#ThisIsLife Explores Ups and Downs of Social Media

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective's #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

The cast of En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife. Photo Credit: Focus Sisters Photography.

Trying to explain social media is difficult. No really knows why they need minute-by-minute updates from just about everyone and anyone. Why anything goes viral is a mystery, even for so-called social media ‘gurus’. And who knows why people obsess over how many virtual affirmations i.e. Likes and Hearts they receive online. If there’s at least one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that social media, for better or for worse, is simply fascinating.

Presented at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife journeys through the world of social media, exploring its ups and downs along the way. The multi-media production incorporates the use of video screens to help seek out and examine the various impacts of social media on daily life.

After the show’s big opening number “Dress Rehearsal”, choreographed by Kelsea Fitzpatrick, Lauren Miholic’s “Bros” takes the stage. There’s no doubt that social media has dramatically changed the way friends and family communicate. Miholic’s brisk, light-hearted piece focuses on social media as a tool to collect and store memories, staging four friends who connect online as well as offline. The piece ends on a happy note as the friends are able to take that connection from the online to the offline.

Next, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak’s “Troll” stages an urgent message about cyber bullying. In this piece, one group of dancers are dressed in red – Hate – with the other group dressed in white – victims. The piece is set to Shayne Koyczan’s “Troll.” There’s this strange idea that the online and the offline are two separate worlds, that whatever is posted online has no real world consequences. Cromwell-Krywulak’s piece argues against the idea. Her dancers in red physically dominate the others, pushing them around until one dancer in white is pushed too far, taking her life as a result. The choreography is powerful in its ability to clearly communicate its narrative, while stirring reflection on tragic cases of cyber bullying e.g. Amanda Todd.

Christen Terakita’s “Parallel Play” explores another recent phenomenon, our careless disconnect with the physical world. The dancers walk onstage, distracted by their smartphones – their hands are cleverly illuminated by handlights. The choreography sees some dancers performing distracted, while others are more focused on the task at hand, switching periodically. Terakita’s choreography works marvelously in making its point about just how glued people are to their screens, even during moments where their attention is needed most. Although the dancers eventually realize they ought to pay more attention at the end, they soon go back to their old habits, or the new normal.

Katherine Mandolidis’ “Chatter” stages two friends trapped in a miscommunication caused by posts made to Facebook. Dancers fill in the space between the friends, who are standing far apart from each other on stage. The choreography is something like a modern game of telephone, where neither end is receiving the same message. Mandolidis’ piece ends as these type of disputes should: the two friends meet face-to-face and clear their miscommunication, laughing it off as the lights go down.

The first act ends with a steamy cabaret number based around popular dating sites and apps like Tinder – the “hook up” app. Susan Rowland’s “Crazy For You” stages a playful dance of seduction that proves no matter the method, the rules of the game never change.

Janelle Rae Ferrara’s “#filterthis” is all about the major impact of photo manipulation, popular on platforms like Instagram, on women and their self-confidence. Rather than search for imperfections, Ferrara argues women ought to celebrate their bodies, for they are beautiful just the way are. Ferrara’s piece is strongly reminiscent of a Beyoncé music video. The five dancers certainly channel their inner Queen B with their stunning performance that has the audience whooping and hollering by the end of it.

Misha Behnia brings the terror of cyberstalking to the stage with “Find You.” Someone has been obsessing over a young woman’s online activity recently, leaving comments that disturb her. While her stalker is anonymous, she suspects it’s someone close to her. Behnia has chosen slow renditions of You’re The One That I Want and One Way or Another to create a frightening atmosphere onstage. The lyrics to One Way or Another (“I’m gonna get ya”) take on a whole new dark meaning in this piece as a terrified dancer runs for safety amidst a sea of people, any of which could be her stalker. Behnia’s slow build in tension is genuinely unsettling.

A much lighter piece, Katherine Wilson’s “Just 5 More Minutes…” looks at the struggle of falling asleep at night now that the internet is just at our fingertips. Wilson’s piece starts with a young woman who decides to watch cat videos before going to bed. A rabbit hole, if ever there was any. The young woman soon finds herself surrounded by dancers dressed as cats, ears and all. The piece is absolutely hilarious as it goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. The young woman finds herself searching for more videos to watch, landing on Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation.” Dancers come out to recreate Jackson’s popular dance moves. The piece ends with our tired friend getting barely a second of sleep before her alarm goes off. (The struggle is real).

Mandolidis’ “Distraction” focuses on the deadly phenomenon of distracted driving and its aftermath. “Distraction” is an emotional piece, evoking a strong sense of grief and hurt as one dancer watches her friends lose their lives to an urge to always be connected, no matter the situation.

