This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
The pandemic has done little to stop Newfoundland and Labrador’s dance communities from celebrating significant milestones. Over the past 14 months and heading into 2022, at least five organizations are celebrating special anniversaries.
The sectoral association DanceNL marked its 10th birthday; Kittiwake Dance Theatre celebrates 35 years next spring; Neighbourhood Dance Works, a local dance presenter, turned 40, and its annual event, Festival of New Dance, is now 30. Plans are also underway to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cecchetti Society of Canada arriving in Newfoundland to administer ballet exams.
Each of these milestones has a varied history, and one common theme amongst today’s dance leaders is recognizing the leaders before them.
“Because of what the process of Cecchetti has done for the development of dance in Newfoundland, we must give credit for that to Phyllis Angel, who was a pioneer of dance in Newfoundland and who really brought the Cecchetti program here, with the assistance of primarily Carol Chadwick,” said Mara Noftall, co-artistic director of The Dance Centre in St. John’s and the organizer of the Cecchetti Society celebration. When the Cecchetti method arrived on the shores of Newfoundland in 1972, Chadwick was the chair of Cecchetti in Canada and the principal of Canada’s National Ballet School.
Calla Lachance, artistic director of Neighbourhood Dance Works, spoke highly of one of their founders, Cathy Ferri, who still regularly shows up for meetings of the organization’s performative inquiry group.
As for their anniversary celebration, Lachance remarked that Neighbourhood Dance Works was constantly navigating unknowns due to evolving public health guidelines and decided in June to proceed with its annual Festival of New Dance in October, a planning period that is usually eight or more months.
Their approach was one of “staying strong and doing all that we are doing,” she explained. “But putting it under the frame of an anniversary and birthday is a reminder of the ongoing efforts we put forward to realize Neighbourhood Dance Works’ programming and contribute to the community.”
DanceNL held a hybrid celebration concurrent with their annual general meeting at the Resource Centre for the Arts in St. John’s in October. With restrictions on attendance numbers, there were a combination of live and video-recorded performances including a bachata demonstration by Tendai Mudunge and a new contemporary piece by Jenn Edwards and Philip McDermott.
Noftall noted that the 50th anniversary celebration she is planning will include workshops, a roundtable discussion, a visit by the current chair of Cecchetti Society of Canada and social activities.
When asked to make a wish while blowing out celebratory birthday candles, both Cindy Holden, current chair of DanceNL, and Lachance spoke of the desire to establish post-secondary dance education and training in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Holden believes that a post-secondary structure is necessary to sustain the sector. The original mandate of DanceNL was to work towards post-secondary training, and while the association has shifted focus over the years, Holden says her specific wish is “that each of our dance areas, our social dance, our folk and traditional, our independent and contemporary artists all understand that mandate and work towards it.… For DanceNL, that would be helpful if we all understood that undercurrent or overarching mandate of the broad interest of dance. It is the sustainable piece.”
Lachance noted that hers is not Neighbourhood Dance Works’ wish per se.
“It would affect all of us.… It would shift the environment and create a focal point that deepens what’s happening in the dance community,” she said.