Dancers ask Halifax pedestrians to 'donate' movements

We've all been asked to spare a dime. But have you ever been asked to spare a gesture? A group of contemporary dancers is doing just that in Halifax this week. 

Members of Mocean Dance, in collaboration with Larry Lavender, an interdisciplinary arts professor from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., are asking members of the public to perform a movement on video so it can be incorporated into a dance performance.

Volunteers with the project, called Halifax Movement Synthesis, are approaching pedestrians at the Halifax Central Library on Monday and Tuesday between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to ask for "movement donations."

The final piece will be unveiled on Thursday at the library's Paul O'Regan Hall at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

So, what kinds of donated movements are the dancers hoping to get?

Just about anything will do, said Lavender.

"It could be lifting their arm, twisting around, opening their mouth, blinking their eyes, jumping up and down," he told the CBC's Information Morning.

Two dances

The goal is to turn the material into two performance pieces. 

In the first, a dancer will repeat the sequence of movements almost exactly the way they appear on the recording, and in the same order.

This will make for "really interesting transitions," Lavender said, "because the first mover might have ended in the air or something, and the next one was on the ground," so the dancer has to piece the movements together in a creative way.

The plan will be to play the video in the background while the dancer executes the sequence, so audience members can compare the dance version to the real thing.

The dancers will use the same material for the second piece, but this time, they will be allowed to "reorganize it, repeat it, combine it in new ways, change the facing, or the direction, or the tempo or the dynamics."

Celebrating the ordinary

Lavender said he has tried this project twice. The first time was in New Zealand, where he said he got 66 donations from people hailing from 27 different countries. The second time was at his home base in Greensboro, N.C.

The idea is, in part, to push us "to increase the vocabulary of movements that can be considered significant enough or important enough to be in a dance."

Dancers are often reduced to a "small range of ways of moving," Lavender said. "So, the idea of this work is to go all the way back to ordinary people doing ordinary movement and try to make that important again."

'Egalitarian project'

He calls this an "egalitarian" project, with the goal of getting everybody involved and showing them that "any movement is dance and any body — any physical body — can be a dancing body." 

The project also gives the audience members a better idea of what choreographers do when they manipulate and refine movements, he said, because they can see the initial gesture and compare it with the finished product.

By the end of the process, Lavender said, many of the original movements "will no longer really be recognizable. They'll be smoothed out or combined with other ones, or miniaturized or expanded."