En Pointe 19

Nov 28 2020 | Posted in Blog, En Pointe

Rewinding Fast Forward Pushes RWB to Record Rehearsals

In October, company dancers returned to the RWB studios for the first time since the province-wide shut down in March. With them came the typical zest to perform and create that artists are known for, but as the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, there was an understanding that things would be a little different this year.

Not to be discouraged, the RWB company dancers set about creating pieces which not only observed and respected the physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements, but also explored themes such as loss, uncertainty, and disruption that many of the dancers had dealt with earlier in the year. Altogether, the company dancers and one alumni collaborator created nine entirely original performances, which they rehearsed vehemently for weeks leading up to what would have been their debut.

From the outset, the plan was for the RWB to open its doors to the audience once again, albeit in a physically-distanced way. Under the then-current reduced capacity mandate, the RWB Founders’ Studio at 380 Graham Avenue would allow for up to fifty people to enjoy the special show, which became known as Fast Forward: Innovative Dance Inspired By Dancers.

However, rising number of COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg led to its designation of critical, or red, under the province’s pandemic response system. The RWB was able to adjust its vision once more, incorporating online components for those who preferring to see the show from the safety of their home, and taking extra precautions around arrival times and seating arrangements. Then disaster struck.

Just a week into its red designation, the province further limited group sizes to five-or-less for the city of Winnipeg (current recommendations are within-home only) and recommended everyone who able to stay home do so. The dancers, who only a month earlier had beamed positivity to be in-studio again, were once again rehearsing from home, effectively putting an end to the hope of performing their new works before a live audience. This isn’t where the story ends, however.

Just days before the latest lockdown sent them home, the company dancers began recording special snippets of behind-the-scenes peeks their work. Among these recordings are interviews with the choreographers (which have begun appearing on the RWB social media platforms) as well as entire performances filmed from inside the rehearsal studios. Initially, these videos were intended to be archival footage and a way for the dancers to evaluate themselves, but in a world where dancers cannot come together to perform these recordings take on the feel of cherished relics from a bygone era. Not wanting to leave their supporters without a sign of gratitude, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has collected these performances into a special feature video, which will be offered to subscribers and donors who would have had the chance to see these performances live. They will be available for viewing by members of this group for a limited time, on November 27th, 28th, and 29th, with a special launch livestream on the evening on the 27th. With this offering, the dancers’ hard work, passion, and creativity won’t be for naught.

Throughout the pandemic, the RWB has adhered to its mission: to bring world-class dance to their audience. This latest special gift is an innovative next step for the company, opening the door to future digital delivery of performances.

Although this is not what was originally envisioned when the project began, in many ways it recalls the essence of dance when you take away the lights, the costumes, and the sets. What’s left is expression, emotion, and heartfelt commitment to the craft which has been so precious at times like these.

Green Room: Ballet Revelations

Welcome to Green Room, the recurring (and returning) segment where we go straight to the source, RWB Company dancers, to tell us about their lives and favourite experiences. We hope you enjoy getting to know this season’s company dancers’ personality quirks and everything that helps make them unique. This month, En Pointe asked the dancers to tell us something about ballet that may not be obvious or apparent, and the answers we heard were revelatory.

“Most people think ballet is all elegant and dainty, but there’s really tough stuff going on, especially early in the rehearsal process. Like, the stuff we’re doing now is a bit more contemporary, a lot more upbeat. It’s not just balance, you have to have good cardio and good endurance, you have to have so many different things, and each dancer is special in different situations and in different pieces.” - Amanda Solheim

“I spray my [ballet slipper] ribbons with hairspray, I don’t think people know about that. It’s a way to keep them in place, it seems like the most random thing, but whenever I’m doing quick changes or I have a long time on stage, I have to hairspray the ribbons.” - Emilie Lewis

“A lot of people don’t understand that what we do is a career. I’ll talk to a lot of people and they say ‘Well, it’s nice that you’re a dancer, but what else do you do?’ I have to tell them that’s what I do. Every day, Monday to Friday, dance is my profession. I go to work, I dance, and I go home, that’s my career.” - Josh Hidson

“[Ballet] is an art form, but it’s a lot more physical than some people think. You need to cross-train and basically dedicate every aspect of your life to it, from the food you eat to how much you sleep to working out. It’s an investment.” - Katie Simpson

“I think people might have the impression that putting on a show is not that big of a deal for us, because we do it all the time. We actually spend a lot of hours putting together any show that goes on the stage. Every single step that you see has to be taught to us by the ballet masters. Every spacing move, every musical note, we have to learn. It’s a very labour-intensive and time-consuming process. We work hard from 9am to 6pm every day to put those shows together.” - Liam Saito

“The most common misconception is how long it really takes to train a professional ballet dancer. It varies, but for myself I trained in the RWB School for seven years and I think that’s really shocking to most people when they hear that. I started when I was eleven and graduated when I was seventeen, so I’d say that the length of time it takes to train to become a ballet dancer is the most common thing people don’t know about ballet.” - Michel Lavoie

“We’re athletes, I don’t think people realize how many extra hours we put into our body. For example, after every day of rehearsal I usually go to the gym for two hours. I think that’s a big one. I also think how much we can eat is surprising. Everyone’s different but I eat a lot of food. It’s to the point that people are shocked. I think there’s a stigma that ‘Oh, you must not eat anything,’ I think that’s the biggest misconception.” - Stephan Azulay

“What a lot of people don’t realize is see how much work goes into the performances, and not just the physical work, the mental work as well. Especially when you grow up through the school, they help shape you into a strong person and teach you to handle things as well mentally as you do physically. A lot of people don’t see that side of dance. It can be really hard on a dancer, and it’s caused a lot of dancers to not have this as their career. That’s what people don’t see, is how much work we have to put into ourselves to make sure we’re fully healthy, not just physically but mentally.” - Tymin Keown

“People don’t understand what ballet is. Ballet is a job. It’s not something we do for fun. It is fun, but we often are asked, like at the border, they ask ‘What do you do?’ I tell them I dance, but they say, ‘no, what do you do when you aren’t dancing?’ It’s something that we think about all day. It’s a lifetime commitment, much more than people think.” - Yosuke Mino