Twelve Minutes Max has had a long haul as a dance series goes. The inaugural 12 MM took place in December 1994 but its roots go back a few years further. Anne Cooper remembers the mixed bill’s precursor, an informal community event held at Main Dance Place in the Arcadian Hall at Main Street and 6th Avenue. It was called Shoeless Saturday because everyone had to take their shoes off before entering the studio. In the early nineties, Cooper danced in one of those shows and, during a telephone conversation, told me she always meant to do another. But it was only now that she had the right project at the right time.
When fire destroyed the Arcadian Hall in 1993, the series moved to the Firehall Arts Centre. Shortly afterwards, prompted by negative audience feedback following a less successful show, founding producer Mark Lavelle developed Shoeless Saturday into Twelve Minutes Max. It was renamed in honour of a Seattle series after which the new format, which included auditions, was modelled.
The thirtieth anniversary edition, co-presented by The Dance Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre, was programmed by the usual interdisciplinary panel of guest curators. Dianne Jillings, the Fine Arts Programmer at Shadbolt Centre for the Arts in Burnaby, composer John Korsrud, and Donna Spencer, artistic producer at the Firehall, made up the team. In the past, theatre pieces have added contrast to the dance but this time, aside from a snippet of film, live music was the only interdisciplinary flavour, accompanying four of the eight presentations. Apparently this was coincidence, and not a reflection of Korsrud’s particular interest.
Especially for a birthday edition, the two-hour evening was heavy on pre-professional and emerging artists, making it seem almost like a school show or choreographic workshop. One established dancer on the bill was Cooper. I asked her if the audition process, and the fact that 12 MM doesn’t offer payment beyond a video of the performance, might dissuade well-established dance artists from participating. Maybe, says Cooper, but she believes the series is a good platform to try out a new idea or direction, or just get a work-in-progress in front of an audience. In her case, the motivation was the desire to fine-tune a still-young improvising partnership with Jennifer Clarke. With musicians Dave Sikula and JP Carter, they formed an improvisational quartet for a quiet, jazz-influenced presentation called “The Performance Sessions”.
Most of the pieces pushed the twelve-minute limit, creating a predictable rhythm for the evening overall; in fact, it felt like some went beyond their allotted time — or was the choreography just dragging? The honour of performing the pithiest number went to Tormatha Baigent, a MainDance student in her final year. “Défaire”, a brief explosion of energy and then regret choreographed by Donna Redlick, artistic director of Continuum community dance group, made a wise break from routine.
A group of pre-professionals — ten Ballet British Columbia Mentor Program students and one recent graduate — performed “Kundulaian”. Sharon Wehner’s first ensemble piece was created “in honor of lepers and street children”, who Wehner met in India and Brazil. Unfortunately, the artifice of shutting eyes to simulate blindness, and crabbing a foot or hand to appear injured, was overly naïve.
Sara Coffin’s “where are all the women?” was visually interesting, though the duet seemed a work-in-progress whose mysteries the choreographer herself had yet to fully fathom. Coffin and Samara Aster, both 2003 Simon Fraser University graduates, move in an uneasy rhythm, mostly in relationship to a clear Plexiglas box, in which one of them is often confined. When the box is upended, it becomes a screen on which restless, handheld shots of people and places are projected.
Katy Harris-McLeod, another 2003 graduate, this time from MainDance, also presented a mysterious work. In her solo, “call it what you want”, the special effects involve nothing more high-tech than a chair and a red chiffon dress. At the end, Harris-McLeod turns gracefully, the dress floating in frothy waves around her, the chair on her back.
“Nagame/Falling Rains” was a somber, Japanese-styled solo choreographed and performed by dancer/actor Colleen Lanki, accompanied by flautist Takahashi Sachiyo. A contrast to this was “Eye Sax”, dancer Jessie Herman’s cheerful duet for herself and saxophonist Tim Sars-Barrett, with who she is often in close proximity. “Eye Sax” is in the jazz tradition of dagger legs and killer attitude, but Herman was too modest, or maybe too green, to fully bring it off. Heels might have helped, both with attitude and line.
Science Friction Productions, a young Vancouver dance company co-directed by Shannon Moreno and Farley Johansson, closed the evening. In their “Butterfly Scotch”, Moreno is compelled to dance by Mark Berube’s gentle vocal and body percussion.
Presently, the Vancouver dancescape features a number of mixed bill series, like Bloom at the Mascall Dance studio and Dances for a Small Stage at Crush Champagne Lounge. Dancing on the Edge presents a handful of mixed bills each summer, and MainDance and SFU have student showcases. Yet the three annual presentations from Twelve Minutes Max continue to fill a need, judging from the full day of auditions held for this round, which is typical. As well, the educational agenda of the series is admirable although, it must be said, also problematic.
The admirable part is that the auditions are a good experience for beginners, and there is feedback afterwards for those who want it. On the down side, for the more experienced, it’s a lot of work just to find a non-paying gig, and they are probably not in need of a performance video. Even less clear-cut is the success of the interdisciplinary curator’s panel. The thinking here seems to be that building bridges between individuals from outside dance is important to the art form, and while I agree generally, I’m not sure how rigorous some of the curators can be, looking in from their own area of expertise. Imagine a music or theatre series bringing in people from outside to curate; it’s hard to conceive of that happening, or how it would benefit the discipline.
It is possible that the educational aspect, designed to support the art form in general, is limiting what is put in front of the audience. Is it time to take the curation more seriously, and maybe to develop those skills in Vancouver’s dance community? This ten-year anniversary offers an opportune moment to sit down and examine Twelve Minutes Max, for which another developmental leap just might