Of all the dance forms out there, contemporary can be the most difficult to appreciate. But Cayley Hanrahan hopes to change that with Watering Hole.
“Watering Hole is a character-based show about a night at a pub and the characters you would come by,” says Hanrahan. “We thought it would be an accessible theme to attract a new audience who could relate to those nights when you’re meeting quirky characters on an evening out.”
The narrative unfolds through the eyes of a server at a pub. Throughout the show, audiences meet a “nerdy couple” on their first date; “three hot chicks” who are goofy, flirty and enjoying a girls’ night out; a mysterious “man in a suit”; and a “drunken lady” who is a lonely bar regular.
Besides hoping to raise interest in contemporary dance, Hanrahan wants to “inspire future collaboration between the different communities in dance,” because Watering Hole’s nine dancers come from a variety of training backgrounds including hip-hop, jazz and ballet. Hanrahan says these different backgrounds influence how the dancers move in the piece.
Hanrahan hired the 49th Parallel Dance Company — a collective with members from both Canada and the United States — to choreograph the performance.
She says the company’s choreographers, Ariana Champlin and Carolyn Schmidt, use a very physical style. Specifically, they employ the Horton and Graham Techniques, which Hanrahan says aren’t practiced a lot in Calgary. As such, Watering Hole is providing its dancers with an opportunity to explore some different approaches to contemporary dance.
Lester Horton, an American dancer, choreographer and teacher, drew upon a number of multicultural influences to create his Horton Technique. Among others, he taught dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, who founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and, later, The Ailey School, where the Horton Technique is still taught and where Champlin and Schmidt trained.
“There is a lot of core strength involved in Horton. It’s one of the strongest contemporary techniques,” says Hanrahan.
Hanrahan describes the Graham Technique — named after another famous 20th century dancer, choreographer and instructor, Martha Graham — as possessing “more of an emotional side,” that focuses on breathing, abdominal contractions and floor sequences.
While the average audience member may not be too concerned with such nuances, Hanrahan hopes audiences can relate to the story, adding that dance is a “naturally empathetic art form.”
Live music will accompany the dancers, courtesy of local bands The Bownesians and The Magik Spells, which Hanrahan admits is a risky move, as the dancers and musicians have to be on the same page when it comes to things like tempo and pausing.
Hanrahan likens the project to two divergent styles of painting.
“Sometimes a dance is just about the movement, the physicality and the technique of the dancer, much like an abstract painting. Sometimes a dance is about a story, like a realist painting. Ours is realism but with some abstract elements,” she explains, adding that she hopes the project will “pique” people’s interest to explore more abstract works in the world of contemporary dance.