As a national platform showcasing current artists and their works, the Canada Dance Festival (CDF) in Ottawa from June 6-13, presented choreographers from coast (Mocean Dance from Nova Scotia) to coast (Byron Chief-Moon from British Columbia). The yearly festival serves as a community leader in Canadian dance in order to foster the art form’s growth and its reach. It presents live dance performances and activities that reflect the cultural landscape, while encouraging community networking, artistic exchange and developing new audiences.
This year, the theme of the week-long event revolved around works that challenge the idea of dance. What is dance? When does it stop being walking or running and become dance? Is it still dance if there’s singing? Does dance need an audience? With a wide range of styles included, dance was presented in the streets (Isabelle Boulanger), as a cabaret (Small Stage Canada), a participatory art installation (Toronto Dance Theatre, Shannon Cooney) and even something you do in your own front yard (Allen and Karen Kaeja’s Porch View Dances). Although I could only attend two shows (Small Stage Canada and every one everyone), I wanted to share a snapshot of the variety of this year’s programming.
June 6, 2015
Henderson / Castle: voyager, by Ame Henderson and Toronto Dance Theatre
CDF 2015 opened with Henderson / Castle: voyager at the National Gallery of Canada. Choreographer Ame Henderson collaborated with singer/songwriter Jennifer Castle and nine Toronto Dance Theatre (TDT) dancers to explore continuous movement as a state of being and the ways in which it affects bodies and relations. The work originally premiered in 2014 at TDT’s Winchester Street Theatre in Toronto, but presented in the vastness of the Great Hall of the gallery was no doubt a remarkably different experience.
Tout se pète la gueule, Chérie, by Frédérick Gravel
Performed by four male dancers, Frédérick Gravel’s Tout se pète la gueule, Chérie attempts to deconstruct the stereotypes of the typical North American male, from T-shirts, beer and baseball, to violence, confusion and mood swings. Gravel’s work is described as walking the line between rock concert, trashy party and performance art.
Greed, by JP Longboat and Byron Chief-Moon
Greed, originally a ten-minute duet from 2011 between choreographer Byron Chief-Moon and composer Jeffrey Ryan, served as a starting point for this iteration of performances by choreographer and dancer JP Longboat. Longboat interacts live with projected, almost ghost-like performers (Chief-Moon and Luglio Romero) in this version of the work. It interweaves First Nation’s concepts of greed and imbalance into the choreography while highlighting the disenfranchisement of First Peoples from the land and its resources.
Pop-up 1 à 3, La Grande Fente/Isabelle Boulanger
What was most special about this series of outdoor numbers is that they were free. Isabelle Boulanger calls them “pop-up choreographies,” and they did in fact pop up in a few different centre-town locations. The piece uses its environment as a stage and its urban influence is palpable, from their musical choices and downtown stages, to their attire, their swagger, sense of humour and cool moves. This group of daring women rock contemporary dance with hip hop beats, high energy, sharp lines and flowing curves. La Grande Fente, a Montréal-based company, were newcomers to the CDF.
Small Stage Canada, by Magnetic North and Movent
Opening on a flamenco number danced brilliantly by a Greta Garbo doppelganger (Dayna Szyndrowski), Small Stage Canada was inspired by Weimar Cabarets — a progressive style of cabaret hailing from the late 1920s in Germany. The National Art Centre’s Fourth Stage was lit with string lights and candles and the stage was shared with a piano. Each number was short and punchy — with artists hailing from Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax — with plenty of comic relief; some were accompanied by live music and song, while others used recordings. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau (masked imitators) even sang their version of “Imagine”.
Billy the Mounty (Billy Marchenski) was a recurring character, permeating a few of the numbers and reminding us just how Canadian we were — and that we’re not really sorry. He even sang and swayed to a sultry duet of “so few words” with Burgundy Brixx.
In his solo, Chengxin Wei gracefully created soft shapes with white fabric interspersed with passionate sequencing. Contemporary and bittersweet duets also shared the stage with dynamic solos and pantomime. At one point, deer (dancers) wandered in the audience as though exploring the woods. Two males fought each other by locking their antlers (arms). There was even a contemporary duo that used a proxy giving (one of them) her instructions via smartphone (Cathy Gordon on smartphone in Toronto and Liz Patterson on stage). Tedd Robinson and Riley Sims combined contemporary dance with theatrics and humour by playing the mad scientist (or grim reaper?) and apprentice, balancing red branches, dancing frantically (but with great precision) and grooming each other with glitter, like monkeys on angel dust.
Small Stage concluded with a song-and-dance number reminiscing on the penny. Burgundy Brixx wowed the audience in a red glittery gown, pennies and pasties included.
every one everyone, by Shannon Cooney, co-presented by Ottawa Dance Directive as part of Series 10
Shannon Cooney’s work was a mystery up until the very moment we entered the room. Perhaps we shouldn’t say too much about it, not to ruin the experience?
There, you’ve been warned. Cooney’s every one everyone is one of those works that really turns the concept of dance as performance on its head. The Berlin-based Torontonian cast the stage aside. She made the room her own, to be shared with everyone. There was no audience. There were seats, but they were spread out through the space and installation. As an audience, we could sit or stand, but we were definitely part of the action. There were unevenly suspended speakers with different tracks playing white noise from whispers to radiators on loop. Cooney walked around and engaged the crowd with a wave movement, swaying sideways from an elbow connection. The room felt like a contemporary seashore. At first, it felt very awkward and uncomfortable to be visible to strangers and to be drawn into what seems like a performance. Apparently, this is particular to us polite Canadians, because in Germany, participants fully appropriate the space. Once we relax, however, we can let the experience of a form of group meditation take over. The pull of the wave becomes stronger, more people give in to the sway, and the current washes away cares, leaving a feeling of peace.
Porch View Dances
Porch View Dances (PVD) is a community dance project by Karen and Allen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance of Toronto. PVD engages the audience as creators, storytellers and performers, whether they have dance experience or not.
The performance travels from house to house to view works created by professionals but performed by locals on their front yards, porches and driveways to tell a neighbourhood story. Choreographers at CDF included Anik Bouvrette, Allen Kaeja and Mocean Dance.
Save the date for Canada Dance Festival 2016: June 4-11, 2016.