Forget wood, tin, crystal and china. Forget about silver. Live Art Dance has been absolutely rockin’ it since our silver anniversary five years ago and we’re still tearing up the carpet now that we’ve hit Pearl (30).

What a nice run we’ve been enjoying these past seasons: a bunch of world premieres (BJM Danse, SiNS Collective, Lisa Phinney, Mocean Dance, & George Stamos), La La La Human Steps’ and O Vertigo’s first visits to Atlantic Canada, increased subscriptions and single ticket sales, a generous new sponsors’ circle, and lots of new buzz about what we’re doing. That all this growth has taken place during a time of recession economic downturn is all the more exciting, but maybe it shouldn’t be: smart guy Andrew Terris quipped to me (in the not-so-distant past) that increased attendance at contemporary dance events during times of economic hardship has been documented. Who’d a thunkit?

Well, now that we are thinking of it, why shouldn’t it be so? If a picture = 1000 words, dance is a 3D live moving beast of a communicator that can tap into our senses in ways well beyond the capabilities of static images and words. In a world full of Harpernomics, media-spin, texting, tweeting, & economic disparity, perhaps people want to tap into something meaningful that expresses our humanity, stimulates our imagination, inspires us, and makes us FEEL!

Or, maybe more people just want an escape from reality…

Whatever the reason, Live Art Dance’s audience has been growing steadily since our Silver anniversary and, at the same time, (is there any correlation?!?) dance is increasingly being used to communicate complex ideas from the worlds of science, business, and art. Is dance the new truth? Should we forget about language and just go for the guts? What would a tweet look like as a dance? How about a scientific theory? John Bohannon offers an example in his Ted Talk:

John Bohannon: Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal

And, how about the 2011 winner from the Dance your Phd contest:

Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story

If you want to learn more about dance, and how dance can help you communicate with the world around you, I have one Pearl of Wisdom to share: check out Live Art Dance Productions’ 30th season. We’re sure to grow on you!

I was happy to take in the Wit’s End production Science In Action at the Bus Stop Theatre last night. Griffin McInnes wrote and directed this humourous two-hander and, with partner Liz Johnston, assembled a crack team of collaborators to create the environment within which the action takes place. A modern day love story set against a back drop of televisions, the show reminds me of why every city with an active theatre/dance/performance community needs a Bus Stop Theatre. While Science In Action could be called a low budget show it must be understood that such terms are relative. While that wall of TV’s probably didn’t cost a bundle – experience tells me Griffin’s pretty resourceful – Nick Bottomley’s video musings that inhabit their screens probably did. The point I want to make is that even those shows where half of everything is cobbled together for free and the performers agree to work for a slice of the door (not saying that’s the case here, just that it happens), there are still bills to pay. Combine that with the challenge of attracting an audience willing to lay some dough on the table and I really wonder at the patience and perseverance required to develop talent.

Cue the Bus Stop Theatre… The Bus Stop offers two things I believe are thoroughly necessary to the ongoing success of a theatre/dance/performance community in a city like Halifax. 1) It’s affordable. Yes, you still have to pay rent, but no where near as much as you’d pay in a formal, established venue, AND you get plugged into the city’s funky underbelly; 2) It’s the right scale. Last night the theatre was for all intents and purposes sold out to the 40 or so people in attendance. We got an interesting experience in an intimate setting that felt wonderfully exclusive. Transplant those 40 people into a 150 seat house and all of a sudden the costs have gone up, the house feels empty, and the immediacy is gone.

New works by artists at all stages of development need spaces like the Bus Stop to develop their chops and grow their public.

Walking into the theatre bar/lobby last night, owner Clare Waqué’s always pleasant greeting from behind the bar makes own feel immediately at home… Props to Wit’s End for pulling off a solid production, and a big shout out to the Bus Stop Theatre for being there!

