by Stephen Hunt
Bodies tell cool stories too.
Calgary, beginning October 18, will be the epicenter of a conversation about dance, when The Fluid Festival opens with a trio of performances.
At 7p.m. the Prairie Dance Circuit, including Fluid Festival artistic director Nicole Mion, Edmonton choreographer Brian Webb and Regina’s Robin Poitras, go up at the DJD Dance Centre.
That’s followed, at 8 p.m. at Theatre Junction with Thus Spoke…, a theatre-dance hybrid from Montreal choreographer, dancer, musician, lighting designer – and now director – Frederick Gravel.
Back at the DJD Centre, there’s a 9 p.m. Double Bill, featuring Linnea Swann and Sara Porter in Yes and Sara Does a Solo, both of which have a decidedly comic bent.
One wild Thursday kicks off 10 days of dance
That one wild Thursday kicks off of a 10-day-long festival that features a double dose of Gravel’s work, in addition to featuring choreographers and companies based in Vancouver (Karissa Barry), Regina, Edmonton (Good Women Dance Collective), Toronto and Calgary (kloetzel and co).
There’s a trio of performances and a film featuring performers of different abilities – including Justin Manyfingers, Brian Solomon, Heidi Janz and Eva Colmer, and Vancouver’s All Bodies Dance Project, all of which figures to challenge our notions of the body and what it is capable of.
There’s a cabaret – including performers such as Su Lin Tseng, Terrance Houle, Jessica McMann and Makambe K Simamba – that will allow audience members to get up close and see exactly the degree of passion and perseverance that goes into the performative art that just moves – and you can drink beer and watch at the same time.
‘People love festivals here’
And if a cabaret is the perfect Calgary harmony between performance and bar stories, then for artistic director Mion, the festival is the perfect format to engage Calgary audiences in a conversation about dance.
“People love festivals here,” she says. “The High Performance Rodeo has been a mixed discipline festival but came from a theatre perspective to embrace all disciplines.
“We have the Wordfest,” she adds. “ATP had a festival for a very long time of developing (new, Canadian) plays. Honens (International Piano Festival) – yes. But dance has not had that focus like that – and that was the place where we felt Fluid Festival could really dig in and bring that to the (cultural) fabric of Calgary.”
Dance as fusion cuisine
What jumps out about the 2017 lineup is that there are so many varieties and forms incorporated into one performative art. If – for example – we weren’t talking about performing arts, but instead talking about food, the Fluid Festival would be the best sort of fusion cuisine, mixing and matching genres, tones and styles.
Even within a single performance, there’s choreographic fusion happening.
Take Telemetry, which mashes together the cool, systematic electronica of Shay Kuebler’s Vancouver-based company, Radical System Art, with the tap dancing virtuosity of Danny Nielsen, a former Calgarian.
“(A few years ago), I was at a festival of contemporary work,” says Mion, “and I got really bored really fast – and then at that same weekend, Danny Nielsen was doing a performance at some jazz bar. Because I was so bored at the contemporary stuff, I went to his thing and it was mindblowing – and I felt more contemporary than the contemporary work that’s stuck in an aesthetic (rut).”
Nielsen teamed up with Radical System Art is a little like trickling maple syrup onto your plank-cooked sockeye salmon – it’s two variations on a theme that used to never cross each other’s path in the kitchen, only to discover each makes the other taste absolutely fabulous.
“That’s Telemetry,” Mion says. “A really physical, virtuosic, fascinating show (that lands) between contemporary (dance) and tap.”
The duet gets a do-over
And if Telemetry fuses two different genres, Frederick Gravel alternately dismantles them, while at the same time – or at least during the same festival – he presents a variation on the most classic dance form there is, namely, the duet.
Thus Spoke…, which Gravel directed and co-created with Montreal playwright Etienne Lepage, kicks off the festival in a co-production with Theatre Junction, followed in week two by Gravel performing with collaborator Brianna Lombardo in This Duet That We’ve Already Done (so many times).
