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.”
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.’”
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.”
Left to right: Andrew Wheeler, David Adams, Anton Lipovetsky and Chris Cochrane. (photo by David Cooper)
If Saturday night’s performance of Urinetown was any indication, the Jewish community has two rising stars in its midst.
Triple-threats Anton Lipovetsky and Andrew Cohen are actors to watch; and the latest production at the Firehall is a perfect opportunity to see them show off their singing, acting and dancing talent.
Despite its unfortunate name, which gives rise to equally unfortunate double-entendres in theatre reviews, Urinetown did live up to the hype that’s labeled it a Broadway hit. Not one for musicals, I’m happy to say this one kept me entertained throughout the performance, due in no small part to the fancy footwork directed by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Tony Award-winning lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis.
Urinetown takes place in a “town like any town you might find in a musical,” according to the narrator (who jumps periodically out of his role as Police Officer Lockstock to educate the audience about the workings of a play). The year is some point in the middle of a long drought, water is scarce and free toilets have been overburdened in what have become known as the “stink years.”
Facilities are now owned by private companies who charge people for their use. Thus the request, “A penny for a pee?” becomes the begging mantra of street people looking to relieve themselves. If they can’t afford the few cents to get in the doors, their only recourse is to do their business in a public space, for which they will get arrested and sent to Urinetown. The audience doesn’t get to see Urinetown until the second act, so we’ll avoid the spoiler here. Suffice to say, it’s known as a really undesirable spot, and one to avoid at all costs. So paying a fee to pee is really the only option.
In the rather stale part of this “town like any town,” a group of homeless people around “Amenity #9” start to revolt against a new fee hike. The group is led by Bobby Strong (Lipovetsky), who happens to be in love with Hope (aptly named, of course), the daughter of Caldwell B. Cladwell (stage veteran Andrew Wheeler). Cladwell is CEO of Urine Good Co., which owns the private toilets. In this case, the love interest doesn’t get in the way of a good revolution, thankfully, and eventually the impoverished cast free themselves from the shackles of the tinkle toll. Is it a time for celebration? You’ll have to see the play to find out.
The role Lipovetsky has been given in this play serves to highlight his incredible singing talent, comedic flair and even his ability to direct the cast in a choir-like ensemble near the end.
The play only demonstrates a few of Lipovetsky’s skills, actually. The gifted 24-year-old has already won a Jessie Award for outstanding composition for the musical Broken Sex Doll (currently on its second run, playing until Nov. 22 at the Cultch’s York Theatre) and he shared the 2011 Mayor’s Arts Award in Theatre with Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze. Lipovetsky won for best emerging actor and playwright.
For his part, Cohen has also been busy in the B.C. theatre scene, appearing in Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof and The Laramie Project, as well as becoming one of the finalists on CBC’s Triple Sensation TV show and performing in the 2010 Olympic Games Closing Ceremonies. He also does sound design and composes. (See “A next gen of theatre artists,” Nov. 7, jewishindependent.ca.)
Besides these fabulous contributors are Wheeler as the nasty, money-grubbing CEO, David Adams as the singing/dancing/narrating officer and Michelle Bardach as Hope. As well, numerous quirky directorial choices, such as having Strong freeze with an expression as though he’d been stung by a bee every time he has a flashback, and Little Sally (Tracey Power) jumping in and out of character to ask the narrator questions about the play, meld to create a surprisingly fun, witty and thoroughly enjoyable production.
For one week each spring, the Cultch comes alive with hundreds of local artists between the ages of 13-24 for the Ignite! Youth Festival. This is the 15th year of the event.
“The festival is a great place to discover new and emerging artists across Metro Vancouver and beyond. There’s food, laughter, dancing, dressing up, exciting acts and good times,” said Ellie O’Day of O’Day Productions, which handles publicity for the annual event. The festival “was created and run by a youth panel, working countless hours to put on an amazing festival every year, showing how important it is to have an opportunity like Ignite!,” she explained.
Hundreds of youth are involved in what is now Vancouver’s largest youth-driven arts festival, which includes showcases of music, dance and spoken word, the world première of three one-act plays, a visual arts exhibit and a variety of other acts. Events will be held in the Historic Theatre, Vancity Culture Lab, the Cultch lobby and the café galleries from May 2-10.
