Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s new dance-theatre piece is all about memory—the things we remember and the things we forget, and, as she puts it “the panic around that”.
Of the uncountable things that have stuck in her brain over the years since she was a young dancer, two do stand out: when she was a 13-year-old in ballet school, instructors warned her that her career would be over by 27; later, in university, they put that age at 30 to 35.
It’s fitting that the now 45-year-old artist who has defied artistic categories with works like bAnger and Highgate should also buck these predictions. And her new double bill with Chick Snipper, the dance veteran who passed her company over to Friedenberg exactly 10 years ago (when her 21-year-old DanStaBat became Tara Cheyenne Performance), is a sort of celebration of all that.
“There’s kind of a theme in the show about women and maturity and what it means not to be a 25-year-old stick-figure dancer,” says Friedenberg on a rehearsal break at the Left of Main studio in Chinatown, “and what it means to dance when you’re over 40: the beautiful difficulty of aging. Me being on-stage—in some ways I feel it’s a fantastic political act to be dancing at 45,” she adds.
The title of her new work, one half of the evening called From Where We Stand, is I Can’t Remember the Word for I Can’t Remember—a line gleaned from her own memory battles during the frazzle of motherhood.
“It’s a true story after my kid was born,” she says of the title line that she actually said (reserving the full story for the show itself). “I became really interested in gaps in memory and just what memory is—the fact that you only remember something once and every time after that you’re just remembering the memory and so on, like a game of telephone.”
The work, which is being described as standup comedy with dance and which she’s developing with theatre director John Murphy, breaks new ground for the performer. Instead of developing a full-blown character as she’s done in the past, here she plays herself.
“When I started working with John, he said, ‘What are you afraid of?’ and I said, ‘Being myself, ha ha,’ ” Friedenberg relates.
The theme of memory sent her deep into research about the way our brains fail to process all the info flying at us in the digital age, but also into her own past. “When you have a child, things about your own childhood come back—difficult stuff and wonderful things,” she says. “In the studio, what came up is I have a chunk of time that I can’t remember—and what does that mean?”
Interestingly, Snipper, later in her career, is also entering new, more personal territory in her dance work for Anne Cooper—one in which Snipper appears on-stage and speaks live and in voice-over. The work, inspired by Rabih Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman, looks at the invisibility, the loneliness, and yet the vitality of an “older woman”.
“It’s really about ‘What is my role now?’ ” Snipper says over the phone. “I have not put myself on-stage for 35 years, so it took a lot of courage to put myself there. It is a very personal piece for me on so many levels.”
Snipper admits the work, called unnecessary, grew in part out of the cancellation of a much bigger, intergenerational group piece called Big Melt that she was creating. When funding failed to come through for the final portion of the project, she had to abandon it—and it led her to raise the same kinds of questions about the role of older female dancers that Friedenberg is interested in.
“Artists are not necessarily ready to retire when we hit a certain age,” says Snipper, whose DanStaBat works were a pillar of the Vancouver dance scene of the 1980s and 1990s. “I have a lot to share with the younger generation. And Tara and I have talked about this a lot.
“All I’m saying is when you have a body of work, when you’ve been an artist a long time, you still have something to contribute.”
From Where We Stand: A Shared Evening of Dance is at the Firehall Arts Centre from Wednesday to Saturday (February 21 to 24).