Dancing through change

Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers Emerging Artist Initiative returns to the stage

Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers’ Emerging Artist Initiative returns with a new show on Oct. 22. (Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

On Oct. 22, Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (WCD) Emerging Artist Initiative returns with a new show. Program choreographer Jolene Bailie processes the feelings and experiences of this past year and transforms them through artistic expression into dance.

The program is in partnership between the School of Contemporary Dancers professional program and WCD. It is a bridge program for recent or soon-to-be graduates to link the skills learned in school to the reality of professional work with a company.

The show consists of three pieces performed by five dancers: Andrés Jiménez Mejía, Sophie Milord, Gabriela Garcia Ortiz, Shayla Rudd and Ariadna Schulz. The three pieces explore a range of emotions Bailie experienced since 2020, drawing on themes of loss, grief and letting go.

“The pieces I craft are idea-based and based on what I see, what I feel, what I sense often,” Bailie says.

For the dancers involved in the initiative, working in a company has altered their traditional rehearsal environments.

“When you do pieces in school, they are pieces that have been performed for a long time, so they don’t feel as connected to the context that we live in. When you work for a company, they try to stay in the context of what is going on,” Jiménez says.

“It’s a really great way not to overwork a piece, because you are working on it enough to feel comfortable in it (while) at the same time still feeling like you can put that emotion into it,” Milord says.

The past year has presented some unique opportunities in digital performance for the dancers. Though COVID-19 pandemic restrictions created temporary performance boundaries, Ballie says the challenges have taken performers to new heights.

“Having those restrictions, obstacles and boundaries, you are always at the fork in the road. Do you push further, or do you stay where you are? How far can we go? How far should we go?” Bailie says.

While digital performance presents a learning opportunity, the dancers are excited to perform in person and connect with a live audience.

“It’s been (almost two years) since I have performed in front of people. It is exciting, but it is also a little nerve-wracking. It is going to be surreal being in a room full of people,” Rudd says.

Bailie believes connection with the audience is imperative to the artistry of contemporary dance.

“These are all abstract physical dances derived by ballet, modern-dance technique plus experimental thought processes. While these ideas are clear in my motivation, it’s not important. We want the audience to come and have an experience themselves and what it means to them,” Bailie says.

“In contemporary dance, we aren’t telling people what to think and feel. We are sharing a story. How they feel about it, that’s their experience. It is intimate in that way.”

Tickets for the in-person show at the Rachel Browne Theatre can be purchased on Eventbrite.

Published in Volume 76, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 21, 2021)

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