Look up, way up: Vancouver International Vertical Dance Summit takes to trees and buildings starting Sunday

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      A new dance celebration is headed to the streets--or rather, the skies--of Vancouver.

      The Vancouver International Vertical Dance Summit (VIVDS) runs from Sunday to next Saturday (June 9 to 15). Vertical dancers use rock-climbing gear to suspend themselves from buildings, trees, and mountains to perform choreographed routines high above the ground.

      This summit is being held in Vancouver for the first time after a series of events across Europe, but the practice has been developing here for a long time by the event’s host, the Aeriosa dance company.

      “It’s a special hub here,” says Julia Taffe, Aeriosa’s founding director and choreographer in a phone call to the Georgia Straight. “There’s a synergy of climbers and dancers and landscape coming together--and community supporting it--that has allowed this type of work to flourish.”

      Dancers and choreographers from all over the world will converge on Vancouver for seven days of artist talks, workshops, and public performances. Their goal is to invite the city to embrace the emerging discipline, which has strong B.C. roots but has also flourished in centres like France, Croatia, and the U.K.

      “It’s really important for our audiences and for our community to recognize that this is a discipline that could actually grow here,” says Taffe.

      Taffe began as a choreographer, taking her work to new heights when she founded Aeriosa in 2001. She was inspired to start using ropes and harnesses to “lift dance into the air and out of the theatre, creating vertical stages out of architecture", she says. Rather than being confined to a single space, she creates routines inspired by whatever’s around her--resulting in routines performed on cliff sides or Douglas Firs.

      Douglas Firs will be the setting for the summit's Dance in Trees public performances high in the air above VanDusen Gardens' Great Lawn on Wednesday and next Friday (June 12 and 14) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

      The main event VIVDS will be a performance on the side of the 23-storey-high Guinness Tower in Coal Harbour, at 1 p.m. next Saturday (June 15). All seven choreographers featured at the event developed the routine together. It’s called Gathering Flock, and is inspired by animal behavior.

      Aeriosa artistic director Julia Taffe performing on the Guinness Tower.
      Tim Matheson


      Taffe says that a routine like this is “brutally, physically challenging” for the dancers. Being anchored to a building by a rope requires immense core strength and stability. They also have to get used to orienting themselves to their “dance floor” and to gravity in a different way.

      “But once you’ve mastered it, you feel like you’re flying,” says Taffe.

      She also adds that vertical dancers around the world approach the discipline in similar ways, even though choreographers come from all different backgrounds. It’s like ballet, in that there’s a universal language that all the dancers must speak.

      “There are certain things you can do when you’re attached to the rope, and there’s certain rules you have to follow based on physics," Taffe says. "So we’ve all developed these exercises, techniques, and ways of training dancers, and once people have that base, they can start to express themselves--they can really start to interact with their surroundings and engage their communities.” 

      VIVDS runs from Sunday (June 9) to June 15 with events at SFU Woodward’s, VanDusen Botanical Garden, and other locations. The full schedule can be found here.