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.
Red Hot Tears held an interactive dance lab on April 2 and 3 at the Manitoba Museum. It unfolded in stages and resulted in an organic, collaborative dance sequence involving audience members young and old.
Mid-afternoon on Sunday, April 2, I entered a room near the back of the museum amongst a group of audience members— some intentional attendees, and others who had stumbled upon the performance— and hung up my coat. The audience, including myself, was then encouraged to try on something new, make noise at a table of sounds, and approach a motion-capture projector that displayed a large image of our bodies lit on fire.
The performance space immediately circumvented any post-pandemic desire to remain removed from the experience, demonstrating that the audience would be not only involved but integral to the performance.
Contemporary dancers Mark Dela Cruz, Neilla Hawley, and Emily Solstice Tait worked together in 2020 as Young Lungs Artists-in-Residence and applied for Manitoba Arts Council funding to continue collaborating as pandemic restrictions began to lift. Holding the lab at the Manitoba Museum, the group found themselves performing for many children and families, which, though unplanned, invigorated the performance space and magnified the exploratory, improvisational atmosphere in the room.
“Seeing the kids interact so courageously and just doing whatever they want, it made the adults in the room seem more playful to me,” Hawley said.
After spending time in the dress-up and wall projection areas, the audience gathered in a circle surrounding a collection of props. During a narrative-building sequence, both the performers and volunteer audience members told stories while Hawley moved through the circle, using the props and reacting to the improvised tales as they unfolded.
Engaging the audience didn’t appear too challenging, given that some of the children were already on the edges of their seats, eager to get in there and dance amid the props. Eventually, the entire audience formed a line and followed a path on the ground to another corner of the room where the performers began to lead them in a collaborative dance.
Hawley explained that earlier the stages of the experience built towards this final moment, establishing a fun and playful atmosphere that could result in getting even the more inhibited audience members up and moving.
Dela Cruz added that, while developing the lab, they had worked on answering the question: “how can we get people to dance without teaching them anything?”
And having the space imbued with joyful, child-like energy certainly helped, both Hawley and Dela Cruz agreed.
“[It was] really inspiring to work with kids because they have this limitless thought and they don’t have those same inhibitions that we learn,” Hawley said, “[they] pushed us in the direction where we can play with things.”
At certain points, younger audience members inserted themselves into the performance at unexpected intervals, in ways that even the performers hadn’t anticipated. This further contributed to an uninhibited atmosphere that most of the adults seemed inspired to take part in as well.
Hawley laughed recalling feedback they received from an audience member who admitted they were surprised to find themselves up and dancing at the end of the performance.
“[Dancing] is such a natural thing for us to do,” Hawley said, noting that they were very glad to see everyone up and moving in the final sequence of the lab, adults and children alike, especially after a long and isolating pandemic.
Dela Cruz said they were thrilled to perform amongst “a constellation of people just live and ready to interact in the moment” and to see “families dancing together . . . in person, in the moment, it was really beautiful.”