Rianne Svelnis | Gatherings for Dance and Other Actions

For June and July 2019, we were honoured to host Rianne Svelnis as our Artist in Residence. Rianne has generously offered her reflections and documentation of this time as an archive, resource and point of entry into her practice.

My 2-month on-and-off residency with Arts Assembly housed at Dynamo Arts Association was a collection of small gatherings. We gathered to dance, to sing, to read aloud, to make phone-calls, to talk about dance. We gathered to learn alongside, to share information, to create container, to have courage, to study dance in our dancing bodies. The other day in the Talking Thinking Dancing Body, Lee Su-Feh said that one way to answer questions is to come up with better questions. This is a good way to describe how I feel after these 2 months of access to the gallery space.

What happened

Prayers - many prayers
Waiting for the floor to dry
Moving the couch
Setting timers
Timers going off
Boxing drills
Night club dance
Many tiny little dances
Perfect dances
Pushing and resisting

What happened

Gathering #1: Pocket dial
Gathering #2: Conflict + Relief with Be
Gathering #3: Sober karaoke
Gathering #4: Low Pressure, High Stakes with Andrea (and special guest Layla)
Gathering #5: Group read-aloud of MMIWG Inquiry Report
Gathering #6: Shared rehearsal of 1 min score score and solo practice

#1: Pocket Dial

Calls against class violence

Pocket Dial is organized by 4 Vancouver-based dance artists - Andrea Cownden, Alexa Mardon, Zahra Shahab and myself.  For this one, the 3rd, we focused on the dire local housing issue, and in particular, the treatment of the residents of the Oppenheimer Tent City.  

Pocket Dial was created in response to the recognition of our own failure to engage in basic political processes, specifically the request from front lines activists in times of crisis to contact political representatives. Pocket Dial exploits how being with others in the same room positively affects our capacity to learn and act in solidarity. From our experience as dance artists, we know and value the power in collective practice, unison and social choreography. By setting up a time and place where we can learn and take action together, we seek to test how this phenomenon transfers to other aspects of our lives, to see how in-person, collective accountability can function to help better align our intentions with our actions.

We called the Vancouver Police Department, the Minister of Parks and Recreation, the Mayor, Jean Swanson and other city councillors. Pocket Dial turned into a phone chain, one department referring us to another in an eternal row of voice mail boxes.  We wondered if the voice mails were going into a vault underground, never to touch the ear drums of a human. We wondered if we should just walk over to city hall.  

#2: Conflict + Relief with Be Heintzman Hope

An otherworldly cozy space

Be and I gathered our dance, healing and fighting practices and made a collection of movement medicines.  Our movement medicines act as a container to draw nuance from conflict, navigating addiction, intergenerational trauma and healing through relationship, mindfulness and kinetic expression.  For both of us, our relationship to the body and spirit is inextricably linked to early childhood trauma, and dance is a liberating force in our lives that permits transformation, relief and liberation.  

Some of the questions that arose for me in our process:

The role of silence in family trauma, the role of silence in contemporary dance conventional power relationships
The risk of speaking up, the cost of staying quiet
What is left when we move away from convention?  What is lost and what is gained?
What are the risks and benefits of rigorous honesty?  
What is the body as a living archive of memory, experience (trauma and repair)?
What is the body as a lush living landscape of tissue, patterns, polyrhythms, wet and brightly coloured thriving organism?
Friendship, intimacy, community, prayer, gathering, movement, sharing as healing modalities.
Here are some words from my rehearsal notebook:
Flesh in fruit soft entry allocating value 
Folding, using, disappearing
Slipping between, inserting into space, allowing
Sweet soft intelligent alien, body creature slime
Resentment is cold and brittle
Octopus / tiger 
My community rising up to meet me
Making an otherworldly cozy space
Intimacy practice
Living room prayers, long slow prayer
Ghost resistance
Feeling love emerge
Slow motion fight
Karaoke emotionssssss

#3: Sober Karaoke

Karaoke as community medicine

I was in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia at 8days, a practice-sharing residency for choreographers from across Turtle Island, and karaoke became an after-dinner thing in the studio upstairs.  People were casually drinking, which is a thing I don’t do - I’m a sober person.  

