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Curator’s Notes , Dance In Vancouver

Curating Dance In Vancouver

The 13th edition of the biennial Dance In Vancouver platform takes place November 24-28. We spoke to guest international co-curator Angela Conquet, and guest co-curators Michelle Olson and Starr Muranko of Vancouver’s Raven Spirit Dance, about how they constructed a unique edition that is responsive to our rapidly changing times.

Angela, tell us about your career in dance, and how you came to connect with The Dance Centre.

AC: Before relocating to Australia in 2011, I worked in Europe at organizations including Mains d’Oeuvres in Paris, one of the largest independent arts centres and a pioneer of the ‘new territories of the art’ movement which took over abandoned buildings and repurposed them into arts venues with the ambition to connect art to people as an everyday experience. In Australia, as Artistic Director of Dancehouse in Melbourne, it was a completely different context and experience – running the only dance house in Australia comes with many joys but also responsibilities. One of my missions was to connect Dancehouse to international opportunities and other communities of thought and in this context I came across Dance In Vancouver – through my relationships with Canadian artists and also with The Dance Centre’s Executive Director Mirna Zagar.  A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel via Skype for a previous DIV. It was 6am in Australia and I had no idea my image would be projected on this massive screen! By some miracle, I was wearing decent clothes…

What were your first impressions of the Vancouver dance scene?

AC: I was deeply impressed with the sense of community that transpired immediately, from the very first conversations with the artists. Although I imagine there are, like everywhere, many different communities within the local dance ecology, I felt a profound sense of connected-ness and complicity with each other that I truly appreciated. I do feel that it is this layer that keeps these artists together and contributes to making the community an eco-system, a web of interrelations and affinities. I felt I was invited into this community with curiosity and attention and the relationships that I now have with some artists – and not just those in DIV – are full of the same generosity and complicity. Working with Michelle and Starr all along has been like being welcomed into someone’s house which in time, by returning to it, becomes a home. Hosting someone is never an easy task, and they both guided my ‘digital’ presence in Vancouver with so much care and patience. Perhaps also, I feel I have a special relationship with these artists, because I could only engage with them via Zoom and as we know, it is a very limiting medium, but it forced me to work with an enhanced level of attention and concentration, to understand everything – their dances, the places and spaces they were telling me about, the collaborators etc- all of which I could only imagine. In many ways, my relationship with the Vancouver dance scene is an exercise of imagination as I will be unable to see the works live, to meet them in person, to sense their dances with and through my body. But herein lies perhaps the only good thing about this pandemic – in the absence of those bodies, it activates kinetic imagination…

How do you compare the Vancouver dance to that of Australia?

AC: It was incredible to discover how rich and vibrant the local dance scene is – how many festivals and venues, and Scotiabank Dance Centre and its beautiful spaces – what an incredible asset to have! Melbourne is not ‘blessed’ with so many venues and there are very few dance-specialized venues and events. It is so important for a healthy eco-system (in any art-form) to offer artists a variety of presenting or rehearsal options! It was somewhat uncanny to note some striking similarities between the Melbourne dance scene and the Vancouver one, particularly during the pandemic – the same reflections on the fragility of this art-form, the numbness of some to even imagine what their art might look like on zoom…

Starr, how did you and Michelle work with Angela to curate DIV?

SM: It was almost a year ago now that we first started out with an introduction by email and then Zoom – as seems to be the way almost everything is done in these times. What began as initial conversations to get to know one another and our practices transformed quite quickly into a deeper conversation about our shared values, perspectives on why we dance and why we share it.  What it means to be able to slow down and listen deeply. To be witness to one another. We took time and care in building the map that would not only guide this edition of DIV but that would also be our guiding principles and ways of working together.  Looking back on it now we quite naturally fell into a rhythm with each other – the three of us meeting every two weeks, not so much because we had to, I would say more because we sincerely wanted to. And over time I believe we have grown into a strong trio of co-curators, colleagues and now friends. At the core of everything is relationship. I believe because we have taken the time to find that relationship with each other that this will be reflected in the programming decisions we have made and in the way in which we will each be holding this unique edition of DIV together.  And even though we are an ocean apart it feels like meeting up just down the street when we have our regular Zoom meetings sharing ideas, inspirations that are showing up in our lives, and strategies to weave it all together.

