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!!