Saturday June 16 marked the final day of the 25th edition of the Canada Dance Festival and it was a doozy: Adelheid (Heidi Strauss) at 4pm at La Nouvelle Scène, Mayday (Mélanie Demers) at 7pm in the NAC Studio, and TDT at 8:30 in the NAC Theatre. I was also planning on seeing Sylvie Desrosiers at the Arts Court space earlier but closing down the festival bar the night before, combined with the departure of all my grrls, made for a late start to the day.

Playing on the final day is never easy… all the conferencey stuff is over so audiences are beginning to thin out; those that are still there, les durs des durs, are beginning to get saturated. For me, watching my partner and daughters jump in a cab and head off for the bus station was the beginning of the end. All of a sudden time shifted. Children demand that we be present in the moment and their departure created a vacuum in which I momentarily drifted…

I came back to the timed world  with a great Holy sh*t! I’ve got 15 minutes to get to La Nouvelle Scène (I’d normally want 30 minutes to do that walk)! Aaargh, what to do? Keep drifting? No, you can do it… go go go! Out the door I head for a forced march in the Ottawa heat. I got to the theatre just in time and collapsed sweatily into a chair. I had heard Heidi pitch this work in Toronto a few years ago and was looking forward to her contemplation on relationships. The audience sat facing each other from two sides with the performers dancing between, almost like an arena. A pair of excellent dancers (Justine Chambers and Brendan Wyatt) performed and, well, I just couldn’t get into it. Blame the brilliant day outside, blame the last day of the festival… I struggled to keep any sort of focus. In all fairness, I don’t think anything would have held my attention, what I really needed was to be drifting in nap time. But that said, and because someone commented I was being hard, I do want to say that relationships are messy, they’re full of struggle and huge emotions that boil over as well as exquisite loving that reduces us to absolute stillness. I didn’t get a sense of any of that in Strauss’ this time, it came across as very safe in a well-scripted kind of way. The staging with white screens at the base of the risers didn’t help, making it seem like an operating theatre as opposed to one in which blood sports happen.

After some quiet time with a bottle of wine, I made it back to the NAC for Demers’ Junkyard/Paradise. Now here was a messy, complicated show… Demers draws huge parallels between media/show biz/politics while looking at nature/nurture issues not to mention some barbs in the direction of consumerism. Whew! Did I say it was messy? I’ve been the technician cleaning up after artists and have more than once felt abused by the relationship (ie. I’ll go onstage and make a mess and you clean up after me!) Technicians are the unsung heroes of the performing arts. The old technician saying goes: When there’s a problem, we’re the first to hear about it; when everything goes smoothly, we hear nothing. As a technician, I always hoped the artist’s idea was rich in merit and well considered. In such cases, technicians should be ready to do anything to support the work. I hope the NAC technicians, after ten days of non-stop crazy schedules recognise that Melanie’s work had merit and was well considered! (For the record I’ve had to deal with waaaaay worse! A pair of live eels anyone? How ’bout a room full of bunnies and their poop? But those were performance artists…)

The big finale, Toronto Dance Theatre’s Rivers closed the festival and it was lovely. Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico played a suite of Ann Southam compositions and TDT Artistic Director/Choreographer, Christopher House, adroitly captured the essence of a river in all its ebbs and flows and eddies and rapids and calm soothing pools. Naishi Wang, who was creepily stunning in Jean Sebastien Lourdais’ work earlier in the week, is exquisite to watch. The guy has a level of precision, flow, and presence that are captivating: at one point he dances a duet that highlight Christopher House at his very best. Having just closed my own season with a superbly crafted dance/music collaboration, it was wonderful to see another richly successful collaboration.

Queue the end music! To the Fountain Room we retired for one more go ’round of $8 drinks (where did my perdiem go?) I love the Canada Dance Festival: it is the only chance we have as a national dance community to gather and share our stories. Love ’em, hate ’em, or get uncaringly left in between, the dance professionals that make up our community from coast to coast to coast are working their butts off under circumstances that are less than desirable. Somehow, in spite of all the hard work and impossible odds, people are making things happen and getting it out there. Following the TDT show (On my way up to once again close the bar in the Fountain Room) I stopped with some colleagues to read the Dance Manifesto. Yes, people, that’s right, a manifesto exists!

