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Message, medium and movement: Choreographer Vanessa Goodman talks Wells Hill

Wells Hill. Photo by David Cooper.

Seeking to fuse the intellectual insights of 20th century scholars Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould into her work, Vanessa Goodman created Wells Hill to be a thought-provoking and resurgent piece that is bringing communicative theory to the stage.

In a supportive partnership with DanceHouse, Goodman has breathed life into this work over the past few years. As a dancer/choreographer with a multiplicity of experience with global dance companies, Goodman is thrilled to be partnering with DanceHouse: “It’s an incredible honour to have them co-present Wells Hill as part of their landmark anniversary season,” a presentation that is also supported by the artist’s alma mater SFU Woodwards.

SFU has been a crucial part of Goodman’s career, serving as a vital launching pad that has exposed the artist to new insights and support beyond the realms of academia. By working with the school’s rep classes, Goodman has had an opportunity to work with large groups, on scales the artist may not have been able to collaborate on previously. Through this union, Goodman has been provided an opportunity to come full circle, saying, “It feels fitting to have so many years of work on Wells Hill culminate in a premiere on the same stage.”

This work has, in the words of the artist, “gained more complexity with each step along the way”— perhaps because the roots of this piece are embedded in the popular theories and ideas of both McLuhan and Gould. Sparked by a conversation over coffee with SFU’s Michael Boucher, Goodman contemplated the ties she personally held to both McLuhan and Gould through growing up in 29 Wells Hill Ave. “As two towering figures in 20th century Canada, the idea of being a fly on the wall during their conversations was fun to imagine.”

Wells Hill. Photo by David Cooper.

With a seed planted, the show itself started to take shape. Claiming that both figures were ahead of their time, the translation process of theory-to-stage began. She reconfigured works by placing them in a new, on-stage context: “I see Wells Hill as an opportunity to take a look at their ideas as a framework to help us better understand our current relationships with technology.” One such idea was drawn from McLuhan’s famous ‘Understanding Media’, a widely-studied theory that looks at media as both “hot” and “cool” in reference to the participation required from the audience. However, one of the biggest sources of inspiration relates to McLuhan’s signature idea of the “medium being the message.” In the case of Wells Hill, true inspiration could be found in exactly that—the medium. And Goodman agrees, saying, “Ultimately, the thing that inspires me the most is the medium itself, the movement.”

A previous (but undeniably still relevant) dialogue that was furthered by these two Canadian influencers is the idea of media consumption and our interactions with different mediums: “I think it’s fascinating to view our current technology and media landscape through the lens of a previous generation, and translating that into physical terms like this is a perfect entry point for dance.”

Through revisiting the works of both intellects, Wells Hill revives important ideas and notions about our participations with media. With Goodman describing the piece as all about “message, medium, and movement,” it seems fitting that, in this media-driven, rapid world we inhabit, we should look back on two Canadian figures whose ideas are more relevant than ever. If the medium truly is the message, then an exploration of media texts through different mediums, such as dance, can allow us to take a step back, learn, and think. Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Action at a Distance Wells Hill runs November 24–26, 2017 at DanceHouse. Get your tickets here.


Jasmine Proctor is a writer, theatre-fanatic, and recent BA graduate from Simon Fraser University, majoring in Communications and English Literature. Jasmine is a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fangirl, part-time poet, and a not-so-secret lover of K-pop. She is thrilled to work with Artslandia and cannot wait to see what performance she can write about next.



Vanessa Goodman holds a BFA from Simon Fraser University and is the artistic director and choreographer of Vancouver-based dance company Action at a Distance. Vanessa is attracted to art that has a weight and meaning beyond the purely aesthetic and uses her choreography as an opportunity to explore the human condition. She was the recipient of the 2013 Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award and the 2017 Yulanda M. Faris Program from the Scotiabank Dance Centre.


Thank you to our friends at CHARALS on Robson for supporting the arts by gifting each artist in our CREATOR series a gift package, from their store, filled with luxury goods & accessories. Visit them online at or in person at 171 Robson Street in Vancouver.