Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 28

Yesterday, after a long hiatus, I finally got back into the swing of solo interviewing for our Dance Histories Project. My subject was the divine Caroline Liffmann, who I always love hanging out with because she makes me laugh so much--and because, in turn, it's such a treat to hear her erupt in giggles.

After participating in an EDAM summer intensive in 1999, Caroline moved to Vancouver in 2000 to study at Main Dance, where she trained with Kathryn Ricketts, Sarah Brewer, Helen Walkley, Lee Su Feh, and benefited from guest instructors and artists-in-residence like Grant Strate, Anthony Morgan, Emily Molnar, Wen Wei Wang, Jennifer Mascall, Kathleen McDonaugh, Susan Elliott, Ron Stewart, Daelik, and Judith Garay, among others. In her graduating year at Main Dance, Caroline apprenticed with battery opera when, as she put it, "Su Feh and David were in their full-on Wushu phase." She said she could barely walk after the first few days of training.

Upon graduating from Main in 2003, Caroline began appearing at EDAM and Dancing on the Edge in work by Susan Elliott and Helen Walkley. She also began creating work with her peers, including Jennifer Clarke, Tanya Podlozniuk, Julia Carr, and her former roommate, Barb Murray, with whom Caroline curated a site-specific mini-dance festival/neighbourhood potluck in the courtyard of her housing co-op in 2004. Caroline said that performing has never been her "favourite thing," though she did recount this hilarious anecdote about appearing in a piece by Delia Brett called He Was Swimming the Other Way, alongside Tanya Podlozniuk, Laura Hicks, and Jennifer McLeish Lewis. The work had a mermaid theme and included an elaborate zip-up costume for Caroline--which, when the piece toured to Victoria, was promptly left behind backstage at The Dance Centre. A frantic phone call was put into Delia's partner, Alex Ferguson, who made it to Victoria's Metro Theatre in time. However, the story doesn't end there. Somehow, just before the quartet was to go on Jennifer McLeish Lewis got locked out of the theatre; eventually she made it back in the building, but because there was no one backstage on headset to communicate with the tech booth, the dancers, who were "fifteen seconds away from being dressed and ready to enter," missed their opening cue. At another performance of the same piece Caroline recalled losing count of a unison move on the floor that she had to perform while facing the upstage wall; at a certain point she calculated it was time to turn to face the audience, whereupon she encountered the perplexed faces of her fellow dancers and just continued to circle back around, eventually getting back into sync. This she promptly demonstrated for me on the floor of my office at SFU Woodward's.

Since 2011 Caroline has collaborated with Lina Fitzner and Lee Hutzulak as Light Box, creating a number of short dance works and performance installations for Dances for a Small Stage, Dancing on the Edge, BC Buds, etc. She is also active in community-based dance, which is how I first met Caroline, when she assisted on Sylvain Ḗmard's Le Grand Continental for the PuSh Festival in 2015. That remains a highlight of my own dance history in Vancouver, and that's largely due to Caroline's grace and good humour throughout the whole process. I remember her giving me a correction, something having to do with my arms. I joked that the arm movements didn't really matter so long as I had the steps right. The look she gave me was priceless. Then she said, as if communicating with a truculent and not terribly bright child, "Peter, we dance with our whole bodies."

Indeed we do, and I thank Caroline for reminding me of that during our time together yesterday.


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