When I think about arts and culture today, I can’t help but think about politics. If politicians truly cared about the long-term economic well-being of their constituents they would invest in cultural and scientific research. (for the record I only use the term “economic well-being” cuz that seems to be the catch phrase of the moment.) So much research has been done that illustrates the benefits (read: cost savings!) of healthy and creative minds and bodies… but that’s for another post. Long Live Dance in Canada! Long Live the Canada Dance Festival!!

Sometimes life conspires against our most ardent wishes… Last night was my most anticipated night of the Canada Dance Festival… Halifax’s Lisa Phinney in the NAC Studio at 7pm followed by Vancouver’s 605 Collective in the Theatre at 8:30. I was really looking forward to seeing Phinney’s Analogy for Solid Bones again (Live Art Dance premiered this work a few years ago), and who wasn’t looking forward to 605’s full length sophomore effort?

So there we were, the whole family: my six-year old, Clara, looking forward to seeing her maman dance, Elise’s maman Chantal, en voyage avec nous to help take care of the kids, my buddy Scott, in from Montreal to catch some of the fest, and my beautiful baby Camille, firmly strapped onto my chest in the snuggly. This wasn’t going to be Camille’s first show – some of you will remember her rapt attention in Rebecca Lazier’s gutsy work, Coming Together/Attica – but alas, tonight things weren’t looking good. As soon as the she was strapped into the snuggly the hiccups started… as soon as the lights went to black the protest started… How was she to know that all maman’s absences, the reason papa has been her daily companion these past 4 months, were about this night tonight, this coming hour. Performances are live, never to be reproduced, and Sweet Life intervenes as it will. I’m bummed I missed the show but wouldn’t trade this for anything!

I heard the show went off well and many people approached me to tell me that Elise was absolutely stunning. I wish I could have seen it. If you did, and you’re reading this, please share your thoughts!

On to 605 Collective… I love these guys. Their work Audible closed Live Art’s season last year and they absolutely rocked it: Fun work full of humour with totally infectious ensemble work. Everyone wants to see where they will go next… Enter Inheritor Album, their brand new full length work that received its World Premiere Friday night.

It was amazing to see (this relatively) young company on the NAC Theatre stage, and 605 deserves big props for thoroughly taking advantage of its size (stage) & technical capacity. So nice to see how access to resources can translate into such superb production values. Presented almost as a series of vignettes – let’s call them songs – Inheritor Album begins in dynamic fashion with the aforementioned exquisite ensemble work (they were 6) that has earned 605 Collective so much attention. Their super-grounded, push-pull, urban dance style is at its best here: the connection between dancers is thoroughly exhilarating to watch and we realise they can’t do this alone – the whole group is required to make it work. Perhaps this comes from the street dance cypher, where everyone feeds off the circle’s energy to push each other to new heights. But where street battling often focuses on individual competition, 605 uses this energy to elevate the whole, and this is perhaps one of the strongest underlying messages in this work: we advance collectively or we don’t advance.

This was show #8 for me (well, number seven I guess) and an overall festival theme began taking form in my mind while watching: we live in turbulent times! So many of the works were built on ideas of stress or tension or being adrift in a sea of anonymity and Inheritor Album is no different. The lighting was on the dark side, at least in a can’t-see-their-faces kind of way, leading a simultaneous deconstruction of the individual and construction of the clan. There are some truly striking moments in this 65 minute work, but the youth of their creative collective gets revealed as the show progresses. Maybe I’m being unfair – this crew IS truly mesmerizing at times – and am a prisoner of the high expectations I carried into the show. But… take away the wonderful production values, strip away that great big stage and I think weaknesses in the overall choreographic structure would become more apparent. Is this something that time and distance can resolve? I think so. World premieres are difficult but they give artists great ideas about how to move forward. The 605 Collective has many people in their corner and I have every confidence they are like the proverbial big cheese or fine wine: with the passing of time they’re only going to get better!

