In Conversation with Janet Johnson of Portal Dance

Portal Dance, a Guelph-based company created by Guelph Dance Festival co-founder Janet Johnson, is back this year with their work The Returned! As part of the virtual festival last year, we are excited to present the reimagined work both in-person and online at our In the Warehouse series, on June 4th and 5th. We spoke with Janet about her work and the upcoming festival: 

GD: What about your work are you most excited to share with the audience?

J: We are a huge cast: 6 Portal Dance dancers, 7 Guelph Youth Dance Company Dancers and 25 Community Dancers. Collectively we hope to animate the piece as well as to offer a huge dose of humanity, truth, and access for the viewer. The piece, The Returned, will take place along the Speed River and through Allan’s Mill and the train tracks to end up at the Seed Warehouse. This is to offer up a unique viewing experience, to see art embedded in Guelph and to honour one of the rivers that historically gathered people together. The Seed warehouse is in the heart of the Two Rivers Neighbourhood and is an outstanding place for establishing and working on food security for Guelph’s population. I wanted to honour these efforts but also take dance out of the theatre into a more unique, “real” space…it is a cavernous space full of fantastic community activity as well as mystery.

Photo by: Drew Berry

GD: What was your biggest takeaway from the process of creating this work? Has the work shifted over the past few years?

J: People are amazing & I feel incredibly honoured to be able to work, play, create with all kinds of people in this cast…from those who have trained & dedicated their lives to dance to those in their 70’s enjoying moving with grace, to teens full of fast twitch and curiosity. I understand so clearly that dance and movement heals us and that expression is a key ingredient in staying well. Creating within the pandemic has taken patience, a solid connection to letting go and a deep appreciation of what we do have.

Photo by: Drew Berry

GD: This is the first year the GD Festival is showcasing both live and live streamed versions of artist’s works. Can you speak about the opportunity to perform in front of live audiences again as well as view your work digitally?

J: I am so happy that people can start to explore the world again together. Historically Homeo sapiens surpassed Neanderthals due to our capacity to come together and create community. The pandemic has wrecked serious havoc on one of our greatest strengths. I feel immense joy in moving with my huge cast towards a live performance when we can share The Returned with live audiences. Thanks so much Guelph Dance!!!!

You can catch Portal Dance’s The Returned at our In the Warehouse series, happening on Saturday, June 4th from 7:00-8:30 PM and Sunday, June 5th from 5:00-6:30 PM. Tickets are now on sale! Visit our festival page to see the full festival schedule and to get your tickets! 

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