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It is virtually impossible to miss that it’s clearly ‘festival’ season in St. John’s, NL.  From the Nickel to Wreckhouse and on to the Festival of New Dance, there is absolutely no shortage of entertainment.  With Neighbourhood Dance Works (NDW) at the helm for the 19th season, the Festival of New Dance has packed a baker’s dozen of performances and presentations in from July 21 to 26th, along with a sprinkling of parties throughout.

Festival of New DanceWhat’s exceptionally interesting this year are some of the venues.  Calla Lachance, Program and Publicity Administrator, explains planning for this year’s festival was challenging but worthwhile.  “Without the LSPU Hall, you begin to realize how limited downtown is for presenting certain forms of art, dance in particular. This city really needs another mid-size theatre that can accommodate more performance art,” Lachance says, adding her voice to the many from within the arts community who’ve been recently lobbying for a new venue.

The challenge uncovered venues that “mightn’t have otherwise been considered and as a result we’re bringing life to all sorts of little pockets throughout St. John’s; it is really exciting,” Lachance concedes.  “Our audience is going to love our venues and the artists we’re showcasing are some of the biggest names in the contemporary dance scene.”

With a desire to keep venues within walking distance from one another in the downtown area, NDW looked up its options Lachance continued, “it’s exciting because we had to visualize how other spaces might work and what would best showcase dance artists.”  The mix of venues turned out as eclectic as the dance, including the Kirk, A1C Gallery, Cochrane Street United Church, Wild Lily Dance Centre as well as three outdoor venues like Pippy Park, the Eastern Edge Gallery parking lot and stairs adjacent to the Supreme Court.  Look out!

Some highlights of this year’s presentation include streamings, choreographed by St. John’s native Tammy MacLeod featuring Andrea Tucker, taking place at the Kirk July 25th and 26th.  Also, two-time Dora Award winning choreographer Susie Burpee from Toronto has created The Rolling Parlour Cabaret, at the A1C Gallery, its title inspired by Winnipeg singer/songwriter Christine Fellows who performs live within the show.

Tammy on Current's Cover

Tammy on Current's Cover

For MacLeod, having streamings be part of it all is an honour, “the Festival is one of the few times contemporary dance takes centre stage, it can springboard presentations into other festivals. Exposure and focus on the work with a professional venue to present in; ultimately, the festival provides a showcase.”

The show was inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem Last Words as well as an organic working process with the dancer, Andrea.  streamings attempts to create a world for its only character, constructing landscapes of awareness, integrated and disintegrated, she is “lilting in the regions of her imagination, she is the architect of her own mind. Pools of black and an opening to the present, she captures her essence and reconstructs her world.”

Working with Victor Tilley for lighting and Chris Driedzic on the complimenting soundscape which includes recordings of Rennie’s River and a soda can, the show developed over improvisation.  “As the movement vocabulary emerged so did the chairs, black holes and the possibility of emulating birth on stage. The birth imagery has remained consistent through the many incarnations.”  Originally MacLeod was also on stage when the work was informally presented at the Backdoor Cabaret in January 2008 (then titled Trusting Chairs).

For Susie Burpee, the ability to perform cabaret-style is an attractive feature of the Festival of New Dance.  She was drawn by a call for works that could be performed outside of a traditional theatre-style venue.  Her 45 minute show is armed with “themes of solitude, fragility and fortitude,” she explains.  Credited by the Toronto Star with an ability to showcase “fully human characters struggling for connection,” Burpee uses “metaphor that exists in movement, song and special objects” to convey the world’s wonder and fragility.

Susie Burpee

Susie Burpee

The Rolling Parlour Cabaret marks the fifth time that Burpee has collaborated with Christine Fellows and initially was inspired by “the idea of spinsterhood,” Burpee shares.  “I am interested in movement that is transformative and creates a character for the stage,” she adds.  Burpee’s signature presentation style is a fusion of vivid imagination and bold choreography.  Her background in theatrical study supplemented with dance training  gives her work a point of view like no other.  And Burpee’s studies continue, having recently attended L’Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris for Bouffon.

