August 14, 2006
It Feels Like Home
It’s a glorious summer day here in Toronto. August is the perfect time of year here. It is warm, but not oppressive (my sister was hospitalized in July for heat exhaustion, but her feisty nature has returned). The World AIDS Conference opens tonight and 24,000 people from around the world have brought a tremendous explosion of energy to the city.
I grew up an hour away from Toronto in a small village called Baden. My parents frequently brought us to the city to see performances or museums, but I had never spent a significant amount of time here. After seven years of traveling in Europe and the USA, I am now learning about my home.
Karen Kain, Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada, invited me to make a small work for the company. This work will be performed in the annual ChoreoLAB with new works by company dancers. Basically, it is my introduction to the National Ballet of Canada that will set up a working relationship for an upcoming main stage creation.
I chose Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings as the score for this new work. The constantly changing themes and contrasts of colours caught my attention. His score has beautiful lyric passages that exude warmth and envelope the listener before shifting into the most dansant allegros. This variety that originally caught my attention has also become the biggest challenge within the work. I felt as though there were few places to develop movement ideas, that I was not sure where to place the Ballerina variation and that the lyrical sections were too fragile to approach. I hope that I have found my answers to these issues, but the piece feels like a delicate stained glass window where the light gently adopts colours.
My apartment was available August 7 and I started rehearsals the next day. My first call was with my Principal dancers, Xiao Nan Yu and Nehemiah Kish and their second cast Jillian Vanstone and Piotr Stanczyk. All four dancers are highly intelligent and beginning in the first minute of rehearsal they have been fully engaged in our collaboration. The rehearsals have been productive yet with a most relaxed atmosphere. In my first hour-long call I staged a minute and a half of choreography. This is a great rate for me and it is indicative of the rehearsal environment.
Later on my first day I met the Corps de Ballet. I have 11 ladies learning nine places in my ballet. I do hope to get everyone onstage, but this will depend on rehearsal time. Most of these ladies are graduates of the National Ballet School. Several trained in Montreal and one trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School. As the week progressed, they have become more at ease with me and now offer suggestions when something doesn’t work. One day I set up three revolving concentric circles. The ladies had to merge into one line and end up on the side of the stage. Eventually they found a solution, but it took more music than I was willing to allot. The next day I came with another possibility that allows them to merge and make it to the next place just in time. When I’m gauging how much time dancers need to make their places, at times I like to push it slightly to a point where it becomes a challenge as this lifts the dancers’ engagement and excitement in performance. This is an extremely sensitive choice, however, as it should never become uncomfortable or show strain.
Towards the end of the week five of my dancers went on tour to Saint-Sauveur in Québec with Apollo, Eliot Feld’s Intermezzo and James Kudelka’s There, below. This gave me time to work with the Corps de Ballet and as several places were empty, to learn more about the second cast dancers. I find it a challenge to get to know the Corps de Ballet while creating a new work. Involvement with a new creation asks a different thought process from the dancers than does staging an existing work. I need to decide if they are hesitant because they a) don’t know me b) are unsure how to translate my ideas that are being set for the first time or c) hesitant in general as dancers. I feel that it takes me two to three weeks to start to know the people that I’m working with and this is a challenge that I am working on as a free lance choreographer and also the main benefit of this collaboration with the National Ballet. I trust that when I do work with them again, that I will have a much better understanding of not only the dancers, but a familiarity with the wardrobe, production and administrative wings of the company.
At the moment Grant Coyle is here from the Royal Ballet to stage Song of the Earth and Eliot Feld will be casting his ballet A Footstep of Air tomorrow. The company’s season opens in November at the new Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre and will feature a double bill with Song of the Earth and Symphony in C and fourteen performances of Nureyev’s production of The Sleeping Beauty. My program will have four performances from September 12 to 15. It will be a pleasure to see who turns up as many people ask when I will finally do something at home!