Night Moves: Shannon Litzenberger’s “World After Dark” explores the enigma of night

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Shannon Litzenberger

Shannon Litzenberger’s world-premiere choreographic work World After Dark was born from a summer of prairie nights. In the summer of 2014, Litzenberger visited the Grasslands National Park near Val Marie, Saskatchewan. There she discovered that this corner of Canada is home to the darkest of only 14 remaining dark sky preserves in the country.  It is a place where the sky is uninfluenced by artificial light. It “struck me . . . how fragile our relationship with night has become,” she recalls. “In the long arc of human existence, our break-up with darkness is very recent. What are the consequences of living in a world where we never experience a natural state of night?”

On returning home, she picked up Christopher Dewdney’senchanting book” Acquainted with the Night: Excursions Through the World After Dark (2008). At this point, World After Dark started to take shape in her mind: “I saw it immediately as an ensemble work, with a rich, immersive design that could make us feel like we’d been swallowed by the mystery of night.” This mystery encompasses the  physical and the figurative. Night evokes endless mystery, and the richness of its metaphors –for the sensual, the embodied and the feminine” – intrigues Litzenberger.  In fact, “to explore the erosion of our relationship with night is to discover our growing disconnect with our sensory world, with our natural environment, with our own bodies, and with feminine virtues like intuition, cooperation, sensitivity, and creative expression.” World After Dark  examines the harmful consequences of living in a world where the equilibrium of the masculine and feminine is out of balance. “In the end, it’s a work about reclamation.”

It may seem counterintuitive to use a non-fiction text as inspiration for a dance production, but Litzenberger characterizes Dewdney’s approach to writing as “equal parts science and poetry”. His poetic reveries and scientific explanations evoke an epic journey through the mysteries of night: from the three stages of nightfall to the science of the cosmos; from the birth of nightlife to the empire of dreams; from the biology of nocturnal creatures to the mythology of the night sky. “He blends the intellectual with the symbolic so beautifully, and I was very attracted to that,” Litzenberger enthuses. “It speaks to my nature. I am someone who often drifts in my attraction between the intellectual and the embodied.” This duality offered a “perfect frame” to develop a dance-theatre work which itself  straddles forms through language and movement.

Critically, this is a collaborative venture, and the artists who have come together to create World After Dark are “truly exceptional” dancers. Linnea Swan and Louis Laberge-Côté are “courageous, award-winning performers who have worked across dance and theatre genres”.  They are the “magic-makers . . . complemented by a gifted ensemble of dancers.” The work also features an original sound score by John Gzowski, a series of video animation designs by Elysha Poirier, set and lighting concepts by Ken MacKenzie, and costumes designed by Alexandra Lord. Writer and dramaturg Guillermo Verdecchia selected, adapted and arranged the text used in the show, while creative advisors Gerry Trentham and Marie-Josée Chartier have also lent creative insight that Litzenberger deems “invaluable”.

In her career, Litzenberger has gained steady acclaim for her choreographic innovation, as well as her approach to creating live performance experiences at the intersection of artistic forms. Her roots in the Canadian prairies inspire recurring themes of connection to land, environment, belonging, identity and place. Presented across Canada and the US, her work has included collaboration with artists such as Marie-Josée Chartier, Lorna Crozier, David Earle, Ravi Jain, Susie Burpee and Michael Greyeyes. She has been a resident artist at Banff Centre, Soulpepper Theatre Company, Toronto Dance Theatre and Atlantic Ballet Theatre; and has been honoured as the inaugural Arts Innovation Fellow at the Metcalf Foundation, and with the Jack McAllister Award for accomplishment in dance.

Flexible in more ways than one, her celebrated work has extended across artistic disciplines to other fields of practice, including as a leadership developer. For instance, after creating a new dance work for a group of RBC employees in 2013 for Nuit Blanche, she learned that the creative process had unanticipated residual benefits for the participants. As a result, she “began translating this learning into a set of high-impact leadership development interventions that help teams effectively collaborate.” Now, she works “with organizational teams, mostly in corporate settings, training capabilities like focus, attention, empathy, trust, risk and collaboration.” In many ways, Litzenberger’s desire to re-humanize leadership within corporate cultures connects directly to the motivation for a work like World After Dark. Ultimately, both are means of finding “meaningful connection in a world that is so short of attention”.

As a response to that abbreviated attention span (or perhaps an echo of  it), World After Dark evokes the entrancing wonder and diverse facets of night within a compact and immersive 65 minutes. So there is no need to mourn our “break-up with darkness.”  Litzenberger posits that for those who may be “stressed, overworked or struggling with the hustle, World After Dark might be the perfect respite”.   

Kathia Wittenborn; Photo by Ken Greenhorn

News You Can Use

What:  World After Dark, presented by Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance, in partnership with Harbourfront Centre; Concept, Choreography and Direction by Shannon Litzenberger
Created with and performed by Louis Laberge-Coté, Linnea Swan, Emily Law, Syreeta Hector, Niko Markakis, Kathia Wittenborn, with narration by Irene Pauzer and Dan Wild

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: March 6 – 9, 2019, 8:00pm; Run Time: approximately 65 minutes (no intermission)

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre, 231 Queens Quay W, Toronto, ON M5J 2G8

Info and Tickets: harbourfrontcentre.com

© 2019 Arpita Ghosal Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine

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