Guelph Dance Festival Sneak Peek: IMAGEO artworks

In the weeks leading up to Guelph Dance Festival 2013,some of the amazing artists who will perform at the Festival will also share their vision with us here on the blog. These intimate, behind-the-scenes looks will bring us closer to the artistry, process, and experience of dance. We encourage you to not just read these amazing stories, but to ask questions or engage in conversation about dance in our comments section below. Welcome to our 15th anniversary year!
On Friday May 31 from 5pm to 6pm at Dancetheatre David Earle, the Guelph Dance Festivalin collaboration with Musagetes will present IMAGEO artworks and the premiere of Invisible Hands as part of the Local Initiatives Series. Georgia Simms joins us today.
GeorgiaInvisible Hands is an experiment.
What happens when two social science students, trained in dance, and a poet team up with a modern dancer and a context artist to explore themes of transition, political relationships, community-engaged research and dialogue through a choreographic process?

Photo by Peter Grimaldi
The inspiration for this experiment began with questions of transition, motivated by research conducted by Musagetes—a local organization that promotes the arts and artistic creativity as tools for social transformation. The research consisted of ongoing community dialogues hosted in Guelph in 2011/2012. An emergent theme in these dialogues (which included a diverse array of topics such as food security, affordable housing and cultural development) was the current state of local democracy, and the shared desire to create thriving systems for citizen participation in decision-making to refresh those that feel stuck, adversarial and reactive. This was a common thread that spanned across the different topics.
Within a collaborative and adaptive creation framework, this Guelph-based group has been kinesthetically exploring experiences ranging from conflict, blame, avoidance and defensiveness to active communication, empathy, opening and an embracing of change. The movement vocabulary is primarily informed by gestures and metaphors that were collected during a movement-based workshop, “Empowering the Public Body”, hosted in November 2012, where city staff and residents of Guelph were invited to share their opinions and experiences about municipal governance and decision-making, both with their words and their bodies. While the workshop did not effectively capture a balanced set of perspectives, the gestures, metaphors and messages that were collected, and our critical reflections on the experience of the workshop, gave us much to work with in the studio.
Photo by Peter Grimaldi
By embodying the “harvested” gestures in improvisational exercises, and allowing these shapes and movements to evolve and grow, in both independent and relational contexts, we have been investigating the ways in which persistent patterns of conflict and blame can shift into ways of being that can truly hold complexity and foster empathy and understanding.
This video documents the process linking community dialogue and Invisible Hands.

The process has been guided by two overarching questions: How can we move past entrenched beliefs and assumptions about the way things are? How can we improve the quality of relationships that exist between people who engage in making collective decisions? By examining assumptions, clichés and the patterns revealed in the “same old stories”, we are discovering where there is potential for action and change. It is hoped that participants from the research dialogues and the workshop will attend the performance and witness their contributions in motion! The audience will be encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity for shared reflection, comments and questions following the performance.
This layer of experimentation, and part of the intention behind this project, is the investigation of the idea of “policy theatre”.  In other words, rather than having a group of people who are wrestling with the challenges of decision-making sitting around table, can you instead have them sit together as an audience to share in a theatrical experience, and let that experience launch ideas and discussions in new, unexpected directions? Can engagement in decision-making processes be more attractive, fun and generative? And can creative processes actually help to develop skills needed for civic literacy? A unique feature of this project is the connection with the University of Guelph’s Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship (ICES), linking artistic initiatives in the community with cutting edge qualitative research, and refining techniques for mobilizing knowledge through embodied interaction, creative exchange and performance.
Join us to witness the results of this experiment, and be part of the evolution of the conversation about transition, political relationships and community engagement in Guelph.
“…Extending a hand in a different direction with a new intention,
from a hard line to a soft path, paralysis to fluidity…”
Photo by Peter Grimaldi

Georgia Simms is the creative director of IMAGEO artworks. She is a professional dancer, choreographer, researcher and workshop facilitator. She strives to combine her passion for performance with her hope for social and environmental change.

Tanya Williams is a context artist with a passion for dancing with systems, in community, land and body, drawing on many approaches including physical theatre, contact improvisation and Alexander Technique movement education. She founded Friends of the Floor Dance-Theatre and grooves on residing in a dynamic community of practice called The Living Room Context.

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