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Dance duo finds comedy in the serious

Despite being known principally as a dancer, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s relationship to comedy is equally ingrained in her history and disposition. “Because I’m a physical person, I started dancing very young, in grade school,” she recalls.
0209 ARTS Empty Swimming Pool credit Wendy D Photography

 

Despite being known principally as a dancer, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s relationship to comedy is equally ingrained in her history and disposition.

“Because I’m a physical person, I started dancing very young, in grade school,” she recalls. “I couldn’t sit still, so the teacher thought I was learning-disabled. In order to navigate the situation, I would do comedy routines in the classroom. I would put my hairband over my eyes – long before Geordi La Forge did it on Star Trek, I might add – and that’s how I dealt with it.”

Comedy and its role in our day-to-day struggle to “deal with” the indignities of life is central to empty.swimming.pool, a collaborative performance Friedenberg developed in collaboration with Silvia Gribaudi, a fellow dancer from Turin, Italy. It makes its world premiere as part of the 2017 Chutzpah! Festival.

Friedenberg became aware of Gribaudi when they performed separately at a festival in Edinburgh. Watching the Italian dancer perform her acclaimed A Corpo Libero, in which she comically strips down to her undergarments and shakes her body fat to the soundtrack of a hyper-dramatic operatic aria, she immediately recognized a kindred spirit. The two have since worked together numerous times, including a residency at the Scotiabank Dance Centre.

In empty.swimming.pool, the duo seeks to navigate “the role of comedy as a catalyst to questions of gender, culture, language and understanding” – both a somewhat ambiguous mission and a tall order. “What kept coming up, that became the spine of the piece, is visibility and invisibility, being seen and not being seen,” Friedenberg explains. “We’re both women over 40, so that becomes, ‘Woah! That’s a real thing!’ When I was young, I was like, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’ It totally was gonna happen. I have a child, so that also became a factor in how your identity is removed, culturally.

“Silvia’s got a whole other experience in Italy: Catholicism and an older culture, a more misogynist and homophobic culture,” she continues. “We’re looking at them from our individual perspectives, but it keeps coming down to the two of us: how we’re communicating, and how we’re communicating with the audience, because we both use comedy as a great tool that opens the door to potentially difficult things.”

Although empty.swimming.pool was still being rehearsed at the time of our conversation, Friedenberg is confident that the end result will connect with audiences in the spirit she and Gribaudi intend: food for thought, but also fodder for laughter. “Comedy galvanizes people,” she says. “We might not all be on the same page politically, but we know we have to galvanize, because a divide-and-conquer thing is happening. Comedy is so potent that way, because we can laugh at ourselves, we can laugh at the situation, and we can laugh together.

“As a woman, I have to laugh, otherwise I’m just gonna be so pissed off all the time,” she adds, laughing. “I’m not gonna be any fun!”

empty.swimmimg.pool runs Feb. 16-18 at Scotiabank Dance Centre. Tickets and info: ChutzpahFestival.com