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Heidi Wicks
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Neighbourhood Dance Works brings performers from all over to St. John's

The 17th annual Festival of New Dance gets underway Tuesday, and although the venues are scattered this year due to renovations at the LSPU Hall, its usual home, a plethora of performers will sashay, pliÉ and tumble and tickle the streets of St. John's nonetheless.

Festival administrator Calla Lechance explained that under the umbrella of new dance come a variety of performance styles.

Deborah Dunn - Submitted photo by Chris Randle

The 17th annual Festival of New Dance gets underway Tuesday, and although the venues are scattered this year due to renovations at the LSPU Hall, its usual home, a plethora of performers will sashay, pliÉ and tumble and tickle the streets of St. John's nonetheless.

Festival administrator Calla Lechance explained that under the umbrella of new dance come a variety of performance styles.

"Creative dance can be done with elaborate sets or in plain black-box theatre, can involve theatrical elements such as text, projected film and multimedia effects, or it can focus on a particular theme such as relationships, societal issues or political viewpoint," she said.

Whether you appreciate dance for the story it tells, for the appreciation of the abilities the human body holds, or if you have no taste for contemporary dance at all, there may be a lesson somewhere in this festival for all walks of life.

From dustbowl love...

Although The Choreographers sounds like a Hollywood musical, it's actually a four-person dance troupe from Montreal (Peter Trosztmer, Thea Patterson, Katie Ward and Audree Juteau).

Their performance, "Man and Mouse," is inspired by John Steinbeck's novel, "Of Mice and Men," and explores themes of love and devotion within the human condition.

"We see the story of trust and love that the characters of Lenny and George have for each other, and the painful choices that sometimes need to be made out of love. The overall feel is also very dust-bowl era. It's reminiscent of Vaudeville with low tech for high effect," Patterson said.

Peter plays the character of Lenny, who is large, rather slow and inappropriate. Audree plays George, who reaches about five feet, and who is the brains of the operation, often having to literally and figuratively carry Lenny.

"The struggle to see her carrying, dragging or basically dominating a six-foot (tall) man is full of pathos and physical risk," Patterson chuckled . "There's a lot of humour in it ... humour laced with sadness. There is a struggle and even some slapstick - we've had comments from peers who remark that there's an influence of Bouffon Clown work in the piece."

Despite the group's name, however, the movement is not choreographed as dance moves, but rather as wrestling moves, in parts.

"For example, Lenny and George attempt circus tricks - a two-person backwards somersault, a big fish lift - all attempted with great sincerity, and in the end gloriously NOT glorious. We are interested in playing with the states of being of these characters and because of that, a less formal and kind of real movement vocab seems to allow us to see that more clearly," she explained.

Patterson elaborated, saying that despite the perception contemporary dance is non-traditional, there are many small nods to more formal dance traditions.

"You will see an arabesque and grand jetÉ for example. We are certainly playing with the juxtaposition of form and formlessness, also as ways to represent the two characters - George as form and Lenny as the opposite."

To the mis-communication of humankind

Andrew Tay tells another story in this year's festival. His work, "The Space Between," references difficulties to communicate in modern society. In a time where there are more methods of communication than ever, one wonders where he came up with his topic.

"I think I actually started working on some of the original ideas for this piece before the widespread use of social-networking tools had taken over the world, but even simple things like text messaging and e-mailing, to me, represent a form of communication which is impersonal and easy. When I speak about the difficulty of communication, I mean something deeper than poking your friend on Facebook or drunk-texting someone," he chuckled. "Communication today is easy, but almost to the point where we take it for granted."

He said "The Space Between" addresses the pitfalls of such easy communication, meaning many people can be social on the computer, but when it comes to seeing a real person in front of them, they freeze like a nerd on the football field or a jock in math class.

"The characters in this piece are isolated and have a desire to communicate with someone else, but when confronted with a real person in front of them, they have to confront nervousness, self doubt, fear," he said.

"Things we all experience."

Dance is like wine

Tay agreed many people are intimidated by contemporary dance because, "there's a lot of dance work out there that's challenging to watch and this often leaves people feeling like they didn't understand what they just saw, and I don't think anyone likes to feel stupid when they're paying to see a show," he smiled.

"I would encourage people to keep exploring it though, because there are so many different forms out there, from the highly intellectual to pure physical movement research ... I feel like there's something for everyone and they just have to discover it," he said.

Similarly, Patterson feels dance is like wine.

"There's good ones and bad ones and everything in between, and there's so much that depends on personal taste. The key, I think, is to keep trying. Not all dance is created equal, and it shouldn't be judged that way. Some tell stories, some try to remove emotion and focus on the pure form of the body, some move a lot, some hardly at all. If you see enough of it, you will begin to understand more about which aesthetics you connect with and which you don't, and you might be surprised by what you discover."

Check www.neighbourhooddanceworks.com for a full schedule of events.

Geographic location: St. John's, Hollywood, Montreal

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