Last summer was a strange one for many artists and arts organizations in the province. While summer is usually the busiest season, with concerts, theatre and dance performances galore, the ongoing pandemic meant a more subdued affair, with many opting to share their work with audiences online. However, some groups like Neighbourhood Dance Works (NDW), DanceNL and Kittiwake Dance Theatre decided to take a different approach.
Last summer, the three organizations united to present a unique, collaborative project that saw them bringing live dance performances right to people’s doorsteps. The idea for “Garden Dances” blossomed from the restrictions of the pandemic, as the three groups sought out a safe way to bring outdoor, distanced performances to small audiences.
Not only did this project serve each organization in different ways, it also employed local artists while providing the public with a unique, joyous opportunity to experience live arts in their own backyards – literally – during a pandemic.
This summer, “Garden Dances” returns (performances will be taking place on July 30 and 31, with August 1 as a rain date), with all three groups looking forward to visiting as many new gardens as possible to delight and entertain.
We chatted with NDW, DanceNL and Kittiwake Dance Theatre about the “Garden Dances” project and the power of partnerships.
Business & Arts NL: How did the Garden Dances project go last year? Did you get a lot of interest?
NDW: Last year we had approximately a dozen live performances that spanned locations in St John’s, Mount Pearl, Paradise and Conception Bay South. The interest and excitement around the project was definitely palpable. The ability to give Newfoundland-based artists meaningful work and reach our audience during a global pandemic is particularly heartwarming for us. All in all, we’re very proud of what we accomplished with this wonderful seasonal event.
Business & Arts NL: Where did the performances take place?
NDW: Performances were requested by community members throughout the metro area and beyond. Dancers and the production team travelled to various homes, where each individual garden became the scenic backdrop for live contemporary ballet! The project did a wonderful job animating intimate spaces and brightening the days amidst a hard time for everyone!
Business & Arts NL: I understand that the dances will be paired with live music. Who will be performing?
NDW: The lovely and talented cellist Vernon Regehr will be performing alongside our dancers this year. It’s always a very exciting time when we are able to pair live music with live dance. Newfoundland has a rich history of collaboration between the arts and we’re always happy to be continuing that trend.
Kittiwake: Since 2018, Kittiwake has made live music accompaniment part of its artistic vision. We have engaged musical ensembles such as the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, Duo Concertante, Shallaway Choir and Strong Harbour Strings Collective for performances. Recognizing there was a dearth of trained dance accompanists in our province, we partnered with Memorial University’s School of Music to bring established dance accompanists to our province to train pianists and percussionists here to play for ballet and contemporary ballet classes and performances. This has been a very successful program.
Where possible, Kittiwake ensures a live music component with its concerts. In the words of Artistic Director Martin Vallée: “Live music adds a new dimension to a production. It becomes a conversation between dancers and musicians, which means that all performers are more attentive and present to the performance, which is then felt by the audience. Because of this, no two shows are exactly the same.”
We are delighted to work with Vernon Regehr – Kittiwake’s recently-appointed music consultant – on this year’s Garden Dances. The sound of cello floating through the open air… ahh beautiful!
Business & Arts NL: If someone is interested in booking a performance, how do they go about that?
NDW: To book a performance, you can contact our Garden Dances Coordinator Laura-Bethm for all inquiries: email@example.com or complete the online form (click here). Performance fee is $100 and supports the future of live dance performance in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Business & Arts NL: I understand this is the first time that NDW, Kittiwake and DanceNL have collaborated. What’s been the best part about this collaboration? And you have plans for more collaboration in the future?
DanceNL: It came after our meeting on February 19, but there were no hard and fast plans from that one meeting. We learned that we were all facing challenges in our mandates. I think we started to recognize immediately issues we could address collaboratively. NDW and Kittiwake went straight into a performance idea. It was coincidental that our February meeting was followed by a vicious snowstorm and pandemic lockdowns that devastated the arts and performance sectors. NDW couldn’t receive artists back into the province for the festival and Kittiwake was anticipating substantial loss without theatre performance revenues. The concept of hosting an elegant dance performance outside the standard arts centre venues and at a nominal fee offered to make this type of dance more accessible. This was a great opportunity for dance advocacy and promotion for DanceNL as the community partner.
NDW: The most important part of this collaboration for NDW is our shared values. We all want to bring high quality dance to our audience and continue making dance reach different people in different spaces. We’re excited about the possibility of future collaborations with Kittiwake and DanceNL that showcase local talent and celebrate this art form.
We just want to add that this event is sure to be fun, delightful, and accessible for all ages. We can’t wait to bring movement and music to your garden.
Kittiwake: We agree. Our vision is “elevating the art of dance” and it was wonderful to have three dance organizations working together. We believe that all three were elevated by this experience.
We felt honoured to be invited as part of Garden Dances in 2020 and performing outdoors was inspirational on many levels. We’re really excited about the 2021 version.
Interested in booking a Garden Dance? Click here.