Festival of New Dance: Diversity of Programming Deepens Resonance of Audience Reactions

Emily Deming on Nights 1 and 2 of the Festival of New Dance

We want the festival to be accessible, even if there’s just one show … for everybody. I’m not saying everything would appeal to every person and I don’t think it should … if you’re programming to a community you’re programming … diversity” says Festival director Calla Lachance.

As promised, the Festival of New Dance has proven diverse enough to enthral, please, move, divide, and incite discussion. There are two halves of a public performance from an audience member’s perspective.

  1. The experience: alone (thanks to the darkened house lights), feeling things, thinking uncensored, deep and/or petty thoughts in response to the performance and to our particular mood/day.
  2. The aftermath: en masse as we all file out, whispering, cheering, listening in on each other’s impressions, expressing our own through the elevating cheesecloth of manners and discourse.

Opening Night: Skill and Power

These two experiences bring a resonance to watching live dance. On opening night with Fou Glorieux, Louise LeCavelier was energetic and skillful, but, alone in the dark, I found little to hang on to emotionally and remained interested but unmoved outside of small moments (e.g. her pause within a headstand where the music stopped and all was the cornered animal of her breathing and the pulsing alien wings of her abdomen).

Outside of these moments and some of the more physically connective duet work, any narrative seemed impenetrable, or absent. Was I watching a dancer dancing only for other dancers?

Hearing David Thompson (writer for the festival blog this year) explain his evolving reactions as he processed Fou Glorieux’s “So Blue” opened up a richer trajectory of possible meaning elicited by the piece. Though generally the reaction of “dancers” in the audience was different than that of the “general public”.

This may sound obvious, but it is not the case with all performances. The very divisiveness of the piece illuminated a dimension of its style of appeal. It speaks to people with technical knowledge differently than those without.

Wednesday Night: Grief, Humour, Rebellion, Rebuilding and Friction

The second night featured two pieces so different from each other that you could almost hear the varied reactions through the theatre.

Well, you could literally hear them as Kate Story’s “Performances May be Permanent” brought a few fans into voluble bursts laughter. There was a goofiness to the drama, a clown (though a business casual one) telling a story of processing grief.

Before that, the opening act before “Performances” was so utterly its own beast I could not analyze my reaction as it came. It was a rare experience of pure watching and absorption. France Geoffroy (Corpuscule Danse) moved us through her adult life with the thrust of her triumphant shoulder blades and her use of video to force us into voyeurism beyond that of passive audience.

If she must be “Never Alone” (the name of her piece, referencing need of a constant caretaker due to her quadriplegia), we too must feel the importune intimacy of constant companionship through every bite, breathe and bodily function.

The narrative here was clear as it wended from her accident through her rehabilitation and subsequent interaction with the world and her career now using a permanently altered set of abilities than she would have anticipated when she first set out to be a dancer.

Forces like momentum are not merely options here but necessary replacements for muscle chore. And building momentum takes time. Repetition is not emphasis; it is how basic tasks become possible. No small act is done lightly. Every motion has consequence for the dancer and for her caretaker.

This was a thrilling piece. Every choreography choice caused conflict; hope and buoyancy playing a perpetual musical chairs with fear and frustration. An intense interlude has her racing her electric wheelchair back and forth and around the stage and pumping her fist and head banging to fierce rock music. This was exhilarating in its universal speed and power and desire for autonomy.

I do not want to let go all that watching “Never Alone” began to form inside me. To stop its power from fading I will talk to others in the audience and listen to what they saw.

The Meaningful Echo Chamber of Audience

This conversation between responses is what I mean by “resonance”. There is a dance. There is a reaction. There are many reactions; they bounce off of one another and enhance or disrupt or mute the initial wavelengths. Now the dance has made sound that escapes beyond that one night, that once seating.

The customary diversity of programming championed by Neighbourhood Dance Works in this festival, and throughout the year, amplifies this resonance. Each night, our first impressions will be diverse within our own range. As the week progresses the complexity and thoughtfulness from other people’s reactions will inform our next first feelings alone in the dark.

A festival is so much more than its many pieces. It is an intense crash course in how to receive and digest new art. We like things, we don’t like things. That is legitimate but uninteresting. I want to know what you saw. I want to know what I saw. And what we saw changes when we watch it together.

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