Benjamin Kamino’s naked, dancing, death-head-tattoo adorned body greeted the audience as we entered la Nouvelle Scène for Thursday’s 7pm show. The stage was clad in white paper that ran up the back wall and a dinky ghetto blaster issued forth some creaky old crooner tunes. Kamino’s neo-primitive/hippy/ecstatic dance dwindled to an end and there he stood vulnerable before us, eyes scanning the gathered crowd, slowly taking us all in. Dipping into a slow back arch his mouth suddenly popped open and rivers of black gushed forth and streamed down his body. I swear I heard a collective gasp…

These first three movements of Nudity.Desire – the voyeurism, confrontation, and surprise/shock – created a wonderful palette upon which the rest of the piece – indeed, the whole evening – would unfold. Perhaps there’re too many “bath salts” headlines these days, but I couldn’t help thinking that what ensued were the demented ramblings of a chemically induced trip… Graphic images that ranged from seeking to self-identify (tracing his outline on the paper wall and floor), the collapse of nature (a surprising drawing of a tree being torn asunder), and being completely awash in paper (the arts administrator in me identified with that one) poured forth like a storm of the imagination. All of these images came with the dancer’s moaning, guttural search for language, the desire to connect & relate his experience.

Overall Kamino’s work was ghoulish and troubling. There’s a fascinating beauty in his out of control state of seeking combined with his struggle against (and willingness to succumb to) gravity. At the end he breaks the spell – my show mate suggested he wanted to let us know that he wasn’t actually totally wasted – and emerges from his whirl wind of paper singing in an almost melancholic voice. I found the transition abrupt, and lamented the breaking of the spell that he had quite masterfully ensnared us in. But wow, what a ride!

Toronto Dance Theatre followed suit with a trio choreographed by Jean-Sebastien Lourdais. I spoke with JS while queuing up for the show and asked if we were going to see something representative of his style. The short answer is “yes”, the long is that he had 40 hours to work with the group and that a decent chunk of this time was invested getting the dancers to the departure point of his physical process and that he was happy with the transmission of the physical vocabulary.

I’ve been hearing about Lourdais’ work for quite some time and was impressed with the highly detailed struggle that emerged from his dancers’ bodies. The opening soloist in particular was supercharged with restraint and a wellspring of movement contained within. What came out was like a torrent of locking/popping being forced through a much too small aperture, the pressure bubbling saliva to the surface. Étrange was indeed strange: wonderful physicality fighting its way out of three bodies and, once emerged, became confrontational between the bodies themselves.

Overall, the work felt like a window into a work, not complete unto itself, more like we’d been dropped into something midstream and then been plucked out before seeing what was around the corner. The abrupt ending was unsatisfying, but the time shared floating in their world was well spent. It raises issues around invention – of movement, atmosphere, image life/world… It’s one thing to develop fascinating characters/movement/worlds, but what do we do/say with them once they exist?

I’d say the two works at la Nouvelle Scène were wonderfully theatrical, beautifully performed, and full of dark, brooding, angst, but only Kamino’s felt complete.

Off to the National Arts Centre for the 8:30 show featuring ODD (the Ottawa Dance Directive) with works by Yvonne Coutts and Tedd Robinson. After all that earlier suffering & struggle, Yvonne Coutts Fracture was a welcome release valve full of playful dance. Her trio began life as a duet, so we’re told by one of the performers who then spends most of the piece trying to fit in, but evolved into a trio when a bit more money became available. While this information was delivered with great humour, I can’t help but feeling the choreographer is being wonderfully cheeky about our current government’s thorough lack of comprehension (and support!) for the arts.

Whatever her intention, Coutts’ themes of identity and social cohesion were what this performance was all about, and her sense of humour was thoroughly refreshing.