Though the festival is put on by youth, it is supported by a vast network of arts professionals to mentor the youth and help build their skills. Last year, a publicity mentorship was added to the list of mentorship opportunities. Publicity mentees get the opportunity to work with O’Day, the festival’s publicist five years running.
O’Day was brought up in a Reform Jewish family in the eastern United States and launched her career on radio in the late 1970s in Vancouver. From broadcasting, she expanded into writing, arts administration and arts advocacy, teaching music business for 21 years, and then – via her work as a publicist – helping to promote some of her favorite things: media and performing artists.
“I may have been thousands of kilometres away from my family and the customs that were part of our Jewish family life for many decades, but one of the principles that has stuck with me – particularly as I did not have children myself – is that we live on in the wisdom and knowledge we share with the coming generations,” she said. “That principle is so important to me that I would feel unfulfilled without it.”
O’Day does publicity for many shows at the Cultch, which is a complex of (now) three theatre spaces. “They have invested in this youth program,” said O’Day. “On staff, there is one youth program coordinator, currently Robert Leveroos,” who serves as guide, and also oversees a group of about 20 youth panel members who serve as the organizers of the festival.
During the weekend prior to the main festival, there is a showcase for mentored songwriters, spoken word artists and dancers. During the festival itself – which begins today – three short plays are presented in repertory. The young playwrights have been mentored by professional local playwrights; the young directors have been mentored by professional local directors.
“Last year, as a nearing-retirement publicist, I suggested we ‘mentorize’ the publicity, too,” said O’Day. “Young people may be savvy about social media, but don’t really understand how traditional media works.”
The publicity mentee helps with festival publicity. “Landon Krentz’s application indicated he was already doing some arts administration work, which meant he’d have a familiarity with the general infrastructure of arts organizations, which would add to his skill set,” said O’Day about this year’s publicity mentee.
Krentz and O’Day met a few times and split up the work, contacting artists for information, sending out media releases and following up on them.
Calling O’Day “my amazing mentor,” Krentz said he decided to join the mentorship program to improve his media relations skills and to become more involved in the industry. As the president of British Columbia Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf, Krentz has been involved with accessibility coordination, as well as with serving the deaf queer communities. A fundraiser and event coordinator for the contemporary dance community by day, Krentz is one of very few bilateral profoundly deaf people working in the arts community. “I hope to become a stronger advocate for deaf members and challenge audism in every day life,” said Krentz.
Some backstage roles, like stage management, lighting design, etc., have also been included in the mentorship program more recently. This year, promotional photography is being mentored by the Cultch’s house photographer.
“We’re not mentoring people to take over our positions next year,” O’Day explained. “The idea is to disseminate our skill sets and help mentor the next generation – who will eventually take our place(s).” The festival is all about empowerment, sharing knowledge and collaboration, she added.
There is an open application process in the fall/winter, when mentorship spots become available. In total this year, there are 18 mentorships, including three each in dance, songwriting and directing, two each in spoken word, playwriting and collaborative creation, and one each in publicity, photography, lighting design and stage management. The mentors hail from various disciplines and are all practising their art/craft in their professional lives.
Jane Heyman, a veteran director and theatre educator, is among the director mentors, as is Stephen Drover, artistic director of Rumble Theatre. A new category, collaborative creation, is mentored by Barbara Adler, who worked with spoken word mentees in the past. Among the dance mentors are Amber Funk Barton and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg.
“This program is very unique,” Friedenberg, who is a dancer, choreographer and artistic director of Tara Cheyenne Performance, told the Independent. “It’s not a training program, but more of a lab with the amazing goal of a big performance in the fabulous Cultch. It’s an opportunity to mix with other youth committed to making art and to get guidance and support from some movers and shakers in Vancouver’s vibrant arts scene.”
O’Day added, “Each mentor’s role is going to be unique. Hopefully, they will be generous to share their knowledge and to let the mentee do a lot of the work, so they get hands-on experience.”
The Ignite! Youth Festival (igniteyouthfest.ca) runs until May 10. Tickets ($2 for youths 12-19, $6 for students/seniors, $10 for adults) are available online at tickets.thecultch.com or by calling 604-251-1363.