Dancers perform two ambitious new works for festival

York’s Dance Department is mounting two ambitious productions as part of the Fine Arts Festival this month: Dance Illuminations, featuring original choreography by upper-level students, showing March 21-24; and Reinventing John, a bold new ensemble piece inspired by John Travolta’s iconic dance in the film Saturday Night Fever, running March 28-30.

For Dance Illuminations, artistic director and York dance Professor Holly Small has assembled a collection of 16 provocative new works choreographed by fourth-year and graduate students, and performed by outstanding young dancers in the department.

Right: Dance Illuminations, photo by Paul Wye

The pieces, showcased in a two-part program (7 and 8:30pm), are linked by a common theme: the literal or metaphorical interplay of dance and light.

Alicia Grant’s wryly humorous "Shedding Secrets" configures four performers and 20 household lamps into surprising and visually arresting movement patterns, while two dancers and two dozen black umbrellas channel a stylized, Gallic flair in "Balance Behaviour", choreographed by Nicole King.

In Sally Morgan’s edgy solo, "The Far Field", the dancer, hobbled with a wooden block, travels through the light-etched architecture of an urban landscape. Judith Winslow contributes a haunting duet that recreates the geometric play of light from a series of windows, set to an original cello score performed live by York graduate music student Nick Storring.

Gabrielle Coulter’s "Blinded by the Light" offers an elegiac meditation on the moment of death, while the agitated dance sequences in Elizabeth Vecchio’s quintet, "Buried Above", prove that "there is no such thing as a peaceful night’s rest."

Cara Spooner’s mysterious duet "Womoon & Son" explores the association of male and female roles with the sun and moon, as one eclipses the other. Allison Blight’s "In My Place" delves into the raw emotions of childhood, setting a live solo dancer against a backdrop of filmed footage of schoolchildren. And Ashley Burton’s daring work, "Ready… Set… GO!" is presented entirely on film. Set in a busy Toronto intersection, it features a trio of performers dancing in traffic, cued by the changing traffic lights.

Conceived and directed by indie choreographer and York Professor Darcey Callison (left), Reinventing John invests John Travolta’s solo from Saturday Night Fever with highly original, contemporary choreographic inventions. The result is a kinetically intricate dance for large ensemble that is both subtly nostalgic and dynamically unpredictable. 

Created with and interpreted by 25 dancers, Reinventing John is set to an original score by music student Nick Storring, with lighting design by York theatre student Joanna Yu and costumes by fashion designer Barb Starr. The performance includes a lecture-demo and the opportunity for audiences to learn Travolta’s popular solo.

York’s Department of Dance is the oldest and largest university-level dance program in Canada. It has been the seedbed for many of Canada’s leading dance artists for a generation. Graduates include Debra Brown, choreographer of nine Cirque du Soleil productions; Christopher House, artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre; Patrick Parson, founding artistic director of Ballet Creole; Denise Fujiwara, artistic director of Canasian Dance Festival; Karen Kaeja of Kaeja d’Dance; Shannon Cooney of Dancemakers; and leading independent dancers and choreographers Santee Smith, Andrea Nann, Yvonne Ng and Lata Pada.

Dance performances

Dance Illuminations runs March 21-24 in a two-part program: Part A at 7pm, Part B at 8:30pm. Admission is $12.

Reinventing John runs March 28-30 at 7pm. Admission is pay-what-you-can.

Performances take place in the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East Building.

Tickets are available from the York University Fine Arts Box Office by calling ext. 55888 or ordering online.

The York University Fine Arts Festival features more than 40 public events packed into a three-week period running March 9-April 1. All the fine arts are represented: dance, design, film, music, theatre, visual arts and interdisciplinary fine arts cultural studies. Events take place at York’s Keele campus. Click here for a detailed festival schedule.