As for MacLeod, she will be continuing to train with her colleagues and independently, adding her need to “rely on the community of dancers to develop my craft and hone my skills as a mover and choreographer.”

More information on either of these shows as well as a full festival schedule, program notes and biographies are available at  To check out any of the presentations of the 19th Annual Festival of New Dance, tickets and passes can be purchased at the Holy Heart Theatre box office in person or by phone at 579-4424.

originally published April 2008



A line in the press release read, “it is abandoned and joyful, intimate and tender,” not only is “it” those things but it’s also touted as “flirting with obscenity” and “notoriously adventurous,” the latter from Toronto Life magazine. With all those condensed words in just the opening paragraph, instantly you would think – this is a show that has to be seen.

So what is “it”? It’s a show that’s been travelling abroad and through Canada that included a stop at the LSPU Hall. Neighbourhood Dance Works made the jump to bring /DANCE/SONGS/ to St. John’s in partnership with a Toronto based production company. The show is the latest creation of Artistic Director Ame Henderson who has worked with under Public Recordings which she created “in 2004 as a vehicle for the production and dissemination of performance work of an interdisciplinary nature.”

It’s a perfect fit for Henderson who says that /DANCE/SONGS/ is “a dance in the shape of a rock show,” which sounds like something Bjork would think up. The clash of two typically dissimilar art mediums that are separated by their differences; and sure enough when I was presented with the visual feast it was indeed a clash of sound, dance, and video but there was some twisted beauty within that complete chaos. Henderson has combined them because of their differences, disrupting “the dance concert with wit, energy and excess,” just like a good ‘n proper rock show.

There certainly had to be a lot of pent up energy in the performers. The show features Chad Dembski, who was nominated for a Dora Award for Best Performance, along with Claudia Fancello, from Montreal who has worked on a number of Henderson’s shows. Rounding out the cast very distinctly is Matija Ferlin who is originally from Berlin, Germany and seemed to be meant for /DANCE/SONGS/. It is without question a physically demanding performance leaving its cast looking as though they’d been put through the ringer by the end. Smiling between each song, it’s evident that they love what they’ve created and snap into other versions of themselves immediately at the first tone, note, or noise of the soundscape behind the next performance.

Henderson also recruited Eric Craven. He’s the guy behind the music – ever so important for a show based in dance shaped like a rock concert. That was recognized by the Toronto Alliance for the Performance Arts at the 2006 Dora Awards, where Craven got a nomination for his contributions to /DANCE/SONGS/. Some parts of the soundscape had touches of a Daft Punk flavour which really worked for me as well as the more mellow pieces and the interesting ways that sound was used. A mic being put entirely in one performer’s mouth to make a repeating and rather grotesque noise is one example coming to mind. Admittedly, part of me was distracted thinking about how unsanitary that was.

If there was any critique to be made it would stem from that wondering of my thoughts in that there were perhaps some things that carried on for a little too long. It would be fair to say that /DANCE/SONGS/ is not for everyone. It is a show that is more interpretive than most, even for a dance production. It was incredibly organic which really worked for the show and there were times that it was difficult to determine if the performers were either constantly in character or if they were all just really being themselves as members of a band would be. Sometimes it seemed like something that was a living art piece, like I was really in an art gallery, not a theatre.

A highlight was a piece introduced as Milk Carton, which seemed to have the most dictated ‘story’ being told in the song. It was communicating the idea of being lost, missing people on the sides of milk cartons. Also of note was the piece where the three performers did yoga-like manoeuvring up against the raw back wall which was flooded with a live video close up shot of what was going on. In fact the live video was consistently interesting and almost added a fourth presence on stage. Daniel Arcé, who directed the live shots, added a new dimension by showing the audience things up close and extremely personal.

The show is meant to be that way and Ferlin directly spoke to the idea of personal space before introducing a piece at one point. Not to mention the fact that the stage was set up in a round with seats on the sides as well as in front and as if that wasn’t getting close enough, the performers told everyone to pull their seats up as close as possible for the encore. It without a doubt gave a different experience being closer and did make it all the more interesting.

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August 2020
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