Dance in Vancouver takes an adventurous new leap

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      To understand how New Zealand–based guest curator Adam Hayward is dislocating and recasting our big, biennial Dance in Vancouver festival, it helps to know two things about him: where he lives and the tattoo that emblazons his arm.

      First and foremost, the British-born arts administrator has chosen to live and work in Christchurch, where he helms Hyde Productions. And he saw arts groups come back after the massive 2011 earthquake there.

      “We lost half of our city, pretty much every theatre,” Hayward, past director of the boundary-breaking Body Festival of Dance, tells the Straight over FaceTime, “but in 2015, we put on the festival and used 27 venues—of which only four were theatres.”

      So don’t be surprised to find Dance in Vancouver spreading beyond its home base of the Scotiabank Dance Centre this year. The array of productions includes matinees of Julie Lebel’s yarn-tangling Tricoter and Shay Kuebler and tap sensation Danny Nielsen’s radio-science-inspired Telemetry Redux at SFU Woodward’s Atrium. He’s even programmed special shows by Boombox Dances at a mystery repurposed space for audiences of just 10 people; in the work, called Blue Crush, emerging artists Katie Lowen and Zara Shahab explore ideas of organic and plastic skins. A keynote address by interdisciplinary artist Tanya Lukin Linklater about relationships between presenters and Indigenous artists happens at the Vancouver International Film Centre, where there will also be screenings.

      Christchurch gives Hayward a distinct perspective on the arts—one he compares directly with that of Vancouver. “Part of the reason I like Vancouver is the same reason I like Finland or Iceland or Wales or Christchurch: we’re on the margins,” Hayward says. “Interesting work happens in the margins. What I like about New Zealand is that unless you want to go to Antarctica, there’s nowhere else to go past here. And Vancouver’s a bit like that: it’s not Ottawa or Toronto or Montreal. We can just get away with more stuff.”

      New Zealand–based guest curator Adam Hayward (left) is dislocating the biennial dance fest.

      Expect this year’s curation to be adventurous. Hayward’s sense of risk-taking extends to his artist pairings, with the main stage’s double and triple bills featuring well-known artists with lesser-known ones—“some odd combinations”, as he puts it with a smile. Dance in Vancouver attracts presenters from around the country and continent, and Hayward likes the idea of exposing them to names beyond the ones they already know. So look for programs that put Kuebler (with excerpts from his recent Feasting on Famine) together with emerging artists Marissa Wong, Mahaila Patterson-O’Brien, and Julianne Chapple, or the unexpected matching of gravity-defying Aeriosa (with excerpts from the new Nature) together with the Southeast Asian–inflected Tracing Malong by Alvin Erasga Tolentino.

      And Hayward is not coming alone: he’s bringing several Kiwi artists along, to expand Dance in Vancouver’s world-view—and bring back inspiration to his home scene. Look for them to take part in a talk called “Why shrink the world?” on Wednesday (November 22) at the Dance Centre.

      “One of my frustrations in New Zealand is its idyllic way of life is really great—there are beautiful connections you make—but quite a few artists don’t want to go anywhere. So the work runs the danger of being staid and boring,” he explains. “It becomes even more insular because artists will work only within their own little pockets.”

      Which brings us to Hayward’s ink, the scrolling lettering up his forearm that he’s able to show over FaceTime: it reads “Beginner’s Mind”, the Zen Buddhist tenet of having an openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when you approach a subject or project.

      “I’m anti labels, anti compartmentalization, anti tokenism…” Hayward says. And there’s perhaps no better sign of his willingness to rethink showcases like Dance in Vancouver than one of the event’s thought-provoking talks: titled “Why do you curate?” and hosted by Hayward with the B.C. Alliance for Arts and Culture’s Brenda Leadlay, it seeks to push presenters, artists, festival directors, the public, and others to put forward true responses to the questions. Hayward says to change the way we program events, we first have to admit we might sometimes prioritize economic factors or fall back on the same big names we know and love. (The moderated talk is next Friday [November 24] at the Dance Centre.)

      Trying to change that approach at Dance in Vancouver is just a small part of something bigger this globally connected arts instigator sees happening elsewhere. “I think there’s a shift at the moment around what the role of a festival is, and what is the role of the artistic director or a curator,” he says.

      Dance in Vancouver takes place at the Scotiabank Dance Centre and other venues from next Wednesday to Saturday (November 22 to 25).


      Gravity-defying Aeriosa performs at Dance in Vancouver on a double bill.
      Tim Matheson