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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 www.neighbourhooddanceworks.com.  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.

Now on its 4th road show, the Nickel is ready to hit the pavement.  In total, 10 films go on the road but this year, half of them are from first timers!  The Nickel has a history of supporting new and emerging filmmakers so it’s no surprise to that they flock to it with their first films.  Welcomed with no hesitation, The Nickel believes the purpose of independent festivals like theirs is to inspire new and experienced filmmakers to submit anything.  “New filmmakers bring fresh thoughts and ideas to the table and we’re usually very impressed with the work,” said Executive Director Ruth Lawrence, making selection for the road show that much easier.  “The films selected for the road show are based on some of the most popular selections from the previous year’s festival!”

The ‘firsts’ come through a variety of sources that include NIFCO, CNA and MUN or they’ve simply been produced independently.  Ruth stopped packing up for a moment to tell me a bit more about them:

What are these 5 first timer’s films about?
Moose Adventures (Stephenville): A “modern” hunter meets his match in a battle of wits. A collaborative animation project, CNA class of 2008, directed by David Gale.

One of Us Cannot Be Right (St. John’s): Embittered by a recent break-up, Mandy seeks comfort at a bar frequented by the lonely and reclusive. Here she meets Mike. Undeniably drawn to one another, their mutual irritation quickly turns to attraction.  Directed by Jacqueline Hynes.

Lionel Lonely Heart (St. John’s): A broken-hearted middle aged man begins to receive mysterious roses in the mail.  Lionel begins to seek out his secret admirer. Directed by Stephen Dunn through the NIFCO first time filmmaker’s course.

Mary Power (St. John’s): The film honours the life of Mary Power and helps to preserve the rich traditions which she’s been a part of. A colourful piece and a must for anyone who loves a good story.  Directed by Michelle Jackson.

City Song (St. John’s): A look at the life of Steve Doiron, a local busker. Everyone knows him as “the guy with the dog” who plays on the corner of George and Water Street. The doc introduces the man behind the music.  Directed by Justin Madol, Nicci Hearn and Victoria Wells through MUN’s Performance and Communications Media Program.

What is the goal of doing this road show?
It’s to showcase some of our best films from the previous year to broaden exposure for local and international short films. It’s not often areas outside of St. John’s have the opportunity to view a selection of short independent films and the road show can interest and inspire budding filmmakers from all over Newfoundland. It’s important to support local talent so we ensure there is always an array of local material up on the screen.

What can people expect for the 2009 Nickel?
With the LSPU Hall closed for renovations we had to find another location for screening so we moved to the INCO building at MUN. So far we’ve had an abundance of submissions both local and internationally, as far away as Israel! We’re seeing innovative animations, thought provoking dramas, wonderful comedies, cutting edge experimental films and some really great horror shorts. We can already see the selection process being challenging! You can expect our children’s matinee and late night horror screenings as well as informative workshops taught by leading industry filmmakers.

The Nickel film festival will take place from June 23 – 27 with the road show busily drumming up excitement in Stephenville, Corner Brook and Clarenville throughout March.  Tickets are only $10 and you get a 90 minute presentation.  Go to www.nickelfestival.com for more details.

– Joshua Jamieson

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