The night’s last number is “Count on Me,” choreographed by Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland. The final word about social media is that social media is not some strange, otherworldly entity, but something created by people, for people. When used responsibly, social media can benefit people in a lot of different ways.

While not clearly linked by an overarching narrative, the show’s dynamic multi-perspective look at social media is compelling nonetheless. The format makes sense considering social media is so versatile and elusive in its identity. Trying to cover the various dimensions of social media through some patchwork story would likely be disastrous. Here, each dimension is allowed to breathe and take on its own character to full effect, like Behnia’s “Find You.”

Through 11 choreographic works, En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife taps into the pulse of modern life, delivering a fun, insightful production surrounding the impacts of social media on daily life.


En Corps Dance Collective’s #ThisIsLife runs Feb 4 – 6 at Mount Royal University’s Wright Theatre.

For more about the information, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca/#!-thisislife/c72f

Dress Rehearsal

Choreography: Kelsea Fitzpatrick
Music: Bonnie McKee – Bombastic
Filming and Editing: Kelsea Fitzpatrick and Valerie Stretch
Performed by: All Cast

Bros

Choreography: Lauren Miholic
Music: Wolf Alice – Bros
Performing by: Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kiersten Penny, Kimberly Johnson

Troll

Choreography: Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak
Music: Shane Koyczan – Troll
Performed by: Allison Benson, Ashley Green, Erica Price, Jordana Trauh, Kiersten Penny, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron, Tasha Leibel

Parallel Play

Choreography: Christen Terakita
Music: Izzi Dunn – Oblivious
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Katherine Wilson, Lauren Miholic, Stephanie Fuhurman, Susan Rowland

Chatter

Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Joywave feat. Kopps – Toungues
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Misha Behnia, Shannon Sherston

#Goners

Choroegraphy: Tasha Leibel
Music: Twenty One Pilots – Goner
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Emily Neuheimer, Jasmine Skirten, Jordan Wallan, Julia MItchell, Karen Vito, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Misha Behnia, Nicole Wasylenko, Shannon Sherston, Stephanie Ballie, Susan Rowland

Crazy For You

Choreography: Susan Rowland
Music: Adele – Crazy For You
Performed by: Ashleigh Cerny, Christina Robertson, Emily Neuheimer, Katherine Wilson

Mark My Words

Choreography: All Choreographers
Director/Concept: Susan Rowland
Film Editing: Valerie Stretch
Performed by: The Choreographers of #ThisIsLife and the En Corps Board of Directors
Music: Justin Bieber – Mark My Words

#filterthis

Choreography: Janelle Rae Ferrara
Music: HWLS – 004
Performed by: Brianne Martin, Jordan Wallan, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Tasha Leibel

Something in The Water

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer
Music: Pokey Lafarge: Something in The Water
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Karen Vito, Katherine Wilson, Nicole Wasylenko, Susan Rowland

Find You

Choreography: Misha Behnia
Music: Until The Ribbon Breaks – One Way or Another, Lo Fang – You’re The One That I Want
Performed by: Alex Keopraseuth, Allison Benson, Ashleigh Cerny, Chelsea McEwing, Erica Price, Jordana Traub, Julia Mitchell, Katherine Mandolidis, Kendra McMurtry, Kimberly Johnson, Lauren Miholic, Madison Dixon, Nicole Wasylenko, Stephanie Ballie, Sydney Suffron

Just 5 More Minutes…

Choreography: Katherine Wilson
Music: Tick Tock Jungle, Meow Mix Song (EDM remix – Ashworth, Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation, Hans Zimmer – Tick Tock.

Performed by: Allison Benson, Brianne Martin, Chelsea McEwing, Christen Terakita, Erica Price, Kiersten Penny, Madison Dixon, Naomi Lawson-Baird, Odessa Johnston, Shondra Cromwell-Krywulak, Stephanie Fuhrman, Sydney Suffron

Distraction

Choreography: Katherine Mandolidis
Music: Grace Potter and The Nocturnals – Falling or Flying
Performed by: Ashley Green, Christina Robertson, Jordan Wallan, Jordana Traub, Kimberly Johnson, Misha Behnia, Odessa Johnston, Stephanie Ballie, Tasha Leibel

Count On Me

Choreography: Emily Neuheimer and Susan Rowland
Music: Bruno Mars – Count On Me
Performed by: All Cast

Keeping Dance Local: En Corps Dance Collective Provides Opportunities for Calgary Dancers

This is Melanie Nightingale’s last year with En Corps Dance Collective, a company she helped found twenty years ago. One of the last founding members remaining, Nightingale says it has been interesting to see how the company has grown since its inception in 1995.

