Monday, December 4, 2023

#DanceHamOnt’s Works in Progress a Great Step Forward

Transcendent by To the Pointe Dance Project
Transcendent by To the Pointe Dance Project

Who: #DanceHamOnt

What: Works In Progress

Where: Art Gallery of Hamilton (123 King Street West)

When: June 16, 2019

Contemporary dance has been quietly gaining momentum in Hamilton. Annual performances by Dusk Dances have grown annually, bolstered by the year round performances of individual dancers and companies. More recently, the Socrates Project presented Peggy Baker’s Who We Are in the Dark at the FirstOntario Concert Hall, proving that there is a growing appetite in this city for high quality contemporary dance.

It seems only inevitable that the #DanceHamOnt collective would emerge to continue this momentum. Newly formed, this group of Hamilton-based dance and movement artists have predominantly collaborated online but exist with the objective of creating public performance events and opportunities for professional development. Yesterday’s event, Works in Progress thrust the collective onto center stage, and as an introduction to both contemporary dance in Hamilton, as well as the collective of individual artists and companies, was exceedingly successful.

The format of Works in Progress was a choreographic workshop. Five separate companies showcased works that were in development or segments from larger pieces and at the conclusion of each piece, provided an overview of their efforts that complimented a brief summary provided in the one-page program handed out before the show. Audience members were then invited to provide feedback as to what elements of the piece they enjoyed (or did not enjoy) and ask questions about the work to gain a deeper understanding. This format ensured that the performances remained accessible for audience members regardless of their previous experience with contemporary dance; audience members unfamiliar with the style had the opportunity to learn about the meaning of the movement, while those who were more familiar could invest themselves in the stylistic and choreographic nuances of each work. Regardless of the level of insight, host GabreÏl Spiegelschrift acted as a guide for the afternoon, pointing out unique characteristics of each piece, and asking pointed questions when appropriate. Some conversations went on longer than others- in many cases, discussion and questions were longer than the performances. However, as a method of gaining feedback from an audience, this seemed successful for the dancers and choreographers who had the opportunity to test their work in a supportive setting and receive immediate reactions for consideration in the evolution of their pieces.

As this event was an introduction to the #DanceHamOnt collective, it was most appropriate that the first piece was entitled Opening. Choreographed and performed by Lisa Emmons and Mayumi Lashbrook (Aeris Körper Company), the piece featured a multimedia projection, incorporating shadows, colour and light into the performance. Opening culminated in an invitation to audience members to join the performance, breaking down any barriers that may have existed between a dancer and spectator. Interactivity is an increasing trend in all art forms, and it was interesting to hear the choreographers discuss their own trepidation around vulnerability and the difficulty of rehearsing a piece whose partial success depends on the participation of individuals who cannot participate in the rehearsal process.

Wandering/wondering by Cassandra Bowerman
Cassandra Bowerman choreographed and performed in wandering/wondering at Works In Progress

Enjoy Life without complaints was presented by Yugali Bharote of Shreya Bollywood Dance, who ably blended contemporary movement and Indian classical form. This fusion of dance forms, set against a backdrop of Bollywood music and a brightly coloured costume was a reminder of the many influences of a choreographer. As someone familiar with contemporary dance and not Indian dance, it was a delight to hear her speak of the conscious symbolism and choreographic choices that were utilized to capture symbolism and fuse the two distinct styles together.

Cassandra Bowerman presented two works (wandering/wondering) that will eventually be made into a larger work. Bowerman was very open with the audience that she was still searching for a story and meaning to the piece. She also noted that her choreography came together separate of the music, and the music was added in (or in one case, changed) after the dance was choreographed.

The final two pieces featured choreographers who did not perform their own work. David Hudson (David Hudson Dance Company) explored the concept of gravity and space through Im-plo-sion. Utilizing dancers Brittany Erin-Rose and Jennifer Harrison, Im-plo-sion was a reminder that the use of negative space can be just as impactful as the movement that fills it. The final work on the program, Transcendent (To the Pointe Dance Project) was collaboratively choreographed by Alyssa Nedich, Elizabeth Alexander, Cassandra Bowerman, Sarah Dowhun-Tompa and Abi Kim. With the exception of Alyssa Nedich, all collaborators also performed. During the discussion that followed, the audience was informed that To the Pointe has been working in its current iteration for three years, and is a collaborative effort.

With this in mind, it was a very fitting end to this program. Like Transcendent, the contemporary dance community in Hamilton has been evolving and building itself for years; and with the emergence of the #DanceHamOnt, officially marks a collaborative effort to create movement and build momentum for the talented dancers and choreographers who call Hamilton home.

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