New York’s Sidra Bell Dance is a bold company that presents innovative works dealing with gender and identity. “My work lives in a world of darkness,” said artistic director Sidra Bell.
The theme of gender reversal comes up often in her work, which she said is “subconsciously purposeful,” and her perspective of identity and gender shapes her creations: “I’m fluid with identity. It’s either neutral or fluid, the way I approach the body. It can be considered political, but it’s just how I saw things. It’s an element that’s always been there.”
The company will be bringing two works to Vancouver as they return to the Chutzpah Festival for the second year in a row, this time as part of Chutzpah!PLUS, a co-presentation with The Dance Centre. Their first appearance at the festival was in 2009, and Bell is excited to return. “We had a wonderful engagement; I love Vancouver — it’s one of the highlights of our tour,” she said, “I love the atmosphere; it’s natural and cosmopolitan.”
Last year’s Nudity was an emotional, uncomfortable piece that commented on conformity and the strict discipline of ballet. This year, the two pieces represent a different side of her work. “The tone is different,” she said, “Nudity was about physicality, more emotional than theatrical. These two are the more humorous and theatrical end of my work.”
Garment just premiered in Pittsburgh, and Bell said it is packed with movement and has a lighter, comical tone. The music also plays a large part in this work: “I use the music for atmosphere and scenography; it’s cinematic and all over the map sonically.”
Stella, an older work of Bell’s, is also driven by the music with a cinematic tone and snatches of conversations. Bell said the work also has a film noir quality and is wildly varied and episodic.
For Bell, the costumes are about how you identify yourself through clothing. “I’m excited by the costumes,” she said. For Stella she described them as a fusion of gothic and celtic influences, with leather accoutrements.
“Visually it’s a wild show,” she said, explaining that she calls the characters portrayed in the piece “ranting autobots.” There are several costume changes; another identity within the piece aims to be childlike, with the dancers in gingham skirts.
Garment’s costumes are more of an homage to specific gender bending, Bell explained, as the guys are revealed and the women are covered in suits. The costumes facilitate the gender reversal of this piece, but aren’t as complicated as those in Stella.
The gender play in Bell’s work adds a unique element of humour, and while the pieces sometimes deal with dark themes, they remain light and fun. “They’re exuberant pieces,” said Bell, “they don’t have the idealism of conveying an overarching ideal like Nudity did. They’re fun and entertaining.” She also said that the works involve a high degree of audience interaction and at some point the dancers will move off the stage and into the audience.
The company is looking forward to connecting with Vancouver audiences once again. “It’s nice to continue to grow,” said Bell, “Chutzpah has been a huge part of our international touring. It’s nice to continue our relationship in Vancouver with the arts community.”