What is IndigeDIV?

SM: IndigeDIV has been a part of DIV over the last few editions and is produced by Raven Spirit Dance.  Our initial impulse with IndigeDIV was to create space for Indigenous dance artists to share their work in various stages of development and for it to be held by conversations, provocations and opening up ways of witnessing work grounded in an Indigenous worldview and values. We wanted to create opportunities for presenters to come and learn more about Indigenous ways of working and how they could become strong allies in bringing this work to their spaces. IndigeDIV has become a space of inquiry, of educating, of listening and of asking difficult questions as a means of finding pathways through the dismantling of a colonial lens. It has not always been easy but it has been very rewarding. And now here we are in 2021 and this year’s IndigeDIV does look very different.  It is no longer a parallel programming alongside DIV but rather woven throughout the planning, invitations and ultimately presentation of DIV as a whole.  It has very much found its space at the centre of our 2021 DIV offerings. It has provided a guiding map for us through the centering of Indigenous voices and leadership which is reflected in our programming choices including the two keynote conversations that will both open and close our time together.

Michelle, what are the main trends you are seeing in the dance community right now?

MO: I am not sure if you would call it a ‘trend’ but survival comes to mind.  Survival of our art form and of our practice in the face of this pandemic and the waves of racial injustice and the climate crisis. The pandemic has peeled back the layers and has shown how vulnerable independent artists are and how threadbare the safety net is.  Having such high stakes, artists have met this huge moment with full capacity, transforming into digital realms, creating space for solo practice and as Angela so eloquently put it, having a practice of “kinetic imagination.” In order to survive and exist, artists have expanded their capacity and reach and have dropped in deeper than ever before. The trend is transformation, the trend is to be stripped down to the essence and dance from this guttural knowing, the trend is to reach out to each other in ways we have not.  It is rage, it is tenderness, it is fierce and it is loving.  And from the edge of all edges…..the trend is to keep on dancing.

How have you evolved the DIV program to reflect/respond to those changes?

MO: Our conversations have been circular, have been layered and have had room to breathe.  And it is from this the program grew. The artists have been the lead as they embrace their own sense of practice and performance in these unusual times. As they deconstruct their notions of how and what they do, we wanted the DIV program to have the sense of deconstruction, of letting go of what was done before and a leaning into the unknown.

What do you hope presenters and artists will gain?

AC: This edition is not ‘business as usual’. Although many of the projects presented are tour-ready or can be re-created in situ elsewhere, we did not conceive this edition as a marketplace. What we are inviting both our fellow colleagues and local artists to experience is a space of encounter, of relations, of resonance and inter-connectivity, also of curiosity. As such, we are presenting specific projects, but we are offering to meet the artists and their thinking. Much has changed since the pandemic started and even before, much needed to change – in our relationships to artists, to their work and to audiences and in our practices as professionals. We often forget that without artists, we are out of a job. And yet we create all these circuitries of power and dependency that have deep implications on artists’ works and trajectories. And we also forget that the words we use in a relationship have meaning so if we work with a marketeering lexicon, then the relationships will be transactional, the way we speak about art will be marketing and how we sell the artwork will be packages. It is not our intention to critique this dynamic here, rather we are inviting our peers to trust us as we suggest some alternatives, mostly artist-led, and agree to experience these offerings with attention, intention and generosity. And at the same time to interrogate their place and gaze: what does it mean to invite an artist from Vancouver to connect with their local audiences? What other layers of meaning would it generate in resonance with other local contexts? What is it that is irreplaceable or uniquely singular in these art works that can grow something elsewhere? In many ways, the conversations we have curated are gentle provocations to shift the gaze, question the ‘contemporary’, revisit dynamics of mobility, interrogate privilege and systems of exclusion, find meaning before ‘trends’. We hope they will agree to step off the beaten track and trust us and the artists.

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Dance In Vancouver 2021
November 24-28, 2021

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Photos: Starr Muranko/Melanie Orr; Angela Conquet; Michelle Olson/Melanie Orr