There’s beauty and struggle in the Prairie dance scene’s isolation

Dance | by Gregory Beatty

Schema 4 / photo: Hugh Conacher

Stream of Dance
University of Regina

May 12–16

Contemporary dance fans are in for a treat when New Dance Horizons hosts Stream of Dance at the University of Regina May 12–16. The festival is an offshoot of the Prairie Dance Circuit that NDH artistic director Robin Poitras has long championed, and will feature five ticketed programs along with three free performances and an exhibition of dance photography by Daniel Paquet.

Visiting choreographers/dance artists include Davida Monk (Calgary), Rosanna Terracciano (Calgary), Gerry Morita (Edmonton), Melody Kloetzel (Calgary) and Tedd Robinson (Ottawa). On the local side, one highlight promises to be the premiere of NDH’s latest production QUADRIGA   co-created by Robin Poitras and Edward Poitras.

Another prairie dance company that’s making the trip to Regina is Winnipeg’s Gearshifting Performance Works. A lifelong Winnipeg resident, Gearshifting artistic director Jolene Bailie says that just like visual art, film and literature have a unique Prairie sensibility, contemporary dance does, too.

“There’s just something about living on the prairies where you can always often see the horizon,” says Bailie. “We’re not over-populated or over-crowded for the most part, so we have the luxury of space. I think that’s present in all the work I do — through the visual use of space, and leaving room for space as well as for the dance.”

The relatively flat, spacious landscape isn’t the only influence the prairie exerts, says Bailie.

“I think with artists who create on the Prairies there’s a certain psychology where you experience four dramatic seasons. With the harsh winters, like we have in Winnipeg, you really have to have a clear vision and a clear idea to deal with the extreme elements.”

A third reality that prairie artists of all creative stripes face is isolation from the three capitals of Canadian culture: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“We have to get on an airplane to get to a major city,” says Bailie. “Winnipeg is impacted especially, because we don’t have a dance presenter whereas Robin and New Dance Horizons is a presenter in the CanDance Network.

“So even though Winnipeg might be bigger than Regina, in some ways it can be even more isolated because we don’t have a lot of contemporary dance come through Winnipeg,” says Bailie.

Recognizing the challenges faced by Prairie dance artists, artistic directors of five Prairie dance companies came together in 2010 to create the Prairie Dance Circuit.

Periodically, they team up to present contemporary dance programs that tour between prairie cities, and it’s been a godsend, says Bailie.

“The cross pollination, and the exposure, and the dialogue — even just meeting artists from other places, and sharing your work with them, it’s an important part of an artist’s professional development,” she says.

Schema 4

For Stream of Dance, Gearshifting will present a duet from a new work that premiered in Winnipeg in late April called Schema 1 — 5.

“We had a fantastic response, and we’re super thrilled to take it on the road,” says Bailie. “We’ll also be in Vancouver in July, so it’s actually a rarity to premiere a work and then have an opportunity right away to share it.”

Schema is a kind of fancy word for the lens or frame that we view the world through. “We create our own schemas, and then we understand the world through those schemas based on what we’ve experienced before,” says Bailie.

“It plays on the idea of opening up the self-centredness of our perspective,” she says. “We understand the world from our own experiences, but sometimes we can just put ourselves in the middle of things, and not see the wider picture.”

Warren McClelland and Carol-Ann Bohrn will dance the duet. That sets up a male/female dynamic, but Bailie says not to read too much into the dancers’ genders. “Sometimes with dance, males can do roles, then if we do it another time, the females can play them.

“Certainly, society will imply a gendered relationship,” she says. “I think [the dancers] are human first, but most people, when they see a male/female duet, go for the cliché. That’s not negative or positive, but it wasn’t the driving force behind the work.”

Before interviewing Bailie by phone, I viewed a one-minute trailer for Schema 1 — 5 online. At one point, a woman appeared to cough up blood on a man. There were other scenes that had blood in them too, along with some pretty physical interactions between the dancers, and a few instances where individual dancers were buried in red rose petals.

Some of the thoughts the trailer inspired in me, I told Bailie, were illness, emotional conflict, violence, maybe even death.

“I think there are elements of coldness and a calm aggression, but I wouldn’t say violence,” she replies. “If somebody wanted to be violent at the next stage, it might happen. But it doesn’t go there. There’s an assertiveness, and a confidence, and a quiet aggression with an understated tremor of what’s going to happen next.

“With the blood and rose petals, I think often the things that give us the most beauty also give us the most pain,” she adds. “Red is such a vibrant colour. But it can be aggressive too. Also, with the blood, the dancers are dancing from inside out. Then with the petals being put on them, there’s a layering effect that adds an element of aliveness in a different way.”

For the complete Stream of Dance schedule see