Jolene Bailie brings wild visual world to Dancing on the Edge fest

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      A scarlet skirt, fake blood, and 38,000 rose petals: the colour red shows up in several forms in Winnipeg choreographer Jolene Bailie’s Schemas, 1-5. In the new dance work, the hue pops against an otherwise neutral palette of beige body suits and black, grey, and white sets and costume pieces.

      “Red is a complicated colour,” the artist, who returns to Dancing on the Edge for her fifth time since 2002, tells the Straight over the phone. “It evokes happiness and passion and brightness and enthusiasm, but there’s also a darkness to it.

      “In 2004, I painted a wall of my bedroom red and someone said, ‘That’s really bold, and it’ll be good for a while. And then it will be bad.’ That was a prophecy—it really did! It changed,” she adds. “And sometimes the things that give us the greatest joy can also give us the greatest sorrow and pain; there are always two sides.”

      Red set and prop pieces help bring to life Bailie’s wildly visual world, one that includes an electric fan, dishes, and much more. The choreographer loves creating artful environments—but always in a way rooted in the movement and emotion. Her work is more of an intimate human journey than a surreal spectacle.

      “There’s a deeply visual scale to my work, but the visual elements come because I feel like the dance requires it; they make the idea more visible to me,” explains Bailie. “Even though they’re heightened by putting them on-stage and putting them in lights, these are the emotions I feel every day of my life. They can be difficult to come to terms with; people think, ‘I’m not going to go there.’ And that’s what I love about contemporary dance—it can express that.”

      Jolene Bailie's Schemas, 1-5.
      Leif Norman

      Still, there’s something about Bailie’s abstract explorations and their use of space that grows directly out of her Prairie setting.

      “I love Winnipeg—I was born there and it’s my home—but Winnipeg is very isolating. And that’s also what makes the Prairie voice really distinct,” she observes.

      “We have a different kind of sense of space,” allows Bailie, who bases her company, Gearshifting Performance Works, in the ’Peg. “It comes from living in a larger space or being able to see the horizon. The geography is just so different, and that really impacts the work you create and even how you interact with people.…Even that we have these really long harsh winters can impact the work. You might have to shovel snow for 90 minutes before you even leave the house. It’s either too hot or too cold, and there’s always too many mosquitoes. Just loading in for rehearsal if there’s a snowstorm—that plays to different energy drives.”

      All these challenges make artists in this thriving but small scene “hardy and sturdy”. And she’s grateful Dancing on the Edge’s artistic director, Donna Spencer, has brought her voice to the coast along with three huge garbage bags full of those red rose petals. Schemas, 1-5 is Bailie’s first full-evening work at the festival—and she welcomes the chance to connect with dance artists from here and across the country.

      “You feel like ‘Oh my gosh, this is my tribe,’ ” she says. “There’s a real sense of relief that we’re all in this together. And just the act of bringing your work to another city and to a festival is really profound.”

      Gearshifting Performance Works presents Schemas, 1-5 at the Firehall Arts Centre on Saturday and Sunday (July 6 and 7).