The Dance Centre caught up with Aeriosa Artistic Director Julia Taffe to learn more about her latest aerial dance work Second Nature, coming up May 24-26 as part of their Global Dance Connections series.
The Dance Centre (TDC): What was the inspiration behind Second Nature?
Julia Taffe (JT): In 2015 Aeriosa was invited to create a free community performance to celebrate New Year’s Eve at New Town Plaza in the ShaTin district of Hong Kong. It was my first trip to the city. There were construction projects everywhere. I was awed and bemused by the enormity and inventiveness of the buildings, some made me think of Transformers - those toys disguised as one kind of machine that with a few twists turn into killer robots. I imagined the buildings coming to life and fighting each other. Then I was struck by something I’d never seen - gargantuan futuristic architecture swathed in bamboo scaffolding. Entire skyscrapers were bristling with countless bamboo poles intricately woven together, like porcupine skin. It was comforting to see this organic substance holding its own, holding things together. I started seeing how many different ways bamboo was being used for construction and building maintenance in the city. Look one-way: hey, check out that tic-tac-toe lattice being used to repair mosaic tiles in a public plaza. Look the other way: wait, do workers actually use that crazy bamboo tube-tunnel suspended between two 30-storey construction sites? Wow!
When I returned home I began searching “bamboo architecture” on the Internet. It’s a pastime I highly recommend if you’ve got time to fall down an endless intriguing rabbit-hole of human ingenuity.
TDC: How is bamboo incorporated into the set?
JT: The set design was a collective effort, but I’m not sure set is the best word to describe how bamboo fits into the work. The bamboo is more of a presence.
I started the process by doing research with Aeriosa board member Catherine Green, who is an architect with a background in theatre design, set design and art direction. Then I invited Tofino artist/carver Dan Law to come play with us, and we built models and drawings during a winter brainstorming session. Composer Jordan Nobles mentioned he had some bamboo poles taking up space in his storage locker, so we took it into the theatre and built with what we had on hand. Safety-director/rigging designer Colin Zacharias started interpreting ideas and making them function. Costume designer Ninon Parent harvested all kinds of bamboo from her landlord’s garden. We ended up somewhere different than I expected, but it became what it needed to be.
TDC: Aerial dance takes an exhausting amount of physical and mental strength – and trust. How does the cast prepare before each show?
JT: It really depends, each venue is different, but in general we do the same things other dancers do before a show: warm up, stretch, roll around. We also hang on the systems and go through all our safety checks.
Because I love climbing training, I encourage and help all the dancers to make climbing part of their personal routine. It has become part of our company culture to go climbing together, in the gym, at the crags and (too rarely!) take trips to the mountains. Climbing, once you’ve got the bug, is an incredible bonding and centering practice. It is an utterly absorbing, time-consuming form of grown-up play that I adore. It entwines your emotions and physicality. It hones your courage and decision-making skills. It insists you live in the moment with no distractions.
Between projects the dancers pursue their own dance training and cross-training and when we have time, space and resources, we train together. I dream about what Aeriosa could accomplish if we had a dedicated place for company training and creation and were able to offer regular classes for the community. It would polish what we do, but it would also have an impact on vertical dance practice locally, nationally and internationally. The good news is we’re building a relationship with HCMA Architecture + Design and starting to tackle the issue of workspace in some very inventive and promising ways.
TDC: What do you hope audiences take away with them after experiencing Second Nature?
JT: I hope that audiences will feel filled with mysterious dreams of dance, music and bamboo. I hope they will feel invigorated to experiment with their surroundings in playful ways that shift relationships and reveal new perspectives. I hope that in any small way this work will linger in its message that everything is connected and maintaining balance requires effort, sensitivity, selflessness and collectivity.