Artists of Ballet BC in a previous production of Bill. (photo by Cindi Wicklund)
Ballet BC’s 2019/20 season marks its 34th anniversary year, as the company continues to celebrate life as movement. The new season features a North American première, a Ballet BC première and the return of five renowned choreographers.
Reveling in the beauty of our humanity, the season opens with Program 1, Oct. 31-Nov. 2. It features the première of BUSK by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton and B.R.I.S.A. by Johan Inger. Inspired by the world of busking and set to an atmospheric score, Barton’s BUSK showcases her versatile and poignant choreography. Inger’s B.R.I.S.A., a probing and liberating piece exploring themes of awakening and change, returns to the stage by popular demand.
In Program 2, March 4-7, the company revisits the pleasure, pain and politics of young love with Romeo + Juliet by Medhi Walerski. In response to unprecedented demand and soldout performances for 2018’s world première of Romeo + Juliet in Vancouver, Ballet BC returns to this iconic story set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Crafted by Walerski, an original voice in international dance, it is an innovative and contemporary retelling of the full-length classic.
The season closes May 7-9 with the return of two of the most influential artists in international dance today, both of whom are from Israel. Ballet BC will be the first North American company to perform Hora by Ohad Naharin, following the success of the audience favourite Minus 16 in previous seaons. Program 3’s dynamic lineup features the much-anticipated return of Bill by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar.
For the holidays in December, Ballet BC presents Alberta Ballet’s retelling of holiday classic The Nutcracker. With choreography by Edmund Stripe, sets and costumes designed by Emmy Award-winning designer Zack Brown, and Tchaikovsky’s musical score played live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, this extravagant production is set in turn-of-the-century Imperial Russia. Reflecting an era noted for its opulent grandeur, this show, which runs Dec. 28-30, displays more than a million dollars in sets and costumes.
“In 2019/20, we are excited to continue a dialogue about dance and its power to transform and connect us in ways that echo across time, place and culture. Today, more than ever, we need channels of expression that examine society and our place in it,” said Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar. “Dance can move people to feel and interpret life in new and meaningful ways. This season we are eager to delve deeper into a dance with each of you.”
All performances are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Tickets and more information can be found at balletbc.com.
The cast of Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project. (photo by Wendy D. Photography)
Among the more than 20 choreographers and companies from across Canada, Brazil and Korea that are participating in this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival are local Jewish community members Alexandra Clancy (Soleful Dance Company) and Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance).
Soleful Dance Company’s Where the Music Begins will take place July 12, 8:15 p.m., in the Firehall Arts Centre courtyard, and Tara Cheyenne Performance’s The Body Project (working title) is part of Edge 5 July 11, 9 p.m., and July 13, 7 p.m., at the Firehall. DOTE runs July 4-13. Click here to watch the festival trailer on YouTube.
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Where the Music Begins, created by Clancy and composer and musician Mike W.T. Allen, was commissioned by Dances for a Small Stage for its Summer Series.
“Mike and I had played music together but never officially constructed any works for stage,” Clancy told the Independent. “Throughout the rehearsal process, there would be a back and forth of ideas; sometimes I would have a rhythmical phrase of tap dance and Mike would then create a melody over top, and sometimes Mike would compose a phrase of the melody and I would choreograph specifically to that part of the tune. After some give and take between our prospective instruments and ideas, we solidified a melody and then decided upon the structure of the tune. Some of the tune is improvised, some is a conversation, and some is very set and predetermined. We both enjoyed the collaborative process and found a harmonious way to create music and dance together.”
Clancy grew up in Vancouver and has always been involved with the Jewish community. “I was raised Jewish; attending Hebrew school on Sundays, becoming bat mitzvah, and participating in holidays and traditions,” she said. “After going on Birthright a few summers ago, I was re-inspired by the beauty of the culture and have tried to stay more engaged in the community by attending Axis events and other social gatherings, as well as going to synagogue when I can. I am grateful for the support and familial kindness that I have received from the community, consistently reminding and encouraging me that I am capable of whatever I put my all into.”
And she has put her all into a lot, having trained in all genres of dance, studying at Danzmode and the Vancouver Tap Dance Society. She was a member of Tap Co., a pre-professional youth tap dance company, and has trained and performed across North America.
“After graduating, I lived in Austin, Tex., and was a member of Tapestry Dance Company in its 25th season,” said Clancy. “I then moved back to Vancouver and have been performing and teaching ever since. This past year, I taught at the Arts Connection, Dance Co., and the Pulse, sharing my love and passion for tap dance and educating the next generation of talented dancers.
