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WELLS HILL

"In the evening, it was back to The Dance Centre for Saturday night's mainstage presentation of Vanessa Goodman/action at a distance's Wells Hill and Delia Brett/MACHiNENOiSY's plaything. I've blogged about the original presentation of Wells Hill, as part of the 2015 Chutzpah! Festival, [below]. The movement is as gorgeous as ever, at once languid and sinewy and robustly energetic in a way that is equally responsive to Gould playing Bach and to Gabriel Saloman's original immersive sound score. It was also interesting to see the piece in the more intimate setting of The Dance Centre (which I gather partly inspired the new costumes designed by Ziyian Kwan), and to witness the individual embodied contributions of new cast members Karissa Barry, Dario Dinuzzi, and Alexa Mardon. I look forward to the premiere of the full piece in 2017 at SFU Woodward's."

Peter Dickinson/Performance, Place and Politics (Nov 2015)

"Last night at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, the Chutzpah! Festival presented a double bill of dance. The evening opened with the premiere of a new work by local choreographer and SFU Contemporary Arts alum Vanessa Goodman. Wells Hill takes its name from the street in Toronto where Marshall McLuhan lived before moving to Wychwood Park, and where he wrote three of his most famous works: The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media, and The Medium is the Massage. (It helps that I live with, and was sitting beside, a noted McLuhan scholar.) Goodman takes inspiration from McLuhan's ideas about mass communication and, especially via his collaborations with Glenn Gould, how media affect the ways we produce and consume art.

To a recording of Gould performing The Goldberg Variations, a sextet of incredibly gifted Vancouver dancers (Lara Barclay, Lisa Gelley, James Gnam, Josh Martin, Bevin Poole, and Jane Osborne) begin moving in formation stage right, their deconstructed white tuxedo shirts and grey skirts and slacks evoking elite private school uniforms (the costumes are by Deborah Beaulieu), an image reinforced by the evocative floor and overhead florescent lighting design by James Proudfoot. The five dancers, initially tightly grouped and moving their arms synchronously and geometrically to frame their heads and torsos, slowly break apart and fan out across the stage. At this point, Barclay begins weaving in and around them, our focus drawn to her different movement patterns, the amount of space she is covering relative to the others, and, in this instance, the deliberate showcasing of her virtuosity. If dance is a performance medium that also in some senses performs us, Goodman seems to be asking, in this opening sequence, a key structural question: how, to paraphrase W.B.Yeats, do we separate the dancer from the dance?

This parts/whole, content/form equation was what I kept focusing on throughout the remainder of the piece. For example, following the opening group sequence we get a gorgeous duet between Gnam and Poole; as they finish, they move upstage, making way for the pairing of Gelley and Osborne. As kinetically compelling as the the downstage duo is (and these women are truly exceptional movers), our attention is necessarily divided between them and the upstage duo, a reminder that in contemporary dance our awareness and sensory-motor perceptors are being hailed in multiple ways, and often simultaneously. So too is it when Martin joins the group a bit later in the piece; he is moving differently than the others, more fluidly, and as he floats in and out between the others' bodies we cannot help but follow his progress. Finally, there is the stunningly arresting final tableau that Goodman gives us: Barclay, having first been grabbed from behind by Gelley, is steered stage left, as one-by-one the other dancers attach themselves to her body (and to each other) from the wings, manipulating her limbs like she is a marionette (an image with obvious dance-world resonance). However, Gnam remains apart from this group, dancing a solo in counterpoint to the larger group machine.

A lot is going on here. On the one hand, Goodman seems to be suggesting that if the dancer's body is a medium, then it is the choreographer who ultimately works it over. But sometimes even the most disciplined bodies can resist being conscripted for a particular message--hence Gnam dancing alone off to the side. Then, too, the dance-as-performed works on us (including kinaesthetically), a reminder that in the feedback loop of communication it is the audience that completes the circuit of both the medium and the message. This is something Gould recognized. Influenced by McLuhan, he famously gave up live performance for the perfectibility of the recording studio. But he never forgot who was at the other end of "his master's voice," that his records needed to be played and listened too. (Gould and McLuhan both appear at various points in screen projections curated by Goodman and Ben Didier). Likewise, in this very smart and important new work, Goodman recognizes that if, in McLuhan's words, "Art is anything you can get away with," that art nevertheless demands a response."

Peter Dickinson/Performance, Place and Politics (Feb 2015)

"Goodman’s Wells Hill (named for the street of McLuhan’s family home) uses dance to comment, sometimes ironically, on the texts of Gould and McLuhan, who shared many prescient ideas about technology and art. (The Canadian icons also appear in fuzzy video.) The piece opens with a projection of the famous McLuhan quote “Art is anything you can get away with,” counterpointed by Goodman’s dancers going through classic dance motions to echoey studio-piano music.

Wearing white dress shirts and grey bottoms, like deconstructed suits from the McLuhan era, the six dancers are top-notch, including an expressive Lara Barclay and James Gnam. The most powerful moments are when they enact, metaphorically, the hold media has on us, punctuated by voice-overs like the one of McLuhan warning that TV is feeding an unprecedented amount of information at high speed into children’s brains. At one point a dancer manipulates Barclay like a doll, covering her eyes, moving her hands and legs, and doubling her over; soon others join in, moving her till all five of her stage partners have overtaken her body. It’s in scenes like this you can really sense Goodman’s ability to choreograph; she also excels at creating a look and atmosphere, here with James Proudfoot’s stark white spot and fluorescent lighting and Gabriel Saloman’s original-sound compositions."

