Julia Taffe and her aerial dance troupe have scaled and swung from rock cliffs like the Stawamus Chief and soaring architectural walls like those of the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch and the Scotiabank Dance Centre.
But nothing, it turns out, is like dancing on and around trees—which she calls “living partners” in her newest outdoor creation.
“It’s just so different from dancing on stone or architecture. Buildings are habitats, but trees are alive,” says Taffe, whose Aeriosa will be performed in the towering grand firs around the new Greenheart Canopy Walkway at the UBC Botanical Garden this week. She’s speaking to the Straight right before rehearsal, in a bout of pouring rain—one of the realities of performing outdoors on the West Coast. “They move, they change, they ooze, they slough. They have really interesting, subtle irregularities.
“From day to day they will change as well. With the wind, the tree can sway, and your own movements can cause the tree to sway, so you need to have a really soft touch and be respectful,” continues Taffe, a former rock climber who appears in the work with four other dancers. “It’s all really in response to the trees. And it’s meaningful in that sense.”
Visitors will be able to watch the performance either from up on the canopy walkway or from the ground below the trees.
“It’s a really great experience for the audience: you’re having your own physical experience and having to consider your own balance,” Taffe says. “Your own movement is affecting the movement of the walkway. For us, it brings the audience close to our experience of the forest and allows the dance to be felt a little more in the body.”
The work, performed with special rigging, finds the dancers moving both vertically and horizontally amid the trees in what turns out to be a strong visual metaphor for communing with nature.
“It’s about bringing people out into nature and having people recognize the perspective of the trees that we live alongside—that they have a longer life span than we do,” riffs Taffe, who first began exploring movement in the trees in Tofino, where she spends half the year. “Here in Vancouver, part of what makes the city so special is we have this rich coastal rainforest surrounding us, and there’s pressure on that land to be developed—for that ecosystem to be condensed and condensed.”
Taffe sees huge potential to take the work, and dance like it, to forested areas in communities in B.C. And she’s trying to get approval to perform amid the firs in Stanley Park.
Clearly, the artist is not done dancing with her new, living partners.
The Greenheart Canopy Walkway presents Aeriosa at the UBC Botanical Garden from Wednesday to Saturday (August 20 to 23).