Contemporary dance in the city gets energized

There’s a buzz in Calgary’ contemporary dance community these days: a signal of evolution and optimism. Alberta Ballet and Decidedly Jazz Danceworks continue to create groundbreaking new work; mid-sized mainstays such as Dancers’ Studio West W&M Physical Theatre and La Caravan Dance Theatre do their part in pushing the boundaries; and the Fluid Festival’s celebration of physical performance grows year by year. Amid the established companies though is a flurry of fresh energy: new collectives and companies more independent dancers and newly arrived artists making their homes here.

To be fair Calgary’s dance community has always had a high metabolism. “It seems like there’s a lot going on right now but it’s kind of always seemed like that” says Kimberley Cooper artistic director of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks.

“There have been ebbs and flows and times where anybody who didn’t want to be in Alberta Ballet or Decidedly Jazz Danceworks just ran screaming from the city. I feel like now that’s not happening and that’s really exciting.”

One of those artists who hasn’t run away screaming is choreographer and dancer Pamela Tzeng who has worked nationally and abroad. She says there’s been an increase in independent dancers over the past few years as well as artists and companies migrating to the city.

“You could say there’s more visibility happening more activity in general” she says referring in particular to a rise in professional paid dance projects an indicator of the number of artists committing themselves to the profession.

Tzeng also mentions mixOLOGYdanceMine a company recently transplanted to Calgary after being founded in Saskatoon in 2009. Artistic director jill henis originally from Vancouver and company dancer Barbara England are careful to distinguish dance companies which typically have consistent artistic direction and use a core group of company dancers from more ad hoc collectives and project-based work.

“It’s not about comparing or saying that one is better than the other it’s more of questioning which is it that someone is presenting? How ultimately is that contributing to the evolution of the community itself to the potential of the community?” says henis.

England adds “If you want to be a full-time practising artist then you might not be able to do as much as you would’ve hoped for if you’re always waiting for a government grant.”

While being part of a company gives dancers the opportunity to focus intensively on their practice both Cooper and Tzeng credit established dance companies with nurturing independent artists such as Dancers’ Studio West’s residency program.

“There is a vital independent dance community…. It’s small but it’s mighty and it’s really supportive” says Cooper.

Indeed a new dance collective formed earlier this year ReLoCate comprises independent dancers already active in Calgary’s community (Helen Husak Melanie Kloetzel and Jason Stroh).

So Calgary’s dance community hasn’t necessarily grown dramatically at least not in numerical terms but rather evolved. “I don’t think there are more dancers I just think they’re taking more ownership” says henis.

A burgeoning artistic energy never operates in a closed system — as dancers innovate we as an audience are inexorably part of that evolution.

“Our audiences are very intelligent and regardless of how much experience they’ve had how much exposure how much of a hub this is or not they recognize good work” says henis. “People are hungry for more.”

It would be disingenuous to pretend that challenges don’t exist such as the shortage of dance venues in this city and difficulties of marketing on a tight budget. All the same says Cooper “…Artists are just kind of making their own way in the city. Artists are trying to find unconventional places to show their work.”

Tzeng is optimistic. “With Nenshi here with Calgary 2012 I think it’s a good time to be here” she says. “We’re finding ways to maintain inspiration maintain the vitality to push and there’s also more hope now to be here. There’s more Calgarian pride.”



Alberta Ballet: Tchaikovsky and tutus? Check. But Alberta Ballet also pushes the boundaries of the art form with bold new creations ( )

Corps Bara Dance Theatre: Melding contemporary dance and dance theatre an all-ages company that does its bit in cultivating youth dancers as well as adult ( )

Dancers’ Studio West: A long-standing pillar in Calgary’s contemporary dance community offering professional development and educational programs as well as innovative performances ( ) Decidedly Jazz Danceworks: A staple of Calgary’s art scene for over 20 years DJD grooves to live music within a wide spectrum ( )

Ember Dance Company: As a semi-professional company offering professional training and performance opportunities for adults with a passion for dance ( )

Springboard Performance: Curates the annual Fluid Festival celebrating boundary-blurring feats of physical prowess ( )

La Caravan Dance Theatre: Edgy and international a theatrical dance company with a penchant for original multidisciplinary work ( )

M-body: Seeks to both develop and disseminate contemporary dance by focusing on home performances and tours ( )

mixOLOGY DanceMine: Focuses on the creation process as much as performance aiming to both express and investigate the possibilities of contemporary dance ( )

MoMo Dance Theatre: Mixed-ability performance is sometimes considered the most cutting of cutting-edge; MoMo works with professional artists and dancers of all abilities to create original works ( )

University of Calgary Dance: While not a company students of the univerity’s dance program produce several shows a year often under the tutelage of the best in our city ( )

W&M Physical Theatre: Founded in Poland in 1994 but now happily at home in Calgary W&M Physical Theatre blends contemporary dance and Polish physical theatre ( )