Gravel – who previously was in Calgary to perform Usually Beauty Fails back in 2015 – is a rising star on the Montreal dance scene that is the envy of every other dance scene. It’s where dance legends come from.
This Duet That We’ve Already Done is the longer version – the extended play, you might say – of the second half of Usually Beauty Fails, which recontextualizes the most familiar (and some would say, most shopworn) dance form.
“There’s been a shift in him over the last few years,” Mion says, “and the work is really taking off in a different direction, and I’m really excited (to share it with Calgary audiences at this year’s Fluid Festival). Both pieces that are coming this year I feel are within that practice. The one piece (Thus Spoke…) is about the value of art and the other piece (This Duet) – (is) a feminist piece, created by a man for a powerhouse female performer.”
Preserve. Persevere. Or Be Eaten.
Mion doesn’t just curate the Fluid Festival. She also choreographs and performs as part of the Prairie Dance Circuit, which in 2017 also features Regina’s Robin Poitras and Edmonton’s Brian Webb, each of whom created a piece based on working with an artist from their community who inspired them.
For Mion, that turned into two pieces – Preserve. Persevere. Or Be Eaten, an excerpt from I Eat You, a collaboration with Linnea Swann, and Still Moving. Land Acknowledgement with Troy Emery Twigg.
It isn’t necessary to describe Preserve. Persevere. Or Be Eaten in terms of culinary metaphor because it literally transforms Mion’s passion for food into a performance meal, October 28 at the St. Louis Hotel.
“You watch a performance about salt – and you eat cured salmon,” Mion says. “And salt is an aspect of purity in many cultures.
“Then,” she adds, “you explore fermentation, which in many cultures, the presence of the bubble is the release of the spirit, and the bubble is the beginning of the chemical process that makes the ferment – and releasing the spirit is what I do as a performing artist, is what I try to do as an artist every day.”
“I’m a forager and a foodie,” she says. “For years I’ve wanted to bring my interest in performance and food together and it’s turned into this piece.”
Transforming the land acknowledgment speech into movement
In Still Moving. Land Acknowledgment., Mion and Emery physicalize the land acknowledgment speech, which fascinates Mion.
“It’s really based in community,” she says, “it’s not based in government proclamation – and I really love that.
“But I what I hate about land acknowledgments is how stilted they are,” she says. “Even the words are mispronounced, without love or understanding – and what does it mean, when we acknowledge these peoples?
“And really, it’s about acknowledging the care of the land. That was the beginning of a conversation between Troy and I about what is that really, and how can we express that with performance?
“Part of it is uncomfortable,” she adds. “We have a Prime Minister who has a Haida tattoo and looks hot without his shirt on. What’s that about in the politic of where we’re at with making space (in our public life) for indigenous voices?”
Meanwhile, Edmonton’s Webb – who has been part of the dance community there for 39 years – is working with Tony Olivares, a salsa dancer, and former child soldier, who emigrated from Nicaragua in the 1980’s.
Poitras meanwhile collaborated with visual artist Edward Poitras to blend the visual and physical in a single piece.
Defining the prairie dance aesthetic
All of which leads to a question: is there a prairie dance aesthetic?
“It takes a specific sort of person to endure the winters here,” Mion says. “You have to be a strong-willed person who has their car ready. If you don’t have your crop in, you’re going to die.
“There’s a different kind of reliance on yourself as well as your community that is linked to the weather,” she says, “and that is the prairie sensibility.”
A decade in, Mion – the force behind the ContainR space in Sunnyside and now the Pop-Up Gallery in the East Village – is a portrait of another kind of prairie aesthetic.
She just keeps moving forward.
That leads her to add one final addendum to that definition of the prairie dance aesthetic.
“The embracing of great potential if you have a good idea,” she says. “Particularly out of Calgary. You know – (like Calgary Stampede founder) Guy Weadick. That is also a part of that prairie mentality.
“In Toronto,” she says, “it’s like – prove yourself. But I think here it’s more like, you’ve got a good idea? We’ll back it.”