KickStart | CanAsian Dance Review by Jenna K. Rodgers

KNOW THE RULES, WIN THE GAME | Cloudsway Dance Theatre (Calgary) & THAT CHNK IN Y/OUR ARMOUR | Pam Tzeng (Calgary)

Representation Matters - A Review By Jenna K. Rodgers

Representation matters. We hear it over and over again, but what does it really mean? Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing the opening of the 2018 Fluid Festival, which was kicked off by two pieces by local choreographers, commissioned by CanAsian Dance. Know the Rules, Win the Game created by Mark Ikeda and Cloudsway Dance Theatre, and That ch*nk in y/our armour, choreographed by Pam Tzeng.

 These two performances were a beautiful pairing. Ikeda and Tzeng have created two very different pieces, with radically different tones – but they both confront what it means to exist within a racialized body to be consumed by primarily white audiences. I don’t want to say too much about the pieces other than – GO SEE THEM. THEY ARE INCREDIBLE. We have such talented artists in our city, and this touring work deserves to be lifted up and celebrated. Pam, Mark, I love you both.

What I do want to talk about is how radical it is to launch a mainstream* festival by centring artists of colour. We heard the statistics all evening: 36% of people in the city of Calgary self identified as people of colour. Only 14% of people in our artistic community have self identified as people of colour. This is a 22% discrepancy that I believe we, as artists, are responsible to address. By placing Asian Canadian bodies front and centre, Fluid Fest is making a statement, and I was glad to be there to listen.

There was a brief talkback after the performance, and a young person of colour in the front row asked a question that really resonated with me. They asked something along the lines of, “have you ever been tokenized in your art practice?” A knowing laugh rippled across the seated row of artists, before they shared the thoughtful approach that Springboard took to curating this pairing, and this first week of Fluid Fest, which features several Asian artists. The young person clarified, “outside of this process, have you ever felt tokenized?” Another knowing laugh, followed by some really wonderful discussion about (awful) casting experiences, and how audiences inevitably project stereotype onto racialized bodies.

 But the question is still sitting with me at home as write this. And to this young person, I want to say, “yes”. As an artist of colour, choosing to put your body on stage – as a dancer, as an actor, as a clown – it is a political act. People of colour are historically pitted against each other, read as caricatures of their ancestry, and forced into roles that perpetuate white supremacy… and that’s not even on stage. That’s in daily life. So yes, you will experience tokenism, racism, oppression, and more. But you will also create art that opens space for dialogue, that challenges the dominant culture, and that makes another person of colour in the audience feel seen. That work is urgent and necessary because representation matters.

– Jenna K. Rodgers, Oct 2018

*I use mainstream here to refer to the dominant culture. I want to acknowledge it’s a problematic word, because it normalizes whiteness in a festival setting, when my intention, rather, is to draw attention to the fact that dominant culture needs to change.


Jenna is a mixed race director and dramaturg based in Calgary. She is the Artistic Director of Chromatic Theatre.