What is Dangerous Vacancies and what is it all about?
Dangerous Vacancies, an Aeris Körper Contemporary Dance production, is an immersive contemporary dance theater choreography that explores the emotional journey of dementia in relation to the continuous hum of life.
My father passed away from rapid onset dementia. As a choreographer, my medium of expression is the body; dementia is about the body. I desired to convey this journey with my father in movement and dance as a way to reach out to others to say: “We are not alone and dementia is so much more than loss and death.”
Dementia can teach us about appreciating life’s simple pleasures—my father took profound joy in listening to a Sidney Bechet album, sipping coffee, and gently swaying. We did this together daily; and so this has become the starting place for the choreography. The choreography asks the dancers to find the extremes in themselves to access the thresholds of failure and hold dear the embodiment of simple pleasures.
Dangerous Vacancies asks: What is it like to witness someone succumb to dementia? To struggle? To fail? What is it like to embody that level of loss and, in the face of it all, to still be subject to the continuing bliss of life?
Dangerous Vacancies was created during an online residency in 2020, funded by the Hamilton Arts Council, and further developed in June 2023 at the FLIGHT residency by Côté Danse and Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Dance reminds us we are not alone— that every single body has a deeply emotional, spiritual, and physical experience that truly has no words. Sid Ryan Eilers
Who initially inspired you to grapple with dementia?
At 67 years old, my father was diagnosed with dementia—this shifted to rapid-onset Alzheimer’s and over the next 5 years I witnessed firsthand his personality and character completely dissolve—he could not take care of himself at all —and yet he still possessed so much potential and life.
He passed away just before the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. I felt utterly alone in this experience. As I shared about the difficulties I faced on social media, other friends reached out to express that they were in similar situations. Dance allows us to be seen, heard, acknowledged in the deep embodied kinesthetic sense. Dance reminds us we are not alone— that every single body has a deeply emotional, spiritual, and physical experience that truly has no words. And so I have become compelled to create a work of choreography about dementia, bliss, potential, love, connection, death, and life to remind us we are not alone.
How has working on dementia-related art changed you?
My experience and reflections on dementia has dramatically altered the way I create art, the art I create, and the way I live. Dementia has taught me about pleasure and joy. Dementia has taught me about the act of connecting in appreciation to music, to movement, to dance, to art, to the delights of taste, to power in a beautiful scent, the gift of a loving touch—the simple enjoyment of these pleasures is the path to living.
Before I had this experience of caregiving for someone who has dementia, I created work in a manner of productivity, of what I thought would be liked by my peers and audiences. Now, I work in a much slower manner and take time to savor and delight in each moment. This also comes down to practical matters: ensuring I choreograph under conditions that provide the appropriate resources to allow for this and not settling.
How has Dangerous Vacancies received?
In the showing in June 2023 at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, audience members were deeply moved. Several audience members personally shared they were surprised by how emotionally touched they were by the choreography. Other audience members who currently are caring for someone with dementia shared that they really understood the work and felt seen. Others were touched by the sense of connection to joy and continuity that was expressed. Audience members felt the work was “Gorgeous and had something profound to say.”
This work is dedicated to: Bruce Holton Farrington, my father