Tedd Robinson’s Trembleherd Bells carried on the evening’s overall feeling of struggle and angst, though like Yvonne’s work, incorporates humour as a means of disarming the deep pathos embodied within. Robinson is a master at this game: his little family of 5 performers (4 dancers and a musician) so uniform and comic in their energy and intensity, it is only as the work progresses that we can identify the deep sense of panic that has been bubbling below the surface. White costumes on a white patch of floor, it is almost like we are looking through a microscope and some isolated petri-dish community exploring the limits of their boundaries but seeking to signal whatever lies in the beyond. Is it the future that is so frightening? The unknown that lies just out of reach? Uncanny how Tedd wraps his tentacles around the audience, at first it is like a caress but eventually we realise he has us in his clutches and we’re going for a ride.

***

On a closing note, the post-show receptions have been fun: so nice to have a place to gather immediately post-show. It’s not Chez Jack, but after too many years of little buzz, it’s welcome relief to walk into a room where the vibe is up and dance people are celebrating all the hard work that we do.

(My night #3 at the Canada Dance Festival)

OK, so I’m a pig. Thanks George (Stamos) for helping reveal my inner reality! It’s not like I was consciously hiding it, but yesterday’s activities (too much sitting in closed rooms with easy access to platters upon platter of sugary concoctions) ushered me to that single moment where my hand unthinkingly reached forth and snatched a pink, butter cream laden cupcake from its silver serving tray and unceremoniously stuffed it into my mouth. But how could I resist? There was George talking about how cupcakes and burgers were the new rage, and voila! his beaming face in front of mine tempting me to the dark side with his sugary offerings.

In all fairness, I wasn’t the only one; in fact there was a whole room full of people awaiting the tray’s arrival so that they too could fulfill their desire (for cupcake). Why, Sara Coffin even asked for another, though she claimed it was because her first was vanilla and she ardently wished for chocolate.

And so unfolds Stamos’ LikLik Pik, a playful look at the animal power of the human body and features the delightful onstage pairing of Stamos and Dany Desjardins. The work is rollicking good fun but is by no means limited to humour and sweets. There’s a sense of ritual that emerges in both the sound score and the dancers’ repetitive gestures, and as with Raven Spirit’s work from the night before, the need/desire to connect with the audience becomes more than apparent. Enter the cupcakes…

George Stamos’ evolution as an artist has arrived at a wonderful place where his grasp of choreographic tools and dramatic structure fully serve his stunningly rich imagination and highly inventive movement vocabulary. LikLik Pik is provocative, poignant, and full of temptation.

Licking butter cream off its fingers, the audience streamed out of La Nouvelle Scène and made its way up Rideau St to the National Arts Centre to catch Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers. Their show, 97 Positions of the Heart, choreographed by Brent Lott, was inspired by the life and writings of Elizabeth Smart. A true fan of Can Lit, I am embarrassed to admit that I have never read Smart’s work; following this show I am full of desire to do so!

Unlike Stamos’ work, which is firmly rooted in the here-and-now of contemporary dance, with this work Lott’s artistic direction is grounded in the past. For whatever it’s worth, Brent is the first one to admit this. Whether their different approaches simply reveal two distinct artists’ voices or are symbolic of work originating from two wildly different communities, I find their individual styles served each piece admirably.

Lott worked with poet Jaik Josephson to create a verbal score that acts as through line upon which the wonderfully talented dancers navigate the piece. The text was rich and heavy – as it seems was Smart’s life – and the dancers pulled it off with aplomb. All too often, when dancers are required to open their mouths the results are less than satisfying. Dramaturge Debbie Patterson must’ve cracked the whip hard cuz this ensemble thoroughly engaged the public with their ability to deliver Josephson’s evocative text. A simple decor and lighting served to put focus where the focus needed to be: on the richly woven physical performances of the six dancers and the words they so deftly embodied.

