Exploring communication through dance

By Sean Sullivan

This year’s annual Dancers’ Studio West Artists in Residence performance includes two choreographers exploring human communication through dance.

The DSW’s residency program allows two choreographers to work on projects for five weeks in Studio West’s performance space. The program culminates in a performance that concludes the studio’s fall performance series. The performance runs Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

This year, Alida Nyquist-Schultz from Edmonton’s Good Women Dance Collective and local choreographer Tara Wilson have been working with the studio to develop their projects that experiment with conveying the absence of human communication through the vocabulary of dance movements.

Nyquist-Schultz has spent the five-week residency expanding her 10-minute dance project Withheld, which premiered in Edmonton’s Expanse Movement Arts Festival earlier this year, into a 30-minute production.

Withheld explores ways in which people withhold information and their emotions through the body, ways in which the body becomes a cage.

“At first glance it seems like a one-sided thing,” Nyquist-Schultz says. “If you’re just withholding all the time, that suggests not very much movement. But if you look at ways that that situation could affect others and affect relationships […] it’s really quite a wide range that we found that we can express with this idea.”

She says they looked at where someone’s impulse to withhold information comes from and explored ways to show where that comes from and what it looks like in the body when building a wall up inside. They then paired that off with another dancer to show the relationship between someone who is holding back and someone who is trying to reveal what is hidden.

“How does someone that you’re with react to that withholding?” Nyrquist-Schultz asked. “Do they sense it in you and how does that affect their reaction to you? And how do you get someone to stop withholding information, how do you get them to feel comfortable enough to reveal it?”

Wilson, who graduated from the University of Calgary dance department in 1999 — the second student to receive a bachelor’s degree in dance from the U of C — has been developing a performance about communication and intimacy in a technology-driven age using a mixture of hip hop and urban dance styles.

She has been dealing with the problem of physically representing human interaction through technology, a situation that normally would have a limited use of motion.

“And yet it is an important human issue,” Davida Monk says, artistic director of DSW. “The question is: what aspect of that issue can we embody and is it really linked to technology or is loneliness and lack of intimacy something that human beings have suffered by virtue of how we’re made?”

Wilson was unavailable for comment by press time.

The studio’s Artists in Residence was one of the first programs established by DSW’s founding artistic director, Elaine Bowman. The studio is now in its 33rd year.

The five-week residency pairs the choreographers and dancers with the artistic director, Monk, and a dramaturge, Zach Moull. Through discussions with Monk and Moull and with the other dancers, the resident artists have the opportunity to bounce ideas back and forth in a collaborative environment, refining and further developing their work.

The choreographers and dancers have unlimited access to the studio’s performance space throughout the residency.

“To have a space provided for us free of charge at DSW is amazing,” Nyquist-Schultz says. “It’s really difficult to find space in Edmonton or in Calgary.”

Nyquist-Schultz says that being away from her home city has allowed her to remove distractions and focus on her project.

“I can go into it much deeper than if I were just having random rehearsals every couple days every week,” Nyquist-Schultz says.

She says the mentorship with Monk and Moull has been a large part of how useful she has found the residency at DSW.

“Mentorship is not something that’s easy to come by either, just like the space,” she says. “Having fresh eyes see my work and get a fresh perspective, that’s a huge, huge bonus and really pushes me to move in different directions and to delve deeper.”

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