Each year, the School for the Contemporary Arts Repertory Dancers have guest choreographers come to work with them. Their upcoming show, Women Marching, includes five pieces: one by rehearsal directors Marla Eist and Henry Daniel, three works by local choreographers (Vanessa Goodman, Judith Garay, and Wen Wei Wang), and, thanks to a grant named in honour of Vancouver dance pioneer Iris Garland, a new creation by Israel’s Yossi Berg and Oded Graf. The Peak caught up with two of the dancers, Sam Penner and Samantha Presley, to get their thoughts on the show.
“All five pieces are very different,” explained third-year dance student Sam Penner, “but all have a very strong theme of powerful women and femininity.” Penner described the program as a mix of works that are quirky, feminine, passionate, and humorous.
Samantha Presley, a fourth-year dance student, explained that “a lot of pieces fit into the theme in an abstract way, but [each show has] all female performers.”
Presley described Berg and Graf’s piece as “very relevant to the theme because it sheds light on the situation.” She mentioned a fight scene in particular that she enjoys performing because it still feels like they’re all working towards a common goal: “It’s empowering to feel that type of movement.”
Berg and Graf were also in town to perform at the Chutzpah! Festival in March. “We got to go see their show at the same time they were setting work on us,” said Penner. “There was so much humour, but not necessarily intended. The feeling of the piece [they created for us] is similar.”
“Wen Wei Wang’s piece is very relevant in terms of each woman in the piece being allowed to interpret the movement in their own way,” said Presley. She described the way that each dancer was given a lot of leeway to interpret the movements, and they didn’t all have to look exactly the same.
The theme of female agency came up a few times when speaking with Presley, and Penner’s thoughts seemed to reflect this idea as well: “I feel like I’m being myself in this show,” she said. “I am myself being these roles on stage — showcasing myself and us as strong women.”
During the process of creating the piece with Wang, he told them to use their breath to synchronize their timing. “He said, ‘If you move freely and comfortable, you’ll be in sync,’” said Presley. Wang’s process of creating the movement was quite different than the other choreographers. “I don’t think he had very much choreography prepared,” said Presley. “He watched us move and got inspired. He let his impulses guide him and changed it as he went.” Returning to the idea of agency in the movement, Presley said, “He created the structure, and we embellished it. He left it in our hands.”
The process of creation with alumna Vanessa Goodman involved collaboration with the dancers. “Vanessa’s process was very rewarding,” said Presley. “She had the dancers generate the movement, so it’s a part of us; it’s not placed on us.” They were again given agency over their own bodies.
Both Penner and Presley expressed their admiration of Goodman and how enjoyable it was to work with her. “It’s inspiring for us to see her and where she is now,” said Penner.
Although Penner describes Women Marching as “a cohesive show about female empowerment,” she also said that not everyone will walk away with the same message. “The show could leave people with certain messages about feminist values,” explained Presley, “but nothing we’re doing is very literal. So everyone will come away with their own interpretation. If they’re critically engaged, they’ll be moved.”
Presley believes that a good dance show should “use a beautiful art form with infinite possibilities to provoke its audience with questions and leave them wanting more from dance and themselves.” It seems like Women Marching will strive to live up to that ideal. “I hope we can do justice to the choreography and to all the women fighting to find freedom,” said Presley. “I really do feel free and empowered on stage.”
Women Marching will be presented March 29–April 1 at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, SFU Woodward’s. For more information, visit facebook.com/events/1274877912560044/.