Rising Vancouver choreographer Vanessa Goodman has created a piece where, as she puts it, “the space dances as much as the performers.”
The effect comes courtesy of 10 fans and several hundred white balloons that bounce, float, and pop in the space around five dancers.
“One of the challenges, but also the amazing thing, is it’s never going to be the same twice,” Goodman, co–artistic director of The Contingency Plan, tells the Straight over cups of java amid the LP-covered walls of the East Side’s Far Out Coffee. She’s speaking before rehearsals for the premiere of her first full-length work, what belongs to you, at Dancing on the Edge. “And I say that with absolute delight,” she continues. “It’s built to shift and change and evolve with each moment.”
The young dance artist, who won the local Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award in 2013, putting her $5,000 winnings toward this project, has watched the piece similarly evolve and shift over three years of development.
The idea of balloons came up early in her process. She was working with the theme of the five senses, and found the balloons could symbolize everything from sound to taste to touch. She also liked the way they created lo-fi noises in the space.
The artist laughs, and says that she always ends up turning to props in her work: in her striking the long indoors last year, a giant, glowing, cocoonlike red sculpture hung eerily above her dancers, and in TCP’s Adhere, she and Jane Osborne explored the theme of loneliness by putting dancers into human-scaled Plexiglas boxes. “I start making a work and all of a sudden I have a roomful of objects,” she says, smiling. “But that also informs my work and allows me to break some perpetual habits.”
Early on, she would blow up the balloons herself, by mouth—she was only using about 20. But as the piece developed through different versions at Dancing on the Edge and Dance Allsorts, plus a residency at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, the number of balloons grew and grew. She remembers dance artist and former Ballet B.C. dancer James Gnam, her rehearsal director, coming to watch the piece and encouraging her, “You need hundreds of balloons.” (Goodman likes to say it takes an army to create a dancework—even, in this case, including sponsorship from Home Depot and the Party Bazaar to pull off her set and props.)
Goodman also began exploring the objects’ potential for bringing to life Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that prioritizes necessities like shelter, food, love, and creativity. Here, too, she found the balloons could work in highly symbolic ways—just watch the way they lift above one dancer to form shelter—as she experimented. Most of all, their ephemerality captured the theory’s tenet that human beings are always “becoming” who they are, Goodman says; they are ever in a state of flux.
The final work, set to a cinematic electroacoustic score by Gabriel Saloman, will feel airy and ethereal, with dancers Osborne, Josh Martin, Lisa Gelley, Bevin Poole, and Erika Mitsuhashi moving amid the balloons, kicking through them, falling into them, and scattering them.
The symbolism runs deep, but the project has been hugely fun as well. Balloons are, after all, a prop strongly wired, in our collective memory banks, to birthday parties, circuses, and summer fairs.
“I’ll look over [during rehearsal] and someone will be doing something hilarious with a balloon,” says Goodman, who now blows up the hundreds of fresh balloons before each show with a pump. “Then there’s the jarring experience of having one pop. And I still find it quite funny when I’m blowing one up and it doesn’t get tied properly and it goes off into space. That’s what happens when you’re working with objects that are so playful.”
Dancing on the Edge presents what belongs to you on Saturday and Sunday (July 5 and 6) at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.