Festival welcomes a world of dance

By Brian Paterson

Japan's Dairakudakan. (Hiroyuki Kawashima/Supplied_

Japan's Dairakudakan. (Hiroyuki Kawashima/Supplied_

The Vancouver International Dance Festival kicks off Wednesday night, launching into its 17th annual celebration of the kinetic and expressive art form.

Over the course of 24 days, 41 performances from 14 companies will pop up around the city, showcasing a kaleidoscopic array of styles and disciplines. From Kabuki-inspired movement theatre to in-your-face street dance to vehement political statements, the festival seeks to encapsulate a world of dance in just three weeks.

“It’s not something you see every day,” laughed festival co-producer Barbara Bourget, reflecting on the eclecticism. “And that’s a good thing. There are so many different points of view about dance and aesthetics waiting to be discovered.”

Nowhere is this diversity more apparent than between the festival’s two headline events at Vancouver Playhouse.

Renowned for sleek hyper-physicality and geometric precision, San Francisco’s Alonzo King LINES Ballet (March 3 and 4) approaches ballet as a science, weaving energy, technique and movement into dazzling contemporary creations.

“I love the uncanny, different choices [choreographer Alonzo King] makes,” admitted Bourget. “You can’t help but admire the rigour and dedication of his dancers as they perform – or the beauty of their bodies and how they use them.”

In contrast with LINES Ballet’s athletic explosiveness, Japan’s Dairakudakan (March 10 and 11) brings the slow, fragmented movement and dream-like imagery of butoh theatre to the city. The surreal ensemble made its Canadian premiere at VIDF 2015 with a haunting work that envisioned insects supplanting mankind as Earth’s dominant species.

Sporting the shaved heads and whitened bodies iconic to the form, the butoh troupe returns to guide adventurous audiences on a hunt for the elusive concept of paradise. The intriguing production promises a fever dream of jungle locales, ghoulish roller skating gang, and chained-and-bound masses.

It is no easy feat to describe visions such as Dairakudakan in writing – and for good reason.

“Dance is the kind of art you can’t really explain it in words. It’s about the inner life of humanity,” explained Bourget. “That’s why it’s my favourite art form.”

Among the many manifestations of Bourget’s love is a fierce dedication to accessibility. Nearly one-third of VIDF’s 2017 performances can be attended either for free or with the purchase of a $3 annual membership.

Taking place in the Roundhouse Community Centre’s Exhibition Hall and at SFU Woodward’s Atrium, these performances offer the perfect opportunity for the dance-curious to dip their toes. Audiences can discover hip hop and urban dance from local collectives, such as Ouro and KTL Company; a collision of sport and art with Dancers Playing Basketball; and even fresh choreography from Bourget herself and co-producer Jay Hirabayashi, performed by local artist Molly McDermott.

At Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre, these 7 p.m. Exhibition Hall showings are immediately followed by an 8 p.m. ticketed performance in the Performance Centre, creating a rare opportunity for art lovers to engage in a dance double header.

Offerings in this vein include a pair of pas-de-deux from husband-and-wife collaborators Kaeja d’Dance and Post No Bills, a politicized work from edgy innovator Kit Johnson (“one of our favourite artists we’ve produced,” admits Bourget).

This barely begins to tap the list of artists and experiences to be discovered at VIDF: Kinesis Dance Somatheatro will celebrate a milestone at Dance Centre, Yayoi Movement Theatre dives into history at Studio 1398, KW Productions Studios opens its doors for the first time and spectators can get in on the action through masterclasses, workshops, and daily live drawing sessions.

As Bourget explained, the sum of these experiences should be nothing short of wonder.

“You marvel at the possibility that the human body contains when you see these kind of productions,” she concluded. “The power of humanity through this art form is palpable.”

VIDF runs March 1 to 25. Info at vidf.ca.