Severance-Carlene Forbes & Caleigh Hunter

Danced and adapted by: Carlene Forbes, and Caleigh Hunter
Original Choreography: Dyana Sonik-Henderson
Filmed by: Dyana Sonik-Henderson
Edited by: Carlene Forbes

As soon as Dyana offered us the small acts of creativity projects, I immediately knew that I wanted to do a remount of “Guilt” from our show SEVEN. Guilt has held so much meaning for me over the years, and has always been my favourite Broken Rhythms’ piece. We’ve performed it at multiple venues, in multiple cities, with a slightly different purpose and different story every time. This piece has been an ever evolving constant in my dance life, so it seemed natural that I’d be drawn back to it in this time of uncertainty. What really lit the fire for me was the prospect of getting to dance with my friend, in person, after months of being (and dancing) apart.

Severance is a reimagining of Guilt, this time exploring each of our experiences in the current global climate. The process of creating this project was a perfect demonstration of the impact of the pandemic on us as artists and performers. It started out with excitement, inspiration and a clear idea/direction. The weeks leading up to filming were a roller coaster of adapting to new restrictions, delays and eventually bringing our rehearsals to a screeching halt. There were times where we had to change our vision on a dime, and times where it seemed to make more sense to scrap the project all together. Caleigh and I really had to lean on each other to keep this project alive, and without her encouragement and reflection, I definitely could have let the pandemic swallow this one up too. By the time filming day came, we had to let go of our vision and our plan completely, and just see what came out on that day, in that moment.

The main focus of this piece are the seven blue balloons (the number of balloons was an accidental nod to the original show, which I honestly did not notice until I was editing the footage). In each re-mount of the show Seven, the balloons would take on new meaning and be adapted in new ways, and it felt only right to feature them in this piece too. In Severance, the balloons represent the dynamic barrier that has kept us separated throughout the pandemic. At the beginning of the piece Caleigh and I are exploring and interacting with the balloons, seeing how the barrier affects us and our movement, and how we affect the barrier. This reflects the transitional nature of COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions, and how the way we react as individuals and as communities, has a ripple effect on how the entire world continues to react to the pandemic. 

In rehearsal for Broken Rhythms annual Fundraiser LASHBASH (before COVID)

As the piece goes on, Caleigh and I continue dancing choreography that we have always danced together, this time separated by the balloons. We both dance in and out of the barrier, getting closer together, but never touching. Our movements are slower and more methodical than the original piece, and we often change our direction and the order of steps as we go, which is a representation of the way we have to work through this time. The idea was for us to be trying to connect with each other through the barrier, however as I was watching the footage, I noticed that a lot of times Caleigh was trying to connect with me, and I remained totally disconnected from her. That’s where I came up with the name, Severance. 

That inadvertent disconnection turned out to be a perfect representation of my experience with the pandemic. The dance world responded to the restrictions by staying connected with online classes, zoom rehearsals and outdoor group sessions, which is absolutely wonderful and has kept many people inspired. I, however, could not bring myself to do any of it. Dance has always been a huge part of my identity, and how I connect with some of the closest people in my life. The paralyzing uncertainty and hurricane of change that came with the pandemic left me feeling unstable and detached, as I’m sure it did for a lot of people. As my life and world as I’d come to appreciate it was abruptly flipped on its side, I kind of just froze. I didn’t have the impulse to take on the things most prominent in my pre-COVID life, like dance, in their new form. I didn’t have the inclination to do Zoom dinners with friends and family, or cling on to my passion for the arts with video shows and classes. I found myself just hitting the pause button, patiently and peacefully waiting for things to resume the way they were before. However, as the restrictions continued, and “normal” drifted farther and farther away, that patience and peace turned into disconnection and panic. I find myself now fighting the barrier, and trying to balance it to work around me, rather than trying to balance me to work around the barrier. You’ll know exactly which part of the piece explores that chaos, so I’ll leave it at that.

On stage performing SEVEN (before COVID)

The piece originally finished in a full on embrace between Caleigh and I, which we had always intended to keep as is, being one of the most powerful moments in the show (and she knows how much I love hugs). However after the most recent set of restrictions were implemented, we started to feel hesitant of the physical connection, not in terms of our comfort in making contact with each other, but around the potential judgement and hesitation from others watching our video. So we decided to keep the embrace, but stopping just shy of a physical connection. This to me demonstrates that natural inclination we have as human beings to connect with each other in a habitual way (like offering a handshake or a hug), that now comes with an overbearing asterisks as we question what is the new “right and wrong”. I have to wonder if that asterisk will ever completely go away, or if it will always linger to some degree, like a small scar that only fades over time.
Anyway, I hope that you enjoy Severance, and connect with it in your own way. If you watch it more than once, it might offer a different story every time. I know it has for me. Enjoy!

SEVEN around the world and through the ages

We want to create and be a support to local dance artists and companies while providing payment and a safe environment for all artists involved. We have put a call out to the Broken Rhythms dance company members and challenged them to develop a small act of creation in 5 hours. The focus of these small acts of creation is to begin creating again and see if anything develops. We want to plant small creative seeds in the community and see if anything grows.

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