The first Arts Atlantic Symposium, a multidisciplinary festival and conference hosted by ArtsLink NB, took place in Saint John, N.B., from Oct. 21 to 23. On the Saturday night, Jalianne Li, a Moncton-based multidisciplinary artist specializing in contemporary dance, premiered her latest solo choreography, 100x1x2. The live dance show featured a custom-built modular set and the integration of precisely mapped projections of Li’s dance videos. She took a break from the detailed pre-show setup to speak to regional reporter Candice Pike about her inspiration and process.
Candice Pike: You’re here at the Arts Atlantic Symposium in Saint John, N.B.! What’s happening for you today?
Jalianne Li: I was very excited to be programmed as part of this first Arts Atlantic Symposium. The performance is called 100x1x2. It has to do with a series of videos I created – one series in 2018 and one series in 2020. In total there are 200 videos that I created and put on social media. One series was [when I was] travelling around Canada and the U.S., and the other was while I was confined in my house. They were site-specific, one-minute improvisations. I had these videos and I decided to create something with them. For some reason, they couldn’t just live in that online space for me. I had to do something physical with them.
CP: But you started creating it before COVID?
JL: Yeah, in 2018.
CP: I remember watching the videos online! Did COVID impact the trajectory of this piece, in terms of the digital space?
JL: Yeah, in 2018 it was just for fun. A friend of mine had done a week of daily dances and she was like, ‘You should do it too!’ I knew that summer I was going to be travelling a lot, so I did it for a week, got hooked and said, ‘I’m going to do it for the whole summer.’
Then when the pandemic hit, another friend of mine gave a challenge out to all of her artist friends to create something under the theme ‘If I could go out.’ I thought, that’s the next one! Now I have to create another 100 videos, but this time in isolation.
It was interesting to see how the videos evolved in terms of content. At first I was just interested in exploring my house. Where were the new spots in the house that I could find? What corner had I not been in yet? What angle could I put the camera so this section looked different? But as I was uploading them, I found this whole community of other dancers who were doing daily one-minute improvisations.
There’s a hashtag #oneminuteofdanceaday and it was started by Nadia Vadori-Gauthier who’s a choreographer in France. She’s been doing one minute of dance a day since 2015. So during the pandemic, she was the one encouraging everyone else to do these one-minute dances, and if you tagged her or used the hashtag, she would take from your video [and] put it alongside other people’s videos. It became this community and we would follow each other and see each other’s dances.
At the end of spring/early summer 2020, things got really heated politically and Black Lives Matter came about. [Daily dance videos were] a way for us to speak into that space and to share what we were going through, or not to share. During that time, I took a two-week break. I’m not posting anything, I’m not creating dances and I’m sharing other people’s content because this [social justice] stuff needs to take priority. So as that second series progressed, some of the dances became more about me wanting to say something. It became more political, more about community.
CP: Tonight’s performance is a solo dance [by] you, but tell me about the other people involved in the process.
JL: Yeah! Before the pandemic, I went to go see a performance from a collective in Moncton called HAT. It stands for Hyacinthe, Angie and Tracey – the three collaborators. They specialize in experimental video, video mapping projections and interactive art installations. In the concert, they were with a chamber orchestra and the music that was being played affected the lights around. I had worked with Angie before, so after the performance, I said, ‘Hey I have this project idea and these videos.’ And at this time, I only had the 2018 videos. We met up and talked about it once before lockdown hit. [After that] I started doing the other series and informed them that it was going to be more than just the original 100 videos.
I suggested applying for an ArtsNB grant. The plan was to use the two series of videos and get together to make something. We roped in Xavier Richard who is a composer. Then we realized we want to do so much more with this than we could in two weeks, so we applied for a Canada Council grant and received that one the second time we applied for it to create this performance.
CP: What do you hope tonight’s audience will find in your performance?
JL: I would say for them to reflect on their own experiences. The performance goes on a journey and this is my first time doing it in front of an audience. I’m curious how the audience will experience that journey that I interpret onstage. I’m also curious if it will bring up any reflections that they have of their time pre-pandemic into post-COVID. We were using online media before, but even more so after. How does that affect our online identities or personas? And how do we communicate and interact with each other online, now that it is such a part of our lives?
This conversation has been edited for clarity.