Thoughts after the fact:  Duck Dances

Thoughts after the fact: Duck Dances

Thoughts on


Jennifer Mascall

(Artistic Director, MascallDance)  

Co-creator /Choreographer

We were specifically interested in the site, in the sense that a painter like Toni Onley is: the layers and layers of depth in the environment.  Atmosphere, mountains, houses, shoreline, water, water traffic.  Closer, huge industrial crane structures to one side, and on the other, a wharf that enclosed the view – it was a stage that was like a Chinese painting.  Looking frequently at the site led us to making layers to construct the piece, like making a torte.

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Tiers – the beach; the road; the strand of red fabric line to sharpen the layers; the frames, the bench, and then the performers entering the grass beyond, in very foreground, breaking a perceived 4th wall of sorts.  We were working with the attention span that shifts when you are in a huge landscape – so different than any kind of theatre – intuiting that we should make not make the demands on their eyes that are made by a theatre, but rather should let their eyes travel through ten layers of depth.   We knew it would be silly to do choreography as we know it.

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Steven Hill  

(Artistic Director of Fight With A Stick, formerly Leaky Heaven Circus)  

Audience Member

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship to space; in the theatre we have historically been mesmerized by the interpersonal (in dance it may be the preoccupation with the physical body) and this now dated idea that the space is neutral- the black box as blank canvas. But these days we are being asked, it seems,  to consider our relations beyond the human and ways we impact and are impacted by the otherwise-than-human.

Dusk Dances was staged at Crab Park with the backdrop of the Vancouver Harbour and at a very critical moment in the life of the city -the local mountains covered in the yellow smoke/haze of out of control forest fires. This had never happened in this city and it seemed like something fundamental had shifted-as if the warnings we’d been listening to about climate change had now arrived here. So the frame you set up included a complex space of industry, nature, atmosphere and dancers. The frame served to portion the chaos and the viewer was able to make connections between the staged activity and the harbour activity and the climate activity.

I appreciated this possibility, the forest fires had brought a kind of psychic shift to the city but mostly it wasn’t spoken of, and here was a piece of art that invited the catastrophe into the work. It allowed for a space of contemplation.

Bill Pechet
Audience Member
Seurat  Pechet
 I loved the piece…it reminded me of Seurat’s painting in motion.
The frame was kind of evocative of a Noh stage,  in that there were spaces of ambulation leading to the central action.
Noh stage Pechet
It was a situation where anything which ended up within the piece seems simultaneously significant and random…kind of like life itself.

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Amber Funk Barton (Artistic Director, The Response)  


We succeeded in making a site specific work. I liked the ingredients we worked with so much. Based on the experience I have had in dance it takes me out of my ego. I felt that this is what making art is. This is it – connection to community, to real people.  I was proud to be part of it. It wasn’t just “do what I am interested in”. It was actually a response to what was there.   Working with the dogs and wheelchaired performers was unforgettable. It was so inspiring to me. The chance also to work one-on-one with a community member who is highly motivated to have the experience and to forge that possibility with them – I can honestly say that this has changed my understanding.

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Susan McKenzie 

Co-creator/Dramaturge/Project Manager

We worked with pre-professional dance artists,  community dancers, veterans of community dance events becoming popular around the city, and then with people for whom the experience was unique in the spectrum of their performing experience, and also with those who had no performance experience at all, and were puzzled, fascinated and by the end completely thrilled.  Little children, dogs, wheelchair’d performers – who draw the eye and move in an unfettered, simple way.  Passers-by and park activity mingled with organized elements, taking attention to thresholds between.

The venue was multifaceted – by which I mean the tremendous amount of visual information of many kinds – the staggering, shifting beauty and layers of commerce;  the constant interaction, many weeks of working close to the Missing Women memorial, interaction with the park’s actual community, her visitors and her tourists – our own role in it all, sometimes as welcome curiosity, other times  (hogging someone’s favourite park bench, clanging lampposts with metal pipes) unwelcome transgressors;  the unusual intensity of the heat, the growing smoke shrouding the mountains and our lungs.  We let the facets determine each choice; frugality and art duking it out, cracking the codes.

It was good doing a small cameo task in the dance –  I always feel short on that perspective now because I no longer perform.  It drove me wild to have my face down on the ground, under a hat,  and never view the piece.  Each night Jennifer and I would chat outrageously – muttjeff, hammclovishly –  as we waited for the cue, surrounded by the younger dancers – something they don’t usually hear –  another threshold mingled.


Jennifer Mascall

Artistic Director, MascallDance 


Working in this team of three released me from holding the entire load up. It freed me. It was difficult to give up control. It was grateful – because it meant I can do what the moment demands, unencumbered by crisis, sure that my colleagues have the wheel when I do not.   I found the triumvirate an exceptionally strong balance of personalities, a stable triad.  I had no previous experience using communities in the role of arranger of images rather than hired choreographer. This was a good way to research using communities. It was good to have Susan and I facedown in the dirt. Once I got the hang of the idea of making paintings I wanted to dig in and perfect them and could not. This was valuable.

PHOTOGRAPY:    Jeanne LeSage,  Susan McKenzie, Meghan Stewart, Juan Contreras