Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We should make room for 'random acts of art'

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In a season when flash mobs have dominated the YouTube yuletide, you would think public opinion on public performance had turned a corner. Even Winnipeggers have gotten into the act; last week, an impromptu choir thrilled shoppers at Kildonan Place mall with a surprise rendition of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus to brighten up their Christmas shopping.

It seems that in a world in which we are all increasingly cut off from each other, "random acts of art" are just the thing we need to bring us together in a sense of community spirit. Maybe as a society we have come to embrace these unexpected expressions.

Or have we? If you were in the downtown skywalks and underground malls last week, watching Transient Expositions, the mood was not quite as clear. Transient Expositions was a duet dance performance created by Natasha Torres-Garner and performed by Garner and dancer Ali Robson.

Dressed inconspicuously in women's suits, Torres-Garner and Robson would have fit in perfectly in the underground walkways, had it not been for the brightly coloured sashes underneath their grey jackets and the fact they were moving through the space in a choreographed modern dance piece, accompanied by improvising percussionist David Schneider.

It was all part of Torres-Garner's legacy project as the Winnipeg arts ambassador for dance, a title she received as part of Winnipeg's designation as the cultural capital of Canada. This free, impromptu performance was an embodiment of the WCCC 2010 vision of "arts for all," a free dance performance that one could check in and out of, depending where they were. You didn't even have to venture to a theatre -- it was brought right to the people.

Interesting then, that in a climate where a group of 100 people dancing in a mall unexpectedly is embraced and applauded, the appearance of two women dancing unexpectedly was met with such mixed reaction. Many people were thrilled, following the dancers all the way from the circle at Portage and Main to the skywalks in the Millennium Library as the dance travelled. But there were also a number of people unnerved by the performance and put out by the perceived intrusion.

Some pedestrians frowned and tsked. Security guards were called and at one point, no less than eight police officers and trainees were checking in on the performance, with one eager officer disapprovingly following the dancers the whole way.

When the project manager spoke to him, assuring him he had gotten all the clearances necessary, the officer essentially told him, "I know you have permission. I know you have insurance. I just don't want you to do it."

Of course, a lot of art makes people uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. I wouldn't doubt that the very first flash mob in a mall ruffled plenty of feathers and made people think twice about repeat performances. Hopefully, that desire for connection with our fellow human beings will overpower the discomfort the way it has for flash mobs, and make room for a wider variety of "random acts of art."

In the meantime, it seems that for some people, the distance between Portage and Main and the Millennium Library is still a very long way to travel.

Carol Phillips is executive director of the Winnipeg Arts Council.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2010 A11


Updated on Thursday, December 23, 2010 at 7:10 AM CST: Corrected Carol Phillips' title.

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