“As recital season comes to an end, I am currently in a creative residency with Dances for a Small Stage, where we are developing works for our Summer Series and exploring digital literacy in dance. As well as preparing for DOTE, I am also in the studio rehearsing and creating for our upcoming performance at Jacob’s Pillow later this summer. In the fall, I will be moving to Calgary to attend the training program at Decidedly Jazz Dance Company.
“My goal,” she said, “is to broaden my toolbox to assist in expressing myself and telling stories through dance. This upcoming year, I hope to continue to collaborate and create through Small Stage, develop more new works with Soleful Dance Co., film a concept video, and share dance through as much teaching and performing as possible.”
Jacob’s Pillow is located in western Massachusetts in the town of Becket. Clancy auditioned for and then attended the inaugural tap dance program at Jacob’s Pillow in 2010 and returned two years later (again with an audition) for a second summer of learning and dancing. “My time at the Pillow was the most influential training thus far in my life and it has always been a dream of mine to perform my own work at the Pillow,” she said.
That dream will become a reality this summer.
“Jeffrey Dawson and I co-choreographed a piece for an online competition Jacob’s Pillow was running this year, and we were lucky enough to be chosen as Top 6 and then voted Top 3, meaning we will get to perform our work live at the Inside/Out stage on Aug. 17,” said Clancy.
In addition to choreographing and teaching, Clancy established Soleful Dance last spring. She and some other dancers “felt we needed a name and a clear avenue to share the work we had started developing. Based in Vancouver, this company is a platform to express ourselves and tell stories through the music of tap and the movement of dance.
“Although under my direction,” she said, “Soleful Dance Company is rooted in collaboration. Our ultimate goal is to make audiences feel something. All of the members of the company’s primary focus is tap dance; however, everyone brings a versatile background to the creative process, spanning from contemporary dance, to acting, to playing music and more. We hope to continue to grow and create more works to share with audiences in the near future.”
Clancy described tap dance as “a magical art form that allows one to not only express through movement but connect and emote through sound.
“This traditional American art form has a rich and complex history that is intertwined deeply with jazz music and culture,” she explained. “There is a sense of community that I have always appreciated about tap dance, and I feel a great amount of respect and gratitude that I get to perform and participate in its culture. It just feels good to get to move your body and dance and then, on top of that, creating and connecting with music opens endless doors of expression.”
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The Body Project is a new interdisciplinary performance created from interviews, symposiums and roundtables.
“I started research on and around the theme of ‘female body image’ about a year ago,” Friedenberg told the Independent. “Part of our research/creation process has been interviewing female-identifying and non-binary people (many dancers and actors). To date, 35 people have generously participated.
“In the studio, I have been mining my own complicated and unhealthy relationship with my body as a dancer in a female body with the help of my amazing collaborators/performers. The process so far has involved exploring how the forms of stand-up comedy and dance can express this difficult, and often absurd, story of struggling with body image that many of us share.”
The performers – Bevin Poole, Caroline Liffmann, Kate Franklin and Kim Stevenson – came into the process shortly after Friedenberg began her exploration of the topic.
“We are working very closely with intimate and difficult material so, although I am leading the process, it is essential that all the voices/bodies in the room are present in the work. For example, there is a section choreographed by Kim Stevenson – much of the gestural language has been created through our own gestures as we’ve spoken about our personal experiences with body image.”
About the creative process, Friedenberg said, “These are very busy people, so we have had times when we are all in the studio and other times when it’s just me and one collaborator. Making room for people’s lives and demands, including parenting and caring for parents, is an important part of our feminist practice.
“Justine A. Chambers is our dramaturge/outside eye and Michelle Olson will be involved in the project as a consultant and possibly a performer in the next phase of development.”
As professional dancers, the performers/creators have shared some common struggles and coping mechanisms regarding body image.
“The pressure to fit a very narrow ideal of the ‘dancer body’ has been difficult and complex for all of us,” said Friedenberg. “There’s the pressure to be very thin, small, more muscular, or less muscular. Pressure to fit an oppressive ideal of beauty. We each have found ways to navigate these limiting ideas. Sometimes we have had to remove ourselves from certain arenas in order to survive. Sometimes we have found power in defying the stereotypes of what a dancer should look like to the euro-centric patriarchal gaze. But I keep coming back to the effort and energy required to bare these expectations and what we can transform with that energy instead.”