The last time I had done karaoke, I was maybe 20 years old, in a drunken blackout (which was normal for me at the time) and fell face-first off of the stage at the Cobalt.  

So I was sitting there at 8days having  my mind blown by people’s excrutiatingly beautiful and vulnerable and hilarious and touching karaoke performances, filled with desire and also filled with shame, fear, sorrow.  I wanted access to that vulnerability, silliness, performativity, courage. But I was frozen with fear.

I remembered that Be had been hosting karaoke gatherings at their apartment in Montreal, so I texted them in that urgent moment.  

Later that month at Dynamo, we made a tiny contained safe little corner with the couch for our little stage.  Be brought their mixer and microphone and we couldn’t get the cord we needed so the singer had to squat next to the mixer while the other lovingly looked on from the couch.  I wept through my entire first song (The Righteous Brothers - Unchained Melody).  

As a way to share the space and our practice, and mostly to gather loved ones and celebrate one another, Be and I hosted a Sober Karaoke gathering.  It meant so much to me. It was one of the first times my sober community interfaced with my dance community and it was perfect. Even my little 6-month old nibbling Saoirse was there, euphoric, shining, crying out in joy.  

#4: Low-pressure, High Stakes with Andrea Cownden

A dance practice revolves around a friendship revolves around a dance practice

Andrea and I went to dance school together- Modus Operandi Contemporary Dance Program.  That’s where we met, and where we started our debriefing practice, as we worked to understand what we were learning - what we learned explicitly and, maybe more importantly, what we were learning implicitly - about dance creation, community, use of power, disruption of power, beauty, skill, magic, success, integrity. Contemporary dance is a puzzle and we work to decode it, to understand it’s pieces, how they fit together, how they don’t, what is missing.  We talk with urgency and care, we make confessions and disclaimers, we mourn what is hurtful about contemporary dance and we celebrate what is life-affirming. We are moved together.

Andrea happened to be free the week that I was starting to dance at Dynamo (what a treat!).  I asked for her help in warming up the space, using dance magic to change the feel of the air and the tone of the room. We began to make low-pressure high-stakes dance scores as a way to test out ideas that we were discussing.

Here’s an entry in Andrea’s notebook from July 19:

“TRANSCRIPTION of a list I made while walking here:  Things Rianne and I talk about:
Skills we have
Skills we want
The difference between choreographic skill and dancer skill
What’s good
How do you make something good
When are we working and when are we hanging out
What’s the difference between working and hanging out -- Pleasure and Labour
Criticality and Love
Ways of watching
Ways of helping
Playing with stakes
Quick and dirty

We got into doing little tiny 1 minute dances.  The pressure is low but the stakes are high - the dance matters, it can do something, it does something.  The practice became naming a task - any task - and trying it for 1 minute, repeat, repeat repeat repeat. We danced together for a while and then we would switch it up to watch one another dance alone.  It felt like a warm-up and a main event at the same time. It warmed our physiology and brain/body plasticity, and also our willingness, our witnessing, and the skill of being watched while working (performing?). 

Face dance - facing the wall
Both hands both feet on the floor
Steady speed - no bumps
Birds eye view
Slide down the wall then stop
Eyes don’t stop
Be transparent
All impulses come from the space
Path of least resistance
As soon as you know what you’re doing, change it
Just a bunch of hops
Move the air around
6 limbs make a diamond
Skin is not a container
Stretch the skin
Mouth to anus connection
Your body is way bigger than it is
A minute is forever, a minute is not long at all
Glass floor view
Body is a collection of cylinders rolling through space
A bunch of earthworms
Unbound no pants
Toning - sustained note
Lay down and try to feel the pulse
Razor sharp no breaks
Eyes closed
Shape change in torso
No limbs just spine
Head as leading point
Feet leading
Pinkie fingers linked
Erasing what you just did
Moving into the space behind you
Pelvis can’t touch the ground
Only look at your own body
Doubt + inquiry
Squeeze + release
Expanding like a gas to fill the whole space
Flesh hanging because of gravity
A bunch of hops
There’s a blue ping-pong ball in your knee
1 eye closed
No bumps
Avoid seeing each other’s bodies at all costs
Avoid seeing each other’s bodies at all costs but stay in close proximity
Isabel Lewis - Unambitious stripping