Initially, En Corps was influenced by the style of dance Nightingale and its other founding members were introduced to in Los Angeles during the 1990s.

“A lot of us used to go to Los Angeles to dance in the summertime,” Nightingale explained.”En Corps really started back in fall of ‘95, maybe spring ‘96, because a lot of us dancers – I think there were five or six of us – we wanted to bring a style of dance to Calgary that we didn’t think existed. We wanted to bring kind of that LA style and feel up to Calgary and give that opportunity to dancers.”

Nightingale adds that while there was a studio in Vancouver they could have gone to, it was important to the dancers that they stay in Calgary.

With how Calgary’s dance community has grown in the past twenty years, Nightingale says the company’s original mission is no longer as relevant as it once was. Now, En Corps is more concerned with retaining local talent.

“We first started because we thought we were bringing to Calgary something that didn’t exist…now, we don’t really see ourselves in that way anymore,” said Nightingale. “We just want to provide a dance experience to dancers in the city, so they don’t have to leave.”

It is not uncommon that dancers move to cities like Toronto or New York in order to pursue dance professionally. The reason for leaving is usually attributed to the lack of local opportunities for professional growth. To remedy this, En Corps offers dancers over the age of 18 classes and performance opportunities aimed at helping them grow and evolve as professional dancers.

For Nightingale, however, it is not enough that dancers gain solid technical training, but that they also feel a sense of belonging within the company, especially since founding members like herself are not always going to be around.

“I think I’m the last remaining founding member of En Corps, and this will be my last year because I’m going on to do different things,” said Nightingale. “We want to make people feel welcome in our group, so that they know that we want them on committees. We want them to get involved in what we’re doing and have a vested interest in En Corps to keep it going.”

And as the company prepares for its upcoming show The Escape, it is not hard to see what a significant impact the company and its commitment to fostering a friendly, professional environment has had on both new and veteran members.

En Corps Dance Collective presents The Escape, Jan 30-31st at the Wright Theatre, 8:00pm. Photo Credit: Red Dot Photography

En Corps Dance Collective presents The Escape, Jan 30-31st at the Wright Theatre, 8:00pm. Photo Credit: Red Dot Photography

The Escape tells the story of a distraught young girl who uses the power of her magic red ball to escape into a magical world of fantastic creatures. Unable to cope with reality, the young girl becomes dependent on this fantasy world to deal with her problems. Will she find the strength to return to the real world or will she become trapped in this unknown dimension?

Brittany Robertson and Jenna Powell started with the company’s drop-in classes five and nine years ago, respectively. Now, Robertson and Powell are not only dancing in The Escape, but they have also helped choreograph pieces for the show.

Powell, the artistic director of En Corps, says Nightingale’s departure signals a ‘passing on’ to the next generation who are becoming more active within the company.

“It’s slowly trickling down into my generation. We’re starting to direct more and to choreograph, ” Powell explained. “There’s also younger dancers who are part of our cast and part of [the University of Calgary’s] dance program, and they’ll eventually probably start to choreograph and become more involved.”

Odessa Johnston, a second year U of C dance student, says her first year with the company has been a valuable learning experience thanks to the diversity of dance experience she has been exposed to.

“This is quite a large range of age which is so great and so wonderful to experience because you get dancers that have been dancing for so long and have these great experiences, then dancers like me who have only been in university dancing for a few years now,” said Johnston.

Johnston, who hopes to pursue an MA in Dance, says she would like to continue dancing with the company, maybe even choreograph for them as well.

Even though there is always the challenge of fundraising and increasing costs associated with performance spaces and costumes, Nightingale believes that En Corps will be around so long as the company is willing to nurture the love of dance that its members share.

“[Twenty years] it’s a long time, especially since we’re a non-profit and we do everything ourselves,” Nightingale said. “I think it’s just because we have such a good base of dancers and we are really creating kind of, like I said, a family of dancers. We’re welcoming to people. We don’t – once people have children or they have families, we don’t say “oh, you can’t dance with us anymore.” …We’ve had pregnant ladies who’ve danced on stage…and they’re dancing because they have a passion for it. We’re open to involving people in different ways and we think there’s a lot of talent in the city that we want to bring to the company.”

Ultimately, Nightingale hopes that the company continues to thrive so that it can continue to keep dance and those who are passionate about it in Calgary.


En Corps Dance Collective’s The Escape runs Jan 30 – 31st at the Wright Theatre (Mount Royal University), 8:00pm.

Tickets can be purchased online here: https://tickets.mtroyal.ca/TheatreManager/1/tmindex.html

For more information about the company and The Escape, visit: http://www.encorpsdance.ca

This story has been edited to make the following correction: Melanie Nightingale (Malarchuk).