When plastic orchid factory marks its 10th anniversary this week, the Vancouver dance company will celebrate not only where it’s been, but—quite literally—where it is now.
The new piece i miss doing nothing revels in its setting, the Left of Main studio the husband-and-wife duo of James Gnam and Natalie LeFebvre Gnam helped create out of a century-old, second-floor dim-sum restaurant last year.
They’re working with dance artist Vanessa Goodman and lighting designer James Proudfoot, who will both play with the ever-shifting natural light that streams through the windows of the Chinatown space. The duo will manipulate it by activating louvres and moving around frames with foil and translucent surfaces. At the same time, composer and sound artist Nancy Tam will live-edit a score that incorporates noises miked up from the busy streets below the studio. She’ll also weave in fragments of music from plastic orchid factory’s past pieces, as dancers Gnam and LeFebvre Gnam draw from the physical memories of them.
“So Natalie and I are working with the past, while James [Proudfoot], Nancy, and Vanessa are working with the now,” explains Gnam, sitting in the Left of Main office with his partner in life and art. “It’s almost like working with currents to settle them. There are in-between spaces to hear the street sounds—like that squeak,” he says, stopping to point out an intermittent, high-pitched street noise that reaches the upper window, “and to see the light shift and feel someone remembering a dance.
“We lose track of time while we do it,” he adds, “and we invite people to lose track of time while they watch it.”
Time, and the speed with which it passes, are top of mind for the busy couple these days. Before they danced with Ballet BC in the 2000s, both had performed for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Since launching their own indie company 10 years ago, right after the birth of their first son, they’ve blazed a risky and artful contemporary trail. Sometimes, work like has upended the ballet of their past. More recently, the clubby, rock-fuelled Digital Folk has played with immersive, interactive spaces.
Four years ago, LeFebvre Gnam started trying to acquire a studio. The Left of Main space, a restaurant that had sat empty for a decade, would later require more funding work to renovate. The ambitious project succeeded, with plastic orchid factory now sharing the studio and office with Tara Cheyenne Performance and MACHiNENOiSY—an almost unheard-of undertaking in the indie-dance scene here.
“It was the result of perseverance and just believing it would happen,” LeFebvre Gnam says.
“There’s been moments where we didn’t know if we could do it. We almost moved to Montreal twice,” Gnam adds. “People who stay here kind of feed off adversity. We decided we were going to work with scarcity differently. We said, ‘How can we use space differently so resources are available to more of us?’ ”
Around the same time as they were finalizing the space, just over a year ago, the couple had another baby.
“After our second son was born, we really wanted to think about how we could work differently. So we ended up moving the family into the studio for eight hours a day,” Gnam says.
Starting late last summer, the couple began experimenting with their memories of their previous works in their studio. As Gnam puts it, “We connected to the rhythms of memory—the patterns that live in us.”
The piece that’s grown out of all this is a durational, three-hour “living installation”. It replays—but never quite the same way twice—in the Left of Main space on four summer afternoons. Viewers are invited to come and go—30 are allowed in at any given time—losing themselves to the fluctuating time, space, light, and sound.
“The sun might just suddenly come out from behind a cloud and go right across the room—whoosh!” LeFebvre Gnam says. Proudfoot’s big frames, some on wheels, “let you see things through a different window”, she adds. “James [Proudfoot] and Vanessa have a duet that kind of lives with our duet,” James observes.
To take it in, though, you won’t necessarily need to know plastic orchid factory’s repertoire, or the 10-year history that’s brought them to this time and place.
“The most important thing is understanding that we are working from the past and framing it in the present,” Natalie explains.
Plastic orchid factory presents i miss doing nothing from next Wednesday to Saturday (July 11 to 14) at Left of Main; a small number of reservations are available for 3, 4, and 5 p.m. daily.