When Trish Belsham walked into the Audain Art Museum for the first time, she had a vision.
"I was really just amazed by the architecture that had so much flow," she says. "I was inspired to partner the design with dance. When I entered the foyer and saw that beautiful, big window and the mouth of the corridor, I had this visual image of this dancer all in white—like a spirit hovering in the doorway with extended arms."
The vision is coming to life on Saturday, Nov. 9 when the museum hosts the dance performance "It stirred me all up." Based on a quote from Emily Carr—and inspired by the current exhibit Emily Carr: Fresh Seeing - French Modernism and the West Coast—the show will include a total of six dances in different rooms of the museum.
It will start in the foyer before that spirit-like figure leads the audience into the first gallery of the special exhibit, which focuses on an influential trip Carr took to France early in her career.
"Emily Carr" will dance in character before the group is beckoned to another room, where the dancer is a raven. Finally, they will be ushered to the upstairs gallery space where the final two dances take place.
"I certainly like to be challenged by new opportunities to bring dance into all kinds of other spaces," says Belsham, who has a long, storied career as a dancer and choreographer and runs Gruff Goat Dance Theatre in Pemberton. "I like dances that can be done on small stages or in alternative spaces, site-specific outdoors. I've done a lot of outdoor performances ... I'm pretty comfortable with that. It's mostly about the opportunity to engage with whatever it is that shows up that I'm curious about."
To that end, Belsham contacted the museum after her first visit about collaborating on a future project, and when they reached out to her about putting together an Emily Carr-inspired show, she immediately said yes.
Part of her enthusiasm had to do with her special connection to the famed artist.
"[She] just happened to be my very favourite painter when I was a girl," Belsham says. "I grew up in my grandfather's house, three blocks from where [Carr] had her home on Dallas Road there [in Victoria]. I saw a lot of her work growing up. I always identified with her work."
She also identified with Carr as a strong female figure. "My work is celebrating feminine empowerment," she adds. "Many of the pieces have to do with the empowerment of women."
That was a central theme of Gruff Goat's Pemberton performance earlier this winter called Wabi-Sabi Love. The show sold out both nights. Since the dance group started five years ago, "we've played every place you can play and I think people are starting to recognize the name," Belsham says.
Adding the Audain Art Museum to that list is an exciting prospect. "I'm really excited to do this—to partner with the Audain," she says. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity for people to see this work and ask questions about it and stay after and have a conversation."
There are no tickets available for the show ahead of time. Entry is with admission to the museum. That means the dancers currently have no idea how many people will be following them from room to room.
"Not knowing how much space they have to dance in is a particular challenge that's really good for them," Belsham says. "I think most dancers, at this point in time, have had a lot of opportunity to perform apart from a large stage. They feel quite natural in that kind of environment."
Catch the one-time performance of "It stirred me all up," at the Audain Art Museum on Saturday, Nov. 9 from 3 to 5 p.m.