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Space to Fail: Vancouver Edition

Space to Fail is an international residency exchange between The Dance Centre, Hyde Productions (Aoteoroa/New Zealand) and Critical Path (Australia). Its focus is on the dancemaking process, not product and performance, allowing time and space for artists to simply work without a fear of failure. It invites choreographers to spend time together, without a leader, without an agenda, and to take risks.

Artists Ileanna Cheladyn, Vanessa Goodman (Vancouver), Alexa Wilson (New Zealand), Tim Darbyshire, Alice Weber (Australia) took part in the first leg here in Vancouver in November and afterwards collected their thoughts on the process:

Alice Weber (Australia)

No structure, no outcome. In a world inclined towards product and result, it sounds like a dangerous proposition — one that risks nothing happening at all. With this, dance is often asked to legitimise itself with clear products and labour-intensive aesthetics. But Space to Fail trusted its participating artists with just one directive: to fail.

Wary of how easily failure can be reframed as success, we leaned into a more unglamorous failure of awkwardness and inability to articulate impulse. Admittedly, as the group cohered throughout the residency, we failed at this a bit too.

We were trusted to be intelligent and rigorous in our practices without needing to legitimise our activities with outcome. An incomplete list of what we actually did includes: poeticised bodywork, looped sound experimentations, interpretive scoring, political speech-writing, hiking in the woods, holding tension, seeing performances, and a lot of talking.

Among the failures and half-baked ideas emerged a number of meaningful encounters with the city and an honest exchange between the artists. These have reinvigorated my practice and my belief in being an artist. In a world that doesn’t look kindly on failure, yet is desperately failing in so many ways… Perhaps it’s not about success, but moving differently.

Alexa Wilson (New Zealand)

I arrived proposing to work with “political dreams” within Space to Fail. We ended up creating STF alternative names: Shut the Fuck (Up), Socially Troubled Friends, Sexually Transmitted Fun, Somatic Technique Frenzy. We were always working gently and generously on the edges of each other’s practices. Awkward, intelligent, kind, considerate. Always saying Yes. This was for me very refreshing, no dramas. We worked between the studio, mountains, beach, Museum of Anthropology, DIV [Dance In Vancouver], and Left of Main to see a range of mostly indigenous shows, all of which were enlightening. I particularly enjoyed Radio 3 from Montreal in Left of Main. I felt super cared for in the residency and Vancouver, the “city of glass” as described by a Vancouver-born friend, and one cannot help compare cities, to my homes, Auckland and Berlin, all experiencing in different ways the ravages of Capitalism (failure). The drug / homeless culture is shocking as an outsider, but it is the first thing I knew of Vancouver. It’s a fascinating city, which another Vancouver-based New Zealander friend described as “punching above its weight” arts-wise. I had wide exposure in a short 10 days, to the nature, culture, arts, homeless culture, hotel culture, food culture, mountains, and made comrade art friends in my fellow STF residents. I felt very cared for, this is a good thing! We were always very polite, interested. By the final day we felt comfortable pushing each other around bound up, which is a sign of trust. It was effortless without rules and we worked fluidly, exploring each other’s ideas tentatively. We made a list of what we did, NATURE comes up a lot, in fact our future list is mostly nature. I felt satiated with exploring what I needed, creating improv installations out of objects in the room of a political dream we have of our future, with another interpreting it, plus burning our debts together on the beach. I burnt NZ’s national debt on the Pacific ring of fire. My idea of failure is inclusive, and I see it as implicit in life, and in also success. In some ways, I do not even believe it exists, and see failure and success as illusions. But within this I feel they are two sides of the same coin. It’s the economic body, #thanksforthedance.

Ileanna Cheladyn (Vancouver)

Space to Fail has been many things for me; a continuation and interruption in ways and habits. It has been an ongoing questioning of what dance and dance practice is, can be, will be, ought to be:

Dance is messy, and complicated, dependent, productive, vast, world-building, meaning-making, war-torn, political, personal, public, and private. It exists on irradiated soil, on long-haul flights with endless plastic cups, on unceded land, on promises of failure entangled with productivity.

Dance is physical. Physical because it uses physiological magic. Cardiovascular strength is magic. Hiking in the snow-capped mountains brings the heaving lungs into a space of magic. Composition is also magical, our aptitudes come together and make something happen. The contrast of efforts and expertise. The event of dance is magic.

Dance is the moment of self-intervention. The double self seen from aside, where the anger or frustration that bubbles up can be interrupted. Dance is the moment of taking responsibility where emotional and affective labour can spike in intensity.

Dance is the fear of doing the same thing that people have always done; the things I have taken time to criticize and refute. This fear is insidious, opening the possibilities for stepping in-line that much more seductive.

Dance is the entropic movement of change and recalibration.

Dance is the incremental shifts of being that somehow deliver us to a totally new way of being.

Tim Darbyshire (Australia)

Space to Fail (in Vancouver) both was and wasn’t what I expected.

I knew a group of artists would come together, experiment and fail through means of ‘doing’ practice. However, I perhaps underestimated the weight of what it means to meditate on failure in an era so rife with examples of how we are failing as a species.

I was confronted with examples of failure specific to the context of Vancouver, which often echoed similar riffs and overarching systemic failure on a global scale. I was provoked to revise and question my own ways of existing:  the ways in which I have failed, am failing, will continue to fail and will attempt not to anymore. The micro dominoed towards the macro and back again.

In Vancouver I was confronted with visible mass homelessness, drug abuse, mental disorders, indigenous grievances, migration crisis and structural imbalances. The accumulation of these problems often seem too overwhelming to tackle, however, I felt that, in this concentrated time, I participated in some minor but meaningful encounters with these problems and that I was finding terms to play my part in the equation – to slowly but surely do better and be better at existing.

This mental rollercoaster ride was handled with a great deal of care, vulnerability and sensitivity amongst my fellow artists. In the studio, this culminated in a strong sense of trust – allowing us to experiment with a range of questions, problems and acts of clumsiness in the most supportive way possible.

Vanessa Goodman (Vancouver)

First of all, a huge thank you to Mirna Zagar (The Dance Centre), Adam Hayward (Hyde Productions) and Claire Hicks (Critical Path) for this incredible opportunity to have a unique and inspiring exchange with thoughtful and rigorous art practitioners. The time spent with Tim, Alexa, Alicia and Ileanna was generous, spacious, compelling, nurturing and balanced. Removing production from the equations became incredibly generative together.  We found overlap and critical discourse through spending time in the studio, exchanging questions, walking through the city, hiking in the woods, visiting the Museum of Anthropology, seeing shows and sharing meals. This process has been an enormous gift as it has allowed me to have a clear and focused exchange while removing the trepidation of failure. There was no judgement of ideas or desires, only a sense of openness and receptiveness to create and explore with each other’s interests. There was also risk and vulnerability involved in the line questioning we undertook together. As I moved into my life and work post-Space to Fail I carried all the beautiful scores that we shared and allowed the gentleness and the porous nature of our conversations and physicality to fold into what I continue to question, experience and feel.

During the first leg of Space to Fail I want to respectfully acknowledge that we were on the unceded ancestral territories of the Coast Salish people including –Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations.

Space to Fail continues in New Zealand and Australia in February and March, 2020.

Photos: The Dance Centre, Vanessa Goodman