Public Affairs at the Canada Dance Festival

Public Affairs at the Canada Dance Festival
(Le Grand Continental, photo by Robert Etcheverry)

When 120 dancers invade one of Ottawa’s main cultural locales, giving every ounce of their energy to a lively, professionally-choreographed performance, people are bound to pay attention. The 26th edition of the Canada Dance Festival, June 13–16 in Ottawa, makes dance an unmissable spectacle in the city’s public spaces and non-traditional venues, places where the art form of dance isn’t often found, but everyday movement certainly is. Where the two overlap is interesting territory, and many of the festival’s shows delve into it, raising awareness of the unconscious choreography of our own movements.



The festival’s main attraction this year is Le Grand Continental, a large-scale community dance project created by Montreal-based Sylvain Émard Danse, a 25-year-old company that thrives on physically energetic and evocative choreography, creating dance that makes us think as much as feel. In May 2009, cutting-edge performance showcase Festival TransAmériques asked choreographer Sylvain Émard to create something a little different yet still in keeping with his style, and so Le Grand Continental began: 60 amateur dancers of different ages and backgrounds learned Émard’s choreography within weeks and performed it outdoors on a street in downtown Montreal. A year later, the production grew to 125 performers and in 2011, to 200. Émard then took it on the road to New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, and Mexico City. For the first time in the capital of Canada, Le Grand Continental corrals 120 dance-loving people to perform right in front of the National Gallery of Canada on the afternoons of June 15 (2 pm) and June 16 (2 pm and 4 pm), rain or shine.


On a smaller scale, Ottawa Dance Directive choreographer Yvonne Coutts takes her vision of site-specific contemporary dance outdoors for Pop Up Dances. Six professional dancers and a group of senior students of the School of Dance Professional Contemporary Programme perform pieces that incorporate the nuances of each location, from its changing light to its ambient sound: in Hog’s Back Park on June 15 at noon and at the National Gallery’s Sunken Garden on June 16 at 1 pm. Taking her crew to even more intimate outdoor locales, Toronto choreographer Eroca Nicols transfers her Dance in My Backyard project to Ottawa backyards, raising questions of how we define public and private spaces and what we allow to happen in them. When the public is invited to a dance performance in someone’s backyard, the lines blur between personal lives, artistic expression, and collective experience.


Elsewhere, on a street corner in the city, dancers in formal evening dress find themselves falling in slow-motion down a set of stairs for “Spatial Pull,” a work that alludes to contemporary dance, contact improv, and Japanese Butoh, by Edmonton choreographer-dancer Gerry Morita of Mile Zero Dance. Another location less familiar with dance but well-versed in fluid and repetitive motions is the Rideau Curling Club, temporary home to “Room with Sticks,” a collaboration between dancer-choreographer Tedd Robinson of 10 Gates Dancing, choreographer Ame Henderson, and composer Charles Quevillon.


More Montreal talent shows itself in Jacques Poulin-Denis’s “Dors,” an experimental studio performance that steps off the stage and into the audience in an exploration of sleep and insomnia, lightness and darkness, dreams and reality. And Milan Gervais’s “Auto Fiction,” an outdoor piece “for three dancers, one car, and some concrete," parks itself in the National Arts Centre’s loading dock, where the car is both set and player to the dancers, who unravel our complex relationship with traffic, road travel, and the power that comes with being behind the wheel. With dance delivered in such accessible, inclusive ways at this year’s Canada Dance Festival, more people might just take to dancing in the streets themselves.