Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prairie Artsters: Fringes of the Fringe*

As the only dance show in last year's Fringe as a BYOV entry, Afternoon Delight had the Edmonton-based Good Women Dance Collective putting its neck out there in performing to a largely narrative-centric audience. As a simple movement piece with no dialogue and elements of slapstick physical comedy, the show got a mixed bag of reviews from audiences who found it entirely refreshing to feedback that bordered on the enraged and the confused. With perhaps the only common denominator of a stage, contemporary dance and fringe theatre have little else in common, but the risk seems to be paying off as GWDC returns to the Fringe proper this year with This Is Not A Play, a three-part dance kebab interspliced with short film works at the Catalyst Theatre.

Catching up with Ainsley Hillyard, one-third of GWDC, she notes that the title is a direct response to last year's experience of being the only dance show in a theatre festival. She says over coffee, "I remember when we were postering for the show, everyone would ask, 'What's your play about?' and we would explain that we're doing a dance show, and they would pause, and ask again, "So what's your play about?'" So we decided to just make it more clear this time around."

With three short pieces each choregraphed by a member of the collective (Hillyard, Alida Nyquist-Schultz, and Alison Towne), there are no throughlines from one piece to the next, with very different styles ranging in inspiration from Jimi Hendrix to braille to the ups and downs of social transformations.

As a collective that started in 2007 as a means to band together to create, produce, present and perform dance within Edmonton, GWDC began with the hope that it was possible to work as professional dancers in Edmonton when opportunities appeared few and far between. While Hillyard was not part of the original collective, joining after completing her Bachelors of Arts in Dance at the University of Winnipeg, she has pushed the group forward over the past year and a half with more showcases and presence, stressing the importance to see and support more dance, but also to talk and educate the community and audiences.

She continues, "We really wanted to break into the theatre scene because that community is much bigger than the dance community here. I think that in Edmonton where we have pockets of small arts communities, we should integrate and support each other. I would love to see audiences challenge themselves by having a new experience."

Recognizing that theatre in Edmonton is more traditional and linear, Hillyard believes that contemporary dance—while being more abstract—is not that far of a stretch for audiences who already enjoy the aspect of live performance.

The interesting thing to me is that the Fringe has been an enormous influence over the years in shaping the direction and expectation of theatre and live art for audiences and emerging artists alike. Proportionately as the most popular framework for most folks to go and catch a live show, often serving as the first (and last) time many Edmontonians will even see live theatre, and existing as a professional goal and model for local emerging artists, the idea and reality of the Fringe Festival has at once made live art to be something entirely accessible, but at the cost of often expecting only small shows with low production values, perpetuating a trap of sorts that has not necessarily allowed much evolution in the artistic format. With the entry of local dance into the Fringe, it's perhaps a small sign that discipline crossovers can succeed here on a mass level, and that the fringe of the Fringe Festivals such as the smaller movement arts and performance art festivals can also grow without segregation.

Already this year GWDC are no longer the sole dance artists in the lineup with local Kelsey Acton getting in on the Fringe action. As Hillyard conclues, "I see Fringe as a big party and the dance kids got invited." And here's hoping the party starts to liven up.

*First published in Vue Weekly

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