Online programming and physical distancing at a re-imagined Dancing on the Edge

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Dancing on the Edge 2020 | Firehall Arts Centre and streaming on YouTube | July 2 – 11, 2020

I hadn’t realized how much I missed sitting in a real theatre with other people, sharing the collective experience of watching live dance, until I saw Shay Kuebler’s M.O.I. – Momentum of Isolation at Dancing on the Edge. It was the only show presented in the Firehall Arts Centre theatre (and also streamed online), and it was a treat to see it in person. Featuring six solos developed in isolation, along with two dancers appearing in video, each was a unique piece that showcased the dancers’ strengths. The dancers may not have taken up much physical space, but their presence and intense emotional energy filled the theatre.

Two other shows were presented live, but outside in the Firehall Courtyard: Trionfi Amore (The triumph of love) by Idan Cohen and Wishing Well by Olivia C. Davies (which also had an online viewing option). Cohen’s piece was a lavish caricature of classical ballet featuring lacy face masks, a physically distanced pas de deux, and live accordion. Davies’ piece was ceremonial, rooted in Indigenous culture, and well-suited to the outdoor space.

Online, the festival streamed six of their usual mixed “Edge” programs. Most of the online presentations were dance films created for the medium with only a few recordings of performances. Edge 5, F-O-R-M on the edge, featured eight short films from the 2019 F-O-R-M (Festival of Recorded Movement). Other pieces were filmed with special effects such as Vanessa Goodman’s Solvent that played movement in reverse and had the atmosphere of a high-concept music video.

Others, like David Cooper’s Shadow State and Eclipse, featured innovative lighting. Chapter 5 by Arash Khakpour and Rodrigo Rocha-Campos was a narrative work shot in an old house, while Ho.Me by All Bodies Dance featured three dancers, each in their own homes as well as together in an art gallery. Josh Martin’s Brimming stood out both for its use of lighting and effects that enhanced his movements, speeding up his pulsing to the point that it looked like stop motion. As hanging light bulbs flash around him in a dark room, the choppy filming and jump cuts add to the tension and anxiety. He ends by pulling his mouth open as wide as it will go—wider it seems, perhaps thanks to a special effect—before his face contorts into a silent, anguished scream and he walks slowly out an open door toward the light. 

Edge 3 featured two documentaries. Dancing with Zab Maboungou: Movement and Philosophy presented the Montreal choreographer’s philosophy that dance is us catching a moment of the rhythm of our bodies that is always there and her work with her Compagnie Danse Nyata Nyata. Raven Spirit Dance’s Confluence showed the process of creating this work that brings together Indigenous women from both traditional and contemporary forms to break down boundaries, learn from each other, and create a new common dance language.

Jeanette Kotowich, who also features in Confluence, presented two solo filmed works in Edge 2, both in tranquil outdoor settings, one on a rooftop, the other by the sea in Pacific Spirit Park. Ziyian Kwan’s 2017 collaboration with her father, Lihuen Kwan, was on the same program with some added context about how the pandemic has affected her perspective on this relationship, and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg presented two short films of works in progress from her upcoming one-woman stage show, I CAN’T REMEMBER THE WORD FOR “I CAN’T REMEMBER. Both included plenty of her signature wry humour and were welcome sources of comic relief.  

With so much of this year’s festival presented online, there were more opportunities to present dance films, screendance, documentaries, and for artists to experiment with digital forms of presentation. While some of the livestreams were not very well attended, others had almost 50 viewers. Overall, there seems to be an appetite for the festival to include this format, with live dance and online viewing happening in tandem. While nothing can replace the thrill of watching live dance in a theatre with other eager audience members, livestreaming and screendance allow for additional modes of presenting dance that can easily coexist with in-person presentations.

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