The first time Allara Gooliaff danced on stilts, she didn’t like it all that much. She was performing a tall character in a show by Three Left Feet Movement Creations, the youth dance-education company where she is artistic director. The aluminum drywall stilts she wore weighed seven pounds apiece.
But, as awkward as the stilts were, Gooliaff found herself intrigued by the higher vantage they allowed her. The show wrapped, but her interest grew. Stilt work complemented her passion for the exaggerated shapes in West African dance. It also resonated with her emotionally and philosophically.
“Should we have a higher perspective? Should we be the better person? Stilts are an easy metaphor for exploring these ideas,” she says.
Swapping the awkward drywall stilts for lighter wooden peg stilts, Gooliaff trained with acrobatic stilt group Carpetbag Brigade Physical Theatre Company in San Francisco. In 2012, she started Tangy Lime Dance Projects, Calgary’s first stilt dance company.
While stilts are traditionally used as props, Gooliaff believes they can enhance the beauty, vulnerability and emotion of contemporary dance. “The preconception is circus or spectacle or children’s festival, but that’s not what I wanted to do with Tangy Lime,” Gooliaff says. “I focus on small moments of existence. Why not take those little moments in our lives and blow them up?”
Through Tangy Lime, Gooliaff has created several solo and collaborative pieces, and has performed at numerous festivals and events. Sometimes she’s six feet off the floor. Once, she performed on ice. “There’s no room for improvisation,” Gooliaff says. “It’s a two-by-two-inch surface and it doesn’t cantilever at all.”
Gooliaff began Tangy Lime without peers or mentors – most Canadian stilt artists live in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and few share Gooliaff’s focus on dance. Out of necessity, not to mention curiosity and enthusiasm, she has developed her own training program for Calgary students interested in learning stilt dance.
“It’s an evolving syllabus,” she says with a laugh.