In the post show chat, Brent Lott revealed that he didn’t want to create just a dance piece or even a dance/theatre piece, but that he wanted to embrace the spirit of Smart’s writing, particularly as revealed in By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, and transcend (or defy!) easy categorical boundaries. In this, Lott and his wonderfully talented group of collaborators were bang on.

Seeing these two contrasting works back to back was quite satisfying. On one hand, an artist applying current technologies and aesthetic research to create work from the edge; on the other, an artist using tried and true practices to evoke a sort of physical biography of an iconic figure (while begetting the question: do we really need to reinvent the wheel time and time again?). Two very different works that illustrate the diverse range of our national dance identity. Holy hallelujah the Canada Dance Festival exists so such things can be put in perspective.

Back in November, right in the middle of a series of three shows, my partner Elise and I had a baby (well, she did the heavy lifting) and for the second time in my life I was

Camille and proud papa totally diggin' parental leave

awestruck by the magnificent force of women in this most primal act of life. As we knew that Elise (a fabulous dancer) had a contract to perform with Lisa Phinney at the Canada Dance Festival in June, I asked my Board for a parental leave of absence effective mid-February (when Elise anticipated being ready to get back into dancerly shape).

Fast forward seven months and here we are in the nation’s capital… toute la famille, grande mère inclus. Me, freshly returned to work following 3.5 months off with my gorgeous daughter #2, and Elise in killer shape ready to rock it at the National Arts Centre. I’m pretty familiar coming to this festival and always look forward to checking the pulse of Canada’s national dance community. Bu this will be a first coming with the whole family in tow. So… while it’s all work, it’s also part vacation. Sweet! Over the next few days I’ll be checking in with reports from the 25th Anniversary Edition of the CDF, the first under the guidance of new Artistic Producer, Jeanne Holmes.

I’ll try to be as frank as possible, and let’s start with those pre-show receptions in the Fountain Room… Now lots of criticism has come in over the years about the lack of vibe at the CDF and the need to mix things up. This year it seems there are a number of pre-show receptions “hosted” by various orgs. Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me a reception means Fun, Food, and Drinks (ideally free!) It’s like a party, right!? Well, last night I raced off one such event and let me tell you the fun was not happening, there was no food (what!!?), and the drinks were, well, expensive. Ugh! While part of me thought maybe it was just the way the chips fell yesterday, reports on today’s edition were that it was more of the same. I’ll take a pass on any more of these. For the record, the fun receptions are supposed to be post-show in the Fountain Room. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Clara making waves!

I did meet a colleague in the pool this morning; apparently that is where all the big deals are happening! She told Clara, “move over girl, there’s only room for one bossy girl at a time in this pool”. Now in all fairness, Clara was giving me a hard time about leaving the pool behind and getting on with our day, but I couldn’t shake Barb’s comment: perhaps we do need to take turns being the bossy girl…

On to the shows… Saw the lovely Paul-André Fortier perform with Malcolm Goldstein last night. Now there are two stately gentlemen with amazing credentials refusing to lay down. As Malcolm coaxed a finely textured soundscape from his violin, Paul-André revealed a similarly rich physical landscape from his body. Those guys got game, and they wonderfully demonstrated how two people – two disciplines – could find harmony in the smallest of gestures.

I wish I could say the same for Raven Spirit’s work that Clara and I saw tonight. Wonderful performers and I really appreciated the in-the-round set-up and the choreographer’s desire to continually connect with the audience, but somehow the dance seemed to get in the way. Raven Spirit Dance’s founder, Michelle Olson, offered a sort of life-cycle, creation story with her “Gathering Light”, but I wished for something a little more raw and edgy. I loved the image that we are all seeds that have been scattered, and are in turn scattering seeds, especially given my show companion was my 6 year old daughter, a second generation dancer in the making, but overall found the work a little simplistic.

More to come!

