Sex Dalmatian and 32 Years of the Festival of New Dance

Photo by Drew Barry

Photo by Kevin MacCormack

Photo by Drew Barry

32 Years of The Festival of New Dance

Reviewed by Xaiver Michael Campbell

Let’s celebrate The Festival of New Dance for bringing a high calibre of inspiring art to the province. 

For the 32nd year of the festival, artists used their bodies to curate shows that tackled big questions. They made bold statements while evoking humour, absurdity, and profound thought amongst us lucky enough to bear witness. This year’s festival was a superb mix of capital D dance with contemporary ideas, an intriguing, immersive showcase of the body’s power when we can connect to our ancestors. It was a testament to those who have stood before us and the land we work on and benefit from, two jam-packed weeks of engaging workshops and transformative performances.

The Workshops

Workshops provided community members with a chance to learn from festival artists. I was lucky to be a part of Moving in Mi’kma’ki with Sarah Prosper, aka Sal. Moving in this workshop was the most powerful my body has felt in a long time. Sal created a nurturing space and set the tone with a mix of international Indigenous artists, including Ktaqmkuk artist, Eastern Owl. From beginner to expert, taking on the weight of what it means to move on this land, we were guided to move our bodies in whatever way felt good. Sal shared some of her history and stories of growing up in Mi’kma’ki. The workshop was a positive community-building force as we were invited to share and build off each other’s energy. Grounded in those ancestors who have taken care of the land before us, dance was approached from an anti-colonial framework as we championed Mi’kma’ki. To finish, we were taught the Ko’jua. Sal played the Ji’kmaqn, a traditional Mi’kma’ki drum, in her palm. We were regaled with stories of dance-offs, resistance, and survival of culture. While we danced the Ko’jua in a circle, Sal chanted “Jukwa’lu’k kwe’ji’ju’ow,” “Bring Your Little Sister.” I finished that workshop feeling as if we had known each other much longer than an hour. 

An Evening of Atlantic Dance

An Evening of Atlantic Dance was an exquisite ensemble of talent. Jalianne Li opened the show with 100x1x2. It was a contemplative display of creativity and dance. The pandemic and isolation drove many of us to create art. We created our art to survive. Li needed to keep dancing, so she did. 100x1x2 was a showcase of resilience, a reflection of survival. Dancing through social unrest, restriction, and isolation, Li’s compelling narrative hit me to my core. Her need to move, share, and build community is as innate as breathing. You could feel the life in each video and from Li on the stage.

Next, Sarah Prosper and Sara Coffin took the stage with Utawtiwow Kijinaq – Our Mother’s Road. Being a water baby myself, I was wowed from the moment they dove into the water like dolphins. The duet explored the spiritual and emotional ties we all share with water. We watched fluid, erratic, and transcendent movements tethered from two perspectives: bodies and generations. From the audience, I could feel the resolve of differing histories and relationships as the dancers braided their experiences to chart a new way forward – truly connected. 

Liliona Quarmyne finished the Evening of Atlantic Dance with her brilliant Resonances of a Warrior Boy. Paired with arresting drumming from The Master Drummers of Dagbon, Chiwoniso, and Jamie Llewellyn, Resonance of a Warrior Boy was danced fiercely by Liliona. The dramatic and touching story of how Liliona carries her ancestors with her through moving her body, she considers her body a vault of oral traditions. A thought-provoking exploration of the body and the stories it holds – stories that tie us to the past and the stories that make us who we are. I loved the red fabric, first presented as a giant bonbon on stage, both gripping and protecting us, provoking the audience as we ventured through the piece.  

Sex Dalmatian

The festival’s grand finale was Sex Dalmatian, which did not disappoint. Sex Dalmatian may have been the most absurd and riveting piece of theatre I have seen in ages. During an extraordinary dance number, the titular character, Sex Dalmatian, squeezed out a turd in the middle of the stage. Madness. The feud between Sex Dalmatian and her hairless rodent arch nemesis, Mary Michael Meeks, was beyond ridiculous; it was gripping. I was on the edge of my seat. As an audience member, I could feel the passion and restraint shown by Sex Dalmatian in every last ounce of movement. Every outstretched finger was precisely placed, toes pointed.

The burning, erotic lust from Mary Michael Meeks towards Sex Dalmatian was uncomfortable in the best ways. All the tragic backstories? A chef’s kiss. This was a fabulous blend of storytelling and technique. All dancers were masters of their craft. I loved that each dancer played Sex Dalmatian, this brought such nuance and diversity to the role. The first dance battle between Meeks and Sex Dalmatian had me cackling, crying, and yearning for more and more we were given. I loved the vapour concept –one could transform themselves into vapour, leaving every worldly trouble behind – wished it were real, though the experience came with a slew of side effects; loved the subversive commentary on the perils of capitalism; loved the character development. I am in awe of the magic created on stage by Rock Bottom Movement. 

Tens across the board. I cannot wait to see what the festival comes up with for next year. 

Born and raised in Jamaica, Xaiver has considered Newfoundland and Labrador home for over a decade. Xaiver feels that living in Jamaica, prepared him for life on the Rock. Minus the snow, sleet and lack of sun – the people are equally warm and friendly. 

His short fiction has been published in literary journals and several anthologies. His second play, “One Name” was produced by Halifax Theatre for Young People. Xaiver’s non-fiction work concerns the lives of enslaved and freed Black people in early Newfoundland settlements. His first non-fiction book, “Black Harbour, co-authored with Heather Barrett was published in Fall 2023 by Boulder Books.