Organizer of Surrey’s International Dance Day says North Americans need to embrace artistry of movement

Published: April 25, 2014

South Surrey-based Diskordanse dance company’s new “Aria” show will debut in Vancouver next month before shifting to Surrey Arts Centre for a pair of performances, on May 30 and 31.


Nela Hallwas can’t imagine a better way to spend International Dance Day than bringing together Serbian, Scottish, classical Indian and modern dancers for a special celebration in her own community.

The Crescent Beach resident just hopes others will also want to celebrate the occasion next Tuesday, April 29 during an event she’s helped plan at Surrey Arts Centre.

“Dance around the world is so huge – but it’s not quite there in North America,” Hallwas said with a tinge of resignation. “Innately, it’s a natural response we have as humans to move, regardless of social status or anything. But there always seems to be a stigma attached to dance in North America, and I don’t know why – it’s pure and beautiful, and those who’ve seen us definitely don’t think it’s boring.”

Hallwas is the artistic director of Diskordanse, a professional dance company she runs at her XBa DanceCo studio, a large, gothic “black box” space located on 152nd Street in South Surrey. This is where the contemporary dancers of Diskordanse are rehearsing Aria, the company’s latest production, for performances this spring, including a pair of late-May dates at Surrey Arts Centre.

Meanwhile, students schooled at XBa (pronounced “EX-ba”) are preparing to take the stage at the Bear Creek Park venue’s studio theatre Tuesday as part of the multicultural International Dance Day event (call 604-501-5566 for details).

“We’re fusing different cultures and dance styles,” Hallwas explained, “so we have classical Indian, which is completely different from bhangra or Bollywood, and also Serbian folk dance and Scottish highland. The concept is three friends – a Serbian, Scot and Indian - meet up and are journeying through a street scene, with an outdoor cafĂ©, and there are a whole lot of people running around, and they just randomly break into dance. It’s a blending of these styles. And the one style they have in common is contemporary dance – the style that fuses them, brings them all together.”

In order to secure the arts centre space on International Dance Day, Hallwas negotiated a deal with organizers of the month-long Surrey Festival of Dance, which wraps April 29 (save for its No Borders group dance challenge May 10).

“The (festival) board members were amazing, because they had both theatres at the arts centre booked for a solid month, and more,” Hallwas said. “They were gracious enough to tweak their

schedule, which is an unbelievable gesture, so we could host the event on International Dance Day.”

The concept for the showcase was sparked by Hallwas’ nomination and membership in the UNESCO-backed Conseil International de la Danse (International Dance Council) last spring.

“It’s a huge step for me, for XBa, because now we’re internationally accredited, which is really cool,” said Hallwas, who immigrated to Canada in 1967 from her native Yugoslavia.

Diskordanse’s Aria, meanwhile, will be performed at Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver on May 2 and 3 before the show shifts to Surrey Arts Centre on May 30 and 31.

“Dislokation (the company’s 2013 production) was a moment, and it was about triggering emotions and upsetting people who were watching, in different ways, and hopefully we achieved that,” Hallwas said. “With Aria, it’s a story, with a beginning, middle and end, but I’m hoping nobody will clue in when they are, so it’s a progression.”

Despite what audiences might think, this Aria has little to do with opera, she noted.

“It’s not opera-themed – aria is actually the Italian word for air. But I’m hoping people will think it’s about opera, because that’s where the mind goes when we hear the word. The word brings out images of grandiose, epic things, over the top – and that’s exactly what I want people to think and expect when they come to see Aria, which involves the main characters of air, danger and fire. It’s not opera, but it’s as epic as one.”

Also in the works is XBa’s annual dance film festival, which this year moves from a Vancouver theatre to the company’s Surrey studio. The judged showcase, on May 25, will feature nine dance-related films (see for details).

The event is yet another springtime activity planned by Hallwas.

“You know,” she said, “last year, with Dislokation, we were vying for time and attention with the Canucks being in the playoffs – it just seemed everyone was busy watching hockey games, but now it’s different. Those games are not happening, so we’re kind of hoping people will try something else, because what we do is pretty cool, too. No, we don’t score goals, sorry, but we create some pretty cool moments.”

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