So much discomfort begins in the body, and Dance, more than Music has a way of inducing it. You can’t talk over Dance. You can rarely walk out of Dance unless you’re being rude or making a statement. To have to defend an entire medium is ridiculous, and yet I find myself urged to, as Contemporary Dance, for all the propulsion it involves tends to repel those whom it doesn’t attract. To be real, some people see something challenging once and never want to see it again. And Dance, for how it is conventionally presented, is often too expensive to risk just trying. Often it doesn’t reach smaller communities like Guelph. It’s this combination of its potency and inaccessibility that keep so many from knowing Contemporary Dance as the spectacular medium it is. I’m here to tell you about how Katie Ewald engineers the exact opposite via an event called Short&Sweet. But, so that you might understand the beauty of the first element of Short&Sweet (i.e. the Shortness) let me hammer you home into a lengthy and intimate embarrassment.
When I was 14, I went to Montreal with my family to watch my sister dance a piece in a festival, the name of which escapes me. On the program were 3 dances, each 20 minutes in length. My sister’s was last, and sandwiched between one relation and one stranger in the front row of the black box theatre, I’d expected to indifferently witness the pieces that preceded hers. The first was an ensemble of dancers, acrobatic, dressed in dark body suits, sliding in stride to some kind of minimalist texture, impressively coordinated, their bodies turgid one moment, collapsing then, bounding, extending motion through each other, calling me to Envy the way fantastic dancers can. The second was a soloist. Centre stage, clad in a dress made of mounds of burgundy silk that flowed airy and long and wide to all edges of the stage, she ran around in it as if captive for 7 minutes (I know that – I scoped my Indiglo). Finally, she shed it, dancing on totally naked for 13 minutes. Part of me is still there— that’s how long the fever inducing piece seemed to last — my body simultaneously clenched and gaping. Never in my own 9 years of modern dance and ballet, or life for that matter, had I seen this kind of nudity, let alone from the front row. My head still, I shifted my eyes to the left, then the right, to see both stranger and relation, eyes closed, withdrawn. So they remained till the end. It awakened in me my own embarrassment about the female body from which I still sometimes can’t seem to find distance. After, my sister and her 6 compatriots danced to Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in multicoloured leotards and head bands, full squats, arms outstretched. They managed to lift me out of embarrassment for moments. Still, for many years I returned to that second piece, contemplating the hyper sexualization of the female form by dominant media, shame, changing my mind on it, eventually laughing at my young prudish self, coming to wonder whether the men next to me were actually the ones performing.
As a spectator, Short&Sweet holds a lot less risk than the above experience, simply because of its Shortness. Short&Sweet is like a live mixed tape, with 15 dance pieces, each no longer than 3 minutes. It takes place at Palmer Hall on April 8th, and you can drink a beer or go for a soda as you watch soloists, duets, and other groups of all kind, show you what they mean by Dance. It’s a relaxed environment where programmer, Katie Ewald, hopes audiences feel the urge to talk amongst themselves about the pieces.
Ewald first came to know the Short&Sweet format through its originators, Andrew Tay and Sasha Kleinplatz (of the collective Wants&Needs), performing as part of the 2006 inaugural event in Montreal. It was conceived as a way for dancers to share their work with each other in a low stakes casual environment, but turned out to be a great point of access for audiences unfamiliar with dance. Guelph is lucky, as for the third year in a row, Ewald uses the format as an opportunity to import a cross section of the people she’s met over a 20 year long career in professional dance. Throughout her career, Ewald has pushed at the boundaries of what is considered Dance, whether it be through her studies at P.A.R.T.S. (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels, her work in Montreal’s Daniel Léveillé’s company (coincidentally, a naked dance company), the experimental theatre of UK’s Forced Entertainment, or the reorienting performance work of Public Recordings. “It breaks my heart when people tell me they can’t dance,” she explains. So it follows that her approach is marked by the firm belief that Dance is made many ways and is for everyone, whether that’s Robert Abubo (look him up!) or the Guelph Youth Dance Company. It’s that wide range that seemed to be the Sweet part of at last year’s Short&Sweet — not saccharine, but victorious, joyful — where I watched some people modern dance to Jennifer Castle’s Sparta, others covet pin wheels, Amelia Ehrhart bust out to Mariah Carey, and unfamiliar dancers nurse a microphone. In fact, it was at last year’s Short&Sweet that I got turned on to one of my new favourite performance groups, WIVES collective. For the dancers, it’s a low risk environment where they might take the opportunity to experiment with something new, outside of their regular tendencies. But I’m not writing for them – they’re gonna show up regardless. I’m writing mostly to convince people who aren’t sold on Contemporary Dance to come meet with dancers outside of your regular tendencies. If you truly detest what you see, you can close your eyes for 3 minutes at a time.
Short&Sweet: Guelph Edition 2017 happens at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Saturday April 8th @ Palmer’s Hall (St. George’s Church) at 8pm.
This event is sure to be at capacity.
Please plan accordingly.