This urgent new show from choreographer Brendan Fernandes asks us to find 'the power to stand up'

The renowned dance artist's latest work was inspired by current social uprisings and the Pulse nightclub shooting.

The renowned artist's latest work was inspired by current social uprisings and the Pulse nightclub shooting

Brendan Fernandes's "Free Fall: for Camera," 2019, video still. (Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche, Chicago. )

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

"This is the first time I'm making an exhibition and I'm not there," renowned Canadian choreographer and artist Brendan Fernandes says of his installation Inaction, currently having its Canadian premiere at the Richmond Art Gallery. "It's been very strange."

Working with dancers is usually a "very intimate" process, Fernandes says. But he's in Chicago, and the dancers are in British Columbia, so they've all had to improvise. This meant working entirely remotely, with Fernandes teaching the choreography through Zoom.

"I miss the old ways, but I'm also really open to these new ways as well," he says. "Finding new ways is my new way of understanding life, and new forms, which for me is also a queer agenda. We always talk about fluidity and non-binary spaces, and I think that I have to be adaptable. We have to figure it out."

Brendan Fernandes. (Nathan Keay)

Thanks to Fernandes and his dancers figuring it out, the very timely show is running through April 3rd under B.C.'s COVID-19 guidelines. 

"I'm super excited, because this is the first time the piece will be shown in Canada, and for me it's a really important, poignant, visceral, powerful piece," he says. "I'm just so grateful that it's going to be shown and I hope it challenges and affects people."

Addressing violence against marginalized bodies, Inaction is comprised of two main components: nine sculptural works and the two-channel video projection Free Fall: for Camera. The sculptural elements were newly commissioned for this show, while the projection is an evolution of Fernandes's 2017 piece responding to the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Brendan Fernandes, "Free Fall: for Camera," 2019, video still. (Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche, Chicago.)

Fernandes calls the sculptural work "a playground."

"It has a number of sculptural devices that dancers engage with," he says. "A lot of my work deals with dancers' bodies engaging with sculptures and creating movement based on these devices. And in this piece, a lot of the dancing is inspired by children's games — strategic games that kids can play and create joy, but they also can create strategies for the way that we live in our everyday social and political spaces. The games that they play are Follow The Leader, Hide and Seek, and Call and Response."

The video projection component, meanwhile, has grown from the live performance piece Free Fall, a response to the 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida at a gay nightclub that was hosting a Latin night. The attack left 49 dead and 53 wounded.

"It was based on that moment of tragedy and massacre," he says. "For me, as a queer-identifying POC, I was very much taken by this moment that challenged my freedoms and sanctuaries."

Brendan Fernandes uses lithography and dance to mourn those who fell in the Pulse nightclub shooting

3 years ago
Duration 5:45
Brendan Fernandes on how dance, NSCAD history and the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting came together in one densely layered print. Filmmaker: Marcia Connolly

The originally piece featured a single channel, but for this show Fernandes edited a new version with two side-by-side channels that is "more sculptural."

"You enter the space there is scaffolding that creates a barrier and you walk through it and come see the film. Then the film is large, and it's very visceral." 

Featuring 16 dancers, the work demonstrates "the cataclysmic moments when bodies fall onto a stage." Shots are intercut with stunning aerial views, creating kaleidoscopic imagery that Fernandes has said is an homage to the style of film director Busby Berkeley.

"For me, thinking about it now in a pandemic, in a moment of social uprising through Black Lives Matter, we have these things that are still being seen," he says. "It has a relevance to these actions and these moments that we are living in. All our bodies have so much power as well, but I think for me, the greatest thing is that we stand up in the piece. Everybody stands up again."

Installation view of Brendan Fernandes's "Free Fall: for Camera," 2019. (Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche, Chicago)

"It's about community. It's about the power to stand up. We fall, but we stand up again. So it's not about a failure — it's about social solidarity, which I think in our world right now we need more than ever." 

Inaction runs through April 3rd at the Richmond Art Gallery in Richmond, B.C. For more information, visit the gallery's website


Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and hosting the video interview series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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