Project encourages spectators to step outside traditional theatre environments and artists to perform in creative places

The audience is eager to get out of the cold and into one of the metal containers for the evening’s show, In the Belly of the Beast. The dancers ask attendees to rip up multi-coloured construction paper into small confetti-like squares and stand against the wall. Already, the audience has played a part in the art.

Nicole Mion, Curator of Calgary’s Fluid Festival and artistic director for Springboard Performance, tried something a little different for the 7th annual Fluid Movement Arts Festival, adding in containR to the mix.Wensley, Naz and Shahab after a performance at containR. When entering the room, they handed out strips of coloured construction paper and asked the audience to rip it up in small confetti-like form. They incorporated this in their performance and did a great job of involving the audience.

Photo by Roxana Secara

ContainR is exactly what most people would imagine – big, metal, built to hold cargo that is usually transported for the purpose of trade. The six containers on display in the East Village hold Mion’s vision of art in public places. Springboard owns some of the recycled containers, while some were rented specifically for the event.

“These containers together, are utilized to connect communities through culture, art and ideas,” Mion says.

ContainR was launched for the first time in Calgary during Alberta Culture Days September 28-30. The containers are now set up near the Simmons building in the East Village at 5th Street and Confluence Way southeast as part of the Fluid Festival running until Oct. 21.

Connecting communities

Fluid Festival celebrates outstanding contemporary physical performances and is hosted every year by Springboard Performance – a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting artists, mediums, and audiences through physical contemporary creation.

“This is about making culture and art feel normal. It’s really not a weird thing; it’s everywhere.”

– Nicole Mion

At containR, spectators can check out art on display in the Simmons building, lounge in a container with a beer, and explore contemporary performing arts, as well as attend several parties. ContainR showcases both local and international artists in free and ticketed shows.

“Fluid Festival has been around for seven years, yet there are a lot of people who never come to the theatre because it’s not in their history or part of their culture,” Mion says. “So this is the idea, to take the formal stigma around theatre venues and to turn art into a casual occurrence.”

The idea of containR was first generated in 2009, and launched with a double-decker at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Mion says this was a huge success and felt like it was the perfect time to introduce containR to Calgary as the city was named the Cultural Capital of Canada this year.

Though it may be good timing, Mion did experience some difficulty in finding a space to set up.

Mion says part of this introduction “is testing the waters to see what the city is cool with, because it isn’t just about art. It’s about city permits andaddressing issues of public spaces for cultural use.”

“The original plan was to be in Olympic Plaza, then we were moved to the 8th Avenue Mall,” Mion says.

“Three weeks ago we found out we couldn’t be there either, so we ended up in the East Village. The fact that East Village said yes to this is a different side of Calgary and I like that side. This is a beautiful site that offers a lot of opportunity. It’s been great to bring the public, artists and cultural organizations together to make this work.”

Mion would like to see the art scene become something normal. Through containR, she hopes people will understand that “art is not weird” and that it surrounds us.

“This suggests a normal way to connect through art, as joggers, bicyclists and people off of the river pathway have popped in because they were curious.”

Challenging artists

Taryn Javier, choreographer, says she’s enjoyed her experience working withNaz, getting up close with her audience during a performance.

Photo by Roxana Secara the Fluid Festival and containR.

“It’s really nice to bring everyone together and it’s a chance to reach out to the audience in a different way,” she says.

Javier’s biggest challenge has been working with the space.

“If you want to do things big in the container, it’s going to be really big,” she says.

This is a challenge to do things smaller, and you’d be surprised how easily you can draw people in because they are closer.”

“They are not just spectators. You are bringing them into your work,” she adds.

Dancers Danielle Wensley, Zahra Shahab, and Sabrina Naz performed in one of containR’s shows called In the Belly of the Beast. Their performance, choreographed by Javier, forced the audience to get involved.

Wensley says she likes site-specific work because it breaks that barrier between performer and spectator and Shahab says it’s fantastic because it’s a new concept for Calgary.

“Spaces like this are more common in bigger cities with bigger art hubs,” Shahab says. “People leave with a feeling of ownership after containR because they were made part of the experience and it’s a real challenge for the artist, you feel a bit vulnerable.”

Naz agrees that smaller spaces adds some vulnerability, but says you dance more whole heartedly because of the space.

Raphaele Thiriet, spectator and artist, said that although it was a chilly night, her heart was warmed by the artists’ creativity.

One of the containers in the East Village. The containers are recycled and used by containR to provide public art spaces for artists to perform in.

Photo by Roxana SecaraThiriet says things like this need to happen more in Calgary, because “containR opens up a new space for imagination.”

“[The] Fluid Festival – along with containR – gives artists an opportunity to be visible. Some artists struggle to find a space to perform; containR provides this for them,” she adds.

ContainR currently does not tour, and has only been introduced in Vancouver and now Calgary. Because the containers are designed to move, Mion says it would be great if they could transport the arts and take containR into different cities.

“This is what they are built for. The way we transport lettuce, we can do this with art and ideas.”

ContainR is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. until Sunday, October 21.

rsecara@cjournal.ca