Dancing Under an Umbrella

Jude Wong had an elegant epiphany last October.

Perhaps the constant query she’d heard from fellow dance artists, “Why should I have to leave in order to create?” was her measured tempo on this specific fall day as she danced her way across the studio floor. Or perhaps the desperate exchanges Wong had heard, expressing the need for an independent dance ensemble, roared louder than any music escaping the studio stereo system.

Whatever her exact inspiration, the dance artist was pounding out her frustrations with the territory’s lack of dance opportunity and collaboration when the Society of Yukon Independent Dance Artists (SYIDA) began to take shape in her mind.

Now the co-founder and artistic director of the registered non-profit dance society, Wong’s vision of what an “umbrella dance organization could look like” will finally be showcased with SYIDA’s first show, Local and Abroad, this weekend, June 12 and 13, at The Old Fire Hall.

The contemporary show will feature choreography and performances with 17 youth, as well as emerging and professional dance artists and choreographers from Toronto, Vancouver and Whitehorse.

Leading up to the debut were a series of activities including a youth residency and workshops led by longtime Yukon resident Leigha Wald and her company, The Contingency Plan, a collective of three emerging contemporary dancers including Wald, Vanessa Goodman and Jane Osborne.

Let’s Dance were intermediate to advanced classes in contemporary release and contemporary jazz; What Are They Building In There was an open rehearsal which allowed the general public to see what actually goes on behind the enigmatic closed doors of a dance studio.

Apart from the excitement of the society’s premiere unveiling, the real payoff for Wong and co-founder Andrea Simpson-Fowler is the return of artists like Wald who, besides instructing and choreographing, will also be partaking in the show itself.

“Leigha and I are both really, really excited to bring her home,” says Wong, adding that Wald and other dance artists had expressed wishes to return and this was a major spark in the formation of SYIDA.

Wong notes Wald will be the first of many Yukoners that SYIDA will assist in returning to the Yukon to teach, create and perform.

Wald, who has been living in Vancouver for the last two years, strives to stay connected to the Yukon. The upcoming Local and Abroad performance provides the perfect occasion for her to do so.

While she ventured south to pursue her career in a bigger and more nurturing dance community after graduating from Simon Fraser University, Wald still very much considers the Yukon to be home.

“Although I’m partially based in Vancouver,” says Wald, “I also want to remain a strong voice and artist in the Yukon dance scene, bridging the two west coast dance communities.”

For 19-year-old Mellisa Kwok, the youngest emerging artist in the show — albeit intimidated with the idea of working with such stellar artists — the fun will be in the performance and just arriving home.

Kwok will be performing a solo contemporary piece titled Pulse, which documents her journey from Whitehorse to Toronto and the dynamic ups and downs of moving across the country. Kwok currently studies hip hop and contemporary dance at York University.

She reiterates her fellow dancers’ concerns and the general harmony which seemed to drive Wong’s inspiration for the creation of SYIDA saying, “There’s nothing for dancers to come back to here. It’s hard to train by yourself and motivate yourself, so many dancers have ended up staying elsewhere.”

Kwok thinks if you want to truly excel as a dancer, you have to move away, although “it will be nice to have something to return to now,” she says.

“This should have happened a long time ago!”

For artists like Wong, who love living AND dancing in the Yukon, SYIDA is the perfect mesh of two seemingly impossible worlds.

The show, which will be a landmark for the dance community itself, will only be the beginning for SYIDA, which is currently accepting proposals for next season and inviting Yukon dance artists and enthusiasts to become members.

Local & Abroad shows Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13, at 8 p.m., at The Old Fire Hall. Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.

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