Dance Innovations 2022: Escalate, running Nov. 23 to 25, features new choreographic works by 23 fourth-year dance BFA students. Performed by students in all years of York’s undergraduate program in dance, this series engages with social justice-oriented themes of resistance and rebellion.
“Escalate examines the ways in which we have the capacity to take things into our own hands, individually and collectively, to press against systems and structures that don’t allow for personal agency,” says Dance Innovations 2022 Artistic Director Tracey Norman. “As we collectively find ourselves in an unusual moment moving toward a post-pandemic existence, the choreographers are investigating what this means for their creative work. [They] are inspired to tell their stories, exhibit states of consciousness and engage the audience in the visceral act of dance-making.”
This year’s instalment of Dance Innovations is rooted in social activism, exploring topics of anti-racism, personal growth, feminism and more. Several of the students dove into the topic of climate change, an imminent threat that affects this generation more than any other. As the artists take a stand against the issues that plague the world, they display their inspiring resilience and vulnerability. Guided by faculty members, students navigated the intersectionality of dance, creating a show that encompasses a broad range of human emotions and experiences. Presented in two series – Resistance and Rebellion – Escalate also features a reconstruction of three connected dances from West Africa by Professor Modesto Amegago for the department’s third-year performance class.
A striking work that explores the theme of nature conservancy is Amy Williams’ No Word for Wilderness. Performed by Noelle Dye, Amelia Downs, Nicole Faithfull, Max Tindall and Helena Zarifeh, this piece depicts a stunning tribute to endangered wildlife. The five dancers come together to create a delicate balance of suspense and relief, alluding to the precarity of the global environment. Williams laments: “We cut, we pave, we flatten, we burn our surroundings, leaving many of the living creatures we share this world with marked as ‘species of concern.’”
Choreographer Phoebe Rose Harrington also studied the theme of human ignorance with her piece, Siege. Her work speaks to our tendency to follow a predetermined path without heeding the consequences of our actions, especially regarding the environment. In her work, Jenica Boutilier, Christiano DiDomenico, Zoë Rose Harrington, Lucy Jack and Jaelyn Jones embody the effects of human negligence. Harrington describes: “the hope for healing is left in the hands of the source responsible for its anguish,” ending her piece on an uplifting note about our collective responsibility to take better care of the Earth.
Similarly, TERRA by Gabriela June Brathwaite was motivated by the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. In her emotional piece, danced by Ysabel Garcia, Kerry Halpin, Mackenzie Grantham, Travis Keith and Abbey Richens, she expresses how humans appreciate and interact with nature, but simultaneously ruin the resources that are needed to survive. According to Braithwaite, “TERRA is a reflection of how society treats what is essential to us.” Dynamic and expressive, the dancers illustrate the beauty of the rainforest and all the important life within it that must be protected.
Another piece that examines the interplay of nature and humanity is Rayn Cook-Thomas’s Dzunuḵ̓wa. “Dzunuḵ̓wa is the wild woman of the woods and she has haunted ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest for time immemorial,” Cook-Thomas explains. “Dzunuḵ̓wa is part of a complex supernatural society in Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Dances, songs, oral history and cedar carvings keep Dzunuḵ̓wa alive in Kwakwaka’wakw communities.” Danced by Kelsey Bonvie, Talia Cooper, Mackenzie Grantham, Kerry Halpin, Ebe Lau, Mikaela Orford and Blythe Russell, this piece voices Cook-Thomas’ pressing question: When the forests disappear, where will these stories go?
Mackenzie Grantham’s Ablaze brings forward a different perspective on climate change, focusing on the forest fires in British Columbia. Her work, performed by Mircel Cortés, Noelle Dye and Grace Kuster, explores the dynamics of fear and how it can be embraced instead pushed away. “I have grown this fear-based connection with fire, a simple spark sending me into a state of panic,” Grantham confesses. “Instead of succumbing to despair in this work, I bring a new perspective. Ablaze disrupts this narrative of fear in destruction, bringing forth the acceptance of the end.”
Mon Arch by Zoë Harrington also examines the idea of endangered species. With performers Bella French, Mikaela Orford and Phoebe Rose Harrington, this collaborative work acknowledges our responsibility to protect the planet. “We as a collective focused on life, beauty, and hope,” Harrington says. “The choreographic prompts and process were highly motivated by butterflies and specifically monarchs.” Colourful and vibrant, this piece reflects the artists’ respect for wildlife and their drive to preserve it.
Through the support of the faculty, the collaboration between choreographers, dancers, lighting designers, and technicians has transformed the students’ creativity into a transcendent spectacle. Each piece brings forward a different but relatable concept, with unique and personal insight. With the wide variety of works, Escalate is sure to dazzle and inspire audiences.
Artistic director: Tracey Norman
Course director third-year performance: Modesto Amegago
Production manager: Andrew McCormack
Lighting designer and course director: Jennifer Jimenez
Stage manager: Sophia Fabiano
Dance Innovations: Escalate
Series A: Resistance – Nov. 23 to 25, 7.p.m.
Series B: Rebellion – Nov. 23 to 25, 8:30 p.m.
Advance (until Nov. 20): $15, seating is limited
Box office: 416-736-5888 or online at ampd.yorku.ca/boxoffice