Dancing on the Edge: Vanessa Goodman's Core/Us aims for intimacy for everyone in the theatre

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      Vancouver choreographer Vanessa Goodman describes her company’s newest work, Core/Us, as “kind of a mix between a concert and a dance”. It’s also a group project—a relatively rarity during the pandemic, when solos and duets have been the norm.

      “Something I was missing throughout the pandemic was this idea of intimacy with performance,” Goodman tells the Straight by phone between rehearsals.

      That’s what she’s seeking in Core/Us, which she describes as a highly collaborative project about how people move through time and space together. It features a live score with four dancers exploring “how we hear movement and see sound”, according to the promotional material.

      Core/Us will have its Canadian premiere at the opening night of Dancing on the Edge, which runs from July 7 to 16, after its world premiere in Seattle.

      For Goodman, intimacy is not restricted to what’s occurring on-stage. She emphasizes that it’s also imperative to invite the Firehall Arts Centre audience to experience it.

      “How do I transform this black box that we’re in to something that feels more palpable and immersive?” she asks.

      One way, Goodman says, is by sometimes generating sounds from localized spaces on the stage or from the dancers themselves. She points out that for audiences, this is a way of “kind of dropping people in their body and into the bodies of the performers and asking them to spend time with us”.

      “We’re working with two helicons and then we’re working with a small ditto pedal, like a looping pedal, and another chaos pad to kind of augment and create different textures [of sounds],” Goodman says.

      She reveals that sometimes a basslike drum beat drives the piece; on other occasions, the audience will hear the sounds of chords crunching.

      Unusual sounds and looping devices are things that Goodman, artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society, has focused on in previous multidisciplinary productions like Graveyards and Gardens, In Fiction, and Tuning. Along the way, she has won several major awards, including the Chrystal Dance Prize and the Schultz Endowment from the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.

      Vanessa Goodman's longtime collaborator, James Proudfoot, designed the lighing for Core/Us.
      David Cooper

      It's a team effort

      Core/Us brings together dancers Adrian de Leeuw, Eowynn Enquist, Ted Littlemore, and Anya Saugstad—with contributions from Sarah Formosa and Shion Skye Carter—along with sonic mentorship from Brady Marks and lighting design from longtime Goodman collaborator James Proudfoot.

      She credits Proudfoot for having an incredible gift for using lighting to draw audiences’ attention to certain places or things that she hadn’t previously considered to be so interesting.

      “I always feel like I’m dancing with another partner working with his work,” she says. “I feel like he just brings so much to each project.”

      The ever-gracious Goodman has a lot to say in the interview about the contributions of all the other members of the team as well. She worked with Enquist and Saugstad when the two were students at Simon Fraser University, and then off and on since 2017. Littlemore was in Tuning, a duet with dancer Alexis Fletcher. Goodman didn’t meet the Alberta-based de Leeuw until 2019, when she was discussing choreography at an event in Montreal. The dancers were allo given broad latitude to contribute their ideas.

      “It’s a team effort,” she says.

      David Cooper

      It's all about sharing information

      When Goodman is asked how she comes up with her imaginative productions, she has a simple response: curiosity.

      Something comes to her, and as she starts doing research, she’s able to add context.

      “It’s about sharing information and knowledge,” she says. “So for me, I just get excited to learn. So I think it’s partially that.”

      She’s thrilled to be returning to Dancing on the Edge, describing it as “such a fabulous festival”.

      “It showcases so many local artists, national artists, and sometimes even international artists,” Goodman says.

      Dancing on the Edge is in its 34th year, and Goodman points out that festival producer Donna Spencer has done a magnificent job highlighting emerging and senior artists.

      “Donna really makes a huge effort to give people their first show, which she did for me, and it made such a huge difference,” Goodman says. “I can’t say enough good things about Donna, the Firehall, and Dancing on the Edge. It’s meant so much to me as an artist and so much to the community as well.”

      Dancing on the Edge will present the Canadian premiere of Core/Us at the Firehall Arts Centre at 7 p.m. on July 7 and 9 p.m. on July 8. The festival runs from July 7 to July 16. For more information and tickets, visit the website.