Contemporary dance is a dynamic and ever-evolving art form that pushes boundaries, challenges conventions and explores the depths of human emotions.
Precarious, by award-winning choreographers Aria Evans, Allison Cummings, Nickeshia Garrick and Karen Kaeja, treats audiences to a powerful and thought-provoking experience. The show was presented by the Dust and Soul Dance Project at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener on June 16 and 17.
The performers included Tara Butler, Evans and Garrick, and the music for the first piece was composed by Christina Litt Belch.
Precarious delves into themes of motherhood, relationships, trauma, the inevitability of death and more. It presents a raw and honest exploration of the human condition.
Rather than succumbing to despair, these works celebrate femme resilience and creativity, urging viewers to embrace life with unwavering resolve and courage, even in the face of mortality.
The show was divided into four plays—If We Could See Both Ways, Dead Ends, To My Past and Now That I’m Gone. Cummings said Butler was the main inspiration.
“We had a lot of conversations about isolation as parents during [COVID-19]. We had different experiences, but we still experienced a similar, chaotic reality with different variables. That shared experience got us talking about creating this play,” Cummings said.
Butler, the playwright and performer, expressed her appreciation for having a composer like Litt Belch involved in the project. She highlighted the importance of having a composer who could interpret the dancers’ movements and convey them through sound.
“The guidance that Kaeja gave to Christina throughout…made it feel very much like we’re building something from the bottom up altogether,” Butler said.
Litt Belch shared her personal experience as the youngest member of the team, expressing how inspiring it was to be surrounded by feminine energy. She recognized the power and strength of the group, emphasizing that it was not about being masculine or feminine, but about the collective creativity and support that emerged from the collaboration.
“We started in 2021…So, I feel like the music has developed as I’ve grown up a little bit too. Now to hear it and be like, ‘Oh, some of that’s from when I was my younger self’,” Litt Belch said.
“There’s also a lot of cats in the music,” she said.
The first play, featuring Butler and Garrick and choreographed by Kaeja, is about an artistic conversation, a poetic and personal duet about encountering loss and impending death as experienced by a mature team of artists.
Garrick, who is gender non- conforming, added that being part of a project rooted in matriarchy felt important and potent. The collective understanding, trust and beauty that emerged from women’s stories resonated deeply with Garrick.
“I think when I’m collaborating, when I’m choosing collaborators, when I say yes to a project, the people who are a part of it matter and make the path forward specific,” she said.
Kaeja is one of the choreographers and said they used props to transform the work with the idea of being in tune. Kaeja said she used the props to delve into stories she may not have been privy to otherwise.
“It started with the simple idea of loss and, as we age, what are some of the things we feel that we’ve lost or how those have evolved. And it evolved into concepts of death, and aliveness, heaven and earth, where we are in between,” Kaeja said.
“For example, one of [the props] was, ‘if you had nine lives, what would some of those desires be? And what would you return us?’. And so, we created different sections out of those and drew them together,” she said.
The second play, Dead Ends, choreographed and performed by Evans, a queer interdisciplinary artist, explores image-based metaphors that come to life through movement. It explores themes of regeneration and self-discovery.
“So the piece started with me exploring dried roses, being braided into the ends of my hair and thinking about the sensation of having dead ends, and how that idea expands into our life when we’re in search of regeneration, or when we’ve given away so much of ourselves that there’s nothing blooming left, it’s all in decay,” she said.
To My Past, choreographed and performed by Garrick delves into the memories of her past lives and spiritual lessons learnt to offer growth pivoting into the future.
Now that I’m Gone was choreographed by Cummings and performed by Butler. It is an expression of the desperate clamor to maintain integrity and how her body races to keep up to mind’s efficiency.
Garrick highlighted the energetic exchange that takes place during live performances. They described the reciprocal relationship between performers and the audience, where emotions are shared, healing is found and vulnerability is embraced.
Evans echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the bravery and vulnerability inherent in performing live and the opportunity to inspire audiences to express themselves more openly.
“I feel like with women, we process things by opening and building trust and really supporting each other,” Evans said.
Cummings said a deep trust often forms among women in creative collaborations. She noted that women tend to open up and talk about real experiences, fostering a supportive environment where everyone’s voices are heard and honored.
Cummings mentioned that theaters and dance performances are currently experiencing a slow climb back to normalcy after COVID-19. While audiences are returning and shows are being sold out, there is still some apprehension and a need for cautious optimism.
“Right now it feels like we’re scrambling to keep up because there was such a backlog. People are busy but there’s less money. But my experience of going into theater and going to dance is they are going in full capacity. People are going out to see it. I think that’s a positive. But I think we need to be careful, otherwise we’re all gonna burn out real soon,” Cummings said.
Butler acknowledged the challenges faced by producers in uncertain times but expressed gratitude for the audience’s support.
“I think people are a little more tentative to be out in groups still,” Butler said.
“Because socially, it’s really hard to be back. So, as a producer, it’s nerve racking…But getting there. It’s amazing,”
Both shows performed at Kitchener were met with a roaring response from the audience.