The London Dance Festival returned this weekend, with performances, music, art and workshops happening at Ivy Park downtown.
Presented by the Centre of Movement Arts, executive director Elizabeth “Bizz” Varty says planning was down to the last minute because of the pandemic and the uncertainty it brought.
“It’s a relief [to host the festival] and a little bit terrifying because there’s a lot more to manage this year to keep people safe. The dancing will be the same, we’ve always had outdoor festivals, but keeping audience members apart and safe is the challenge,” she told CBC News.
Although it’s been difficult, Varty says she’s grateful to get the opportunity to host the festival this year.
“There’s an energy exchange between dancers and the audience, it changes your sense of where you end and another person begins. When you’re dancing with another person, the audience feels that even though they’re not dancing, it’s so much more powerful in person.”
Among the team of artists and performers who are taking part in the festivities is Kaitlin Torrance, a choreographer and dancer. Torrance says it was a unique challenge to shift to a digital platform during the pandemic because it’s harder to connect with the viewers.
“For those of us who are used to performing in a live setting, it’s a whole new world that we’ve all been scrambling to get into and to continue to share art with audiences in some capacity,” she said. “For dancers, it’s a challenge not because of the space that’s required to move, but also brings a whole new level to collaboration. Quite often, we need each other’s bodies in a present space to be able to create.”
Sandra Wilson, who goes by her stage name “Luna”, is a belly dancer and founder of Rising Moon Belly Dance in London. She’ll be teaching and performing at a belly dancing workshop at the festival. As a belly dancer, she says she’s faced a different type of challenge not being able to directly interact with her audience.
“Being a belly dancer, the experience is very different, you need to have people in front of you. There’s feedback from the audience that we get because it’s not like other forms of dance where you’re telling a story, it’s joyful in nature and you need that vibe from your audience when you’re performing. I like interacting with people and having them dance with me, so that wasn’t happening.”
Wilson is looking forward to bringing different forms of dance to London with many ethnic fusions, which will see a wide range of dance styles coming to life.
This year’s festival features a dance mob, which will look slightly different because participants are asked to bring a pool noodle. This is meant to be a fun way to ensure guests are keeping a two-meter distance and stay safe, while still enjoying themselves.
“I really do feel it’s not just dancers and performers who have missed the live experience. I think audiences have also missed having an opportunity to be present with each other, and themselves and have a collective experience in a creative and imaginative space,” said Torrance.
The festival is set to have a wide range of dance styles from contemporary to urban fusion, and Indian classical to Oneida longhouse dance. There will also be dance workshops for people for all ages, and live music as well.
“It’s a chance to celebrate. There hasn’t been a lot of celebrating in the last year and half, so at the very least, we’ll be celebrating the great outdoors with dance,” said Varty.
The London Dance Festival launched Friday evening on Dundas Place and continues Saturday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Ivy Park. Guests can register online, in advance of Saturday’s free event on their website.