Choreographer Vanessa Goodman dives into flowing set design with new work Never Still

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      Tyvek is a common sight on the streets of Vancouver—a synthetic house wrap used to protect construction projects from the damaging effects of our pounding rain.

      Now the crisp, white material is making a surprising move into the world of the arts. Choreographer Vanessa Goodman has found evocative use for Tyvek in her new multimedia work Never Still—an exploration, it turns out, of water. Or more specifically, of human circulatory systems as they relate to the watersheds in our environment.

      “It covers the whole stage—10-foot-wide sheets that are almost 40 feet long,” explains the Action at a Distance artistic director, speaking over the phone before heading into rehearsal at Left of Main studio. She’s referring to the Tyvek sheets. “It becomes structural, and the dancers do interact with it. The artists move the set throughout the piece. And when it moves, it sounds like the ocean; it’s pretty close to an ocean element [heard] in the score.”

      What she and her creative team have found is that the fabric is, like water, never still. And the dance artists—Shion Skye Carter, Stéphanie Cyr, Bynh Ho, Alexa Mardon, and Lexi Vajda—are having to go with the flow.

      “It has a life of its own, so it’s slightly unpredictable. We need to know how to adapt when it does things slightly differently. So we’re letting the material influence the impulses,” Goodman says. “It’s the same as when you put your foot or an ice cube into water and it moves.”

      The white Tyvek also acts as a textured projection screen for the video art of Loscil (Scott Morgan). Goodman says the bumpy mass gives his atmospheric images of clouds and landscapes the feeling of a topographical map. There are also projected shots of the dancers plunging into water.

      Shion Skye Carter in Never Still.
      Ben Didier

      The dance mirrors and contrasts the ever-moving visuals, Goodman reveals. “Sometimes it’s more luxurious, flowing movement, but that’s juxtaposed with more staccato movements. And then there’s stillness that isn’t actually still,” she says, pausing to explain: “It’s noticing what happens in our body when we try to be still.” What the choreographer is fascinated with is that we, as human beings, can never really be still: our nervous system is always firing, our skeleton is readjusting itself, our blood is circulating through our veins while our heart pumps.

      Goodman has researched those circulatory systems for this project, and she’s also delved into the way the health of our environment can affect the body. “Every year we’re experiencing water changes,” she says, referring to global warming and rising oceans, “and you can feel that in the work. That’s underpinning it.”

      More than anything, though, Goodman is building an environment of her own—as she’s done with work like the multimedia Wells Hill, integrating her reading, music, videos, and set pieces with her dance to create a new world for viewers to dive into.

      “I’ve always been interested in how the room dances around the dancer,” says the artist, who’s previously placed everything from white balloons and fans to a fluorescent inverted pyramid on-stage. “And I like to see how far I can take it, so it’s not overwhelming for those who watch it or are part of it.”

      In other words, she wants viewers to be enjoyably immersed, but not quite fully submerged.

      Never Still is at the Firehall Arts Centre from next Wednesday to Saturday (September 26 to 29).