When I was 21, I walked into an empty dance studio with a huge bank of windows at York University and immediately felt a sense of potential. It was a tangible feeling. I then said, “If I could spend the rest of my life working in rooms like this, I would be happy.” It was much later, after the death of both of my parents, while living and working in Edmonton, that I connected the dots to something else. Both my parents were born and raised on the prairies, on the wide expanses of that particular landscape. My understanding of space was somehow in my bones. As a white settler I now acknowledge these prairie lands as Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. I was born and grew up in southern Ontario, a region of valleys and streams, now acknowledged as the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This connection to place, born and ingrained in my lineage spanning the Canadian western prairies and eastern valleys to my mother’s Danish parents and father’s Icelandic aunts, remains a tangible feeling. Geography, place, language and the body, as it situates itself in various locations, has become a consistent and recurring departure point for much of my dancing as a settler, performer and teacher.
Many of the dances I have been part of as improvised performances visit places and bring people to them. Such as, an RV in front of the ocean (with Gerry Morita) a wardrobe room, a paint shop, a shipping container, a parking lot, a long hallway, an abandoned farmhouse and most recently a film underneath a busy bridge in Edmonton, a location discovered, filmed and with music by Michael Reinhart. (Commissioned by New Music Edmonton for its 2020-21 No Normal Season https://vimeo.com/492724521) Often the place where something will happen, arrives first. It invites and fascinates me. Place becomes a partner, a player in my dancing. I am always a visitor.
Guy Cools and I are presently in Halifax working with Mocean Dance artistic directors Susanne Chui and Sara Coffin, musician/composer Doug Cameron and dance artist Jacinte Armstrong for a performance we created called Rewriting Distance. (Performed in 2019 in Edmonton) We are rehearsing and performing at Christ Church Parish Hall*; a community building in Dartmouth that houses a weekly food bank. It is presently raining. People are constantly coming and going as we rehearse. The inside space is public and welcoming.
Rewriting Distance is an improvised performance form that investigates what it means to visit a place through cycles of dancing, speaking, reading, writing, and watching, to recreate a live history of the particular locations and communities in which the performance takes place.
And the performance itself is based in these stories we tell to each other and the audience that can be spoken, danced, sung, written or perhaps a polyphony of all these things combined. It is a story that often situates itself in “centuries of rain” and can open “floodgates of being together in a room” **; telling tales that float and suspend our stories and transform the walls of the room into the edge of a page or perhaps an estuary that we are writing, dancing, singing, speaking and navigating with. Our first practice together becomes a ritual of welcoming.
Here is my journal excerpt from writing after the first day.
A welcoming to
centuries of rain
and the circle
that creates new bearings for north, south, east and west depending on where
your feet are … on land or sea?
How wood curves into a speciality that becomes a dance with a mop
without and with words
and are not what they seem.
can becomes oracles of all things possible.
Stories that bring
a turning and opened umbrella colliding with
bird shit on my shoulder
in the fine line of
dreaming of the day job,
one thing at a time,
and the gentleness of a sway,
and the rhythm of doing something
again and again.
that welcomes all to the hall
… everything moved, spilled, mopped
and re-arranged as our first day finishes.
We are coming up to the 20-year Anniversary of performing/travelling Rewriting Distance. You can find out more about it from this website www.rewritingdistance.com I will finish here with an excerpt from Repeating Distance, an article written for a Contact Quarterly article (CQ Vol. 32 no. 1, Winter/Spring 2007 Special Focus: Place2) It still rings true today.
“But it is the floor of the studio where we are all together… water and floor get mixed into river…and the telling of these places becomes full with accident. We are meeting every time for the first time…because we are repeating the distance of our cities to you, the viewer. It is the place of my body walking towards yours.”
*The Mi’kmaq occupied the region of Dartmouth for millenia. The Mi’kmaq called the area Punamu’kwati’jk (Boonamoogwaddy), which has been varyingly translated as “Tomcod Ground” or “Salmon Place” in reference to the fish which were presumably caught in this part of the Halifax harbour.
**From Guy Cools journal writing on the first day
Photos: Kevin MacCormack