Ballet BC dancers Scott Fowler and Parker Finley in rehearsal for the company’s final program of the season, which features all Jewish community choreographers. (photo by Michael Slobodian)
Ballet BC concludes its season May 9-11 with Program 3, featuring all Jewish community choreographers: Israel’s Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, Vancouver’s Serge Bennathan and Israel’s Ohad Naharin.
Program 3 begins with the North American première of Eyal and Behar’s Bedroom Folk and concludes with the return of Naharin’s Minus 16, a crowd-pleaser that Ballet BC presented in 2017. The middle piece, by Bennathan, is a world première, commissioned by Ballet BC.
“Emily Molnar invited me to create a work for the company,” Bennathan told the Independent in a phone interview. “That’s it. All the rest is for me to create what I want for them.”
Given that leeway by Molnar, Ballet BC’s artistic director, Bennathan said he wanted to create a work for all the dancers.
“I’m so in love with the company that I felt it will be wonderful to have them all, mostly for the kind of work I do,” he said.
“When I create work, whatever it is, for my company or another company, I always say I like to have the group of people that are strong individuals that make sense together,” he explained. “That is exactly what the company is right now. If you take Ballet BC now – individually, they are quite fantastic, each of their personalities, they’re fine, but they make so much sense together. That’s the beauty of it.”
Bennathan was born in France and came to Canada more than 30 years ago. Artistic director of Toronto’s Dancemakers from 1990 to 2006, he then came to Vancouver, where he founded Les Productions Figlio.
“My work, I would say, is quite physical, but my point of departure is to work from the energy. Not the energy being exuberant or something like that, but the energy that makes you move. So, you have to be present in the moment with your body and move from inside…. You have to find it in yourself to move.”
Bennathan has created many full-length works, both for his own companies and others, and he has a long history with Ballet BC.
“My first-ever commission was the first time I came to Vancouver. Reid Anderson was the artistic director,” he said. “I had just arrived in Canada. I was a young immigrant and I was doing work here in Vancouver and they saw my work and they invited me to create. The first-ever piece was a duet. And then, throughout the years, the invitations kept coming, so I created.”
Set to an original score by Montreal-based composer Bertrand Chénier, Bennathan shared a little about next month’s première, as well as his creative process.
“It’s [about] how do you find the form of resilience. How do you sustain that [thing] that keeps your head above water? That’s what it is,” he said of the work.
“Before I create the piece with dancers, I spend time [on my own] – I paint, I sew and I write and I explore these ideas that come to me through painting; not to paint movement … but to try to extract what it means in a poetic way. So, when I ‘write,’ in the studio with the dancers, what happens is, when I choreograph, I don’t think about the piece. I let my body talk because I believe that the mounds and mounds and mounds that I read – like, for this one, I read a lot of poetry, I painted, I wrote poetry – when I’m in the studio with them, I just let my body talk when I choreograph. And then they grab it. But this is only the beginning. After that, there is another period. I don’t want them to do exactly what I did. The movement can transform itself – what needs to stay true is the essence of why we did this movement at the beginning.”
For Bennathan, dance is more than an art form.
“I left my family quite early, I was 14 years old. Let’s say, my life was taking a direction that, deep inside me, I knew it was not the direction I wanted to take. I want to say [that] to people because, sometimes we see a lot of youth and we say, ‘Oh, you should get out of this, or you should do this …’ but the fact is, sometimes, mostly when you are young, you are taken into a spiral and you cannot get out. And, if you do not have the opportunity, or create yourself the opportunity, to lead you to someone that can tell you a word or a phrase that will change you or offer something you can open the door to, you are in a terrible situation, you cannot get out. I was able to have this in my life and … at 14, I said, ‘OK, I’m going to leave this, I’m going to Paris, I’m going to study dance, and that’s what I want to become, a dancer. This saved me, literally. I needed to do this to get out of a situation I didn’t want for me.”
Bennathan described dancers as “courageous, at all levels; not courageous just to apply themselves physically – because it’s there, they have the courage to abandon themselves into this art form – but, at the same time, to live as a dance artist. And, even more in our days, you have to be courageous, you have to have resilience.”
He said he can’t just invite talented dancers from other parts of the country to come work with him here because Vancouver has become so expensive. “Young artists or young families cannot come live here anymore. That’s the thing. And you have to be courageous to say, ‘OK, I’m going to come.’… These days, you don’t just say, ‘Oh, I’m going to live in Vancouver.’”
Bennathan believes in the power of dance, and art in general, to improve the world.
“A lot of people say ‘art can save the world,’ but why can you say that? It’s because we need the inspiration, we need poetry in our lives. Sometimes, poetry, these days, is dismissed. We so forget the importance of the inspiration of poetry in our day-to-day lives. There is a reason, not only in North America, but everywhere in the world right now … why cynicism is the most important thing…. It’s because we left all this – whether it’s writing poetry, written poetry or dance or music – we stop these art forms at the door instead of inviting them into our lives.” If we did invite them in, he said, “we would talk differently and we would start to see things differently.”
Program 3 is at Queen Elizabeth Theatre May 9-11, 8 p.m., and Ballet BC will celebrate 10 years with Emily Molnar as artistic director with a reception after the closing performance on May 11. For tickets to the performances, visit balletbc.com. Tickets for the reception are available via eventbrite.ca.