OK, if you”ve passed through those lean student times you may sympathise with my predicament… There I am, freshly arrived in Montreal from Vancouver, trying to carve out a little presence in the dance community, cash strapped but very much into seeing every ounce of dance that was exploding off of Montreal”s stages. It was “91 or “92, La La la Human Steps was playing at Place des Arts, and I still hadn”t seen this juggernaut of a company… (I had just missed them a few years earlier in Vancouver when their Human Sex show sold out the Cultch in, like, three seconds flat). While my lean-times wallet said no, my heart resoundingly said yes. What”s a boy to do?

I went to Place des Arts thinking maybe a scalper? A lucky benefactor with an extra ticket? A sneak? I joined the throng looking for opportunity; as luck would have it I found no one with an extra ticket for my viewing pleasure. I did however catch the eye of a couple of others who also seemed to be looking for a crafty way in. I introduced myself in my broken French of the time and lo and behold: one of my new friends had a friend who knew an usher who was going to open that door right over there in a few minutes time, be ready to go, quick it”s open and in we rushed! Up the stair well quick like harried bunnies and POP! out into the upper lobby filled with honest to goodness ticket holders! We were in! Yes!

The tricky part now was finding a place to sit without getting nabbed… the show was close to being sold out! I slowly wandered into the theatre, trying to look casual, peering around for what might announce itself as an open seat. BWOW! In a moment of pre-show hijinx that had the crowd in excited anticipation, a flash of light burst out, a dancer exploded across the stage, and blackjack an electric guitar implored our attention… While I took it in in awe a voice echoed behind me: “Votre billet s”il vous plait” Huh!? Um no, I”m just looking for a friend… “Votre billet s”il vous plait Um, I don”t understand… Monsieur, if you can”t show me your ticket I”m going to have to ask you to leave Busted! Man, I”m getting busted… BWOW!! Another flash of light, another dancer, another searing guitar riff… The audience roared, and I was escorted from the theatre.

I never did get to see Infante c”est destroy after that but did manage to see La La La Human Steps (as an honest to goodness ticket holder!) on other occasions. For those in the know, the experience is always intense: richly visual, intricately woven music and dance that feels breathless in its breakneck pace. While the daredevilry of Édouard Lock”s earlier works has evolved, the stunning force and precision of his choreography, and his dancer”s relentless ability to perform it, remains absolutely captivating.

Halifax is in for a treat come Saturday night! Make sure you have your tickets in hand.

I had the great pleasure of watching a world premiere dance performance last night. (Check out the Arts East review) Premieres are fun as you never know what you”re in store for; choreographer Tedd Robinson summed it up well in a pre-show chat when he discussed the nature of (contemporary) dance and that it is for people who appreciate adventure.

Well, adventure is to be had in Tedd”s latest work on Mocean Dance, just as it is in Claudia Moore and Dan Wild”s performance of Robinson and James Kudelka”s choreography that opens the program. For the record: I like adventure and will define it as a voyage of discovery (that does not necessarily imply travel) where our senses are treated to unknown (and unsuspected) information. All that is required of us is to go along for the ride and be receptive along the way. We may not know where we”re going but we should recognise that we”ve arrived (and perhaps even by which path).

Claudia Moore”s Dances in a Small Room – comprised of Robinson”s lone some and Kudelka”s Half an hour of Our Time – is an intimate study on inhabiting space that simply reminds me that sometimes the answers are right in front of our noses. I am reminded of a wonderful article roulette in a recent edition of Psychology Today titled To Dance is a Radical Act. In it, author Kimerer LaMothe writes: …”Humans are not rational minds dwelling in bodily containers. We are bodies. We are bodily selves whose movements are making us able to think and feel and act at all. And if we are to achieve a just and sustainable world, then we must make sure that our processes of getting there honor the wisdom and agency present in the movement of our bodily selves. To dance is a radical act because dancing reminds us that the bodily movements we make make us who we are.”

