first contacts . july / by james gnam

Written by Rachel Silver


The history of Digital Folk is several years of questioning, experimentation and performance. Natalie and James have tested out their ideas in large and small spaces, in performance, through residencies, and in academia.

What does it mean to have a generation whose first contact with “folk” culture (ie. singing, dancing, and telling stories with others) is in the digital realm, through video games? How does this affect their ability to connect, to communicate, and to make music or dance in three-dimensional reality?

There are five interns including myself, and a week to get caught up with three years of the project. Our studio at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts unfortunately has no windows, so on our lunch break we make sure to get some July sun.

In the studio we spend hours improvising with prompts from James. Mirroring another dancer is difficult when there is no leader. The gaze became a large part of it; if you can’t see your partner, how can you mirror them? James introduces the idea of staying “in-between” movements without ever fully arriving, and keeping your body from the necessity of being vertical by hanging in space. This is very difficult, but finally we are getting somewhere.

James has us doing “the pelvis dance,” tracking our partner around the space. Our pelvises must remain distally together, and together in momentum, though our bodies may be in different positions. We wear sneakers, because this work feels a bit like basketball, challenging each other to keep up. It is extremely tiring for our legs, and we take breaks to watch each other. At the end of the day, we have nearly achieved something. James says, “it feels like we are flirting with close” to where we need to go. After a long and physical rehearsal, we take this as success.