Saturday, August 6, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 19

Yesterday I interviewed the amazing and hilarious Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg in my office at SFU Woodward's. Turns out we arrived in the city more or less at the same time, me to start grad school at UBC, and she to begin the dance program at SFU. Tara had come to Vancouver from the University of Calgary, where she had been in the theatre program, and she continued to work across both disciplines while at SFU--as, of course, she does today in her own creations, as well as the choreography she does for theatre (including this year's TUTS mounting of West Side Story, which is on my list of must-see shows next week).

Notwithstanding Tara's adeptness at, in her words, "working the system," her time at SFU was fortuitous in terms of the development of her own career: my colleague Judith Garay cast Tara in her very first Dancers Dancing show; Chick Snipper, who would later cede her company to Tara, created work on SFU students dancers while Tara was in the program; and she also performed in Judith Marcuse's States of Grace while at SFU. Coincidentally, Tara received her first commission to choreograph for the theatre when Mary Louise Albert, who was then a dancer in Judith Marcuse's company, said she didn't have the time to do it, and was Tara interested? Flash forward several years and Tara is presenting her first 11-minute solo, Frame, at the Chutzpah! Festival, which Mary Louise has overseen for the past decade or so. So once again we see how everything--and everyone--is connected in this community.

Having danced for Deborah Dunn, Conrad Alexandrowicz, Lola McLaughlin, and having worked with the folks at Radix Theatre and others, Tara took some time off "to find herself" in South America. Coming back from Chile after a few years away, she was eager to work and realized if she wanted to do so--and, moreover, to be in work that reflected her own hybrid interests in and talent for dance and theatre--she had best create the opportunities herself. Such was the beginnings of Tara Cheyenne Performance and Tara's trademark character-driven solos, which achieved a significant turning point when Tara premiered bANGER in 2006. For the permission to inhabit the psyche and physicality of a male character for the first time Tara credits working with mentor Denise Clarke (of One Yellow Rabbit fame) on a project "where the process was great, the product not so much," and also seeing Nigel Charnock perform in his solo Frank at the PuSh Festival. Before his untimely death, Charnock was to have been involved (as director) in the next big step in Tara's evolution as a choreographer: her first group piece, Highgate, which grew out of an invitation from Peter Bingham to "do something different" for his annual choreographic series at EDAM. You couldn't get much different than the mourning triplets that Tara sent out on stage in the wonderful group dress created by her mother, Alice Mansell. I still remember the impact of first seeing those three women (Jackie Collins, Barb Murray and Jane Osborne) bobbing back and forth to the chimes of Big Ben. Combined with my discovery of Tara's work at the BC Scene showcase in Ottawa in the spring of 2009, as well as the subsequent delight I took in the premiere of Goggles at The Cultch later the same year, that moment at EDAM confirmed to me that this was someone whose work I had to absolutely follow from now on.

Indeed, the interest that Tara and I share in the combustible performance possibilities of combining dance and theatre, text and movement, has meant that I have increasingly sought her out as a collaborator: first on a semi-private studio experiment involving research into the performance ethnography of humour (you can find the results on the web if you google assiduously); and hopefully in the near future on a more formal collaboration for which I will supply the words and Tara the movement (and the French accent). So it was only fitting that our conversation yesterday ended with Tara turning the tables and interviewing me for her "Talking Shit" series: chats, discussions, gossip-fests that she tapes with members of the Vancouver dance community on any number of topics.

That in Tara's estimation I am someone who merits inclusion in that community means a lot.


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