The body in motion: Expanse is back in the Chinook Series

Room 2048, Hong Kong Exile. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls,

It starts with the body.

As its name suggests, Expanse sets the body in motion in space — and celebrates what happens next.

In the ever-expansive movement arts festival curated by Azimuth Theatre and returning to the fourth annual Chinook Series, the body is elastic, light on its feet and international in its vision. So are “physical theatre” and “dance” (language optional).

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The 14-year-old festival inherited by Azimuth’s co-artistic directors Kristi Hansen and Vanessa Sabourin is one of the five performance streams that pool creative resources and connections for Chinook, the two-week showcase of innovative multi-disciplinary art that, er, breezes into the ATB Financial Arts Barns Thursday, and runs through Feb. 17.

As Sabourin points out, “the body as lens, work that stems from ‘body’: it’s a big basket to access.” Which suits the Azimuth personality to a T, since that experiment-minded company gravitates to unusual partnerships. For this 2019 edition Expanse teams up with Good Women Dance Collective, Mile Zero Dance, the Rubaboo Arts Festival, and Dreamspeakers.

It’s Good Women Dance, the curator of movement arts for Nextfest, who have mentored Edmonton artist Kiruthika Rathanaswami. At Expanse Thursday and Friday she performs a quartet of stories executed in variations of the intricate Indian classical dance form bharata natyam.

You can try it out on your own body: Rathanaswami leads a bharata natyam workshop for beginners Friday afternoon. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Sabourin, who’s taken one before. “I highly recommend it!”

In Local(e), which runs Feb. 12 and 13, three Edmonton artists perform original pieces of very different inspirations and styles. Tip Off!, created by NIUBOI (Julie Ferguson) with a trio of collaborators (Ryan Jackson, Jameela McNeill, and Abbie Cogger), is inspired by basketball and its lexicon of dribble, dunk, dance, slam. The cast includes Cliff Kelly and Taylor Chadwick as sports announcers. “Fast and fun,” says Hansen.

The second of the Local(e) offerings, The Music Crept By Us, inspired by the Leonard Cohen poem of that name, is the work of the dance/trained actor/choreographer Rebecca Sadowski. She’s joined onstage by sound designer Dean Musani, whom Edmonton theatre audiences know for his collaborations with playwright Matthew MacKenzie (Bears).

Mni wiconi/ water is life is inspired by creator/performer Nicole Schafenacker’s 2016 experience as a “water protector” in Standing Rock, North Dakota. “It’s not dance as dance,” says Sabourin. “It’s about experience, physical performance….” Cole Humeny joins Schafenacker onstage.

Expanse’s contribution to your Valentine’s night is a surprise — to Hansen and Sabourin as well as the audience. Raconteurs invites three artists of very different aesthetic stripe, perspective, and practice to experience Chinook, then “come together for a cabaret of responses, reflections, and questions” Sissy Thiessen, a Jingle Dress dancer and spoken word poet; visual artist Yazmin Juarez, and singer/songwriter Kris Demeanor (who was Calgary’s first poet laureate, much involved in the Treaty 7 program there). Hansen calls Raconteurs “a total experiment; what will they respond to?.”

Room 2014, Honk Kong Exile. PHoto by Juan Contreras.

In Expanse’s partnership with Mile Zero Dance, the Vancouver-based dance troupe Hong Kong Exile brings Room 2048 (Feb. 15 and 16), a multi-media dance theatre work billed as “a dream machine for the Cantonese diaspora.” Says Hansen, “it’s dance with bells and whistles, crazy lights, (electronic) music, fog, projections, high-level training” brought to bear on “the Cantonese experience in Canada.”

The Lobbyists, this year a collaboration between Expanse and the Rubaboo Arts Festival, create a series of performance pieces for the Westbury Theatre lobby between Chinook shows, Thursday to Saturday each Chinook weekend. The cast, mentored by Amber Borotsik, includes Barry Bilinsky, Ayla Modeste, and Tarene Thomas. 

The Expanse line-up also includes master-classes. In a two-day intensive, New York’s Third Rail Project arrives to explore with participants immersive theatre and community-building, their specialty (Feb. 9 and 10). The Anitafrika Method, led by Dub poet D’bi Young Anitafrika is an Azimuth Performance Lab offering (Feb. 16 and 17). Stafford Perry of Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality leads a workshop “Creating a Culture of Consent: Community Bystander Interventions” Feb. 12 (a follow-up to last year’s “intimacy for the stage” workshop).

Two of Chinook’s “salon” series — panelists and public discussion — are Expanse initiatives. One (Feb. 8), curated by Good Women Dance, explores “safe spaces in dance.” The other (Feb. 12), led by Azimuth and questions from Sabourin and Hansen, is designed to generation conversation about “decolonizing process and practice.” Says Sabourin, “it’s all about finding others ways of thinking about inclusivity….”  

Chinook is no mild-mannered zephyr; it’s more gale-force than that, a series of cutting-edge performances curated by arts festivals of different sensibilities: Azimuth’s Expanse Festival, Workshop West’s Canoe Festival, Fringe Theatre Adventures, along with BAM! (Black Arts Matter), Sound Off (the deaf theatre festival), and Sinergia (a new multi-disciplinary multi-cultural Indigenous roots lineup). See the full program of offerings and a colour-coded performance schedule — and buy tickets — at


Expanse Movement Arts Festival

Chinook Series

Theatre: Azimuth

Where: Westbury Theatre and lobby, ATB Financial Arts Barns

Running: Thursday through Feb. 17

Tickets (and full schedule): or at the door

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