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 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 work quietly side-by-side, to talk about dance, to talk about shape-change. We gathered to learn alongside, to share information, to create container, to have courage, to study dance in our dancing bodies. These notes and images are documentation, which is a place-holder for the sensation of these gatherings that I carry in my body. The sensation is of transformative care, embodied learning and of my community rising up to meet me.

What happened

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

What happened

Gathering #1: Pocket dial + Group Read-Aloud
Gathering #2: Conflict + Relief with Be Heintzman Hope
Gathering #3: Sober karaoke
Gathering #4: Low Pressure, High Stakes with Andrea Cownden
(and special guest Layla Marcelle Mrozowski)

#1: Pocket Dial - June 4th 9am-5pm

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, we focussed on harassment of the residents of the Oppenheimer Tent City by the VPD and the inaction of the City of Vancouver in responding to the urgent housing crisis.  

Context: Pocket Dial was created 2017 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 is a place to agitate the contactable levels of government and related institutions, and to do real-time research and knowledge-pooling with those present.  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 have information about collective practice, unison and social choreography. However, political action, resistance and dissent are not taught as important parts of an artistic practice in most dance education institutions. By carving out a time and place where we can learn alongside and take action together, we seek to test how what we know about collective practice and information sharing 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. 

Group Read-Aloud of the Final Report of the MMIWG Inquiry

The week that Pocket Dial happened was the same week that the Final Report of the MMIWG Inquiry was published.  We printed a section of it for the event there but didn’t get to it on that day. So on Friday July 19th, we hosted a group read-aloud of the report.  Andrea, Milena Salazar, Kelly McInnes, Lee Su-Feh, Brandon Houston and I sat in a circle and took turns reading the “Calls for Justice” section of the report aloud to one another.  Here’s a link to the pdf - or if you’d like to borrow a printed copy please email me at rsvelnis@gmail.com.

#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.  

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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

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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 excruciatingly 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, 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

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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, more so, 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 (we do it out of pure willingness) but the stakes are high - the dance matters, it can do something, it does something. The practice is: 1) name a task - any task - and 2) try 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
You are a tube of toothpaste 
Ensure that you don’t know what you’re doing
Hair dance
Practicing handstands against the wallFeel 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

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 
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
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)
Isabel Lewis - Unambitious stripping
Wiping your body
Kneading the space like a cat (whole body is paw)

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
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 bodyPlay 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 step-touch that evolves
Eye contact + nodding
Get undressed really slowly
Heavy releasing
The breathe is wind

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:

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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

These gatherings have left a texture in my body

After these gatherings, I am gaining interest in the liminal space of dance practice as a way to spend time together in an alternate dimension.  An otherworldly cozy space. As Andrea and I have talked about, being on the fine line between hanging out + rehearsing/researching brings forward new ways of being, of being together and of creating.  I wonder how our training in changing time, transforming the amount of tautness or softness in a room with kinetic expression and somatic attention, and socializing by being present to our living and lush and complex bodies side by side can create deviations in normative social behaviours that are encouraged or permitted by capitalist individualism.  For me, these gatherings for dance and other actions address the spiritual necessity of sacred socializing, medicinal togetherness, and the transcendental properties of kinetic energy.  

It is unclear whether the tools of sacred socializing are being used to support new dance creation, or if the tools of dance creation are being utilized to create sacred socializing.  I think this is a nice unclarity, I’m happy to not know which is process and which is product.

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