En Pointe 22 - Feb 27
Ballet Magic Behind Visions of Swan Lake
Beginning on March 5th, the most famous classical ballet ever imagined will soar onto the RWB digital stage in Visions of Swan Lake. Featuring elements adapted from Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable original score, and intricately hand-crafted costumes, complete with matching masks for the dancers, Visions of Swan Lake is your chance to experience world-class ballet from Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
In the pursuit of delivering an authentic theatre-going experience to audiences, the RWB has teamed with its Arts Partner, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, to rehearse and record the score. A score of musicians rehearsed and performed the brand-new recording in the Centennial Concert Hall in February, 2021, and, even more special is how the score came to be. En Pointe turned to Julian Pellicano, the Principal Conductor at the RWB for those details.
“Many people probably know this but the RWB used to have its own touring orchestra of 25 players,” says Julian. “Luckily, this just so happens to be the same number of players we are working with at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra because of the restrictions. Thanks to the work of the RWB’s Archivist, Gayle Degagne, I was able to access the touring score and resurrect it in such a way to go together with the modern version of Swan Lake that we do in 2021. It’s a fantastic part of our history, it’s unique to the RWB, and I’m thrilled to use it again for this production.”
Also new for this digital performance, the RWB reached out to the video production team at FRANK Digital to produce Visions of Swan Lake. The result is a beautiful, high-definition video that brings audiences closer to the dancers and their art than ever before. Finally, audiences will be able to see with crystal clarity the intricate details in the hand-crafted costumes, the breathtaking movements and flourishes of the dancers, and the unforgettable emotional journey of Princess Odette and her Prince Siegfried.
The beloved tale of Prince Siegfried and his Swan Princess, Odette, has enchanted audiences since its premiere at the Bolshi Ballet in 1877. Ironically, the 1895 revival by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov has gone on to be the more famous work, and it provides the groundwork for this latest reimagining of the enduring tale. Visions of Swan Lake takes the 1987 version of the RWB’s Swan Lake choreographed and staged by Galina Yordanova, reworking its best scenes for the screen. The RWB has dedicated its digital performances of Visions of Swan Lake to her, in recognition for the outsized impact Galina had on the company.
Fans of the RWB’s Swan Lake will remember Prince Siegfried’s tale of love and deception well. Upon celebrating his birthday, the prince is told that it has come time to marry, but to his dismay, Siegfried’s heart has not found its true desire. Despondent, the prince goes hunting, only to discover that the swans of the nearby lake are actually people under the spell of an evil sorcerer, Baron Von Rothbart. The prince falls deeply in love with the beautiful swan, Odette, and she tells him that only a pledge of true love will break the curse, but Siegfried is tricked when Von Rothbart send his daughter, the black swan, Odile, to meet the prince instead. All of this, and more, will be performed for audiences in Visions of Swan Lake.
Visions of Swan Lake premieres on March 5th and features six showtimes, running Fridays through Sundays until March 14th. To buy your tickets, visit our Visions of Swan Lake page.
Collage Dance Redefines Ballet in Memphis
Myths, especially longstanding ones, can be hard to dispel. If your goal is to change those beliefs, what is the best way to do that? The answer is to present the truth, and, for Kevin Thomas, the Artistic Director at Collage Dance, the truth is that black and brown people belong in ballet.
Collage Dance was founded in New York City in 2006, to increase access to outstanding ballet training, increase diversity on professional ballet stages, and increase participation by people of colour. Since relocating to Memphis in 2007, Collage Dance Collective has presented eleven full-length seasons to incredible success, continued to make ballet more accessible for its students, and shown how beautiful ballet can be when performed by dancers of colour.
“When we did Swan Lake last year, it was the first time that many people saw a woman of colour as the principal dancer. She was able to become this effeminate, leaf-light creature, and it was a huge hit,” said Kevin reflecting on Collage Dance Collective’s rendition of the iconic ballet. “Afterward, women told us how they started crying because they had never seen themselves portrayed like that. They had grown up here in Memphis being told that ballet was not for them, it’s one of the myths we’ve worked hard to dispel.”
In December, Collage Dance recorded and released a digital video performance of Swan Lake through their online subscription service, ONE. That performance, which ONE subscribers can still watch today, debuted in 2019 to rave reviews and went on to become wildly successful. For many, Collage Dance Collective’s Swan Lake was the first time ever seeing the iconic ballet performed by dancers of colour, and it featured costumes loaned from the RWB. This Canadian connection is a point of pride for Kevin and the RWB.
“What was great about the RWB loaning us those costumes for Swan Lake, it was huge, to get support from Canada,” said Kevin. “I’m from Canada, the training that is being poured into my students, it’s my Canadian training, and to get that kind of support was really heartwarming.”
