As the Canada Games get set to kick off in Halifax, Live Art Dance is leading the charge for the cultural component. No, I”m not talking about the National Artist Program that is affiliated with the games, but Cabane, a site-specific performance installation performed by the totally delightful duo of Paul-André Fortier and Rober Racine. Their quixotic relationship evolves throughout the 50 minute work (anchored in, on, and around a portable shack) and provides each with their moments to shine. Fortier is as elegant and energetic as ever (which is thoroughly impressive given he surpassed 60 years of age a few years ago), and Racine is quite simply mesmerizing. They have a wonderful Straight Man/Funny Guy/Potso & Lucky thing going on… as if they”ve forgotten about waiting (for Godot, or anyone else) and are captivated with living life as one moment of creation after another.

Inspired by ideas of shelter, Cabane was created to be performed in site-specific locations… and Live Art Dance chose to push the idea a little further: each of the three performances in Halifax will be performed in a different location! Talk about micro/macro organisation!!

For a (sur)real good time come join us Feb 17-19!

There are two dance events going on in Halifax this week that merit big attention: on Wednesday evening, Jacinte Armstrong unveiled her latest work (Falling off the Page) at the Bus Stop Theatre, and on Thursday, George Stamos premiered his latest work, Troglodyte Plastique, created for Montréal Danse, at the Sir James Dunn Theatre.

Both works remind me what I love so much about dance, that being its ability to stimulate the imagination on very personal levels. Both works are gorgeously danced (Suzanne Chui and Armstrong in the former, and Elinor Fueter, Rachel Harris, and Stamos, joined onstage by musician/composer Jackie Gallant, in the latter), and both take the audience on dreamy, physically charged rides into the abstract.

Time figures prominently in both works. While Stamos grapples with themes of evolution (in a broad stroke kind of way, ie. how HAVE our primal instincts developed over the years) and loss, Armstrong reminds us that dance happens in fleeting moments, that once it stops the only residue left behind is what we carry in our memories.

I want to see both shows again… I want to relive those dreamy landscapes before they’re gone for good.

Both shows run until Saturday night – catch ’em while you can!

The stage is set for George Stamos’ return to Halifax and I for one am really excited to see where his latest work is taking him.

In the close to 15 years that I’ve been following this wonderfully talented artist’s choreographic evolution, movement invention has always been one of the most exciting facets of his work. While this may sound strange – dance IS movement after all – the point is that this invention happens at different levels… and George goes deep!

Where some choreographers can blaze off enchaînments (in my dancing days I was one of many to experience Grant Strate’s seemingly effortless streams of free flow step creation), others find inspiration going inside the steps, delving into the impulses that ultimately define an individual choreographer’s signature. While movement invention is not the only factor that contributes to defining a signature style, it is certainly a strong suit for Stamos.

George’s movement research usual reveals an organic nature combined with a curiosity about pop culture and our increasingly mediated world. His work is not so interested in lines as it is about presence, and the revealing of innate human emotions and states of being. Interesting then that his new work for Montreal Danse, Troglodyte Plastique, blends ideas of primal impulse with the superficial (or at least so the work’s title implies).

As has been the case with most of his repertoire, the abilities of his performers play a pivotal role in bringing the work to stage. Created on dancers Rachel Harris, Elinor Fueter, and Stamos himself, the work also features an original sound score performed live by Jackie Gallant. Based on the photos and studio clips I’ve seen, not to mention this particular cast’s collective talent, I strongly suspect the work will be muscularly visceral, sonically rich, and full of darkly humorous dramatic tension.

There’s one way to find out I suppose… the World Premiere of Troglodyte Plastique goes live at the Sir James Dunn Theatre January 20-22, 2011!Elinor and Rachel revealing their inner selves

My little family celebrates St. Nicolas on Dec 6 each year, happily paying respect to a tradition celebrated by my partner throughout her Belgian childhood. Transported into our Halifax house it is as much about gathering friends as anything else, and for the past several years two of my daughters best friends have come to spend the night and share in the excitement of waking up to see what St. Nicolas has left in their shoes. Marzipan, chocolate, mandarin oranges, and speculoos cookies…

While our little household uses the 25th as a great reason for gathering together friends and enjoying time together, I can’t help but finding myself wanting to load the tree with presents so that my child may delight in “Santa Claus” and the abundance that I was privileged to experience as a child. Ah, Christmas… While the importance of gathering remains, ideology from our consumer driven society certainly sits more than comfortably at the table. I guess this is so present in my thoughts as I just braved a trip out shopping on Dec 23! Wow!

So, what has this to do with dance anyways?

