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In Conversation with Choreographic Storyteller Peter Quanz



Artistic Director and Choreographer Peter Quanz talks to the RWB about creation + innovation, mentors, and new possibilities days before his sold out run of Q Dance at the Gas Station Arts Centre. If you missed your chance to purchase tickets, don’t miss Quanz’ evening length work, Rodin/Claudel ,  performed by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, March 4&5 at the Centennial Concert Hall.



  • In the late 90’s, as a young dancer in training at the RWB, you were offered an opportunity to choreograph. What of this experience is most memorable or defining for you?  How do you feel it shaped your development as a choreographer?


As a student, I was given many opportunities to choreograph before being accepted into the RWB Professional Division School. The University of Waterloo had a Dance Program and as a high school student, I was allowed to choreograph alongside the graduates of the Masters program. Later, Brian Macdonald gave me the opportunity to choreograph for my fellow students at the Banff Centre for the Arts Dance Training Program.


By the time I was accepted in the RWB School, age 17, Dr. Arnold Spohr had become my mentor and opportunities to work in the studio with dancers kept appearing. It seems remarkable now that as a 17 year old, I was granted the space to create for Soloists of the RWB Company. Each night I had to call RWB Principal Dancer, Susanne Rubio, to report on rehearsal. Many people took care to support me as I tested myself as an emerging choreographer. In my three years in the RWB School, I did eight substantial choreographic projects and when I graduated, I was given a scholarship from the Henny Jurriëns Choreographic Fellowship to go to Europe and watch rehearsals with top level dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters.


I learned through doing, from watching other people work, from talking with mentors like Dr. Spohr. Eventually, Dr. Spohr coached my ballets and taught me how to draw committed and vivid performances from the dancers. He spoke of shaping the dancing alongside the musical phrase, of creating texture in the movement, of making steps come to life. I learned how to practice my craft – running rehearsals, getting ideas across – so that I could be free to develop my personal views on dance. 



  • What is the experience like for you to return to Winnipeg now – on a fairly regular basis - to present your work?


For more than a decade, I existed completely through travelling from ballet company to ballet company around the world. The dancers were always new and on more than one occasion, I had to learn a language to communicate with them. I founded Q DANCE in 2010 so that at least once a year I would have an artistic home with dancers that I knew. Now that we are launching our fifth programme, it’s a delight to look back and note of how these dancers have been my teachers in communicating better, how to care more, and also in how to distill what I value. Winnipeg is now my home and I have roots here that stretch back to 1994 – my first summer with the RWB School.


The Winnipeg audience is educated in dance and all arts disciplines. There is a great hunger for new work and to be engaged in the creative process. Winnipeg provides fertile soil for those seeking to develop ideas here.


Q Dance Double Bounce


  • In your choreographic work, are there any particular issues or ideas that are most interesting for you? Are there certain underlying themes, or notions that you are inclined to explore in a process?


That is a question that can be applied on many levels. Q DANCE has demanded that I work in a chameleon-like way by presenting new colours, new ideas, and new manifestations of my work each time the company performs. This is a wonderful challenge that begs me to explore a broad repertoire of approaches to making works.


People fascinate me. Murder Afoot is a story ballet that moves the narrative through the relationships involved. These are character relations, the connection between dancers and live-streamed camera, the relationship of performance versus private as we see glimpses of the dancers backstage. I’m keen to observe how people interact in a variety of settings or emotions, or technologies.



  • As part of your upcoming sold out Q Dance performances, on the RWB season, you have programmed one of your established works, Double Bounce. What is the experience like for you to present a work in an intimate setting, such as the Gas Station Arts Centreafter having last staged it at the Lincoln Center in New York and seeing your work screened to an audience of five million at the 2012 Havana International Ballet Festival?


Double Bounce was created for the first Q DANCE programme in 2010. That was my first time self-presenting and I struggled to complete the short ballet. I went further with the ballet when Vanessa Lawson and I staged it for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 2013. The Cubans infused Double Bounce with spirited movements form salsa dancing, we enriched the choreography and found a more cohesive style. Now, Q DANCE is taking those developments further. We have two casts – Sophia Lee & Yosuke Mino and Elizabeth Lamont & Stephan Possin – who do slightly different versions of the ballet. I’ve tailored the ballet to serve as a vehicle for these dancers while still holding onto the original intent. It has been fun to watch the two casts learn from each other, steal good ideas, and compete in a wonderfully healthy way.


In a wonderfully intimate theatre, like the Gas Station Arts Centre, the audience is able to experience the performance in a way that could never happen in a larger venue. An audience member can hear the dancers breathing, see subtle glances between the artists, and feel the thrilling adrenaline of a live performance. At the same time, the dancers are keenly aware of the audience because they can see faces and reactions. Performing in this great space helps everyone – dancers and audience alike – to connect more.



  • Do you feel that certain elements of the work translate better in one space, over another?


Different venues offer new possibilities. Having more wing space may allow for easier transitions of stage scenery or better exits for the dancers. Ballets adapt to new spaces and the dancers adjust to keep the intent of the works alive despite a myriad of little changes. This is why it is vital to build an artistic team who know the key values that define a particular work. It is like a pin tree that bends in a heavy storm. It stays rooted in the ground, yet is able to lean and sway to keep standing.



  • As an accomplished choreographer, with many distinct commissions for various companies to date, how do you find your process adapts to the group of dancers you are working with? Was there a particular methodology you undertook with the recent work in Winnipeg on the RWB dancers?


Dancers are extraordinarily intelligent people who will dive into a creative process if they feel a bond of trust with the choreographer. As I get more experience, I’m learning to invest more and more in my working relationships with artists so that we can be comfortable to explore new ideas and draw on the dancers’ wealth of experience and knowledge. This working trust can then lead to diverse methodologies in creating work. Personally, I thrive when everyone in the studio is contributing to the dance’s development and when I can leave room for extraordinary accidents to happen.


  • You also recently created Rodin/Claudel, for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, which will be presented in Winnipeg, March 4 & 5 as part of RWB’s 2013/14 season. This full-evening ballet depicts the torrid romance between famed artists Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. Where did you source your inspiration for the process? Did you have an interest in this famed romance/partnershihp prior to the commission?


Rodin/Claudel was a spectacular gift for me to work on – 38 dancers, ten weeks of rehearsal, and the subject of two artists’ working relationship – this was a collaboration that pushed personally in all capacities. This ballet discusses the cost of creation. Creation, ideas, innovation all have many costs, casualties, and resources that are consumed in the quest for something new. I had to find the most vulnerable part of my own self-concept to be able to enter this creation. It was an excruciatingly painful process, but as Rodin’s assistant, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “The only journey is the one within,” and therefore, I am learning to understand myself as an artist and a person through the prism of the ballet Rodin/Claudel.


I was 19 the first time I went to Paris and I spent hours at the Rodin Museum looking at his sculptures. The room with Camille Claudel’s works caught my heart and I became fascinated with the inner thoughts that seemed to pour out of the stone shapes. The relationship between Rodin and Claudel was too much for me to explore at that time, but the thought always lingered as a potential subject.


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September 2013

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