Tara Birtwhistle, the Associate Artistic Director of the RWB, believes the partnership with Collage Dance is a key part of the Canadian ballet company’s identity. As Tara says, “We are thrilled to support Collage Dance. Community involvement has been a part of the RWB’s tapestry since the early days and this contribution is just one way that we can support the international dance community.”
Kevin created Collage Dance with Marcellus Harper partially in response to his own experience as a dancer of colour. Growing up in Quebec, Mr. Thomas took his first ballet class at seven years old but would not see a black principal ballerina perform with a dance company firsthand until he was 19.
“As a dancer of colour, I felt that I had to be very good. If I made a mistake, I wouldn’t get that role again. I felt that my colleagues had a wider net of safety to fall back on,” says Kevin. “It was only when I went to Dance Theatre of Harlem that I really felt affirmation. For the first time, I was looking at a stage full of colour and seeing the beauty of what brown people look like doing ballet.”
For more information on Collage Dance and their shows, visit their website. ONE members can still see the performance of Swan Lake featuring costumes by the RWB, as well as RISE, Collage Dance’s trademark performance celebrating Black History Month, and much more.
RWB to Stream Student Choreographic Competition Online
In March, as part of its 50th Anniversary, the RWB School Professional Division will present First Steps, the annual choreographic competition where students put their choreographic skills to the test. The show will be streamed online for free as part of Safe at Home MB. Audiences and alumni can now see each performance from anywhere in the world.
One of the most varied and inspiring shows of the RWB School’s Professional Division season, First Steps gives students complete control over the performance in the role of choreographer. As part of the competition, dancers work in pairs or on their own to completely plan a performance. Then the students become the teachers and must instruct their peers in order to make each creation a success.
Also new this year is an exciting workshop series hosted by staff and friends of the RWB. These workshops will be available online and run every Sunday throughout the month of March. For dance enthusiasts who also want to take part in the events from home, you are now able to submit 2-3 minute videos of yourself and your friends performing any style of dance, and the versatile faculty at the RWB will offer insightful feedback on each piece received.
Lauren Voros is one of the RWB Professional Division students with a submission in First Steps. In creating her piece, Arrhythmia, she applied a different skillset than that of a dancer. “As a choreographer,” says Lauren, “you have to learn how to stand confidently at the front of the room and be able to express all the thoughts, ideas, and emotions in your head and be able to share them clearly so your dancers can bring that vision to life.”
Student choreographers in First Steps are also responsible for finding their own inspiration for the performance. Many students draw upon their emotions and experiences, often leading to powerful, passionate works that resonate broadly. For First Steps competitor Niki Powell and her piece Bird Set Free, she found ways to incorporate her message into the choreography.
“My inspiration for the piece is the strength of individual identity,” says Niki. “I wanted to use movement to show how people can overcome fears, insecurities, and bullies that belittle them into becoming someone they are not. My piece reflects the importance of embracing what makes each person themselves instead of trying to fit into a mold of other people’s expectations.”
The students are also in charge of the technical elements of each performance, including the lighting, music, and costuming. With each choice the choreographers can create something totally unique and eye-catching.
In Imperium by Genevieve Galea and Maggie Weatherdon, these technical elements help to set the mood and give each sequence a distinct feel. “The lighting in our piece portrays a certain eeriness in the beginning which accentuates the inner working of the mind,” said the pair. “We also used lighting to create a mood shift and to help with the story by fading into a bolder and more powerful look onstage.”
Once each piece is ready to be performed, First Steps entrants film their submissions in the RWB Founders’ Studio with the in-house production team at the RWB. Each submission is reviewed by a panel of jurors. Viewers will be able to take part in the broadcast by voting for their favourite performance as part of the Safe at Home MB Award, by going online to vote for their choice. The First Steps choreographic competition offers each student a crucial learning opportunity that will serve them for years to come.
On the importance of the First Steps competition, RWB Professional Division student Myles Mackesy, who choreographed Impact for the show, believes it will open doors for career in years to come. “Dance, especially contemporary dance, is the main thing in my life that makes me happy and lets me escape reality,” says Myles. “I want to dance for the rest of my life, whether it is teaching or choreographing after my career. I cannot imagine doing anything else.”
For more information on First Steps and to get your free tickets to the show, please visit our show page.
High PHI-delity: Guillaume Côté and RWB Company Prepare Thoroughly Modern Performance
Join us on March 20, 2021 for this year’s Ballet Ball: Home Edition, as we bring the celebration to you! Throughout the evening, RWB Company dancers will virtually pop into your spaces with special greetings. A premiere performance choreographed by National Ballet of Canada Principal Dancer and Choreographic Associate, Guillaume Côté will have its debut, alongside a program featuring our RWB School dancers for this one-of-a-kind fundraising event.
