Dancing on the Edge: Child's question inspires Rachel Meyer's new show, Mama, do we die when we sleep?

The choreographer's goal is to immerse audiences in a fantasy world as soon as they arrive at the Russian Hall in Strathcona

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Many artists create a piece—whether’s it’s a play, a song, a dance performance, or a work of visual art—then hope to find a venue where it can reach an audience.

      Vancouver choreographer Rachel Meyer, on the other hand, prefers to choose a site that’s specific for her work.

      For her latest production, Mama, do we die when we sleep?, the former Ballet BC member decided ahead of time that she wanted it performed in the Russian Hall in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood.

      That’s because it lent itself well to a show that explores how childlike wonder about everyday objects can open up all sorts of possibilities, including building even bigger objects or flying to other worlds.

      “I try to immerse the audience within my world and my creation as soon as they arrive,” Meyer told the Straight by phone.

      She elaborated by saying that when this physically demanding work premieres at this month’s Dancing on the Edge festival, the audience will enter the hall and see lots of wooden chairs scattered about. They will have to move through the set to find their places.

      “What I try to do is bring my audiences into a different realm, or a feeling of a different world—and also to evoke memories in that,” Meyer said. “It makes them feel surreal or fantasylike.”

      Yet she added that in this instance, it will also still feel very connected to real life.

      At times during the show, Rachel Meyer face is hidden behind an article of clothing.
      David Cooper

      Toddler's comments lit the spark

      Mama, do we die when we sleep? was inspired by her daughter asking this question when she was two years old.

      It led Meyer to contemplate how the feeling of wonder changes as people age and how it can lead to greater intellectual thoughts.

      As with her previous productions, there are many pieces in the set, this time including ladders and articles of clothing.

      “We automatically know why they were created and why they were in the space,” she said. “And I think that wonder allows us to see beyond that.”

      Meyer emphasized that she choreographed the show in collaboration with fellow dancers Stéphanie Cyr, Josh Martin, and Calder White. And she gave plenty of credit to other members of the team, saying she came up with the “base” and everyone else made important contributions.

      The dancers began by reflecting on and talking about childhood dreams and memories. Then, in the piece, they explore what the objects mean to them.

      The show's creative assistant and rehearsal director, Heather Myers, brainstormed ideas with her.

      "She's also my eyes when I'm in the work," Meyer said.

      A central component is the music, according to Meyer, a resident artist at Left of Main.

      She said that she asked composer James Maxwell to base Mama, do we die when we sleep? around a recognizable classical work. They agreed on a lullaby—Frédéric Chopin’s Berceuse Op. 57 in D-flat major—because they felt it could be adjusted to reflect different emotions and moods, and it worked for a dance piece.

      Because Maxwell has experience incorporating different sounds into his work, including a metronome, Meyer felt that he could create something totally different while maintaining the root of Chopin’s composition.

      “I feel like it really brings in this idea of memory or thoughts or things from our everyday lives in with the music,” she said. “He’s totally brilliant.”