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Dance experience creates new connections in Downtown Eastside

Kevin Griffin
Vancouver Sun
July 12, 2008

Stand Your Ground
Act II


By Karen Jamieson Dance
Part of the Dancing on the Edge Festival


Karen Jamieson's Stand Your Ground - Act II wasn't a traditional dance performance. Performers and audience members often mixed and mingled, most venues were outdoors, and more than half of the performers were dancers with minimal training.


So if you judged Stand Your Ground by the same criteria as a professional dance production at a venue such as Playhouse, you'd have to say it didn't measure up. But that wouldn't be fair to Stand Your Ground. It would be more accurate to say that it was more of a community experience.


Stand Your Ground started with a brief introduction and solo dance on the back patio of the Firehall. Behind the audience, there was a loud metallic rattling sound: the rest of the performers were at the fence waiting to be let in. The 11 performers fanned out and personally invited each of the 20 or so audience members on a journey through the Downtown Eastside.


The next performance was at the corner of Gore and East Hastings in front of First United Church. Four performers splayed their bodies against a wall as if listening to the stories in the bricks while a dancer pirouetted and danced on the sidewalk.


On the other side of East Hastings, the entrepreneurs who sell second-hand shirts, bracelets and books on the street were honoured with songs and attention.


A few doors west, a first nations woman blessed the audience with pungent burning sweetgrass. In front of the Ovaltine Cafe, a part of the community since 1943, we were served water from handleless ceramic cups used for Chinese tea.


Around the corner on Main, we all stood in a semi-circle in front of The Listening Post on the ground floor of Bruce Eriksen Place, the social housing complex named after the social activist and Downtown Eastside champion who died in 1997. From the mural on the side of the building, likenesses of Eriksen looked down on us standing on the sidewalk. Standing with three other drummers, a first nations woman drummed and sang a song of thanks in her native language, stopped, and asked audience members why they were thankful for being there.


The final venue was in the Carnegie Community Centre. We all marched up the beautiful winding staircase past the stained glass windows depicting Shakespeare, Milton and Spenser to the airy gym where we sat in chairs around the perimeter. What followed was a step dance and follow the leader, all movements originating with the participants who were part of the Carnegie's Dance 101 workshop. At the end, each performer thanked each audience member for being there by shaking hands. Being personally touched and looked at by each dancer was unexpectedly moving. Stand Your Ground created encounters between different classes and backgrounds that would not otherwise have occurred.


That was clear by an experience that happened to me. The day before, I had an hour to spare between performances. From the Firehall, I went on a speed-walk through the neighbourhood. The streets were full of invisible acrid odours, staggering people and loud arguments.


It wasn't so much frightening as extremely unpleasant.


With the Stand Your Ground group passing through much of the same terrain, it was very different. When we stopped at one of the street vendors I spotted the distinctive cover of the first Dark Knight Batman comic book from 1989. I bought it for $2.


Without the artificiality of the performance, I wouldn't have been comfortable enough to pause and find something valuable. Stand Your Ground allowed me to look at a neighbourhood I'd rather avoid.


The last performance of Stand Your Ground - Act II takes place today at 5 p.m. at the Firehall, 280 East Cordova.
kevingriffin@png.canwest.com
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