting, reconstructing and questioning, each movement has a meaning and each phrase was chosen with an exact specificity in mind.”
Unlike Newman, fellow Jewish community member Brand didn’t start dancing at a very young age.
“I danced a bit recreationally and in my teens was a part of a dance group run by a contemporary dancer who focused on modern dance and contact improvisation and got us choreographing on each other,” she explained. “I didn’t take a ballet class until I was 18 and so I often feel that I came to dance technique late.
“My interests in dance have always been diverse. A mentor of mine instilled in me early the importance of having a wide range of skills in order to increase your chances of being successful in the art form and so I have pursued dancing, performing, choreography, teaching and writing in order to have many avenues. I attended the dance program at the University of Calgary, where I earned my BA and an MFA in choreography, and where I also taught for a number of years after graduating.”
Originally from Toronto, Brand said, “I grew up with a secular Jewish identity. I recognized early on that a disproportionate number of artists, writers and progressive thinkers that I admired were Jewish, and that there was a connection between Jewish culture and creative thinking. My parents raised me with very strong values for learning, encouraging me to ask lots of questions and be curious, and also for social justice, family and community, values that I attribute to Judaism. These are values that have permeated my work as a dance artist. I try very consciously to make work that speaks to the relationship between the individual and the community. In my teaching practice, I encourage students to be inquisitive and inclusive, and use dance as a metaphor for how we could be in the world.”
Brand moved to Calgary when she was 19. After 10 years in the city – where she was a recipient of the 2012 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation’s emerging artist award – she said, “I was looking for a change, new opportunities and challenges, and so I relocated to Vancouver in 2013.”
For 12 Minutes Max, Brand is presenting Re:play, performed by Walter Kubanek and Hilary Maxwell. It is described as “an intricate duet that looks at action and reaction in the space between two bodies.”
In addition to being a choreographer, Brand is a writer, as well. “I think that my process in writing and in choreographing are very similar,” she said. “A lot of my training has been as an improviser and so I am most comfortable in the initial stages of generating ideas, jotting things down and spewing material out. Both choreographing and writing are about problem-solving to me. Once I have material to work with, it is about piecing things together, arranging, rearranging and searching for some kind of logic in what I have created. It’s like figuring out a puzzle, when at first you see a perhaps incompressible mass of ideas, words or moments and, then, through playing around with it, a structure or logic reveals itself. I rarely know what exactly it is that I want to say until it is made.”
Brand is also on the board of the Training Society of Vancouver, which has as its focus the quality and sustainability of contemporary dance.
“The field of dance is changing just as culture is changing,” she said. “What it means to be a professional dance artist today is completely different from previous generations, where the company structure was pervasive. Nowadays, everyone has to forge their own path and, in Vancouver, I see many fabulous examples of dancers with tons of drive pursuing their work and making their own opportunities. I have always been interested in being connected to dance from numerous different angles, as a performer, teacher, choreography, writer, advocate and administrator. For me, this diversity keeps me interested and engaged and able to keep perspective on my work.”
12 Minutes Max is at the Dance Centre, 677 Davie St., on June 12, 8 p.m. Tickets ($28/$22) are available from Tickets Tonight, 604-684-2787 or ticketstonight.ca. For more information on all the performers and works featured, visit thedancecentre.ca.