Collectives, collaborations, and commissions at Dancing on the Edge

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Dancing on the Edge Festival | Firehall Arts Centre and various venues | July 8 – 17, 2021

The 33rd Dancing on the Edge festival endured a second year of programming live performance during a pandemic. Thankfully, as with last year’s festival, there were several live performances in addition to a diverse film package available online. The festival is known as a sort of testing ground for new works or works in progress and this year’s offerings also included many collaborations and collectives as well as COVID Commission works that received funding from the festival.

Rob Kitsos’ The Threshing Floor features Ryan Jackson and Anya Saugstad in a work that translates sound vibrations into movement. Filmed by Beau Han Bridge and with music by Mauricio Pauly, the work beautifully integrates sound and movement more seamlessly than anything I’ve seen—it doesn’t seem as if either the sound or movement was created first, rather both simultaneously. The soundscape of metallic, scraping noises melds with the fluid arm-leading spirals of the two dancers and the atmospheric lighting design to create a richly layered experience.

Company Ci’s Limbe(s) is a fusion of contemporary circus and dance by Gabrielle Martin & Jeremiah Hughes. The intensely emotive piece has an apocalyptic overtone as the two swing from three rope loops, slowly spinning as they intertwine and untangle, in a continuous, mesmerizing flow of movement.

Immigrant Lessons’ ORIGINS features the collective of six dancers sharing their stories of family, identity, and language. As they move around their apartment set, they weave together dance and storytelling with consistent momentum. An excerpt of the work was presented live and was equally absorbing. A final scene in which the group sings “Stand By Me” in various languages is stirring. On a double bill with them was another young collective, CAMP. Their work, PAM, is athletic and pulsing featuring impressive unison, varied inspirations including drag and breaking. Less narrative-based and more light-hearted, the piece included some humour with a voiceover of a PAM nonstick cooking spray commercial: “PAM makes time in the kitchen a rousing success.”   

Another collective at this year’s festival, OURO, presented Fire06, a work in progress informed by research into Indigenous and colonial history and drawing on hip-hop, waacking, breaking, popping, and contemporary dance. Moving as one amorphous unit, the six dancers use collective arm patterns, diagonal lines, and quick canons in their fluid group movement. They truly move as a collective and explore the power of multiple bodies working together.

Prominence & Glory by Ballet BC dancer Kirsten Wicklund and artist in residence Peter Smida is the story of Priscilla and Gregory, a couple who seem to be struggling to connect although they are always together. As the two collide and diverge, a voice over talks about their lives and their challenges. I’m sure it helps that Wicklund and Smida are partners in real life; their emotional connection is authentic, and this is a compelling work with a strong narrative focus.

Wicklund and Smida also shared a double bill featuring Smida’s solo, Initial Response and Reconfiguration, for Ballet BC emerging artist Kiana Jung and Wicklund performing her own solo work, Proof. Performing to the original composition of Kimia Koochakzadeh-Yazdi, Jung’s effortless suspension, balance and clarity of movement was a joy to watch. Wicklund’s solo was a personal, emotional study of searching for answers about the future. Her emotional depth and lyrical choreography made me a bit teary-eyed by the end.

Vanessa Goodman’s Tuning features a new collaboration between former Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher and contemporary dancer Ted Littlemore. Using looping vocals of a slowed down “Stand By Me,” the choreography has a very slow build until the two finally embrace and burst into sprints of movement before returning to a slow, swaying duet. As they take turns creating the vocals and “tune into” each other the sounds become increasingly repetitive and by the end were a distraction, until they end in a tender embrace, heads resting on each other’s shoulders and singing “stand by me.” 

Lesley Telford’s “1:1:1” (phase one) takes its inspiration from a poem, “Conversation with a Stone,” By Wislawa Szymborska. The duet has Stéphanie Cyr and Kiera Hill moving in a sort of inverse relationship — as one stands up, the other moves to the floor, mirroring each other’s movement but from the horizontal or vertical plane. A voice over recites lines from the poem such as “It’s only me, I want to come in, let me in” and “I’m closed. Go away, I’m made of stone,” hinting at a theme of disconnection.

The festival film package featured many full-length works, films, and live-streamed programs, but it also included a few short films such as Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s Ape and Ape 3.0. The works are as they sound – Cheyenne Friedenberg imitates an ape as she explores our evolution in the digital age. Pulling a cell phone out of her pocket and tapping away at it incredulously is not only funny but evokes images of the mindless tapping and scrolling that we do every day.  

Another short film, Flow Tide, features the unique collaboration between recent Iris Garland Award recipient Shion Skye Carter and calligraphy artist Kisyuu. The two created the piece from their own homes, showing the relationship between the brush strokes and movement.  

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