“Family Room” explores nuanced love

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      What does it mean to make art under capitalism? 

      That’s something Marissa Wong has been struggling with for a while. The artistic director of The Falling Company knows the current feast-and-famine cycle that plagues dancers is unsustainable. So she’s trying to do things differently: taking time and energy to make decisions guided by principles bigger than just maximizing artistic output.

      “As a human, I do my utmost best to operate from a place of abundance—because I have been in a place of operating from scarcity,” Wong muses on a video call. “If we start operating from scarcity, then the whole ecosystem starts to crumble.”  

      The ecosystem she’s thinking of isn’t just dance. It’s the arts as a whole, and the ways different forms interact with each other. 

      Family Room, the latest work from The Falling Company, is broadly categorized as dance—but it’s also got music, script elements, and props. Its production involved a dramaturg and set designer. It doesn’t fit neatly into one niche, but instead contains multitudes within the broader ecosystem. The work utilizes the important parts of different media to tell a story through movement, actions, and voices—and, with a development cycle that’s taken three years, it’s a lesson in resisting the capitalist pressure to work quick and dirty.

      “I gave myself a really long time to build this piece, and a lot of time to get to know the dancers and build relationships with them,” she explains, “because they were basically playing my parents and myself.” 

      In Family Room, three dancers take on three family roles. A mother, father, and child are found in a simplified, naturalistic living room, interacting with the furniture and each other as they hash out the trauma of familial existence. 

      For Wong, it’s her first time choreographing a piece that incorporates voice work. She had been playing with it with her previous solo, Departure, leaning into “the breath that would happen” or “a little bit of sound” when she moved in specific ways. It was a world apart from what she had been taught in classical ballet growing up—and she embraced the rupture. 

      “It’s kind of a way of rebelling against my, ‘I will be the fairy that doesn’t speak and is powerless,’” Wong explains. “And then, it also felt poignant and important, because we were creating relationships—and there were certain things that voice and text could enhance.” 

      While Wong’s family supported her in many ways—including paying for alarmingly expensive dance lessons—it wasn’t a completely idyllic upbringing. As a Chinese-Canadian, Wong grew up with competing sets of rules. Her friends could rough and tumble, but she was instilled with the mindset “of being proper, being studious, really being the perfect child.” 

      Her parents split up when she was an adult; that became something of a pivotal moment in understanding the dynamics that were in place when she was growing up, which in turn inspired the shape of Family Room.

      “What unveiled itself during their divorce,” Wong reflects, “was how much they had protected me from feeling marginalized while growing up in a white suburban neighbourhood.”

      Besides the dedicated dancers, each character in Family Room is also reflected by one of the three items of furniture positioned on stage. The couch, sturdy and supportive, represents the mother; the lamp, which needs to be plugged in and useful, is analogous with the father; and the stepped-on, “not totally necessary” rug is the child. (An earlier version had a coffee table, but that got scrapped when a dancer, in a “brilliant moment,” kicked it so hard it broke.) 

      “When we’re talking about this work, it’s been a lot of uncovering,” Wong offers. “Even since last year—coming into a further understanding of myself, and the history that has made me who I am, and the emotions and attachments that come along with that.”

      A family, too, is an ecosystem. When any part of it is sidelined, every part can suffer. Wong may have grown up feeling like a well-trodden rug, but Family Room proves you can’t rush the beauty that comes from knowing who you are.

      The Falling Company’s “Family Room” has its world premiere at Scotiabank Dance Centre on April 19 and 20.