She added, “It must be noted that the many voices, words, time and contributions from the people we have interviewed are alive in the work through our bodies and presence. Their names will be listed on our website. Although the work, at this early stage, is a version of my story, it is also very much a result of being together in conversation about body image, in a circle, speaking, listening, moving, supporting and sharing with many powerful female-identifying/non-binary people – ‘the personal is political.’”
Dancers Jeremy O’Neill, Ted Littlemore and Kate Franklin. (photo by Idan Cohen)
Last May, Idan Cohen introduced local audiences to his reimagining of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. He will share more of this ongoing work in EDAM dance company’s Spring Choreographic Series, in which he is a guest artist, along with Jennifer McLeish-Lewis.
In six performances between April 10 and 20 at EDAM’s home at the Western Front on East 8th Avenue, Cohen and McLeish-Lewis will present new work, while EDAM, under artist director Peter Bingham, will present a directed improvisation.
“I was introduced to Peter and the EDAM family through Linda Blankstein, who I met through the DanceLab residency I took part in last May at the Dance Centre,” Cohen wrote the Independent in an email from London’s Heathrow Airport, as he waited for his flight back to Vancouver. “Among the many other roles through which Linda supports Vancouver’s arts community, she is on the board of EDAM, and was kind enough to introduce my work to Peter.
“The space and people at EDAM were very welcoming,” said Cohen, who is artistic director of Ne. Sans Opera and Dance. “Peter invited me and the performers to take his daily morning classes, and offered this wonderful opportunity for me, Ne. Sans and the artists collaborating on this piece – musicians/dancers Jeremy O’Neill, Ted Littlemore and Kate Franklin.”
The part of Orfeo ed Euridice that Cohen will showcase next week is called Trionfi Amore (in English, The Triumph of Love).
“In Greek mythology, Orpheus [Orfeo, in Greek] was a musician and a poet who had the ability to enchant all living creatures through his musical gift, and could even stop the waves of the ocean from rolling,” explained Cohen. “In an attempt to bring his newly married wife Eurydice back to life from the dead, Orfeo persuades the guardians of the underworld to allow him entry to their kingdom.
“Trionfi Amore deconstructs the key elements and motives of the story and puts it into a contemporary context. We integrate dance with a bit of live music in a piece that speaks of love, and of the power of music and art to move, entertain and touch us. We also look at the power of art to manipulate, exploring the ways in which different aspects of love can be transformed into the act of performance. I am focusing on the ‘love story’ part of the mythological tale, recreating its themes through the intimacy and fragility of the body.”
“I could not let it go on without being there to see the outcome,” Adi Salant told the Independent in a phone interview from Israel about the new work she is creating with Ballet BC. The piece will have its première Feb. 28-March 2 at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Salant was in Vancouver last August to work with the company and she was scheduled to return here earlier this week to help prepare for the performances.
“The [creative] process was split into two periods,” she explained, “and I was there for three weeks [in the summer], building the major part of the piece. Now I’m coming, it’s more the last adjustments, refining, rethinking, being open to the suggestions that will happen, but most of it is ready and they are working on it now, preparing it for my arrival. I’m very excited to meet them and meet the piece again because it’s been awhile.”
Salant knows Ballet BC artistic director Emily Molnar from the world of dance in general, but the two really connected just over two years ago, when Salant was invited to be one of the choreographers taking part in the inaugural Creative Gesture, a residency program led by Molnar and program head Stephen Laks at the Banff Centre. For the program, Salant had to create a short piece for the young dancers, who attended the residency from several countries, “to see how it is to work professionally.”
“I really enjoyed the energy there and the way I worked with the dancers. And she [Molnar] believed in me and gave me the opportunity to come and work with her company.”
Creating something in two time periods is interesting, said Salant. “It gives you time to reflect and to visit it with videos, or in my mind or afterthoughts of what happened. Even though I’m not there [in Vancouver], it’s like I stayed with the dancers. I got to know them.”
The limited amount of time made the work more intense, she said, “because both the dancers and I know, OK, we have now three weeks. There’s engagement and we’re just going for it.”
The piece involves many dancers. “I knew I wanted a feeling of a big group,” said Salant. “I think there will be 17 people, if I’m not mistaken. I fell in love with all of them and we want to use everybody…. I enjoyed so much and appreciated so much the energy and open hearts, and diving in with me to the unknown.”
In considering the piece about to be performed, as well as her previous works, Salant said, “I am just so fascinated by life – the everyday kind of life and the demands of life and the struggles. Some people, they create from what they dream about; I’m more about what I’m experiencing every day, so that’s the energy [of the new piece]. It’s about how, in life, you can plan and plan, but you can meet someone … if it’s a job interview or, for our profession, if it’s an audition, so he chooses, yes you are in, no you are out, and how [that concept] applies to the rest of your life. Or where you’re born … if you’re born into this kind of society or this kind of place, it’s also affecting you…. You can aim, but, in the end, we divide: you go there, you go there, you yes, you no, you up, you stay there, you down.”
