Pam Tzeng curates this year’s dance element of IGNITE! to be aesthetically diverse

Pam Tzeng is busy. At the time of this conversation, she is on a bus headed to Guelph where she is touring one of her pieces from 2017, prior to returning to Calgary for the IGNITE! Festival of Emerging Artist’s dance component, which she has curated for the past two years. IGNITE! offers the opportunity for emerging artists to showcase their work, find their feet and develop as artists, and as the festival is ever-growing, Tzeng is excited with this year’s injection of dance into multidisciplinary series: “The trajectory that we’re (taking) in terms of creating programs that are mashups and less disciplinary specific, so that everything’s really considered as performance and you get more cross-pollination by having these programs that have both dance, interdisciplinary approaches or creative blind dates as well as improvisation and theatre.”

Adding dance into a series amongst theatre performances is a bold move, but an exciting prospect to possibly reach new audiences. “It’s something about kind of creating the context to actually have different access points to a work,” says Tzeng. “I think that sometimes with dance it can be intimidating because a lot of it is up to interpretation for an audience and that’s kind of also the exciting thing about it is you can really project your own experiences and lenses onto a work and be able to take away the imaginative that isn’t as direct… so placing that with other more direct narrative or content-specific works is a really fun experiment.”

As curator of the dance element for IGNITE!, Tzeng strove for an aesthetic diversity amongst the performances and choreographers, with the pieces chosen being of a more contemporary nature. What is considered ‘contemporary?’ “For me,” she explains, “contemporary is a dance work that is responding in the now, something in the present and whether that be a socio social or political content, or what’s present in the body and experience for an artist.”

The works that Tzeng has chosen for inclusion in this year’s IGNITE! Festival are, true to her word, aesthetically diverse, and she has graciously given our readers a teaser of each of the performances in her own words:

El Duende by Jen Dunford: (Dunford) has training in contemporary dance from the Simon Fraser University in BC, but she also is an incredible flamenco dancer so she’s really trying to fuse the forms and experiment where they can intersect. She’s working with a live musician and vocalist and, with her two dancers they’re looking for El Duende, this primal state you get into when you’re completely full of emotion and everything’s by impulse and just seeing how the voice and the body can respond to that.

Fight, Flight, Freeze by Amy Badry: (Badry is) a really emerging voice who does all types of hip hop free style dance forms. She’s integrating all these different hip hop styles and also a little bit of her experience performing in other contemporary or other form jazz works and fusing it all together to make a piece that’s about the fight or flight response, and so it’s going to be really physical and set to some really groovy music.

Filter by Sean Def: (Def) came from a little bit more of the commercial world aesthetic and training in dance, and now he’s really approaching things in a different kind of nuanced way as he’s creating this work. His interest is kind of looking at the influence of being oversaturated with knowledge and the abundance of accessibility that we’re given on a daily basis through technology. There’s definitely a sense of narrative with the dancers and performers… I believe overall that the work is looking at how do we have agency and purpose when we’re being bombarded with information.

Botanica by Sabrina Naz: (Naz is) actually a company member with DJD and she’s been killing it in the scene I have to say! In addition to jazz she is the dancehall queen in Calgary, and she really has been pushing the scene for dancehall… she’s been exploring a lot of puppetry in the past few years through her work with DJD… so what she’s doing with this work is kind of the anthropomorphism of tropical flora – she comes from the Caribbean and she’s going to be fusing some jazz with African dancehall house contemporary to make a quintet and yeah, let’s just say it will be full of life. Lots of rhythm.

The Convoluted by Frankie Warren: It’s inspired by a vision of artificial intelligence and humans becoming machines and kind of playing with themes of control and kind of the implications of technology. You actually see a lot in work across Canada over the past several years, kind of a response to technology and how it either disconnects us from being present and our collective humanity, and then also the magic and whimsy of it, or the exciting facets of what technology can do for us. It’s dark and  I would say the physicality is bound and rhythmic – you can see a little bit of influence from her background in hip hop which is a lot of really interesting isolations in the material.

Gathering Angels by Katharina Schier: Katharina is really inspired by the flocking of birds, of this collective sense of harmony and really looking at how that impact, of how being collective and united can shift a perspective of being an individual and actually finding collective empathy,  overcoming personal roadblocks and just looking at a broader perspective. She’s really looking at that interest thematically through working with the dancers and keeping a sense of unity throughout, you will see them kind of flocking as a group of five together on stage.

“Come in with open minds.”

The IGNITE! Festival of Emerging Artists runs until June 9 at the West Village Theatre and Pumphouse Theatres.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at