Propeller Dance Brings Vibrant Joy to Our Living Rooms for Earth Day 2021

Celebrating and connecting with the Earth in the virtual age of a pandemic By Patricia Allison
  • Artists from Propeller Dance / Photo by Jake Morrison

On the afternoon of April 25, Ottawa-based integrated dance company Propeller Dance hosted a two-hour live and interactive celebration of Earth Day with a special guest presentation by United Kingdom-based company Stopgap Dance. The afternoon involved a dance compilation video, artist talks, guided movement meditations, whiteboard doodling, a wildlife photography presentation and much more.

Clicking on the event link, I was immediately transported into a vibrantly rich and warm community. Allison Burns’s expert hosting was supported by a robust team who ensured the event was open to all and that it ran smoothly with live closed captioning, ASL interpretation and phone or email technical support. There was, of course, the odd “Please unmute yourself” and “Can you hear me?” as the spotlight shifted from one participant to another, but there was an ease and comfort to this virtual space.  

The compilation video opened with Stopgap Dance Company’s high-energy, explosive dancefilm Frock. It had me smiling from the first cheeky close-up of Hannah Sampson, looking eagerly out of frame, to the final reverent curtsy by  Jannick Moth, as the rest of the cast lay sprawled on the asphalt. Choreographed by Lucy Bennett, Stopgap’s artistic director, the cast of six dancers clad in seemingly gender-bending suits or skirts (I will not assume gender identity – but I believe this was the intention) bound through this work with rebellious abandon. Set outdoors on a slab of pavement under a vibrantly blue sky, the work left me craving the summer sun. Nadenh Poan, a wheelchair dancer who charismatically shines in this work as he tumbles and rolls with his chair, joined the panel of artists live at the event to speak about the creation of the dancefilm and the ups and downs of working outdoors. 

Next came a collection of excerpts from Propeller Dance’s past works that highlighted their love of nature. Although it was all archival footage and not films created specifically for the screen, the selection captured the theme of the day and the spirit of their company. From their 2013 show Aqueous, which was dedicated to all things water, a solo wheelchair dancer is positioned centre stage in the work Shifting Currents. She sweepingly opens an umbrella overhead while raindrops are projected on a cyclorama behind her. The stage fills with six other dancers – all with umbrellas overhead that swirl and arch around the stage. This image stands out as a simple but beautiful ode to water and how it affects each of us in our everyday lives. 

In The Wild Life (choreographed by Renata Soutter and co-choreographed by Siôned Watkins and Liz Winkelaar), the dancers move in a straight-line procession, carving their way through the landscape. The ethereal costumes complement the beige, green and purple flora around them, and the wind sets movement into the fabric and incorporates the dancers deeper into the elements. The company looks at home amid the garden. 

The panel (featuring dancers from Propeller Dance and Stopgap) added to the experience of the afternoon. For example, both companies made working outside look effortless, but hearing, in particular from Poan and Winkelaar, about the challenges and effort required when navigating a wheelchair across an uneven surface added a deeper level of understanding to the works. Alternatively, hearing laughing recounts of stormy bad weather that each company had to navigate made the sunshine in each of the outdoor films all the more vivid. As far as Zoom performances go, this was one of my favourites. While you may have missed your opportunity to be a part of this one-time show, be sure to keep your eye open for Propeller Dance’s future works, which I suspect will be as warm and vibrant as this Earth Day celebration. 

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