by Sanya Hung
Photos by Ashley Renee
Have you been to the Guelph Dance Festival? If not, make sure to mark it on your calendar for next year!
Aptly titled “Defining Gravity”, this year’s festival celebrated “the force that brings bodies together”. Highlights included ORA, a film that used 3D thermal imaging for the first time; Vertical Influences by contemporary skating company Le Patin Libre; Youth Moves, a series that presented the choreography and talent of Southern Ontario dance schools; boundary-pushing evening performances at the River Run; market workshops highlighting health and wellness practitioners; dance and movement workshops; and live music and children’s entertainment.
The Guelph Dance Festival has something for everyone. It is accessible and welcoming to a wide audience – even newcomers taking in their first contemporary dance experience will feel at home. Take, for example, the In the Park series. Held in the picturesque setting of Exhibition Park (unless weather dictates otherwise, as it did this time around), the series is an informal event for all ages that celebrates a spectrum of contemporary dance companies and artists. Best of all, it is pay what you can, .
Unfortunately, Sunday’s In the Park performance was storm-struck and relocated indoors to the Guelph Youth Studio. Needless to say, this did not hold back the turnout. Like a cramped tetris puzzle, devoted audience members shuffled and shifted their bodies to accommodate the crowd.
The content of the In the Park series this year was varied. Dragon, a more theatrical and narrative-based piece by Frog in Hand from Mississauga, wowed the crowd with its dramaturgical emphasis, its power, and excitement. Home-grown Guelph-based company, Hidden Heart Collective showcased excellent technical mastery mixed with beautiful flowing sequences. Hungarian duo, Ferenc Feher, performed Tao Te, a demanding piece showcasing the artist’s commitment to Chinese legend’s LaoTze’s Tao or “the path, the way” and Te, “the power through which Tao manifests itself”; Aeriosa, managed to re-stage a piece meant to be performed en l’air in the tree canopy to an indoor studio space. Wowing the crowd with Birds Land, their serpentine undulations, dynamism and stage presence highlighted their incredible command of the body and artistry.
Although I wasn’t able to attend the youth performance on Sunday June 5th, I did browse through the lineup. It was thoroughly impressive; both the content of the pieces and the representation of various youth contemporary dance companies were astounding. It’s so great to see youth involved in contemporary dance and promoting their ideas, their artistry, and their voices to the contemporary dance world. Growing up many of us were not encouraged to create our own choreography or be that ‘involved’ in the process so it’s such a positive shift to see youth given autonomy to explore their creativity and artistic expression in a supportive environment.
Prior to Saturday’s evening performance series, Sara Porter opened up the discourse on how we experience dance and the varying perspectives a viewer may bring with them when viewing contemporary dance. Sara questioned, “do you need to understand dance, have dance background or history to appreciate it?” Personally, I don’t think so. Engagement with an art form can take many avenues. Having a personal experience with a dance performance goes beyond words. Dance is a felt form of art. It communicates and expresses what we all have in common: a body and a lived experience of that body. So perhaps what makes dance uncomfortable to watch (particularly contemporary dance) is that by watching it we are engaging in an intimate experience; a reminder of how we have personally felt, experienced and expressed our own lives through our own bodies. What the experience of dance gives is a reflection of our own lives, moments, issues, experiences, feelings, and sensations that cannot be repeated and are in the same way ephemeral as all human experiences are. That connection to our body, to our experiences, to humanity, that is what makes dance special. That is why the Guelph Dance Festival is not only worth attending, but also worth celebrating.
For more information on Guelph Dance programs, including camps and training for youth, visit guelphdance.ca