It will be an unusual connection between the audience at the Yukon Arts Centre and the dancers of Montréal Danse when it presents On the Ice of Labrador on Saturday, Feb. 28.
The seven dancers will each be presenting their own stories – stories of aviators, trombone players, blood-sugar cycles of a diabetic, Alzheimer’s disease and “bodies washed in Hotel Dieu” – so the audience will get to know them at an intimate level.
And the lights will be on, somewhat, in the auditorium so that the dancers can see the faces of the audience.
“This is new,” says Artistic Director Kathy Casey, “so we are still very curious how it will be received.”
First of all, she knows many in the audience won’t know what to expect. They won’t be sure if this is a difficult piece to understand or if there are a lot of spectacular jumps and turns.
“I always love watching the audience settle in and then you have this marvellous experience of watching them start to listen.”
And what they will hear are seven separate stories by dancers who are not related to each other … “but the stories sometimes are,” says Casey over the phone from a hotel in Edmonton.
A theme emerged, from these funny and sad and peculiar stories, that asks how we go on when our bodies stop moving.
Although the name of the piece – On the Ice of Labrador – came from one of the vignettes, Casey says the ice, just as our futures, is not clear. Ice is dangerous; it could crack.
And this ice, in particular, is in Labrador, a part of Canada that is rugged and could be considered exotic.
“A lot of people have told me it is powerfully Canadian,” says Casey. “We didn’t feel that when making it, but people get a real sense of place from it.”
These different stories were coaxed from the dancers by the choreographer, Sarah Chase, in a three-month process that allowed them to learn more about each other – even though some had been with Montréal Danse for 20 years – and even about themselves.
“Sarah is such a marvellous storyteller and she weaves them together so well,” says Casey. “She is like an archaeologist.”
Montréal Danse has created 40 pieces in the 18 years Casey has been with it and she almost always hires a different choreographer for each of those pieces. The dancers learn something from each one of them, but this project was different.
“It can be intimidating telling their own stories. It takes a lot of confidence to be that open on stage,” says Casey.
“And that’s what we are learning.”
The stories are told in song, in dialogue and, of course, in dance. To encourage cohesion, the choreographer asked for five movements with the left arm, four movements with the right arm and seven movements for the legs.
To co-ordinate these with their own stories they are telling, which is admittedly not a “reflex”, Casey says it took time.
“It was very physical work, very creative work,” says Casey.
She can imagine that the piece will change over the next five-year run of the show. It was just presented for the first time in Montréal in September, for the first time in English a couple of weeks ago, so, “I know it will change over the next few years.
“Things happen on stage in front of an audience and it opens up possibilities.
“So we go back into the studio with it.”
Montréal Danse will present On the Ice of Labrador on Saturday, Feb. 28, at 8 p.m., at the Yukon Arts Centre.
Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.