Register Tuesday | September 21 | 2021

New Breed

"Taxi drivers and people I meet for the first time never seem to have any idea what I mean when I say I am a contemporary dancer."

Got back from Ottawa after spending three days performing as a part of Square Zero, an independent dance which coincided with The Canada Dance Festival. The young presenters of Square Zero, Alexis Andrews and Elizabeth MacKinnon - collective (gulp) dance projects, pulled off three venues and four shows with no funding. I admire what they accomplished even though I can't say it was the cushiest artistic experience of my life (ex nay on the dressing room, dress rehearsal, warmup space, sprung floor, free tickets to shows & per diem). Had a chance to show work more than once, see a few works, visit with my father and net work with friends from Toronto, Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa.

Needless to say, money is tight for dance in Canada. After a great run the FIND in Montreal folded last fall. I was at Can Dance two years ago and there didn't seem to be that many people from outside the dance community present at the shows. This year's almost didn't happen. Thankfully it did but it was eerily quiet and extremely reduced. Ottawa, our capital city almost drastically cut a huge junk of its funding for culture this year and it is not an easy place for established and especially independent dance artists to be. Festivals are an essential way for the national community to interact within its ranks and share work with new audiences. A silver lining this year was that the independent dance festival filled in some of the gaps and gave exposure to creators not likely to be chosen by the larger festival.

I had started to take for granted how amazing Montreal is for having audiences interested in all kinds of contemporary art. I moved here from Winnipeg and have lived in Toronto and Ottawa and should know better. All of those cities have great artists and strong arts communities but the audiences interested in seeing the work are much smaller. I have said it before but sometimes I can't get over how many circus, music, theatre, film and dance shows happen here on a given night, and there seems to be people at all of the events. Why is it so different here? How do you instill a respect and desire for culture in the general public in the rest of Canada?

Taxi drivers and people I meet for the first time never seem to have any idea what I mean when I say I am a contemporary dancer. If they don't tink I am a stripper, generally they try to understand by asking if it is like ballet or the dancing you see in music videos. Since I don't stand on my toes or gyrate enough to qualify for any of those, I alternate between two answers. It is kind of like ballet except we are barefoot and (travel into and out of the ground) fall a lot. The other explanation is that it is to dance what modern & post -m. art are to classical work. But I have to say that these just don't sum it up very well. Basically contemporary dance is a banner that encompasses many styles that are not ballet, jazz or hip hop. It uses abstracted movement to explore elements of the human condition at essential, energetic levels. Some contemporary dance technique tries to utilises the body's inherent mechanics to achieve free range of motion instead of technique derived soley for aesthetic reasons. All this said, Instant: Katie Ewald, Ami Shulman, Shandoa Goldman, Chanti Wadge, Hinda Essadiqi and I all performed a structured improvisation with music by Andrew Watson and I am not sure my father understood what we were up to.

We were performing every night which made it difficult to see other work but what I did see was the next generation of creators step up to bat with a new breed of work. That this form is alive & evolving even if the money is disappearing. Maybe the established hierarchy will open up and let in some fresh blood - share some of the light, exposure and terrain. In a lot of ways that was happening at Can Dance. Le Groupe de la Place Royale showcased two of it's talents: Rob Abubo and Karen Guttman. The festival also featured performances by graduates of training conservatories from Vancouver (Main Dance), Edmonton (Grant McKewan), Winnipeg (School of Contemporary Dancers, Toronto (School of the Toronto Dance Theatre) and Montreal (LADMI). The thing is that there are many creators outside of established institutions with something to say, and they draw on a different experience of dance and the world that is equally valid.

Thought I would share impressions left by some of the pieces I saw. Since I am not a reviewer and do not aspire to criticise the works of my peers here are my subjective, fragmented memories of what they made.

Works from Le Groupe Dance Lab which celebrated 15 years of fostering choreographers (emerging & established) under the mentorship of director Peter Boneham. Company Dancers: Rob Abubo, Cecily Greenfeld, Robyn Thomas, Marie Claire Forte, Koichi Yano, Walter Kubanek

Karen Guttman - This Moment Is Another Moment Composer - Reena Katz - Time suspended as huddled bodies float just above the perimeter of the room with a glow of light just below them. - the patience to wait (performers) the tension of anticipation (audience). - Frantic, chaotic, energetic tasks performed by an odd mix of individuals - Fighting for the spotlight, for a chance to speak, for our attention - She's asking us if the words spoken relate to the dance or do they just happen to inform our perception of it. - Ice crunching in mouths, something breaking in the heart of the dancer in the light - Contrast of subtlety and brashness

Rob Abubo - Drawn Composer - Jeremy Gara - An outline of a cut male form, lite from underneath atop a transparent sphere. Graceful action that alternates between effortless speed and sinuous articulation. - Solo portraits of people alone with their demons - Stumbling virtuostic movement invention, drunken master does break ballet. - Beautiful music, shards of nights in bars melodies of an indie band, the sounds of jungle as you approach the club, grabs at intimacy through the haze of substances and loneliness - the beauty of desperate attempts you can't see yourself

Square Zero Grain of Salt (Structured Improvisation) Performers: Julie Lebel, Miriam Colvin, Megan Flood - One woman peforms a solo in silence a darkened bar, after a few minutes two others begin a dialogue describing her actions and guessing her thoughts. - Gradually they join her with witty banter contrasted with sensitive physicality and seamless partnering - Skilled, confident contact improvisors relating and revealing on many levels - political commentary as it affects everyday realities

Chanti Wadge - SAVE PREOJECT AS; unrehearsed phases of A BECOMING HUMAN Music - Noah Pred, Kit Clayton, Christian Bloch - Content conveyed with video and live performance: quick editing, stimulating, harsh, researched, engaging - Beautiful girl as subject for experiment which triggers fear, defence, consumption - Metaphor for present state, searching for a way to evolve: becoming, learning, choosing another path - Raw emotion contrasts slick design, statement made with unique style - Physicality enhabited rather than steps choregraphed

Susanna Hood - Waking en-dessous Music - Nilan Perera - Two People poised using a simple progression to create layered music with their voices - Take on roles as dancer and musician - resonating voice, performed with commitment - Abstracted breakup? - Sexual moody energy related with intensity, - serious tone, strong form oriented movements - interior realities manifested 

Barbara Baltis (performer)/ Jessica Runge (Choreographer) - Non-existent Dances Music - Arvo Part - Quiet melancholy draws watcher in - intimacy of exposed vulnerability - Clarity and simplicity through unfamiliar territory - undulating movements and unexpected pregnant pauses - stark ink sketch against white backdround, the outline of a character, a plight traced in charcoal

Andrew Tay & Sacha Kleinplatz - Another Wasted Moment Performers - Sacha Kleinplatz and Amanda Wurts Music - vitaminsforyou - Teen angst to a melodic score - Craving, reactive, frustrated emotions - theme plays on sexuality, movements aggressive, exhaustive passion, awkward attempts at love - rebel sensibility with a voyeur's eye

*Looking forward to seeing Catherine Lipscombe's (Mange Mes Pieds)new work Stark at the fringe festival and hope to see Ame Henderson's - manual for incidence and Eryn Trudell - Botany of Desire soon!

Since contemporary dance is a reflection of a given time maybe the things that differ are music choices, movement styles and overall aesthetic. Themes probably aren't all that new but packaging and perspective change. Hard to know since the work disappears into thin air leaving only inexact video and fleeting images behind.
All danced out, Erin