Turning 25: Festival of New Dance Marking a Milestone This Month

Neighbourhood Dance Works’s 25th annual Festival of New Dance is set for Oct. 6-10 in St. John’s.

Confined to a wheelchair, a lone figure takes the stage. And dances.

It’s one of the eclectic performances in Neighbourhood Dance Works’s 25th annual Festival of New Dance, set for Oct. 6-10 in St. John’s.

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Fujiwara Dance Inventions; Credit: Jeremy Mimnagh

The piece, by quadriplegic dancer France Geoffroy and co-creators Sophie Michaud and L E M M (Martin Lemieux) is one executive director Calla Lachance highlights as a “can’t miss.” Lachcance says it offers something different, exactly what the Festival of New Dance (FND) is about.

“The festival, in my mind, is always a celebration of artists from here, artists from away, artists who are new and emerging, and artists who are internationally celebrated. It celebrates dance on the small scale and on a big scale,” says Lachance.

25 years of festivals is a lot of “new” dance in a city the size of St. John’s. Lachance says the strength – and spirit – of the community are clear in the longevity of FND and other local festivals. The St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival marked 25 years last October, and Lachance says both festivals starting around the same time shows the sort of renaissance that was happening then – which the community supported.

“People in St. John’s have a very discerning eye for great art,” says Lachance.

“They love performing art, they love fine art, they’re not afraid of challenging work, they’re not afraid of work that makes them question major issues.”

People will witness the weirdness that is creating a dance piece in one of the community-centric aspects celebrating 25 years. 25/25/25 Dance Project, conceived and directed by Newfoundlander Anne Troake, is described by FND as guerilla art-making: 25 works 25-seconds long will be created by 25 choreographers in 25 minutes, live in front of an audience.

Lachance says they’re very cognizant of attracting new audiences, so there’s a range of programming and workshops over the week of FND. Art is not without a bottom line: shows need audiences and workshops need participants.

“We want the festival to be accessible, even if there’s just one show in the program for everybody. I’m not saying everything would appeal to every person and I don’t think it should, because I think if you’re programming to a community you’re programming a very diverse program,” says Lachance.

That takes commitment from everyone involved – performers to funders. Plus there are plenty of haters who don’t see the point in the arts, particularly government grant funding.

“It’s really hard to care about art, period, when you look around you and see what’s happening [in the world],” says Lachance.

“We feel that, I feel that. I feel like, ‘why does somebody want to come and support a dance festival when they could be giving to refugees and other causes.’ But we know that we are a part of our social fabric and we play a really important role the same as every other aspect of building healthy people, healthy communities, involved, engaged, passionate civic people – the arts is part of that.

“A world that is a better place is a world that includes art, and it reflects this crazy world that we live in,” says Lachance.

Meghan McCabe has been involved in the Festival of New Dance and Neighbourhood Dance Works, and will appear in this year’s festival.

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