Good Women Dance Collective launches a new season

Good Women Dance Collective. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

By Liz Nicholls,

They leap effortlessly across the frontier between dance and theatre as if it didn’t exist.  They’re into sharing; unusual musical and theatrical partnerships are their signature.

At the centre of the new Good Women Dance Collective season, their 12th, as announced Tuesday night at an online launch party, is a new and highly unusual multi-disciplinary collaboration with FEMME, an all-female vocal quartet. Set to the world premiere of The Beginning of Happiness by Edmonton composer Jane Berry, four singers and fourdancer/choreographers explore gender-based domestic abuse. The score is “very intense and very beautiful, very haunting ” says Ainsley Hillyard, one of the founders of Good Women and an artist of startling versatility.

Originally scheduled to debut last March, The Beginning of Happiness finally arrives on the L’UniThéâtre stage April 1 to 3 2021. Three of the four Good Women — Hillyard, Alison Kause, Kate Stashko — are joined onstage for the occasion by Rebecca Sadowski. The launch party introduced the latter, a multi-faceted dancer/ actor/ creator/ curator, as the collective’s fifth member.

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Of the four original founders of GWDC, Hillyard and Kause remain in this collective with its notable appetite for brave new work.  The company, for example, which until the 2020 edition was the dance curator at Nextfest, collaborated in 2019 with Northern Light  Theatre on The Cardiac Shadow, in which the dancers created a movement script to accompany voice-over presentation of the text by actors. Hillyard, who has choreographed movement for such productions as Punctuate! Theatre’s Bears and The Other, has appeared as an actor in theatres across town (among them Theatre Yes’s Anxiety and Thou Art Here’s production of Shakespeare’s Will, Northern Light’s Wish, a cross-species love story in which she played a gorilla). In her own play, Jezebel – At the Still Point, which premiered in Theatre Network’s Roxy Performance Series in 2018, Hillyard co-starred with her French bulldog.

So we’re talking about an adventurous and spirited troupe. As Hillyard explains, the new GWDC season launches with hopes for live performance — but with online live streaming contingency plans in the wings. If live shows are possible, the house capacity of about 175 at L’UniThéâtre, the Good Women performance headquarters, will be reduced exponentially. “Our company is so small, and risks are so impactful,” as Hillyard says. 

Convergence, Good Women Dance. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux Photography.

The season begins Dec. 3 to 5 at L’UniThéâtre with Convergence. The 2021 edition of Good Women’s annual showcase of works by an assortment of diverse invited artists, features a new creation for Hillyard, Kause, Stashko and Alida Kendell by Montreal-based choreographer Sasha Kleinplatz, co-founder of the contemporary dance company Wants&Needs Danse. “She works a lot with improv,” says Hillyard. “It’s a chance for us to hone our improv chops….It sounds fun and joyful,.”

Kleinplatz’s piece invites personal input from the dancers on why they love dance. “We haven’t started rehearsing yet (at GWDC’s studio/ office space at the Shumka Dance Centre). But so far we know we each need to buy colourful coveralls. Ah, and inflatable pool toys…. Yup, I’m happy to (dance) swim onstage!”

Other artists include Dustin Stamp, a star fancy dancer from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, with guests. And Convergence includes a collaboration between GWDC and the poet/spoken word artist Brandon Wint.

A creation-based company, GWDC hosts six two-week “residencies” for artists, both veteran and emerging, to devise new work during the season. The idea, says Hillyard, is that “they’ll create, generate, rehearse their own work. Carte blanche. Our space is accessible to them to rehearse. And if they want an outside eye, we’re here for them.” And, as a capper, “there’s a public showing via Zoom.”

Two the six artists were awarded residencies for last season; the COVID shutdown propelled them forward in time. Four of the six are local. Forms, genres, styles, aesthetics, vary widely. The first of the residencies begins Sept. 28 with flamenco specialist Anastassiia La Musa. Toronto choreographer Nina Milanovski is coming with two dancers to work on a new duet, Uncoupling. During her residency next July Erin Pettifor will devise a clown/dance fusion solo, an intriguing prospect.

For Expanse, Azimuth Theatre’s annual contribution to the Chinook Series in February, GWDC provides a New Work Award (“financial support, an artistic outsider eye, access to our space”) to an artist who performs it the following year. Hillyard herself received one in early days at Good Women; “it was a game-changer for me.” So theatre audiences can expect to see a performance by Nasra Adem, best known to Edmonton audiences perhaps as a star spoken word poet, at this year’s edition.

The season also includes dance training (currently online, with Kate Stashko), and workshops from a variety of guest artists. Some are appearing in the Brian Webb Dance Company season (an assortment that includes Kidd Pivot (of Betroffenheit fame). Some are in GWDC residencies. In this year of built-in uncertainty, dates and details await. 

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