Part of my wonderful job as an arts programmer involves traveling to different festivals and events to network with colleagues and, well, shop for dance. At the very beginning of December I had the opportunity to spend a few days in my old stomping grounds of Montreal, Quebec for an event called Parcours Danse. A few days in Montreal is all that was required to remind me that some cultures really value their artists and hold a deep respect for the presence of arts and culture within society as a whole. This was profoundly brought home each morning when I showed up at the sire of our meetings at the Centre Culturel Intergenérational in Outremont. Arriving at the CCI (two blocks off a main drag in the heart of a residential neighbourhood), it’s gorgeous architecture announces that you have arrived at something special. Step inside and you realise “intergenerational” is a truly integrated into the Centre’s concept. A small cantine with a bunch of internet stations overlooks a full size ice rink with seating for about a thousand. Continue along the corridor overlooking the arena and you eventually end up in the large conference room where most of our meetings were held. Head up the stairs and you’ll find a number of dance studios… While I didn’t manage a full site visit, what was abundantly clear was that the Centre served the needs of many different groups and these groups were using it. It gave me warm fuzzies soaking up the building’s wonderful energy, pleasing architecture, and just downright progressiveness of thinking.

After a day at the CCI I had to rush off to catch a show at the Maison de la Culture Montreal Nord. Anyone who knows Montreal, knows how incredible their chain of “Culture Houses” are: located throughout the city, the MdlC each have something specific going for them… maybe a theatre, or art gallery, or library, or any combination of these. The MdlC Montreal Nord is far away from downtown; hell, it’s far away from everything! In the same time it takes to drive to the MdlC Montreal Nord you could go from downtown Halifax to Herring Cove!! Imagine getting there on public transport! OK, so you’ve arrived out on the very fringe of North Montreal in what feels like an industrial wasteland and there you find a gorgeous little 200 seat theatre that is brilliant for dance. And you know what else? It’s full!! It’s when I walk into a space like that, out on the very fringes, for a contemporary dance show, and see a curious public manifesting itself in strong numbers I realise the Quebecois have got something going that the rest of Canada just doesn’t get.

With all the hubbub about the Creative Economy, it seems the people of Quebec are well ahead of the curve. Not only do they have an abundance of mechanisms in place that support arts, culture, and creativity across broad demographic and geographic spectrums, but it’s working! People, from children to senior citizens, from posh neighbourhoods like Outremont to more challenged ones like Montreal Nord, are getting and getting involved. It is truly inspiring to witness.

So, what do I want for Christmas? In a nutshell, I want to live in a community where the arts and culture are held in such high esteem that centres devoted to them thrive with activity each and every day. Is this possible in Nova Scotia?

Last night’s performances by Company Marie Chouinard had audiences on their feet for an extended ovation. Wow! As the presenter, I couldn’t be happier: a next to sold out house, wonderful performances, and an extremely appreciative crowd! The comments by people afterward were uniformly excited – Thank you so much friends of Live Art for extending your enthusiasm and appreciation so generously! And for all the audience members out there: know that the dancers – those wonderful dancers! – were full of appreciation for your attention and generosity of spirit! Several of them expressed their great delight in the crowd’s response… beginning with the calm, rapt silence that welcomed to the stage at the top of the show, to your laughter during Chopin, and right through to that thunderous applause at the end. Performers feed off a crowd’s energy, and last night, on both sides of the curtain, we were well fed!

Marie Chouinard has rightly earned the title of Canada’s Queen of Contemporary dance. Celebrating her company’s 20th anniversary this month, Marie has been making dance for more than three decades, a time during which she has shocked, provoked and utterly captivated legions of fans the world over. From being banned by the Ontario Art Gallery in 1980 (for urinating onstage) to opening the Cultural Olympiad in 2010 at the Vancouver Winter Games, her ascent has been nothing short of stellar.

For me, the one thing that has constantly defined her work is her rapture with the human body. Safe lines and tidy images are not her strong suit: she is blood and sex and sweaty animal; hunger, passion, and driven curiosity. Her dancers explode with primal energy – be it physical or vocal – and so aptly depict we humans in all our savage poetry.

On November 17, Live Art Dance presents two classic works by this incredible company: the delightfully whimsical 24 Preludes by Chopin and wildly pagan Rite of Spring. Each of these works is a jewel unto itself, but together they form a wondrous whole that will be one of the most talked about shows in Halifax this year! If you’re reading this, YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS IT! And you know what? Your friends who know little or nothing about dance will thank you for tuning them in!

Here is a quick peek at Chouinard’s Rite of Spring:

There’s a great review for Live Art Dance’s presentation of the latest offerings by Susie Burpee and SiNS dance that appeared in the Coast’s online Art Attack section. Sue Carter Flinn really hits it on the head and provides great insights into the show, which runs through Saturday Oct. 9, 2010. Read it, then check out the show!

ps – Big Kudos to Sue CF for having her priorities in place: apparently the Globe & Mail’s Dance Critic Paula Citron was next door in the neighbouring hall checking out Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada’s production of Fidelio. I find her writing is often quite polarised, but this review seems to go down the middle of the road…