A Time Capsule of Dance

A grant from ECF helps Toy Guns Dance Theatre transform Dancing In The Park to an experimental world-wide magical ride

“In light of the pandemic, Toy Guns Dance Theatre (TGDT) has re-imagined ‘Dancing in the Park’ into an online festival that will showcase the work of emerging artists whose careers are likely to be the most affected by the pandemic,” says Artistic Director Jake Hastey. “To achieve this we have streamlined the usual broad scope of our festival that included live music, live performances, dance lessons, and a public dance party into a COVID-safe format that holds onto our primary goal of creating an event that highlights local dance artists and their art.”

On October 1, Edmonton Community Foundation donated $6,500 to the TGDT as part of the  Government of Canada’s $350-million Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) to help charities and non-profit organizations adapt and increase frontline services to vulnerable people during COVID-19.

“Festivals have always been at the heart of Edmonton’s arts communities,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy says. “We are happy to provide this funding to Toy Guns Dance to help keep that heart beating, though a little differently than usual.”

Tia Kushniruk

The funding is allowing TGDT to resume their festival in a safe and law-compliant manner.

“We are very happy to welcome our curator Tia Kushniruk to the festival,” Hastey adds. “In past years she has performed and choreographed for the festival but is now joining the production team.”

Kushniruk is no stranger to the TGDT as they have worked together on many productions and experiences. They are very jazzed to work on this complex and challenging endeavor.

“I was so excited to just get my hands on a festival such as this,” Kushniruk says. “There was a huge amount of play and freedom that Jake gave me to really shape and mold the Festival for an online stratosphere. For example, the amount of works showcased was 21, with 19 artists from Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, India, and Israel taking part. Thus the Festival was stretched to four evenings instead of normally just one-two days.

“I also introduced a moderated talk-back at the end of each program to just incite conversation and provoke thoughts about what it means to be an artist during a global pandemic. Recently, there hasn’t been much focus on artists under 30, and these artists are the most affected by a halt to the economic ecosystem. With the talk-backs, the Festival was set up to be a time capsule to record not only dance film, dance ‘on’ film, or filmed dance, but also the words and thoughts of these participating artists, which in my opinion, is extremely important as we are moving further and further into a permanent currency of exchange.”

As for innovation, TGDT is taking some calculated chances. They are experimenting with promotion, as the Internet is the new frontier and a very affordable one.

“This is the first time we have presented full programs in a digital format,” Hastey adds. “The festival works as well as talk-backs with the artists, explore the intersection of dance film and filmed dance work.”

“The online transition is the biggest chance we are taking,” elaborates Kushniruk. “We are competing with the internet. How do you hold attention, when people have so many other options to choose? Lots of marketing is the solution, and also, active community engagement online.”

An exciting portion is that people should expect dance from all across Canada and the world. Included are works made pre- and during COVID, experiments, professionally shot works and reflections from the artists that you will find in the programs. It is a veritable smorgasbord of media.

“We are so appreciative of the ECF, Edmonton Arts Council, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for their support of the event,” Hastey points out. “Additionally, the artists have been amazing to work with and so brave in sharing their work that ranges from experimental new works to past filmed works that have been presented internationally.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.