As many residents and visitors of this mid-sized southwestern Ontario city are aware, Guelph is a hotbed of culture and counter culture. The list of arts events each year is extensive, from the pottery show and sale that occurs at the end of May every year, quartered in a historic mill ruin to the Faery Fest, coming on June 19th there are arts events to suit every taste. The relatively new Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival
, established in 1998, is no exception. The festival, which is on until June 6, pushes people out of their comfort zone, while
"... providing Canadian contemporary dance artists with the opportunity to perform outside major metropolitan areas as well as providing its audience with challenging, state-of-the-art contemporary dance from across Canada."
As part of its offerings each year, the festival stages dances in the street and in Exhibition Park. The park is a fitting venue for the dance festival, as back in 1883, the park hosted a demonstration
of electric lights. The centrally located park sits in an old neighbourhood full of proud homes. Outfitted with tennis courts, a large green for sports playing, baseball stadium and indoor skating rink, the park is also home to a wading pool and children's climbers and swings. Filled with tall, stately trees that are about as old as the park is, Exhibition Park is a favourite summertime destination.
Using this grand old park as a dance theatre is a brilliant idea. Not only does the performance encourage attendance, the performances create an intimacy between several hundred people, prompting perfect strangers to discuss the performances with each other.
The "In the Park" portion of the dance festival is a brilliant idea. It is a well-loved and well-attended performance. Normally the Festival offers several different showings, and this year was no exception. Five different troupes performing five dances offered up their stuff for the audience. The performances were offered on Thursday, Saturday and there will be another on Sunday in the park.
The first troupe was Company Blonde Dance Projects, performing a Greek Chorus of Mosquitoes. The Toronto troupe were outfitted in black tights with black tutus, outrageous eye goggles and head-covering hats in black and blue. The troupe of six performed a militaristic work full of precision that engrossed children as much as adults.
Next was Virtuo Dance Company, from Montreal. The three performers began Male de femme in silence in a paved area beside the tennis courts. The tennis game being played at the time of the performance did not detract from the dance. The area for the dance seemed strange initially, paved, with a cement block wall at the rear, chain-link fences on two sides. But as the dance began to pick up some agitation and angst, the women began speaking. Softly at first, gaining slowly in volume, they said things like: Rape. Lost. Perdue. Arrete. I am not an object!
Very gentle, unobtrusive music began to play in the background and the dancers flowed into a journey described in the program as "women's identity in relation to men and each other," taking the engrossed audience with them. The beautiful and emotional dance produced an outpouring of appreciation at the conclusion.
The next performance took place in a tree. Floating Seed, also from Montreal, performed Chrysalis. Said to be inspired by Japanese Butoh, the two female dancers sketched out an aerial story as ancient as life, with precision, daring and strength. At times, it appeared as if the women were part of the tree, as they slowly spiralled around with the breeze, holding themselves in taxing positions with no safety harnesses or netting below. The beautiful performance wowed the crowd, who gave a standing ovation.
Suddenly Dance Theatre from Victoria performed Courtyard for a Bird. Nestled between some evergreens and a bushy area, the setting was apt, but not very good for the several hundred people who were watching. The dance was strange and disturbing. The program describes the dance as a duet that
"... describes in moments of vivid stillness and sudden turbulence the hunger/alchemist nature of humans and suggests a curative relationship with birds."
There was a very uncomfortable and strange moment of terrible intimacy, when the head of the woman/bird character was held firmly between the thighs of the oddly clad hunter/alchemist, who in his nude-look shorts and distinct black socks and boots presented a visual conundrum to viewers. The moment, of course, represents mans' attempts to subjugate mother nature, presenting a vivid example of 'taking the audience out of its comfort zone.'
The final performance was from Toronto-based Lady Janitor, who performed Ah! Mes Synchronettes! This fantastic performance was a lot of fun, and the large troupe were obviously enjoying themselves. The brightly coloured head gear, the gaudy make-up and the fantastically timed synchronizations left the audience wanting more, reluctant to leave.