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The show must go on

By Amy Kenny

In some ways, having to work within constraints has really opened up possibilities for artists. That’s been the case with Cypherfest, Whitehorse’s annual hip-hop and breakdancing festival. 

“Usually when we do Cypherfest, our budget goes to flying people up,” says Riley Simpson-Fowler, a breakdancer and artistic director of the event. “Even getting from Toronto to the Yukon can be up to $1,500. So when we came up with the format and a rough outline this year, we were like ‘let’s just shoot and see if we can get our top picks.’”

The result of this format (part online, part in-person) is that Cypherfest’s 10th anniversary event will feature dancers from across Canada and the U.S., as well as from Europe, Taiwan and Brazil.

Talking on the phone a few days before the beginning of the festival (which runs Aug. 3 to 13), Simpson-Fowler is excited. He still sounds surprised that Cypherfest 2020 will virtually host dancers like Lamine, a B-Boy from Paris, who co-founded the Vagabonds crew (“He has the sickest style,” Simpson-Fowler says, laughing. “I’ve always looked up to him.”).

Like many other festivals this year, Cypherfest almost didn’t happen. Simpson-Fowler says organizers spent days trying to decide what to do with the event, which usually features live dance performances, battles, workshops and more.

“For a while we weren’t really sure if we should even do the festival because our funders were going to let us push the date,” he says.

That didn’t feel right though. What did feel right was organizing Cypherfest panels around three current, pressing topics of discussion—mental health during a pandemic, the black equality movement, and connections through hip-hop. 

“The panels were born from how we’re feeling and reacting to the world … it’s a hip-hop festival, but it ties into (those feelings). Hip-hop was born from black culture and we felt like we have money and a platform and seeing where the world is at right now, we felt like we had to do something.”

This year, beginner and advanced dance workshops are capped at nine participants, with teachers zooming in from around the world. These workshops include a locking class with Toronto dancer Lady C, a breaking workshop with Toronto’s Switch B, and a popping workshop with Jamieson, who lives in Vancouver and Tokyo. Anyone who misses the opportunity to attend the studio in person can email for a zoom link to attend the workshop from home.

The panels, moderated by MCs Spicey, from Montreal, and Boxwon, from Philadelphia, will open the festival, taking place Aug 3, 4 and 5. 

Participants can visit Cypherfest’s Facebook page for information on dates, times and how to register. All events are free to attend, with the exception of the finale performance at the Yukon Arts Centre. 

The 90-minute show consists of dance videos from 10 videographers from around the world.

“It’s a one-time show, so if you don’t see it live, you won’t be able to see it again,” says Simpson-Fowler. He says that if you miss out on snagging seats at YAC, you can watch an online broadcast of the show—one that comes with a free meal from one of three local restaurants including Pickapeppa, Daat Cuisine, and Azhong Noodles.

“It’s gonna be high-level,” says Simpson-Fowler. “As a dancer, personally, there has been a lower level of good content being pushed out (during the pandemic). People have not been able to connect so can’t come together to create. People have been creating cool stuff by themselves but it’s definitely been not as much as before the pandemic. So in terms of the main show, the content is going to be really high level.” 

Numbers allowed at the screening will depend on best practices around distancing at the time. The price is pay what you can online at