CoexisDance hits West Coast with improvised energy

The long-standing mixed program pairs dancers and musicians in a spirit of spontaneity

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      The template for CoexisDance is simple: “No more than two dancers, no more than two musicians, at least one of each.” But the evening of live improvisation, which started in Toronto and is now coming to Vancouver, offers myriad surprising possibilities when it takes place.

      Having lived in the Ontario capital, York University dance grad Olivia C. Davies has taken part in the mixed program of short works more than a dozen times. And now she’s bringing it here as part of an ambitious, wide-ranging residency at the Dance Centre—one that finds her doing as much curation as creation.

      “I witnessed one CoexisDance and thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing! This is so cool that I want to get involved,’” she tells the Straight over the phone from the Skwachàys Lodge, where the artist, of mixed Welsh, Métis, and Anishinaabe heritage, coordinates programs.

      CoexisDance was founded in Toronto by the late Colin Anthony in 2005, and it’s grown to have regular events as far afield as Buffalo and Zurich. The way it works, Davies explains, is that the host puts out a call to artists. and those who want to participate pick either a specific musician to work with or a certain type of instrumentalist—from a harpist to an electric guitarist. Organizers then track down the right artist and hook them up with the dancer; CoexisDance gives the collaborators space to meet up and work with ideas for a few hours, and then they improvise a short piece for the show.

      “I’m really invigorated about the spontaneity that lives in improvisational structures and the opportunity to work through conceptual curiosities,” says Davies, whose own O.Dela Arts company not only serves to develop her dance works but is a platform for educational workshops and community-engaged projects. “They have seven minutes on-stage to examine and explore whatever they want to explore together.”

      Local singer and visual artist Carol Sawyer will lend her voice to this edition of CoexisDance.

      Curatorially, she’s also just as excited to see, say, what happens when a butoh dancer and a guitarist improvise work together—which will be the case when dancer Salome Nieto and musician-composer Jeff Younger hit the stage. Elsewhere, Julia Carr, who codirects the Body Narratives Collec-tive and has danced for Aeriosa, joins singer and visual artist Carol Sawyer. “They’re using voice and dance for in-the-moment composition, and from an artistic point of view they’re both very fun,” says Davies. Contemporary dance artist Emmalena Fredricksson joins forces with composer and sound artist Ben Wylie. “He’s bringing a lot onto the stage—synthesizers as well as instruments and a looping pedal,” Davies says.

      Other bold pairings include contemporary dancer Lori Hamar and violinist Joshua Zubot, dance artist Sophie Brassard and guitarist-percussionist Rémi Thibault, and aerial artist Emily Long with singer Marisa Etchart.

      Davies, who hopes to continue CoexisDance, says the pay-what-you-can event brings in new audiences and reveals the multiple ways dancers can interpret a live score.

      “It really felt like this bridging and deeper connecting of both of our worlds,” she says of dancers and musicians. “So it’s providing performance opportunities…and exploring new ways of collaborating and getting inspired. And that will build a richness out of our practices overall.”

      Watch for Davies to continue to use her residency to build more bridges between performers in work next year. In March, she and writer Rosemary Georgeson will helm Home: Our Way, a series of women’s creative writing and dance workshops, and then in June, she kicks off Matriarchs Uprising, a weekend of performances and other events focusing on women in the arts.

      CoexisDance: Western Edition 1 is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Saturday (December 22).