Path of least resistance with radical acceptance
Punch the air with your fists and sometimes punch your own body
Hollow body
Be on 1 leg only
Perfect movement - Salva Sanchez
Think of scores and try them for 2 seconds
Tongue moves inside your mouth
Blue light bulb in your chest
You are a tube of toothpaste 
Ensure that you don’t know what you’re doing
Hair dance
Practicing handstands against the wall
Feel the space between your skin and your clothing
Slide your body tissues along one another
Flexed hands and feet
Move from still shape to still shape
Mime the production of making WFFA gifs
Be an inchworm
Practice doing a wave
Practice being awake
Play with light and shadow
All sensation is in the navel
Test how slippery your clothes are on the floor
Do contact with a wall
Embody a juvenile goose crossing the seawall
Track what your eyes see
Yawn volume into your body
Back of head to heel connection
Dance against the music
Do a steptouch that evolves
Eye contact + nodding
Get undressed really slowly
Heavy releasing
The breathe is wind
Fake read your palm and dance
Everything goes in between two other body parts
Creep like a vine (timelapse ok)
Dance your electric body
Point to things that aren’t there
Variations on twirling
Folding and unfolding
Make sandwiches (A B A)
Kneading the space like a cat (whole body is paw)

Face dance standing close to the couch and Andrea looking straight ahead
Central crack (public bone to tail bone), inside of mouth, bottoms of feet + armpits
Dance to the music
Both sitz bones have to be touching the floor
Do something, then do the opposite of that, then the opposite of that
Erase what you just did
Take from what’s happening in the room
Pinkie dance
Like this (hands converge at a point and then get wide again)
Escalate 0-10
Hang your head upside down
Shake jostle sway jiggle the flesh
Andrea + Layla hooked at the knee
Be in contact + have a conversation and both are equally important
Skin is 10 sizes too big for body
Describe the last dream that you can remember
Eyes close to body
Start and stop at the same time
Move and be still in equal amounts
Kate Franklin
Eyes closed
Leading from the orifices of the face
Rianne’s head to Andrea’s left hand, A’s knee to L’s hip, L’s shoulder to R’s foot
Work with magnets
Be glitter
Dropping points
Oiling the pelvis 
Look at that and then do that (the lamplight on the wall)
Do the opposite of your impulse
Big sweeping movements
Dance with an imaginary partner
Crocodile - that wonderful thing
Mooove stop mooove stop mooove stop
Sing song sounds at the same time
Take turns copying each other
Layla’s movement mind meld
Folding lantern 
Wiping your body

Andrea and I decided to invite some loved ones into our practice.  We made coffee, brought cookies, had the polaroid on-hand. The group was:  me, Andrea, Lexi Vajda, Laura Avery, Kelly McInnes, Stepanie Cyr, Sasha Kleinplatz.  In doing and discussing talking the 1 min score score as a group, we became interested in accumulation, interruption, not planning ahead, and affirming one another with our proposals and dances.

These are the 1-min scores the group did together:

Sliding and dragging
Fingers + ears dance
Count backwards from 1000 and see how far you get
Tell a story to an obect or many objects
Slide down the wall and then stop when you’re done
Make compositional choices
Find a shape to be still in and at some point make a sound
Build a structure
Dance with a shadow
Slow motion but turn out the lights
Travel like you’re swinging on vines
Hair dance to the music
Say a number, then do a move
Try to do something you’ve never done before, you probably can’t but that’s ok
Slither around like a 1-cell organism
Wave hello with different body parts
Lead with eyebrows
Get comfortable
Crisp edges
Everyone else in the room is a ghost and you can barely see them but they’re not scary
Hide in plain sight
Nonstop talking nonstop moving nonstop changing
Go between yes and no in your body
Go everyone arrive nowhere
Go for a walk
Fluid spine - no joints