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Become a Cultural Navigator

Choreographer Marissa Wong plumbs her own history and mines intergenerational trauma for Family Room

Marissa Wong by Luciana Freire D'Anuniacao
The Falling Company's Marissa Wong challenges the status quo. Photo by Luciana Freire D'Anuniacao.

Names often carry great significance. So, it seems appropriate for Vancouver choreographer and dancer Marissa Wong to begin by discussing her dance company’s appellation.

“The company’s name is The Falling Company, with the hopes of us falling as dancers and surrendering into what that means as artists,” Wong tells Pancouver over Zoom. “But also, to hopefully have these systemic structures that have been in place to eventually fall.”

To her, this means moving beyond some of the harmful ways in which dance is sometimes understood. According to Wong, this includes the “rigid, more colonial, capitalist forms of ballet that I grew up under”.

In 2021, she became artistic director of The Falling Company, formerly known as the response. The company has a mandate to serve underrepresented and intersecting artists.

“I am in constant conversation of increasing wages for our artists,” Wong declares. “It means making tough decisions as a board as to what opportunities we’re deciding on and how they relate to our values. And it also means supporting and caring for artists with things like a wellness benefit.”

When Wong is in rehearsals, she’s paid the same as the other dancers. This is one way to reflect the company’s core values, which promote empowerment, sustainability, inclusivity, care, and growth. Moreover, rehearsals don’t always focus on the choreography. Sometimes, Wong holds space for conversations about conflict and how to come together in healthier ways. On other occasions, a performer might want to feel free to communicate when they don’t know how to do something.

“It helps everyone in the space have an understanding of our human-ness,” Wong states.

Shana Wolfe in Wong
Shana Wolfe is one of the dancers in Family Room. Photo by Lula Belle Jedynak.

Wong drew on experience in creating Family Room

On April 19 and 20, the Dance Centre will present the world premiere of The Falling Company’s newest production, the full-length dance-theatre piece Family Room. Choreographed by Wong, it will be performed by Justin Calvadores, Tamar Tabori, and Shana Wolfe, with an original score by Jamie Bradbury.

“It’s about family, but it’s also about my family,” Wong says. “And the work is about me growing up in suburban Port Moody—and having a gap between the way I was viewing myself and the way others viewed me.”

Family Room takes place in one room. According to Wong, there’s “a mother couch, a father lamp, and a child rug”. Dramaturg Raina Von Waldenburg and dramaturgical consultant Intisar Awisse helped incorporate various theatrical elements, including projected English-language text.

“All the props get manipulated at some point in different lighting,” Wong discloses. “I’m using this furniture to depict these relationships with family members.”

Wong has a history of unpacking the impact of personal experiences and making them relevant to others. Her 2019 piece, Livespace explored the impact of technology on how people receive information. She followed that up with Departure, a dance solo integrating voiceovers of people from her past.

Wong hopes that Family Room opens up a dialogue about behaviours that people learn from their parents. In addition, she’s holding out the possibility of audience members becoming more conscious of their parents’ ancestral trauma. To that end, the Falling Company will have a counsellor on-hand for post-show discussions.

Family Room also deals with the often-unspoken fallout of immigration. Wong’s mom moved to B.C. from Hong Kong. Her father is the son of Chinese immigrants. About five years ago, they divorced after Wong had reached adulthood.

“I only became aware of how much they had protected me from feeling marginalized when they were going through a big, major shift—and all of their own emotional trauma came up,” Wong reveals. “They really, really did their best.”

Event details

The Dance Centre and New Works will present the world premiere of The Falling Company’s Family Room on April 19 and 20. Both shows begin at 8 p.m. at Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street). For tickets and more information, visit the Dance Centre website. Follow Pancouver on Instagram @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.