When Toronto choreographer Ame (pronounced “Amy”) Henderson set out to create her newest dance work, she turned to the trappings of live music for inspiration. Unlike dance and theatre, traditionally tethered to the distancing proscenium arch, Henderson found herself wondering what it might be like to perform dance in the style of a live-music show. Rather than having the audience comfortably (and passively) settled into raked auditorium seating, Henderson decided to push the boundaries, looking for a way to change the relationship between the dancers and those watching. The resulting /Dance/Songs/ is a dance work more akin to a rock show than a ballet.
“I saw music as a place where both the audience and the performer were completely necessary for the thing to happen,” says Henderson on the phone from St. John’s where she’s been performing, “because a concert where nobody is listening is not really a performance.” Henderson, 32, says she liked the interaction she found at music venues, not only between performers and audience, but also in the collective live experience.
“I was curious about what the borrowing of that form could do for my understanding of my medium.”
Rather than just mimicking the conventions of a musical performance, however, Henderson was more interested in interpreting them. “It was a task that was, at a certain moment, a bit absurd or impossible. The approach was about doing what was necessary to make the songs visible,” a notion that even Henderson admits is ethereal. “It’s trying to understand how the flow of a song-to-song set-list translates to choreography.”
Henderson then set about creating what she calls “dance songs”---short, distinct dance works, strung together to create the hour-long performance. The commissioning of groovy music was integral to her experiment, so she turned to percussionist (and frequent collaborator) Eric Craven, a Montreal-based musician, formerly of Godspeed You! Black Emperor “post-rock” fame, who now plays with Silver Mt. Zion. The result is a pulsing soundtrack Henderson says “really evokes movement in the body...you can really feel it.” She laughs describing a Toronto critic’s review: “He wrote that even if you don’t like dance, you can just close your eyes and listen to the music.”
When it came to creating the movement, Henderson enlisted three performers she’d worked with before---Chad Dembski, Claudia Fancello and Matija Ferlin. Working with improvisation, Henderson started building choreography based on what the dancers brought to the table. “I try to create a situation where the performers are able to respond to a set of ideas---so I make a proposal of a place to start and everyone in the room then works to understand what that means on a physical level.” The resulting dances are “less about shape and a lot about timing, duration, direction and being very present.”
/Dance/Songs/ also incorporates live-feed video, used specifically to draw attention to what Henderson refers to as “the in-between moments” (those things that happen between the “important” danced bits), elevating the small on a big screen near the “stage,” which is a white painted square in the middle of the performance venue. When the piece is performed at Bus Stop Theatre this weekend, the audience will be seated on three sides of it, with one side left open to encourage the kind of standing, wandering and mingling you might find at a club. As with a live-music show, Henderson’s stage is set with microphones and the dancers interact with the audience between “songs,” another device used to blur the line between watcher and performer. But she admits that as much as she strives for interactivity, “audiences don’t go crazy. What I’m trying to do is create a space where those things might be possible. I like the potential.”
Henderson says there is something for everyone in /Dance/Songs/: “It’s challenging for dance audiences in one way and it’s challenging for music audiences in another... but there’s also a pleasurable middle.”