Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (WCD) leaps into a new era this weekend when it presents Actualize, a mixed bill comprising three eclectic works, with the 55-year-old troupe now helmed by its newest artistic director, Jolene Bailie.

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Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers (WCD) leaps into a new era this weekend when it presents Actualize, a mixed bill comprising three eclectic works, with the 55-year-old troupe now helmed by its newest artistic director, Jolene Bailie.

"Emotionally, the title means that things are happening, and that we’re ‘actualizing’ our vision by a group of dance artists who all live in this community," says the Winnipeg-born Bailie. "But it also speaks to the honesty and complexity of contemporary dance that can mean something different to every single person in the audience, as well as every unique individual performing each dance. The name felt truthful, while heightening that sense of authenticity we’re all striving towards."

The 58-minute program, which opens tonight at 8 p.m., at the Rachel Browne Theatre and runs through Sunday, also will feature an interactive artist talk, in which audience members can ask questions about what they’ve just witnessed.

Actualize sports an unusually large cast of 10 Winnipeg dancers — all graduates of the Professional Program of the School of Contemporary Dancers — including Emma Beech, Carol-Ann Bohrn, Alexandra Garrido, D-Anne Kuby, Shawn Maclaine, Warren McClelland, Arlo Reva, Camila Schujman, Emily Solstice Tait and Natasha Torres-Garner. They will perform two world premières by Winnipeg choreographers Ming Hon and Zorya Arrow, as well as a newly re-imagined duet by Bailie, her first official offering as company director.

Winnipeg’s incomparable Hugh Conacher, who served as WCD’s resident lighting designer from 1983 through 2007, also returns to the troupe. He has worked extensively with Bailie’s contemporary troupe, Gearshift Performance Works, which has gone on hiatus while she takes the WCD reins. She says she is eagerly anticipating his return to the company.

Hon’s Contemporary On/Off is a witty quartet that the choreographer — whose work has been seen across Canada, as well as Edinburgh, London and Taipei — promises will take viewers into a "world of pleasure." It first took root during her creative process, in which the performers were essentially turned loose by Hon and told to find "contagious joy" in their own extemporized movements, including dancing to their personal playlists.

"It’s the feeling you get when you watch people dancing socially at a club or in music videos, that makes you crack a smile and just enjoy what they’re doing," Hon explains of her 22-minute piece during a recent phone interview.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Artistic director and choreographer Jolene Bailie at the Rachel Browne Theatre in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Her first program as artistic director of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers debuts this weekend.</p></p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Artistic director and choreographer Jolene Bailie at the Rachel Browne Theatre in Winnipeg on Tuesday. Her first program as artistic director of Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers debuts this weekend.

"A lot of people still have this idea that contemporary dance is very serious and gritty. I’m exploring what these choreographic ideas are that express joy. But I also like to question everything and have a cultural and society commentary going through my head all the time. This new work is definitely very upbeat; however, there’s also going to be a surprising twist for viewers."

The bill also includes Arrow’s hot-off-the-press Faith’s a Thing, which explores the power of faith while also reflecting her personal grief journey after losing her life partner three years ago.

Initially designed for two dancers in their 20s and 50s, the three-part work morphed into a quartet featuring music by Young Fathers as well as Arrow’s own created sound and text. The original duet became embedded within the larger whole.

"The major questions in Faith’s A Thing are about faith and hope, and what it means to let go. Is a feel-good ending possible, I wonder? ‘Have faith?" the thoughtful artist muses in an email.

In turn, Bailie presents an 11-minute duet The Space in Between, self-described as "the individual’s journey within a relationship," and inspired by her earlier full-length show Schemas 1-5, which was performed last April by Gearshifting, and subsequently remounted during the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival, as well as Vancouver’s Dancing on the Edge Festival this past July.

The dance artist, who is no stranger to Winnipeg audiences, is looking forward to her inaugural program as director with WCD. She says she purposefully chose Hon and Arrow for their diverse choreographic styles, emblematic of the breadth and depth of Winnipeg’s vibrant dance community. The show’s cast of multi-generational artists also speaks to a critical continuity of generations — including Bailie’s own artistic journey, having worked extensively with WCD’s late founder, Rachel Browne.

"I’m honoured and delighted to be at the helm, but also know that the company is much bigger than me, and is about more voices than just mine. I felt it was important to include a range of experiences and ages for this production while also creating entry points for artists who might not have yet performed or created with WCD," Bailie says during a rehearsal break.

"Contemporary dance is tricky. It’s tricky to live the life of an artist in contemporary dance. It’s tricky to sustain a career in contemporary dance. And it’s even tricky to explain to our families and friends why we do contemporary dance, because it is often on the edge of accessibility," she elaborates. "This show features an exciting group of human beings who have a deep passion and commitment to the art form, and it’s been really quite magical putting our first show together."

holly.harris@shaw.ca