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Fall For Dance North Offers a Netflix-Style Festival

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival created a new website and has made most of the content free By Grace Wells-Smith
  • Sabrina Comanescu of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks / Photo by Trudie Lee

Like many other events, the sixth edition of the dance festival Fall For Dance North (FFDN) began online Tuesday and will run until October 18. But this festival is hosted on a new, Netflix-style website that features an array of performances, interviews and workshops.

This year, the festival had to shift in response to the current pandemic and most of the content is free – in 2015, tickets for each night were $10 and then bumped up to $15 in 2016.

Ilter Ibrahimof, the festival’s artistic director, said that when the team knew they wouldn’t be going ahead in person, they decided they wanted to create a digital platform that was specifically built for FFDN. They also wanted to deliver the festival in a way that viewers were habitually used to.

“Everybody entertains themselves with the Netflixes of the world,” Ibrahimof said. “We wanted to take a lot of lessons and cues from them, from that kind of experience.”

So, they found a web developer to create the website in only three months, work that Ibrahimof said would normally take at least a year. He also described the website as a “beast.”

“It was just a really big project to manage for our team and every team member really had to take a little portion of it and really collaborate,” he said, noting that this kind of project was a new undertaking for everyone.

Michael Caldwell, executive producer of the festival, mentioned via email that finalizing the plan was also a major challenge.

“Everything has shifted (and continues to shift) so rapidly, that it is difficult to settle on any plan for longer than a few weeks,” he said. “So it really makes production and project management incredibly challenging.” However, he mentioned that the festival artists have been patient and flexible over the past few months.

“It’s not so much a ‘surprise,’ as a ‘reconfirmation’ of the power of art to affect our lives, and the tenacity and focus and drive of dance artists,” he said.

One of those dance artists is Kimberley Cooper, artistic director of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks.

“The moment we got the invitation to be part of this gala gave me such an incredible sense of hope—a gig! a concrete something to look forward to and work towards,” Cooper said via email. The company will be presenting Terra.

“I’m thrilled for the gala, but at this point, I’m just trying to enjoy every moment leading up to it. This gig is a gift, the dancers and I speak daily about how blessed we are to be having this experience,” she said.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks will be included in the festival’s 2020 Signature Program, which will feature six world premieres by dance artists in Canada. The program will become available on October 3 and tickets are $15. The other performances are by Red Sky Performance; Vanesa Garcia-Ribala Montoya (Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal); Mafa Makhubalo; Lisa La Touche with Danny Nielsen and Laura Donaldson; and Joshua Beamish with Rena Narumi.

Although the festival will go back to live performances as soon as it can, Ibrahimof said that they will keep some digital elements moving forward.

“I find the digital world quite exciting,” he said. “Not necessarily adapting what we normally do in a theatre for the digital world, but actually just creating things that are distinct for the digital world.”

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