by By Tessa Perkins Deneault on December 7, 2023
Aviva Martin in All Bodies Dance Project’s Dwell | Film still: Flick Harrison
ID: A photo of an older person with light skin and short grey and white hair wearing a peach colored shirt stands with arms upraised, neck and head stretching up, and a look of joy and peace on their face.
Warm lamp light, a cozy rug, and a dining table: symbols of home that anchor Dwell, at Vancouver’s Chutzpah Festival in November. As a community collaboration produced by All Bodies Dance Project and the Jewish Community Centre Inclusion Program, it’s fitting that Dwell explores the theme of home. All Bodies, led by artistic director Naomi Brand, offers a home to dancers of all abilities, ages, and backgrounds. Their care for and attention to each other transformed the large gym where the group rehearsed into a safe, welcoming, and inclusive performance space.
It was refreshing to see older community members perform alongside younger professionals, their movement styles seamlessly accommodated and celebrated. Adam Grant Warren, who co-directed the show with Brand, uses a wheelchair, which was integrated smoothly into the choreography. The use of wooden chairs as a prop and scenic device helped to achieve this equity — everyone begins seated, taking turns coming forward as their voiceover shares a memory of home. In another scene, the dancers sit in and move around a cluster of chairs, bringing everyone to the same seated level and allowing for more direct interaction as they form a connected huddle.
All Bodies Dance Project’s Dwell | Film still: Flick Harrison
The opening vignettes — memories of a particular chair, a special toaster, or an old building in need of repair — set the tone well and reinforced the significance of home as a place of memory, a collection of belongings, a space to come together. After each dancer takes a turn coming forward out of their chair, they repeat their individual sequences all at once, showing the overlap and interplay between their unique stories and individual movement styles. They walk in lines that turn just before they intersect, invisible walls keeping them isolated although they share the stage. The scene’s purpose in establishing the theme of isolation is clear, but the execution needed some refinement to become more decisive.
In an emotive solo, Ruth Stewart’s careful gestures accompanied her story of moving house at age 12. Before leaving, she recalls kissing the walls in every room, a bittersweet ritual she calls “house-kissing.” This personal connection to a physical house emphasized the embodied aspect of home — how one feels in a certain space and moves within it. Stewart shared a duet with Aviva Martin as they moved in unison on the rug, its edges serving as their boundaries. They drew attention to the significance of the outdoor spaces of home and shared a love of gardening as their movements mimic planting and digging.
Alison Klein in All Bodies Dance Project’s Dwell | Film still: Flick Harrison
Neighbours are an important aspect of home. Brand recalls COVID isolation and sharing Chinese food with a neighbour at Christmas, her long strides and wide arms suggesting a desire for connection. Warren describes the basketball hoop his dad installed in the driveway of his childhood home, creating a place for the neighbourhood kids to play. This meant his friends came to him so that he didn’t have to venture elsewhere and risk injury, something his parents were concerned about. This led to his later realization that he had to leave home to find independence. As Warren described this memory, he manoeuvred his wheelchair on the rug, a small stage that highlighted his ability for precision.
In a beautiful duet with Brand, Warren pulled himself out of his wheelchair to slide under the dining table while Brand lay on top of it. The two glided under and over, around and through the table, playfully peeking at one another as their voice overs described the quotidian actions that take place at home. They pondered, with neighbourly curiosity, “What happens in there?” As they moved above and below each other, their movements and the division of space evoked the shared walls and closeness of apartment living as well as the care and compassion that can develop between neighbours.
No longer isolated in their own experiences and memories as they were in the opening scene, the six performers, along with the eight other project participants whose voices we heard earlier, set the dining table with place settings and candles. They gathered around for the celebratory finale, sharing honey cake and toasting their shared experience creating a new home for each other.