Dance duet brings funky fungi to Vancouver’s Vines Art Festival

Katie Cassady and Sophie Mueller-Langer will interpret the life cycle of mushrooms near Trout Lake in John Hendry Park

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      British Columbia is home to more species of fungi than any other region of Canada. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that mushrooms are about to become the subject of an outdoor dance performance.

      Vancouver dancer and choreographer Katie Cassady told the Straight by phone that she came up with the idea after reading anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s 2015 book, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. The matsutake mushroom, a revered and very expensive delicacy in Japan, is thriving in many parts of the world as a result of the degradation of naturally occurring forests.

      “In the beginning, she talks about interspecies being and different senses of time,” Cassady said. “So then I had this idea to make this duet about mushrooms.”

      Called funky fungi, it will be performed for the first time for free outdoors at John Hendry Park (also known as Trout Lake Park) as part of the Vines Art Festival. Cassady said that she will perform the “funky duet” with Sophie Mueller-Langer.

      “In the beginning, we’re mycelium, which is like this threadlike network,” Cassady explained. “It almost looks like roots, from what I’ve seen in pictures. I’m working on creating these headbands which have these pom-poms that are like having white tendrils.”

      She and Mueller-Langer will also be wearing costumes with stripes, called hyphae, designed to look like a mycelium structure. Then halfway through the show, they’ll turn into mushrooms, reflecting the fungi’s life cycle.

      “Then we might want to reproduce,” Cassady quipped.

      So how will they appear like mushrooms?

      “We put on these bike helmets that I’ve embellished a bit,” Cassady responded. “Those are our mushroom hats. And we dance as mushrooms.”

      This is not going to take place on any of the Vines Art Festival stages. No siree. This will be a roaming performance, with the dance occurring somewhere in the grounds around Trout Lake amid any people who happen to be in the vicinity. Each dancer will also be singing a cappela at different times. Rehearsals have been taking place near the baseball diamond.

      Sophie Mueller-Langer is practises her mushroom look near Trout Lake.
      Katie Cassady and Sophie Mueller-Langer

      To Cassady, Vines seemed like the ideal presenter, given the festival’s history of supporting underrepresented voices and supporting artistic presentation in the outdoors. Plus, she appreciated the festival’s support for artists during the pandemic and she went to the same Edmonton high school as the founder, Heather Lamoureux.

      Cassady trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and has performed with Kokoro Dance, Amber Funk Barton, Future Leisure, and TWObigsteps Collective. Mueller-Langer performed in another of Cassady’s duets, II, earlier this year in the TWObigsteps Collective’s final production.

      As a choreographer, Cassady likes exploring interconnectedness and relationships—and funky fungi is an extension of this into another species.

      “It’s like we’re in the landscape and we’re kind of doing our thing, then we come together and we do more of a dance,” Cassady said. “It’s so nice to perform outside in the world.”

      Katie Cassady and Sophie Mueller-Langer will perform funky fungi on Saturday (August 14) at John Hendry Park as part of the Vines Art Festival. It’s occurring at the Stl’a7shn-chet - Our Feast event, which begins at 1:30 p.m.