A group of dancers, dressed in all black and wearing blue face masks, floated into Old Market Square unannounced last week for a silent, meditative performance in the afternoon sun. The event was a rehearsal of Landscape Dancing, which will be presented this Friday outside St. Boniface Hospital in conjunction with the start of Culture Days, which runs Sept. 25 to Oct. 25 this year.
Landscape Dancing, a site-specific dance concept created and choreographed by Winnipeg’s Stephanie Ballard, is unintentionally well-suited for a global pandemic.
The work is often performed outdoors, with dancers moving in sync, but physically separated, and audience members able to watch from whatever vantage they like. Friday’s performance includes the addition of masks and a few extra feet of distance between the dancers — who are a mix of professionals, including soloist Kathleen Hiley, and students from the School of Contemporary Dancers.
"It was something that could very well be brought into the current situation and be respectful of all the parameters and still happen in a very beautiful way," says Faye Thomson, co-director of the school.
The event runs for an hour beginning at noon and will be the students’ first performance since March. Presenting the work in front of a hospital adds an extra layer of meaning.
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Kelechi Asagwara isn’t afraid to step away while his cameras are rolling.
The 29-year-old self-taught photographer and videographer got into the habit while shooting the second instalment of his ongoing project …I Don’t See Colour, which features Black Winnipeggers sharing personal stories in a series of testimonial-style videos.
"The arts and the health-care services have both been very challenged in different ways by the pandemic," Thomson says. "The opportunity… to acknowledge the contributions of health care in Manitoba and across Canada is very special."
Culture Days is a national celebration of arts and culture that typically runs over three days and coincides with Nuit Blanche, an all-night art party, at the end of September. The viability of hosting the event during a pandemic was the topic of debate for the Manitoba Culture Days board.
"We had a lot of discussion about how to move forward as much as if we can move forward," says board co-chairperson Nicole Matiation. "We have taken the time to do the due diligence to work with national Culture Days and consult with local stakeholders to come up with a plan that will allow us to continue to celebrate."
Registered event organizers are responsible for guest safety and have been informed of the public health guidelines; the board has opted to extend the festival for a full month to allow for smaller in-person events and more substantial online programming.
Student Day, which usually acts as the festival’s kickoff at The Forks, will be replaced by a series of live and pre-recorded digital workshops hosted by local arts groups, including Freeze Frame and Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
"Given the COVID-19 situation, it’s not possible to gather students or anybody in one location," Matiation says. "A number of groups really stepped up to the plate and are offering some very great programming."
There are about 50 events, compared with hundreds in previous years, scheduled across the province during Culture Days.
The Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library is hosting one of the festival’s few in-person, hands-on workshops.
"We’ve been involved with Culture Days for many years," says museum curator Andrea Reichert. "We just want to keep engaged with people and we thought that we would try some very small in-person programming and see how it goes."
Over four weekends beginning Sept. 26, museum staff will be teaching groups of four how to felt with bison hair — a practice that members of the Crafts Guild of Manitoba experimented with during the Second World War, when sheep wool was rationed.
No prior felting experience is necessary, but participants will need to register for the 45-minute sessions in advance. Tools will be sanitized between workshops and the hair that will be used was collected from live animals at Rockwood Bison ranch.
"We did a test because I honestly wasn’t 100 per cent sure whether you can needle felt with bison hair, and it works just fine," Reichert says. "It’s a little coarser and I do have some dyed sheep’s wool so that people can add colour if they want… because bison hair is bison-coloured."
Participants can make a small bison or their own creation to take home. Visitors are also invited to check out current exhibits at the museum, which is displaying Craft Narratives from Rural Manitoba, and the C2 Centre for Craft, which has Lure, a solo show by ceramics a Peter Tittenberger, at 329 Cumberland Ave.
A full list of events can be found at culturedays.ca.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.