From July 5 to 13, dance groups representing diverse styles from around the world will be giving presentations and offering workshops in various Nanaimo venues for Crimson Coast Dance Society’s 21st annual Infringing Dance Festival.
The festival’s two headlining productions – taking place at the Port Theatre on July 11 and 13 – explore mystical environments on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, blurring the lines between human and animal, reality and the supernatural.
The first headliner is Vancouver’s Orchid Ensemble presenting the première performance of Crossing Mountains and Seas. The production, featuring multimedia effects, aerial dancers and traditional Chinese music, is inspired by an ancient book of Chinese mythology of unconfirmed authorship called The Classic of Mountains and Seas.
Orchid Ensemble artistic director Lan Tung said people are rediscovering the book in recent years, a development she attributes to interest in big-budget Hollywood fantasy films spreading to Asia.
“Although most people have forgotten about this book, it has influenced the culture,” she said. “A lot of the stories, the legends that everyone knows, came from the book.”
In Crossing Mountains and Seas, characters inspired by the book travel between reality and the magical world through an online virtual reality game. There they encounter mysterious settings and creatures drawn from the equally mysterious source material.
“The description of all the creatures in there were very strange,” Tung said of the book. “They were like half-animal and a combination of the body parts of different animals. And so people were wondering why the ancient world was filled with all these strange creatures.”
While Infringing is featuring the first performance of Crossing Mountains and Seas, the festival also marks the final planned performance of Flicker, which the Vancouver-based Dancers of Damelahamid has been touring since last fall.
Flicker tells the story of a man on a journey of identity that takes him through mountains, forests and seas as he learns what it means to be a young indigenous person today. Executive and artistic director Margaret Grenier said the title refers to a type of woodpecker common in West Coast First Nations formline art, as well as idea of “how light flickers and how we really have to care for and we really have to nurture this identity because there’s so much that distracts us or so much that disconnects us from these practices.”
Flicker is the Dancers of Damelahamid’s first show to make use of multimedia projections throughout the production. Grenier said she sees those effects as a storytelling tool akin to the masks and regalia used in West Coast dance. Grenier said the projections are used to illustrate the dancer traversing environments and physical forms.
“There is this transformation between human and animal form and that happens a fair amount within the piece because that, within our culture, is part of our stories and our way of portraying story,” she said.
Grenier said interacting with nature and animal life is a common theme in indigenous stories and histories, and the story of Flicker comes from that tradition.
“It’s just the idea that [animals] are not removed from us in the way we tend to see things coming from a more Western perspective, where our reality doesn’t interact with these animals or these environments in the same way,” she said. “Whereas with the way this story is told, the dancers are very much integrated and step in and out of those different roles.”
WHAT’S ON … Orchid Ensemble presents Crossing Mountains and Seas at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on July 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Dancers of Damelahamid present Flicker at the Port Theatre on July 13 at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $30, $27 for Crimson Coast Dance and Port Theatre members, $25 for students and seniors. Tickets available from the Port Theatre. For full Infringing schedule, visit www.crimsoncoastdance.org/infringing2019.