Fluid Fest show Telemetry taps into the idea of dancing with (Scottish) wolves

It’s not every day that the inspiration for a dance piece comes from a photographer using sound signals to track Scottish wolves in the wild.

Yet that’s the launch point behind Telemetry, a piece created by Radical System Art’s Shay Kuebler that blends contemporary dance with tap by Danny Nielsen.

“But what about those Scottish wolves,” you ask?

Vancouver-based Kuebler first heard the story from a photographer pal, who explained how he used something called telemetry to track wolves in the Scottish wilderness.

“They put a little sound tag, a clip, on the (wolf’s) ear,” he says. “The clip sends out a sound beat once every minute, and the sound is then recorded by a control station, which is miles away, and it measures and gauges where they go.”

That’s where Kuebler, whose background includes theatre, martial arts and dance, started to connect a few dots.

“When he explained telemetry, I was like, ‘Wow!’ ” he says. “That’s exactly what the human body does with wireless information. It selects wireless information and turns it into this tactile thing.

“Telemetry really spoke to me about what dance is,” he says.  “Dance is taking an audio language and turning it into a physical language.”

Out of that, Kuebler laid the foundation for the creation of his show, a synthesis of dancers from Radical Systems Art working with Nielsen, a tap dancer, in a show that blends bebop, swing and contemporary.

“He’s probably one of the best tap dancers I’ve ever seen,” Kuebler says, “and I really wanted to work with tap. I was a tap dancer growing up and have always wanted to use the art form in a different method — like not just have a performer doing tap, but having it connected in a deeper conceptual way.”

Nielsen’s tapping features large chunks of improvisation, while Kuebler’s dancers work off his choreography.

Throw in the fact that Nielsen’s feet control the lighting, and you have a show within a show unfolding every night.

“In the work, he kind of becomes this control station that releases sound and light and is capturing things that are happening in the space — so he kind of becomes this kind of control tower, like a camera or a radio station.

“It’s a cool way to connect to the art form,” he adds, “and again, tap is such an audio as well physical art form, it kind of speaks to the idea of telemetry.”

For Nielsen, who has done his share of complicated shows — like  for example, dancing the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in BC Place (that were also televised worldwide) — nothing quite compares to Telemetry.

“It’s a cool show,” he says. “I’ve never been a part of a project that has so much technology attached to it. 

“I’m responsible for the lighting, so if I’m not on my cue, the (other) dancers aren’t being lit.

“And I’m a tap dancer,” he adds, “you need to be musical with that — so being on time with the cues, staying musical and still having integrity with what your choices are as a dancer is difficult as well.”

Then, there’s the fusion between two different dance genres to consider.

“This is first time me and Shay have ever collaborated where I’ve done tap and he does contemporary,” Nielsen says,  “Sometimes they’re matching what I’m doing or interpreting what I’m doing – and then vice versa.

“It’s challenging, but it’s cool what comes out of it. It’s just a different kind of inspiration that I’ve never explored.”

For Kuebler, the fusion cooking of Telemetry fits within the guiding principles of his company’s name — Radical System Art.

“I grew up doing martial arts,” he says, “and it was a big influence on me, developing into the artist that I am … So ‘radical system’ is kind of this idea of opposition — while ‘system’ is something that’s very formatted and controlled, and something that’s radicalized is something that has no boundaries and is limitless.

“I always wanted to have this idea of balancing those two things,” he adds, “having this human, raw quality, but also having it really refined and specific. Something that is really technical mixed with something that’s not technical. This idea of duality and opposition.”

And maybe it’s an artificial distinction to try to slot different forms into their own individual silos, anyhow — physical performance is all just a variation on the same theme, if you stop and think about it, says Nielsen.

“Tap has been around forever,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s influenced contemporary. I think in this piece, Shay’s let tap influence contemporary movement.”

Fluid Festival 2017 presents Telemetry at DJD Dance Centre, Friday Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21. For tickets and more information please click here.

Stephen Hunt is the 2017 Fluid Festival writer in residence. He wrote about theatre for the Calgary Herald for 10 years, and teaches playwriting at UBC. He is also the author of The White Guy: A Field Guide. You can reach him at, follow him on Twitter here, and read his blog The Halfstep here.