Digidance launches with the presentation of Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul in an exclusive Canadian film premiere performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. Photo by Julien Benhamou.
Digidance launches with the presentation of Crystal Pite’s Body and Soul in an exclusive Canadian film premiere performed by the Paris Opera Ballet. Photo by Julien Benhamou.

Vancouver’s DanceHouse has joined three other Canadian dance presenters in creating Digidance, a new initiative formed in response to COVID-19, intended to contribute to the sustainability and longevity of dance in Canada.

Alongside Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Montreal’s Danse Danse, the four will launch Digidance with Body and Soul from Canadian choreographer and founder of Vancouver’s Kidd Pivot, Crystal Pite.

Filmed live in Paris during its 2019 world premiere on the 350th anniversary of the Paris Opera, it marks Pite’s second full-length creation for the Paris Opera Ballet. Presented in three distinct parts by 36 dancers, Body and Soul articulates Pite’s ongoing fascination with conflict, connectedness, and the embodiment of the human spirit.

While the Paris Ballet may perform Pite’s Body and Soul, DanceHouse’s artistic and executive director Jim Smith says it was still important for the first Digidance offering to shine a light on a Canadian artist.

"To see Canadian artists masterfully commanding the forces of the Paris Opera Ballet, which are of a scale and a scope unto themselves, is truly something for all Canadians to celebrate and share in." - Jim Smith, Dancehouse artistic and executive director (photo above).
“To see Canadian artists masterfully commanding the forces of the Paris Opera Ballet, which are of a scale and a scope unto themselves, is truly something for all Canadians to celebrate and share in.” – Jim Smith (photo above), Dancehouse artistic and executive director.

“The fact that a Canadian artist was at the centre of this commission along with her primarily Canadian team of creatives, demonstrates how Canadian artists are having an impact on the world stages and putting forth a Canadian informed vision of the world in which we live,” says Smith.

The first of at least two additional national programs to take place in Digidance’s proposed 2020-2021 season, Smith says it is too soon to reveal the artists and content of the remaining presentations as details are finalized.

“However, in the upcoming 2021-22 season, where I think all of the partners intend to be back into offering works in the theatre, we are planning for there to be national Digidance streaming events,” he says.

Much of those plans will rely on dance artists and companies embracing the idea, something Smith says is still being discussed.

“I talk to a number of artists who believe a film or video document of a stage performance is still a facsimile for the real thing of a dance performance,” he says. “And being convened with a group of people [or] audience to share in a live performance and feel the energy shift in the room as a result of the performance is something that is still not possible to capture or transmit digitally. Unless, of course, you are making a film or creating something for the camera. But filmmaking is arguably another discipline or practice unto itself.”

While the jury may still be out about the future of initiatives like Digidance, Smith says, for now, it is not only a reality but comes with its own benefits.

“Digidance allows for a wider audience to access work from the ease and comfort of their own home during this exceptional time that we are required to stay home,” he says. “The work and productions offered through Digidance are not necessarily works that you could go to your local theatre to see, assuming your local theatre was even open.”

Smith says this is especially true of productions like Body and Soul.

“It is hard to imagine that we would be able to present the Paris Opera Ballet in our theatres,” says Smith.”The company generally doesn’t tour, but also the logistical and financial challenges would almost be impossible to overcome. However, streaming the work of the company is completely possible.”

Smith says that Digidance also provides an opportunity to reach audiences beyond those who would normally attend a show at a local venue and allow for a national dialogue about dance to take place.

“This hopefully supports all Canadian dance artists, but more importantly Canadian audiences to appreciate and participate in the richness that the performing arts can offer and specifically reflect on the Canadian experience, or what it means to be Canadian at this time,” he says.

The exclusive Canadian film premiere of Body and Soul will stream online from February 17 to February 23. Visit dancehouse.ca for tickets and information.