Salant has been dancing since she was a young girl. “I started to dance in Bat-Dor dance group in Tel Aviv when I was 6…. When I graduated high school, I went for an audition … and, lucky for me, I was the one that got the yes.”
After two years at Batsheva Dance Company, she was invited to join the main company, with which she danced for five years. “Then I left, but I stayed in a very close relationship professionally with Ohad Naharin [then-artistic director of Batsheva], staging his works all over the world … and setting his repertoire for different companies – this is actually where I met Stephen, who I mentioned before. He was dancing in Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. It’s very nice and very exciting for me to look back and to realize, on this journey, I have met so many people.”
Members of her generation of dancers are now leading companies, choreographing and teaching, she said. “It’s really nice to see, and I enjoy very good and close relationships with my colleagues and we continue to share our passion in that way.”
Salant returned to Batsheva in 2009, but, she said, “this time, Ohad invited me as the co-artistic director.” She held that position until October 2017, when she struck out on her own.
“It’s part of my journey – all the tools that I collected until now and the experiences, and having actually more time now that I’m not directing a very busy company and dealing with the schedule of the company,” she said. “Now I have my schedule, and [am] owning my time in a way. I put the focus on choreographing and teaching workshops around the globe.”
Salant said she has created a motto of sorts for work, “Adi – Life is Moving,” “because I really enjoy meeting with people and, [while] it’s true that I’m coming to teach dance to them, I really connect it to life, and their life and how their emotions and, again, like I said about my work, this piece, it’s the same when I’m teaching or when I’m working now with the dancers of Ballet BC. Yes, I’m giving them the movements but I’m all the time connecting it to life, to the everyday behaviour. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Salant teaches in various places around the world. This April, for example, she will be in Los Angeles for a week. “It’s called the Gypsy Project…. It’s the second time that I am involved there,” she said. “I’m looking forward to go, and to share and to learn and to deepen my knowledge and understanding.”
Salant reiterated her appreciation for Molnar. “As I said, I left my job as the co-artistic director and it’s, of course, a demanding job and you’re recognized with this position and with this place…. When I left and wanted to now continue to choreograph, because I did choreograph before, but I put it on hold because it was too intensive with the company life and, of course, I have three kids, something had to wait … Emily really was the first to open her door and believe fully. It’s not something that you see so often, that you feel that someone believes in you and takes a chance and appreciates who you are, knows your strengths and believes in your strength, no matter your title.”
Salant has enjoyed working with Ballet BC. “I had an amazing meeting with the dancers,” she said. “They inspired me and moved me a lot, so I really can’t wait to come back on Monday [Feb. 11], even though I miss my family. I have to leave three kids behind, and that’s the hardest part, but I’m happy that we can share again our time together and bring it on stage and to the audience what we did.”
Salant and her husband, Jesper Thirup Hansen, have two daughters, 10 and 8, and a 5-and-a-half-year-old son. Thirup Hansen is a physiotherapist. “I met him in Batsheva, he was a dancer, he is Danish,” said Salant. “Actually, they joined me in the summer in Vancouver; the whole family came. They had such a great time. I came to their place from work, and they told me all the fabulous things they did that day.”
Allen and Karen Kaeja perform their latest lifeDUETS series March 9-11, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival. (photo by Zhenya Cerneacov)
As a dancer, how do you tell the story of a couple’s life together that has deep roots but is continually evolving? The Kaejas decided to commission two different pieces from two different choreographers. The result is the latest in their lifeDUETS series, which comprises a structured piece that is more or less consistent in every performance, and another that constantly changes.
Allen and Karen Kaeja established Kaeja d’Dance in 1991. The Toronto-based couple commissioned three duets about 20 years ago, and the newest two were commissioned in 2015 for their 25th anniversary. It is this anniversary pair – one by Tedd Robinson, the other by Benjamin Kamino – that the Kaejas will share at Roundhouse Performance Centre March 9-11, as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, which runs March 1-25 at various local venues.
“We’ve always performed together, but improvised, and I suggested this idea of commissioning choreographers,” said Karen in an interview with the Independent over speakerphone.
“We commissioned Claudia Moore … Peter Bingham from out west, and then we did our own lifeDUET, and commissioned Marie-Josée Chartier. Those years of commissioning ended in 2001,” said Allen.
