In the darkness of the Rachel Browne Theatre, contemporary dancers Shayla Rudd and Sophie Milord are rehearsing a kinetic new work.

In the darkness of the Rachel Browne Theatre, contemporary dancers Shayla Rudd and Sophie Milord are rehearsing a kinetic new work.

At first, their movements are sharp, specific and rigid, driven by an unsettling score. And then: Rudd lets her hair down, and the pair begin dancing with abandon. It’s a dance about crossroads and choices, and they’ve chosen to live.

DANCE PREVIEW

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Emerging Artist Initiative
Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers
● Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m.
● Rachel Browne Theatre
● Tickets: $15 at winnipegs
contemporarydancers.ca

The as-yet-untitled duet will cap off Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers’ Emerging Artist Initiative, a one-night-only showcase of up-and-coming talent and new choreography from WCD artistic director Jolene Bailie. A partnership between WCD and The School of Contemporary Dancers, Friday night’s performance at the Rachel Browne Theatre will feature recent grads or soon-to-be grads.

For the dancers, the show is a welcome return to, well, everything, from rehearsal to live performance.

"The whole thing is exciting, but it’s also a little nerve wracking too, because it’s a lot of people looking at you and it’s been a while," Rudd says. "And then also now we’re not performing with a mask. It’s something that I have, personally, hid behind. It’s like, no mask, and even just doing an audience of maybe five people, I feel so vulnerable and exposed now."

The pair are also thrilled to be working together.

"I really rely on Shayla a lot as a partner because there’s so many cues in this dance off of each other," Milord says. Rudd laughs. "I was going to say that!"

"It’s a different experience every single time," Milord continues. "It’s familiar, yes, because we know the choreography, but every time I’m waiting an extra second, maybe, for you to go back in the running or like something like that. So it’s really a duet because we’re so connected even though we’re not touching."

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Sophie Milord (left) and Shayla Rudd will perform an untitled duet as part of Friday’s WCD Emerging Artist Initiative showcase.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sophie Milord (left) and Shayla Rudd will perform an untitled duet as part of Friday’s WCD Emerging Artist Initiative showcase.

"It’s so great to have someone that I love to dance with and get to dance with again, after so long," Rudd says.

Indeed, for the majority of the pandemic, the WCD and SCD alike could only work on solos, which can be a lonely place to create. So it makes sense, then, that the centrepiece of this show is a pandemic-inspired solo, entitled COVID Sonata.

"I created this as a direct grief-stricken response to everything being canceled during the COVID-19 and not knowing, are we going to get in to dance again?" Bailie says. "It’s done to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which is really a grieving song."

COVID Sonata is performed by Andrés Jiménez Mejía, who came to Winnipeg from Colombia. "This one is very touching for me," he says. "I’m not from here in Canada, so all this time, in COVID, I’ve been here and I haven’t been able to see anyone. And the restrictions, I live by myself, so I didn’t have any contact with anyone — like one person that was designated to go.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>“The whole thing is exciting, but it’s also a little nerve wracking too,” says Shayla Rudd, right, with duet partner Sophie Milord.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“The whole thing is exciting, but it’s also a little nerve wracking too,” says Shayla Rudd, right, with duet partner Sophie Milord.

"It’s really fun to be able to put that on stage, and to show people that we’re all going through the same thing, you know? It’s just like, if you feel bad about something, I feel it too. And we can share it while I’m on stage and you’re sitting down."

The work that will open the evening is called Aspects of Alterity, a piece Bailie has been tinkering with on and off for the past 10 years.

"The motivation for the creation was the feeling that, the time I created the piece in my life, I felt like I was in a situation where people were altering facts," Bailie says. "And so, this idea of, how do you feel when you’re in a situation and you kind of know there’s a different truth, but nobody’s speaking out?"

This work is a trio, performed by Mejía, Gabriela Garcia Ortiz and Ariadna Schulz, who will be graduating from the School of Contemporary Dancers in May. For them, participating in the Emerging Artist Initiative has offered a taste of what it’s like to perform in a dance company.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>“The type of movement we do at school, it’s quite different,” says Gabriela Garcia Ortiz (second from left), rehearsing for Friday’s one-night-only showcase of the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers’ Emerging Artist Initiative.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“The type of movement we do at school, it’s quite different,” says Gabriela Garcia Ortiz (second from left), rehearsing for Friday’s one-night-only showcase of the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers’ Emerging Artist Initiative.

"The type of movement we do at school, it’s quite different," Garcia Ortiz says. "It’s challenging, but it’s also very interesting to explore other things and challenge yourself to achieve a different quality of movement."

"When you’re in school, you have so much time and you have months and months to work on a piece and perfect it and just go over it as much as you need," Schulz adds. "Here, we’re kind of on the go. It’s just adapting to a different pace."

The Emerging Artist Initiative will kick off WCD’s 2021-22 season in earnest, which continues with Syreeta Hector’s Black Ballerina on Nov. 26-28; Mélanie Demers’ Icône Pop, programmed with a newly commissioned piece for WCD, on Feb. 25-27, 2022; and a new creation from Bailie featuring an ensemble of Winnipeg dancers in April 2022.

"I feel that it’s a really nice opportunity for everyone, for us and for the public," Mejía says of Friday’s show. "Because I feel that everyone has been without art in their lives for a long time. Just online, if you see a show, is not the same. When you come here, you sit down, it’s a whole date for you, you know? You come here at night and you see us, and then you talk about it, and you feel so many things that you wouldn’t feel otherwise. It’s amazing to see all those things happening, finally, again."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @JenZoratti

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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.