dancing on the walls of the library

Friday night I went to see a free Aeriosa Dance performance at the Vancouver Public Library. Aeriosa is an aerial dance company that performs in non-traditional spaces. The performers wore climbing harnesses and danced on the walls. Five minutes into the performance my brain had shifted, so that it became normal to see people dancing on vertical walls. They created a sense of awe and magic by using a space I’ve been in hundreds of times in an unexpected way.

The first part of the performance was inside the concourse of the library. It was exciting and a bit nerve wracking to watch one of the dancers climb up 5 storeys on the inside glass walls. They used books, and traditional library stereotypes like glasses, and the sound of shushing, and typewriters to link the piece to the place. While many people recognize those as library stereotypes, I thought they were too obvious and outdated. A graphic designer friend remarked that the shapes their bodies made in the cubes looked like the VPL logo.

The music was interesting, but unsettling and I didn’t like it. Various musicians were located in different parts of the concourse, and at different levels. The music played with the echo of the space. I like that I didn’t like it and spent quite a bit of time pondering why.

The percussionists lead the procession outside to the South Plaza for the next part. Three people dressed in red danced on the government tower. There was a lovely energy — people were excited, curious and I felt a connection with all the people watching the dancers slowly run along the walls, perform elegant slow motion acrobatics, and push off the walls as a group to make formations with their bodies, like skydivers. I enjoyed watching the crowd. Many people were standing with their heads flipped back looking up. Some people were lying on the ground looking up. It was delightful.

The percussionists lead us around the outside of the building to the North Plaza to watch the last piece. Dancers moved like lizards along the molding of the building. They bounced and moved in slow arcs through the air. The shadow of their bodies looked like a kaleidoscope on the buildings across the street. By the end of the performance there were about 1000 people in the library plaza but it didn’t feel crowded in an ugly way. It felt like we were in the living room of the city sharing a wonderful moment with the dancers and each other. I bumped into people I haven’t seen since the Fall. I met up with my friends who I got separated from and we lingered on the South Plaza, wishing that it was a few degrees warmer.

VPL does a great job of programming. There are kids’ storytimes at branches across the city. Almost every night there are talks, readings, and film screenings at the Central branch downtown. As part of the Cultural Olympiad, there is Ron Terada’s The Words Don’t Fit The Picture and Christian Kliegel and Cate Rimmer’s Walk In/Here You Are. Vanessa Kwan’s Vancouver Vancouver Vancouver was also on the North Plaza. In the concourse, Jeremy Turner and Geoffrey Farmer’s Broadsiding hang in the spaces between the pillars inside. From July 2006 to December 2009 VPL organized numerous Library-specific art projects. There’s also the Writer-in-Residence program, Poet Laureate program, and One Book One Vancouver, a city wide book club.

I’m proud to live in a city where so much is going on at the library. I think that it’s important that it’s free and financially accessible to all.

A couple of weeks ago I had an awesome conversation with a faculty member about “activating the library as a place of artistic and research inquiry”. I’m still formulating my thoughts on this, hopefully I’ll be able to articulate some of them soon.

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