Ah ha moment! Those dancers looking like they”re depicting the ups, downs, swerves, and collisions of coupledom are pseudo-didactically doing just that! There”s no need to look further, we need simply remember that our bodily movements reveal enormous amounts of information that we may think/feel is otherwise bottled up inside our individual heads. Moore, and partner Dan Wilde, exist within a 5m X 5m square of light – their small room – and we the audience are drawn into their slipstream of time. I had that uncanny feeling of dreaming and hovering above myself looking down… almost as if witnessing a stop motion rush of life surrounded by frozen time. Simple. Haunting. Aching.

Moore”s white square of floor is transformed into white canvas squares as Robinson”s work on Mocean Dance, Canvas 5 X 5, begins the second half. I am still pondering how Robinson so exquisitely crept under my skin and crafted such a worthy and surprising adventure. Paraphrasing one audience member”s comment, this was an exceptional piece of Celtic Japanese mystic performance! Robinson harnesses Mocean”s energy and joyful spirit and thoroughly infuses it with a sense of nostalgia, heritage, and play. There IS something mystical about this work that I am still struggling to put my finger on… those blank canvasses are sooo rich in metaphor and the dancers” wonderful sense of play sooo familiar… Robinson demonstrates why he is increasingly recognised as one of Canada”s most unique choreographic voices.

Suffice to say I am looking forward to a second viewing tonight.

Yesterday marked a momentous occasion in Nova Scotia, as two pieces of legislation were tabled by Darrell Dexter”s New Democrats, the first to establish Arts Nova Scotia, a new arm”s length arts council, and the second to formalise the structure and mandate of the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council, an advisory body that will lead the development of a provincial culture strategy.

Minister Wilson
Ron Bourgeois, Pam Birdsall (MLA), Minister Wilson, Leah Hamilton, myself, Chris Shore

As part of the committee charged with the responsibility of developing the terms of reference for Arts Nova Scotia, the past several months have been an extremely exciting period that I feel privileged to have participated in (A copy of the Arts Nova Transition Committee Report can be found here). Pam Birdsall, MLA for Lunenburg, chaired a committee composed of Leah Hamilton, Chris Shore, and myself, and lead our meetings in a fashion that was wonderfully collaborative and open to very frank discussion. As a relative newcomer to the province, it was amazing to witness the collective wealth of knowledge of this province”s cultural history embodied by this group. We spent a fair bit of time discussing “arm”s length”, looking at existing models, and brainstorming how to apply best practices to our region. Given the, some would say brutal, demise of the previous casino australia online council, we were particularly concerned with creating a body that had teeth and that the arts and culture community could trust to represent their interests. The “teeth” part of the equation relates to budget: the old council was perpetually under-resourced and thus lacked the ability to be truly effective. “Trust” is another story and brings us back to the question of arm”s length. Given that any and all arts funding agencies are ultimately accountable to some political master the question becomes: what length of arm would be acceptable?

After much pro”ing and con”ing, all the while looking through the lens of today”s fiscal reality, we have what I feel is a pretty decent length of arm: Arts Nova Scotia will be governed by an independent board of directors who will have authority to hire an Executive Director, with the Chair of the Board reporting to the Minister of Communities Culture and Heritage. The offices will be housed within the space currently housing the Department of Communities Culture and Heritage and staff will be shared between the two. While this is not the ideal scenario some would have, it does, in my opinion, represent a resourceful solution to creating a new entity while continuing to get $$ into the hands of artists and arts organisations.

The run up to yesterday”s announcement was fast, with legislation being quickly produced in time to be tabled in the legislature before the holiday break. What this means is that ArtsNS could and should be a reality in the government”s next fiscal year! Rejoice Nova Scotia!

Finally, I am compelled to mention that Deputy Minister Laura Lee Langley and her staff moved mountains to make this happen so quickly and were incredibly accommodating, supportive, and collaborative throughout the whole process. While this legislation is but a first step towards the future, it bodes well that the people involved are firmly committed to making this happen.

Check out the Art Attack in the Coast