Our Associate Artistic Director, Tara Birtwhistle, had the chance to connect with Guillaume Côté through our Instagram Live to discuss the process of developing a new creation exclusively over Zoom. This is Guillaume’s first time collaborating with the RWB and he is thrilled to be pioneering this unique way of setting work. Though he was nervous about the process of setting choreography remotely from Toronto, he has really come to embrace technology and understands the purpose it serves, as well as being thankful for the opportunity to continue working on art and creating.
During rehearsals on this new commission, Guillaume is working remotely from Toronto while the RWB dancers connect with him through a computer screen that uses the digital platform Zoom. While the dancers see him on a massive screen in front of the studio, which has affectionately been named “The Côté Cart”, his voice comes through the studio’s speakers. The wonderful thing Guillaume has found during this process was, even in the first week of rehearsals, how quickly the momentum grew. “Dancers of the RWB were so hungry for it and wanted to work”. He points out that this would not have been possible without technology and how it has allowed the continuation of work to be developed during this time. By the end of the first week, Guillaume was able to connect with the RWB dancers in a meaningful way, setting a lot of the material for the piece. Though he did mention some of the challenges of working remotely, such as the habit of computers to freeze at precisely the wrong moment during the rehearsal, forgetting to unmute the volume when speaking, and when he does not realize that he is demonstrating movement outside his screen.
When Tara asked Guillaume to explain the exciting concept behind the work, he articulated a need to develop movement-focused choreography, in what he calls ‘bare-bones ballet’. “I wanted to make a work that is completely thrilling to watch, just to watch the body move in ways that excite me… I’m just going to go back to skin and bones, and muscles, and the idea of movement and patterning.” This concept came out of his love for nature and the idea of the golden ratio, where repeating mathematical patterns are visible to those who look. “The same kind of patterns will go from a tree’s root, to its lines on the inside, to it’s leaves. So all these kinds of patterns imprint you with an ideal of beauty and I wanted to go into that with movement.” The music chosen for the piece is by Montreal electronica artist Grimes, which offers a consistent rhythm and pulse that allows the dancers’ movement to be the focus. “It’s going to be relentless. I’m excited to see how far we can take it!”
The name of this piece is PHI and Guillaume shared his excitement on being able to utilize the RWB dancers’ control and precision. Working with the virtuosity inherent in classical ballet, where movement is executed on the tip of a pointe shoe, where everything in the body must line up in order to work, Guillaume is excited to share the competed piece at this year’s Ballet Ball. “There’s nothing more beautiful than watching someone’s mind, body, and soul line up into this precise line.” To read more about Guillaume Côté and the creative process of PHI with the RWB please click here.
Green Room – RWB Company Dancers Tell Us About Their Pets
Welcome to Green Room, where we get to spend time with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company dancers. Get to know their personalities, experiences, and everything that makes them unique. Check back each month for new, fun, and sometimes surprising glimpses into the lives of our dancers. This month, En Pointe asked the dancers to tell us about their pets. Enjoy!
“I have a cat named Sakura. She’s very friendly and she loves people. She’s so cuddly, always sleeping with me and get in my blanket. We found her on the street and took her in. I’ve had her for ten years.” - Yayoi Ban
“I have a dog, his name is Toby He’s a pug and king cavalier spaniel cross. He’s very lazy, and he growls whenever there’s an animal on the TV.” - Tymin Keown
“I have a yorkie named Luufi. I got her in 2019 during Nutcracker. She’s so funny, whenever she eats, she takes pieces of her food across my condo before she eats them.” - Jaimi Deleau
“I have a dog named Jovi. He really misses seeing me everyday since we’ve been back in the studio.” - Jenna Burns
“I don’t have any pets here in Winnipeg, but back at home in Edmonton I have a Burmese mountain dog named Griswold, and two cats, as well.” - Josh Hidson
“No anymore, had a dog growing up but he passed away three years ago. I am however a self-proclaimed dog auntie to Isabelle’s dog.” - Katie Bonnell
“I got a puppy just before quarantine happened. He’s a chihuahua named Azuki and he loves to cuddle, but he’s crazy. Whenever he’s sitting, he usually turns out his front paws, so we joke that he has natural ballet technique.” - Katie Simpson
“Two cats, Egon and Winston, and they both have very different personalities. One likes snuggles, and the other likes to be near people, but he’s not very snuggly.” - Liam Caines
“In Vancouver I have a dog who lives with parents named. His name is Milo and he’s crazy lab who eats everything in sight, and he’s very cuddly.” - Amanda Solheim
“A cat named Boo who lives with my parents in Abbotsford, BC. Whenever they let her our she always visits the neighbours and riles up all the dogs on the street.” - Brooke Thomas