Dancing on the Edge celebrates 30 years of filling a need

Festival founder Donna Spencer looks back at the annual event's role in the local dance scene's resilience

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      Dancing on the Edge founder and producer Donna Spencer laughs just thinking about the discovery of a video of the first festival in 1988.

      “I come out at the end to thank everyone and I say, ‘This was such a success we might have to do it again,’ ” she relates over the phone to the Straight from the Firehall Arts Centre, where she’s also the long-time artistic director.

      Little did she know she had just launched a three-decade institution. “Dancing on the Edge was created because there was such a need,” she says. “We never did a strategic plan for a festival that would still be around in 30 years.”

      That anniversary, being celebrated at this year’s event, is a sign of how much Dancing on the Edge is still in demand as a platform for the art form; more than 100 artists or troupes applied to perform this year. From the beginning, the showcase has provided a space for artists to test work in front of live audiences—to push the form and get together with peers. Spencer also sees Edge’s survival as a reflection “of the resilience of the Vancouver dance community”.

      To see what she means, look at some of the names on this July’s roster. Several also appeared at the very first installment of Dancing on the Edge. There’s Noam Gagnon, who then appeared with Dana Gingras as part of the internationally in-demand Holy Body Tattoo and now creates Pathways for eight dancers. Jennifer Mascall, who presents the witty new group work Ow, and Kinesis somatheatro’s Paras Terezakis, who has a new work in progress called Against, are also back on this year’s bill.

      Other names returning to Dancing on the Edge 2018 appeared in its middle years, including Company 605, Alvin Erasga Tolentino of Co.Erasga, and Amber Funk Barton of the response., whose careers the fest helped launch.

      “They have all chosen not to leave Vancouver—and it’s difficult to make it as a dancer in Vancouver,” Spencer points out.

      The fest has been just as adept at showing audiences, and artists, what’s happening elsewhere in the country. The 30th-anniversary edition features returning Montreal names like veteran talent Jean-Paul Fortier, performing his SOLO 70, and Indigenous provocateur Lara Kramer. And audiences can expect the usual eclectic mixed Edge programs, as well as several outdoor, site-specific pieces.

      Putting it all together for the 30th has left Spencer in a reflective mood. “I’m thinking about the future of the festival and what the future will be—not just for me, but also for some of these artists, and how we, the B.C. community, can support their careers,” she says. “But I also want the Vancouver dance community and those that support dance to be proud of this festival, which I see as theirs.”