Variations of that program toured throughout Canada, the United States and many other parts of the world. “And then,” said Karen, “for our 25th anniversary, that’s where I thought we should really reinstitute the lifeDUETS and commission more people. At that time, Allen was performing less, so it took a little bit of nudging and, together, we decided on bringing someone into the fold who was highly experienced and created pieces on so many Canadians, which is Tedd, and then someone who was up-and-coming who was in the realm of experimentation.”
“And that was Benjamin Kamino,” said Allen. “And so, two opposites of the spectrum.”
The two pieces were collaborative works. “We created together with both of them, so both choreographers say in their program notes, created with and performed by us,” explained Allen. “They were both created for our 25th anniversary, as Karen was saying, and Tedd’s is called 25 to 1. He talked to a very dear friend of his, Peter Boneham, about, what am I going to do with these two guys?” The semi-joking response, said Allen, was to put the couple in a tent having sex (though less delicately phrased).
“But then, of course, the whole thing began to evolve, and became this really gorgeous duet. And what was beautiful about that was that neither of them knew that Karen and I, in our dating years, would do wilderness camping up in Algonquin, in Temagami; we’d go out for 10 days to two weeks at a time. We loved wilderness camping, so it really resonated at home with us, but they didn’t have any idea.”
As for the idea that sparked Kamino’s piece, Karen said, “I think his vision came from the concept of ‘becoming’ each other, and that was the initial seed. Because we have this history of all these years, instead of having us do what people know us to do, which is a lot of partnering and so on, he would create a work where we almost never touched each other, where we would become each other to different degrees to a scored creation, because we knew each other so well.”
Karen said that every work created for her takes her off guard – “because it takes me on a tangent that I would not go myself” – and these two were no different. “Ben’s is really quite raw and exposed,” she said, “and that was a very beautiful inter-relational process, of becoming each other – and having him witness, as a choreographer. That process, for me, was like a mindful trio, very different than me and Allen being in the studio creating a work.”
Robinson and Kamino were creating works on a significant and special relationship, she said, and she and Allen “in a way, had to open our door and let them in.”
“Karen and I met in 1981 and started dueting 36 years ago, but started dating 32 years ago … so, our physical connection has a longevity that most people don’t know together,” said Allen, referring to its dance aspect. “As Karen was saying, a lot of our dueting is improvised, so we’re continuously surprising each other, we’re continuously living in this state of unpredictability, and yet a depth of knowledge about [each other].”
“Or catching each other’s predictabilities and challenging those,” interjected Karen.
“That, as well,” admitted Allen. “That being said, Tedd’s piece is tightly, tightly, tightly choreographed, to almost every beat in the music. There is very little room for variation. Whereas, in Ben’s piece, there’s only one moment that’s set and even that is an improvisation, so it really captures our life and our existence together.”
After a brief discussion about how many moments are indeed set – which wasn’t definitely resolved – Allen said, “The emotionality of the work, especially with becoming each other, with Ben’s piece, it’s a very different type of piece because we are continuously asking ourselves questions. For example, I was there when Karen’s father passed away, and so I would ask a question, what would my last dance be for my father’s final minutes, things like that. It’s got an emotional resonance that nobody would know but her. For me, it’s not only a vulnerable place and a personal place, but it puts me into her being, her essence. I’ll never know how Karen is truly feeling … but it allows me a window into her soul, to be my perception of where she is at.”
The Kamino piece is different every night, said Karen, “because we work with imagery that comes to us; it’s not set imagery.”
While not religious, Allen described he and Karen as “Jewish to the core.”
“Some of our works have touched upon that aspect of our lives,” he said. “But, as creative artists, I would say the connection to being Jewish, in a sense, is that connection of always questioning, of not being satisfied with an answer.”
“But I would say that that is universal,” said Karen. “I don’t think that’s particularly Jewish, but that’s what’s led us, our heritage.”
Allen’s father was a survivor, and Allen has done series of works on his father’s life during the Holocaust, including two trilogies of films, he said, some of which are housed at Yad Vashem, in its permanent collection, as well as in the permanent collections of New York’s Jewish Museum, and Museum of Modern Art.
Karen said her parents never approved of her becoming a dancer, and certainly not her marrying one. “Acceptance came later,” she said, “after the commitment to our career went forward and they saw what fruits were coming. It’s a long road, establishing oneself as a dance artist…. But, here we are, 27 years into the company.”
For tickets to lifeDUETS and the full festival lineup, visit vidf.ca/tickets or call 604-662-4966.