International Dance Day isn’t just about celebrating established companies, but about recognizing the growing wave of independent artists who—against all economic and logistical odds—make work happen here.
More and more of Vancouver’s contemporary-dance artists are deciding to go rogue to create shows. Erika Mitsuhashi, who’s getting ready to debut the multimedia new solo Dust with cocreator and the work’s performer Francesca Frewer, calls it taking a “do-it-yourself-or-die attitude”.
For this innovative emerging duo, here’s what that looks like. Frewer and Mitsuhashi have filled multiple surfaces of their homes with the drying flowers they use as metaphorical materials in Dust, which is all about volatility, decay, and the unbound. The dancers themselves have also been drawing the gridlike design on the walled, paper structure that composes the set.
Together, they’ve taken extraordinary steps over many months to bring the multimedia work to fruition. They’ve travelled to Berlin’s PAUL Studios for a residency and come back to Left of Main studio for a stint, and are now preparing for a tech rehearsal at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, before debuting the piece there on Sunday (April 28) and International Dance Day on Monday (April 29), amid the centre’s array of free events.
Speaking to the Straight over Facetime video with her collaborator, Frewer says the initial inspiration for Dust was the writing of poet and classicist Anne Carson, particularly her chapbook collection Float.
The form-pushing exploration of disorder and myth drove Mitsuhashi and Frewer to investigate what volatility and unpredictability could look like on-stage.
“The idea was creating an atmosphere as an audience member where you’re not quite sure what’s going to go on—the feeling of anything could happen,” Frewer explains. “And that offers intense possibility for the performer.”
In movement terms, that’s taken the duo deep into improvisation. “The real goal was for Francesca to be completely unbound,” says Mitsuhashi.
“It’s been a pretty wild journey, I have to say,” Frewer adds. “Everything is improvised. You’re confronted with yourself and making decisions on the fly. You can’t hide.”
In only their second work, Mitsuhashi and Frewer have already found a dance-theatre voice that mixes those improvisational impulses with striking visuals, props, and spoken text.
Surprisingly, the pair didn’t meet in a dance studio, but while serving up food and drinks at Gastown’s late, great Chill Winston. Mitsuhashi was studying at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, and Frewer had earlier headed to Europe to train at the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance. They started working together here in Vancouver, often in mutual friends’ dance pieces. Both are standouts on-stage, Frewer most recently in 605 Collective’s Loop, Lull and Julianne Chapple’s Suffix, Mitsuhashi in dumb instrument Dance’s Public and Private.
Their first official cocreation, the subtly absurd, bittersweet duet The Saddest Girl at the Party, debuted at last year’s rEvolver Festival.
“For the most part we see eye to eye on pretty much everything, and then in the moments where we diverge, I find we’re able to tell the other person what it should be, what would best serve the idea,” Frewer says.
“I feel we each have different strengths. Like, Francesca is a lovely writer,” Mitsuhashi offers.
“And Erika is really good at working with visuals,” Frewer says, jumping in. “She has been the mastermind of some pretty elaborate sets.”
In the case of Dust, they’ve also collaborated with other artists, some of them based in Berlin, where Frewer once worked and lived. They include electroacoustic composer Adam Asnan and costume designer and textile artist Nellie Gossen, both of whom play here with ideas of change and deterioration. Vancouver’s Daniel O’Shea creates the video projections.
All of those elements, coupled with the improvisation, the text, and the dried flowers and paper, should create an atmosphere where things are constantly shifting and anything is possible—kind of like in the dance scene.
“A lot of the materials we’re working with are also fragile,” observes Mitsuhashi.
“There is something so powerful in doing an action that can’t be reversed,” adds Frewer.
Dust is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Sunday and Monday (April 28 and 29) at 6 p.m.