FASS News, Urban Studies, Research

Shadbolt Fellow Alana Gerecke explores movement possibilities and limitations during the pandemic

April 22, 2022
Photo Credit: Yvonne Chew

Inspired by her ongoing research on urban movement, Alana Gerecke explores the possibilities and limitations of moving together during the era of COVID-19 for her Shadbolt Fellowship.

Alana Gerecke is one of the four Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellows in Humanities 2021-22 and is being hosted at SFU by the Urban Studies Program.

Gerecke is a professional dancer whose experience with site-based performances inspired her to pursue a study on performances in non-traditional spaces. Her early experiments with collaborators in the Behind Open Doors Arts Collective (a group she co-founded with SFU’s School of Contemporary Arts graduates)–where she performed in urban initiatives such as Park(ing) Day and Jane’s Walk–facilitated her curiosity and cemented her interest in placed-based performances.

“I approach performance as an embodied method for observing, understanding, and reimagining its social and spatial context,” says Gerecke.

Throughout her studies Gerecke continued to dance professionally. During her graduate studies, these experiences helped her observe the relationships found in dance. Examining how the relationship between audience and performer is shaped by the performance environment and how the boundaries of the performance are fixed by the site. In her postdoctoral studies Gerecke shifted her focus from the formal choreographies to observing the more subtle and informal choreographies found in the movements of everyday life and comparing whether the formal choreographies she studied supported or challenged these informal urban choreographies.

“My doctoral work offered an analysis of how the dances I studied reorganized their audiences, and my postdoctoral work moved toward colloquial expressions of choreography (like flash mobs, protests, and parades), focusing on the social consequences followed from that physical reorganization,” Gerecke said.

As a Shadbolt fellow Gerecke’s research looks at the movement possibilities and limitations during the pandemic. Her Shadbolt research is built upon on her understanding of the city as a choreographic force developed during her doctoral and postdoctoral work. Combining her scholarly and choreographic skills she studies the choreographic effects of the two-meter COVID-safe spatial perimeter. Exploring how physical distance has influenced the possibilities and limitations of movement pathways and shaped the sense of belonging in public spaces.

Gerecke has already completed a few projects during her fellowship. In one project she collaborated with artist Justine A. Chambers and architect Annabel Vaughan to explore the relationship between choreography and architecture. The event titled “A Conversation About Urban Choreography” was hosted by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement in November 2021. In December 2021, the journal Performance Matters published her piece, entitled “Dancing With Land.” It explores decolonial approaches to land, body, and movement with a range of local site-based artists.

Gerecke’s most recent project, A Listening Dance will take place at Scotiabank Dance Centre as part of International Dance Day on April 29, 2022. Gerecke describes this event as a “kinesthetic poem” with the intention to invite a range of bodies into a type of choreographic thinking that characterizes her practice: An experimental performance where Gerecke will use audio prompts to offer approachable, kinesthetic, and COVID-safe immersion into the “subtle choreographies of urban mobility.”

Gerecke is also co-facilitating a set of community-engaged movement workshops with Chambers. For this set of workshops, supported by SFU’s Community Engagement Research initiative (CERi), Gerecke and Chambers have invited partners who co-host the Cross Cultural Walking Tours to participate in their site-based choreographed methods. In these workshops, tour guides are encouraged to share examples of gestural movements with participants on their “stop” of the tour. The workshops will take place in advance of the walking tour events that run throughout May 2022.

This year, Gerecke is participating in conferences where she will present her Shadbolt research. In May, she will co-present a movement workshop at SFU’s Community Engaged Research initiative conference. In June, she will co-present a cross-temporal walking tour score and contribute to two multi-year working groups at the Canadian Association for Theatre Research. In November, for the Dance Studies Association conference, she will co-develop multi-day programming that pushes the conversation on decolonial approaches to place-based practice.

“At the core of each of these projects are a few values that guide my work and that extend in all directions beyond the COVID-19 pandemic: a commitment to interdisciplinary research, a firm belief in the importance of arts-based and embodied knowledge, and an interest in the reciprocity between environment and movement,” says Gerecke.

Gerecke’s research demonstrates that focused engagements with choreography can offer critical insights and interventions into how we navigate the social and physical realities of urban space. She explains “the pandemic has sharpened questions about embodied co-presence in public spaces but a performance-based analysis of everyday movement through city spaces will continue to be relevant to explorations of social belonging, interrelation between strangers, land/human relations, and urban circulation long after the pandemic fades from the headlines.”

For more information on the past, present and future projects of Alana Gerecke please check out her personal website at www.alanagerecke.com and please check out her upcoming event 
A Listening Dance that takes place at Scotiabank Dance Centre on April 29, 2022.