Janet Smith/Georgia Straight (2015)

"The night opens with local choreographer Vanessa Goodman’s work Wells Hill. Inspired by the text and theories of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould, the piece begins with a delightful juxtaposition: McLuhan’s quote “Art is anything you can get away with” is projected on screen while traditional ballet piano plays and the dancers begin their contemporary movements. This tongue-in-cheek attitude towards contemporary art is part of what made Wells Hill a joy to watch.
Visually Wells Hill lives in a simple-yet-stunning greyscale, with bright white lighting on grey and white costumes. The movements of the dancers are simple and light, the whole thing feeling as airy as a breezy summer afternoon.

Intending to explore communication and our relationship with medium and performance, this light touch reflects the way we easily accept and incorporate new media into our lives without realizing that we are ultimately letting it control us. This concept is relayed clearly in a final image of a dancer being manipulated, first by one other dancer, then another and another, until she has a small mob following and controlling her, and she barely even notices it’s happening."

Andrea Loewen/Vancouver Persents (2015)

 

Container

Container

"A visceral solo dance bursting out of a starkly abstract stage and costume design. Goodman's character is born into a rectangle of light, moves powerfully but haltingly through the darkness, and then returns to the light.
One-line review: Goodman moved to the industrial-ambient music like one of its notes made flesh in a way that elicited from me an audible and unbeckoned "damn" at the end of the performance."

Rich Smith/The Stranger (2016)

"As I reflect the opening weekend of NWNW Festival, there are three performances that struck a cord with me. And got me excited about PNW arts again. The first being Vanessa Goodman.
Vanessa Goodman: She is what others try to be when it comes to contemporary dance and performance. Musicality, physicality, spiritual, control, articulation, loss of control and joy. She could have easily been lost on the Mainstage , but she easily made the stage her willing and small partner."

Dani Terrill/On the Boards Blog (2016)

"Goodman's solo Container, a version of which she presented earlier this June at the Magnetic North Festival, showcases what an amazing mover she is. Clad in nude-coloured dance semis and what looked like mini combat boots, and combining hyper-kinetic android-like movements with various club grooves, Goodman reminded me at various points of a cross between Priss from Blade Runner and Miley Cyrus--but without the look-at-me twerking, and with a much more gorgeous silhouette. At one point, early on in the piece, Goodman launches into a deep lunge, arching her back in way that had me wishing I could mimic that pose on the beach. Then, too, there is Goodman's innate musicality, as when she pulses her upper body and arms in simple yet hypnotic time to the electronic sound score by Loscil (the Vancouver-based artist Scott Morgan). To go back to that sci-fi connection I made via the Blade Runner reference, Container ends with Goodman dancing in a single, slowly fading spot upstage (the lighting is again by Proudfoot), her upper body raised to the ceiling as if she is about to be transported to another world, one that is big enough to contain her outsized talents."
Peter Dickinson/Performance, Place and Politics (2015)

"Now to casually and swiftly change subject: Vanessa Goodman. Peter Dickinson writes: “Container ends with Goodman dancing in a single, slowly fading spot upstage… her upper body raised to the ceiling as if she is about to be transported to another world, one that is big enough to contain her outsized talents.” Yes. Her “outsized talents.” For a petite, compact woman (she stands right below my chin), she is a lanky, sinew-y, and precise monster on the stage. Ones bones may dictate size, but holy, talent and energy abounds.

Watching Container I felt a foreign feeling in my viscera. I often watch professional dancers whom I respect, Goodman being one of them, but rarely do I feel an excitement in the future of dance, art, and the performer’s career. Goodman sparked this responsive exhilaration in me that posed a friendly challenge. Not a challenge to me specifically, but to the dance world at large: how can the ephemeral art form of dance burn in your mind and be a torch bearer for the universal human desire of progress and understanding? Her stretching limbs, smiling face, and pulsating spine created a score that developed through a cyclical momentum, showing the audience both the triumphs in the failures and the devastation in the laurels. I guess I would say that I feel the excitement a peer would have towards what Goodman creates next. Obviously she and I are of different generations, separated by a multitude of years and experiences, but her welcoming demeanour shone onto the Firehall audience and warmly invited us into her odyssey."


"The work presented thus far at Dancing on the Edge has provided hope that our contemporary culture is not using art for social regulation or as a means to a radical end. Dance in Vancouver (if Chambers, Goodman and Hong Kong Exile can serve as vibrant examples) is truly pushing us to an edge where we must build the path as expeditiously as we step forward. If dance rarely comes up as a subfield of “art”, then these works are not scratching out a definition for dance, but redefining what art is. Or they’re just amazing performances that are life-affirming and guide me in carving out a piece of existence; dance is great, and thankfully it can be found everywhere."
Ileanna Cheladyn/Dancing on the Edge Blog (2015)

"For sheer physical virtuosity, Vanessa Goodman’s Container stood out. Beneath stark lighting from the reliably excellent James Proudfoot, the composer-performer enacted several varieties of anguish at breakneck speed, switching from broken marionette to overwrought club kid to torture survivor with the kind of seeming ease that can only be achieved with intense discipline."
Alexander Varty/Georgia Straight (2015)

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