Twenty Five Years on the Edge

“Dancers’ bodies are more responsive to music than [even] musicians’ bodies” says composer/performer Petunia at the talk-back with the cast and crew of BAMBOOZLED on Saturday night. Petunia passionately recalls watching his music come to life through the bodies and movements of this distinct contemporary dance company, MACHiNENOiSY.

After a riveting opening performance of Vaudeville-inspired dance, comedy, theatrical improvisation and live music, the composer, cast, creators and choreographers of BAMBOOZLED took time to sit down and answer our questions, and to explain some of the complex, multidimensional themes and motifs of their production. BAMBOOZLED is a visually explosive performance that explores different histories of human transgression. The show speaks to “the issue of commodification of persona in modern day performance practices.” With reference to current singers and performing artists like Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga, one of BAMBOOZLED’s choreographers and performers, Delia Brett, explained that their show explores transgression in performance and asks the question:

“What is transgressive anymore?”

With tight n’ bright, sexy, larger-than-life costumes and enticing twists, BAMBOOZLED ropes us all in, and leaves us tongue-tied by its upside down singing, aerial acrobatics, and edgy music and choreography.

And, guess what? BAMBOOZLED is just one of the many stimulating contemporary dance performances that have been brought to the local stage over the last week by Vancouver’s own Dancing on the Edge festival. Running from July 4-13, 2013, this year’s Dancing on the Edge is currently showcasing work from twenty-eight different choreographers and dance companies from across Canada and beyond, featuring a variety of different contemporary dance styles and genres.

First founded in 1988 by Donna Spencer and Esther Rausenberg, the Dancing on the Edge Festival turns twenty five this year, and celebrates twenty-five years of cutting-edge choreography and contemporary dance, community, movement and growth. In the late 80s and early 90s the contemporary dance scene in Vancouver had very few venues committed to showcasing the city’s growing talent, but at this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival performances are being held at a wide range of indoor and outdoor venues including Portside Park, Chinatown and Gastown, the Firehall Arts Centre and the Scotiabank Dance Centre.

Over the years the Dancing on the Edge Festival has brought over four hundred different dance artists and choreographers from across Canada, Japan, Germany, Venezuela, Mexico, Wales, the United States, Poland and China as well as numerous local and British Columbian artists. The festival has been influential for many emerging dancers, choreographers and dance companies, and the festival continues to provide space, support, community, and a platform for contemporary dancers and choreographers alike to be seen, discovered, and appreciated.

Festival Producer Donna Spencer says, “It is wonderful to look back over the history of the festival and see just how many artists we have been able to support and introduce to audiences.  The fact that a festival, on the edge of Canada, for artists who live and create on the edge, within an ‘on the edge’ art form has survived through passion and ingenuity to highlight and create a stronger place for contemporary dance within Canadian society, is amazing. I am proud and excited about that history!”

Over the last week, I have had the privilege of attending five phenomenal performances brought to the stage by the Dancing on the Edge Festival, and I have been blown away by the extraordinary talent, devotion, and control of both the dancers and choreographers. I have been possessed with laughter and then moved to tears by the heart-warming comedy and beautifully tragic stories written into each movement: each breath, muscle-flex, toe point, body sway, arm roll, and back bend; I have been truly amazed. Stories brought to life by artists who use movement as language, to speak, to write, to sing, and to scream.

I was deeply frightened by Tomomi Morimoto’s Inhabitation, and given goosebumps again and again by Vanessa Goodman & Deanna Peter’s Down Goes Fraser. I am still pondering all of the complexity and nuance of The Art of Stealing by Amber Funk Barton. And I am laughing inside at the memory of all the confused passersby at Gastown’s steam clock tower at noon on Thursday, where Alvin Erasga Tolentino and Alison Denham performed Tolentino’s 25 Gestures for Dancing on the Edge to honor and celebrate 25 years of Dancing on the Edge, the little festival that could.