Waterline: A Dance with the Surface of the Water Considers What Water Might Remember

In partnering with a river’s surface, the performance meditates on the vital relations between humans, water and what becomes ghostly By Jillian Groening
  • Still from Waterline with dancers Lia Loewen and Vanessa Hrynchuk / Videography by Jordan Popowich

Waterline was presented live and in person from Sept. 24-26 at The Forks Historic Port in Winnipeg, M.B. 

The waters of the Assiniboine River lap softly between the slats of the wooden dock where I sit cross-legged. Across the river, up against the curved concrete base of the lighthouse at The Forks Historic Port, stands a large screen displaying a video of two dancers who splash cascades of water droplets into the air with their arms. Although they move with the water in a darkened theatre space, the surface they manipulate would seem to be the Assiniboine River itself. Their reflections pour seamlessly from the projection screen into the black water, transforming their gestures into slivers of moonlight sent rippling across the river’s surface. 

Waterline: A Dance with the Surface of the Water, which was presented Sept. 24 through 26, 2021, was conceived, directed and produced by hannah_g, a Winnipeg-based artist and writer, and choreographed by Rachel Cooper, a choreographer and dance educator. The work is danced by Vanessa Hrynchuk and Lia Loewen, whose multivalent partnerships – with water, reflections and each other – are intensified due to a closeness that is palpable across watery distance. The videography is by JP Media/Jordan Popowich, with Aston Coles as production technician and Colby Richardson as projectionist. All of the aforementioned are currently based in Winnipeg. Waterline was created with consultation from Niigaan Sinclair, The Forks’ curator of Indigenous history. 

Waterline / Photo by Colby Riachardson


Although Waterline is one of hannah_g’s early forays into creating immersive worlds through performance, the screendance installation transmits a sense of passage that resonates throughout her existing works. Embodied through Cooper’s choreographic process, Hrynchuk and Loewen’s swaying motions impart the cyclical oscillations that wrap the moon, pull the tide and guide creatures along their migratory travels. When in moments of stillness, their forms are mirrored on the smooth surface of the river, offering an uncanny transference between realms. Waterline’s location intensifies this feeling. The Forks, named for the merging of the east-flowing Assiniboine River into the wider north-flowing Red River, has been an important meeting site for over 6,000 years. Nakoda (Assiniboines), Cree and Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) and Dakota peoples moved, and continue to move, through the site during its many iterations of travel and commerce, most recently during the fur trade and the railway immigration boom of the Industrial era.

Sitting on the wooden dock, bobbing on the surface of the river while watching Hrynchuk and Loewen stirring the water to create rings, I wonder about the way agencies entangle through co-creation with the river surface. Dr. Kelsey Leonard, associate professor at the University of Waterloo and member of the Shinnecock Nation, has spoken at length about how Indigenous views on the personhood of water could save aquatic sites from industrial pollution. Even though the Waterline audience is not in direct contact with the river waters, the work emits an understanding of the water as a partner, as a life force that impacts the lives of those on Treaty 1 lands and beyond.  

Waterline / Photo by Jordan Popowich


The erasure of Indigenous life along the banks of these rivers is also pervasive; these waters have at times been the site of death and loss. Both Felicia Solomon and Tina Fontaine were found in the Red River, near The Forks site, in 2003 and 2014, respectively. Both were young Indigenous girls. In thinking along with sociologist Avery Gordon, it feels imperative to ask: “How do we reckon with what modern history has rendered ghostly?” And what is possible when acting against colonial erasure?

Waterline is on a short loop that begins and ends with Hrynchuk and Loewen’s open palms emerging from and descending into the dark river waters. By offering a direct correlation between visible/invisible performance worlds, Waterline considers the seemingly perpetual mutations of departure and return, of passing and presence. As Mojave poet Natalie Diaz writes in The First Water is the Body, “Do you think the water will forget what we have done, what we continue to do?” In reaching beyond the boundaries of time, Waterline asks what is held in the water.

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