Edmonton | Chinook Festival provides launch for local choreographer’s award-winning new work

Feb 06 2020

We are used to thinking of dancing as something big. But a group of Edmonton dancers celebrates small as local choreographer Alison Neuman debuts her fresh work, The Strike.

Neuman is the 2019 winner of Good Women Dance Collective’s New Work award for emerging artists. The results of her prize-winning effort can be seen during the Chinook Series, a multidisciplinary arts festival running through Feb. 16 at the ATB Financial Arts Barns.

The Strike is a 16-minute dance that features both able-bodied and disabled dancers in a piece that pits darkness against the light.

“Sometimes you go through life being happy with who you are, and then you bump into people telling you you have to be different to fit in,” says Neuman of her inspiration for the dance. “Your voice isn’t heard and you are extinguished.”

There are six characters in The Strike, all of whom contributed ideas to its choreography and have been building and rehearsing the piece since September. Local dancer and choreographer Ainsley Hillyard has been mentoring the group (part of the New Work award is the chance to learn from a professional). The music for The Strike was created by local composer Tom Merklinger.


The Strike appears within an evening of three dance performances called Interior Landscapes, in a segment of the Chinook Series known as the Expanse Festival, produced by Azimuth Theatre. For more information on the Chinook Series and the numerous festivals it includes, such as Black Arts Matter and Sound Off, a deaf theatre festival, visit chinookseries.ca.

Neuman, 46, comes to choreography later in life. She aspired to be a professional dancer as a child, but developing a rare disease called dermatomyositis (an autoimmune disorder that led to severe arthritis for Neuman) meant she had to give up her dream, and dancing, when she was 13.

“It was devastating,” she recalls. “I wanted to be a professional dancer but no professional dancers were in wheelchairs. So then I thought maybe I could take musical theatre. I took vocal lessons and was promptly told there weren’t many roles in musicals for people in wheelchairs.

“So I thought ‘I need to write the plays and musicals so there are roles,’” says Neuman, who has a master’s degree from Athabasca University and runs her own corporate communications business. “It’s important for me to include underrepresented voices.”

Some of the dancers in The Strike use walkers or wheelchairs, and aren’t able to plunge headlong into strenuous physical expressions of the story. Their movements are small, precise, thoughtful.

“Some of the dancers do some of their most beautiful dancing with only a finger movement or a facial expression,” says Neuman. “It isn’t always about a big, sweeping leg or arm movement. You can dance with just about anything.”

Though Neuman isn’t performing in The Strike, the award-winning author and playwright does dance with local integrated dance cooperatives such as iDANCE Edmonton and CRIPSiE (Collaborative Radically Integrated Performers Society in Edmonton).

“I love dancing. I feel very much like my body tries to fight me in everything I do. Being able to dance is a wonderful way to express myself and it feels like I have some control. It’s something that (the disease) can’t take away from me.”


The Strike, part of the Interior Landscapes dance program of the Expanse Festival during the Chinook Series

Choreography by: Alison Neuman

Music by: Tom Merklinger

Featuring: Angela Sekulic, Heath Birkholz, Iris Dykes, Julie Heffel, Roxanne Ulanicki, Rebecca Sadowski

Tickets: $22 for performances Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 at the Westbury Theatre (10330 84 Ave.) in the ATB Financial Arts Barns. Each performance has tickets available for offer-what-you-will. Visit fringetheatre.ca for tickets and more information.


Shared from the Edmonton Journal