Nanaimo Contemporary Ballet examines technological dependence in new show ‘Frequency’ at Malaspina Theatre

Dance program will feature guest performers from Vancouver’s Reforming Art Productions and Company 605

This summer Chantelle Norris started to realize how addicted she and people around her were becoming to their smartphones.

The artistic director of Nanaimo Contemporary Ballet said she’s finding that people in public places aren’t “looking up” anymore and is concerned that this trend is getting worse.

“I think it’s becoming much more of a prominent issue, especially in the mainstream media, about how people are addicted to their phones,” Norris said.

“so I started thinking, ‘How can I turn this into a show?’ Because NCB is all about bringing current issues into dance.”

In the past Norris has tackled topics like the Syrian refugee crisis through dance. She responded to these new concerns by creating Frequency, her latest NCB production. It it, her company of 16 teenage dancers trace human history from its primitive roots through the advent of technology and mass media.

“The second half is all about the digital age, so your iPhone first comes in, and then it goes into narcissism a little bit and then finally, I wouldn’t say, ‘The breakdown of society,’ but just over-stimulation is where it finishes,” she said.

“And then one girl at the very end just puts her cellphone down and that’s basically it.”

Norris said her students have been open to interpreting heavier themes. She said they have been working collaboratively and making suggestions about the show’s direction.

“I think we don’t give teenagers as much credit as we should,” she said.

“We always think they’re just on their phones, or they’re just busy checking out boys, or whatever the girls do nowadays. But they’re actually really involved and they really wanted to bite into it.”

Norris added that her students have embraced the concepts in the program. As an exercise she asked them to put away their phones for three hours and write a journal entry about the experience. She joked that it was torturous to some of them.

One of those dancers, 15-year-old Jessica Langelier, said she has grown up around technology all her life and didn’t consider its rise to ubiquitousness.

“I didn’t really realize how much it has evolved and how much we rely on it,” she said.

“Even at [dance] festivals and stuff I would always be on my phone backstage when I’m warming up, or just on social media, but after doing the show and realizing how much it has affected us and how much it’s taken over our lives, I feel like I try and be on my phone less and try and use technology less.”

Norris said she hopes audiences are inspired to think about their own reliance on technology and consider unplugging more often.

“I think it was really important that the younger generation is doing the show, because it’s going to show that they’re thinking about it and they’re aware of it,” she said.

“I want [spectators] to go away thinking, ‘Oh, wow. I am maybe doing this too much,’ or ,’Maybe these selfies are a little too much.’”

WHAT’S ON … Nanaimo Contemporary Ballet presents Frequency at Malaspina Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Admission is $20, $25 at the door and groups of six or more pay $15 each. Tickets available at Port Theatre box office.

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