En Pointe 23- March 27
Don’t Miss the First Steps Finale Tonight
The RWB Professional Division School’s First Steps choreographic competition is happening right now, and En Pointe readers have one final chance to catch the performances tonight at 7:30pm. For those unfamiliar with the show, First Steps is the Professional Division’s annual showcase of student choreographers, age 15-and-up. Entrants are given complete creative control over all aspects of the performance, including lighting, costume design and music, which is then performed live before an audience in the RWB Founders’ Studio. This year, however, things are a little different.
Public health measures have obviated in-person performances, and instead the RWB School brought in JP Media Works to film and edit each performance together into a 90-minute program which is streamed online to audiences around the world. Also, thanks to a partnership with Safe at Home Manitoba, the RWB School is able to offer First Steps for free, so go ahead and get your tickets for tonight’s show now.
The changes inherent to this year’s First Steps 2021 serve to not only make the show more accessible than ever, but for long-time fans it feels like a breath of fresh air. The up-close-and-personal camera element adds to the emotional weight of each piece, as dancers and choreographers play directly to the audience, making the viewer feel like a part of the action, giving this year’s First Steps a wholly different identity from those in years past.
Philippe Larouche, the First Steps Artistic Coordinator and a prominent choreographer in his own right, has been involved with the project since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year and he believes that this year’s unique set of challenges have been more rewarding for the students, and, in some ways, helped to make this year’s show the strongest in his memory.
“My first First Steps was in 2009, and it’s grown from lyrical pieces inspired by So You Think You Can Dance, because that was popular at the time, to examining relationships, or being centered around political comments,” says Larouche. “This year, COVID has really brought the choreographers to examine their own anxiety.”
First Steps is well known for being emotionally-driven. Handing complete creative control to the students allows them a healthy avenue to explore these inner thoughts and feelings, and it can often act as a window into the student’s mindset. For Larouche, it’s become one of the most compelling components that the show offers.
“It’s always interesting to discover what’s on the students minds. You get to be in their heads in a really honest way and get to know them on a more personal level. It’s nice to see what they want to explore within their own art,” says Larouche. “It’s what I love the most about First Steps. We don’t put on any pressure as to what the material needs to be, it’s entirely what the students want to create. That’s how you get something that feels so raw and it’s so different from piece-to-piece.”
First Steps also features a panel of jurors made up of RWB Company dancers, RWB School Faculty members, and prominent members of the dance community. This year’s panel features the Prairie Theatre Exchange Artistic Director, Thomas Morgan Jones; RWB Company First Soloist, Yayoi Ban; the RWB School Recreational Division Principal, Nicole Kepp; vocalist and actress, Lisa Bell; and musician and actor, Joshua Ranville.
Also new this year is a series of online workshops hosted by RWB faculty and alumni. The last remaining workshop, titled Emotion in Motion, which is available at no cost to participate, will feature RWB School Artistic Faculty and former dancer, Gabriela Rehak, sharing how to create theatricality and emotion through dance on March 28. There has never been a better time to catch the next generation of choreographers as they get their big break on the First Steps digital stage. Don’t miss tonight’s First Steps choreographic competition finale, where this year’s winners will be announced, only available online through the RWB website.
Mark Godden Remixes Mozart’s The Magic Flute for the 21st Century
For the first time in thirteen years, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet will present Mark Godden’s contemporary spin on Mozart’s Enlightenment-era opus, The Magic Flute. A thoroughly modern translation of the original story, this latest version of the ballet is also being brought to audiences in a thoroughly modern way, through the use of digital video streaming to screens arounds the world. For Mr. Godden, this sometimes meant having to find creative ways to recreate the ballet, first staged for the theatre in 2003, for an entirely new platform.
“With a digital performance, you want to keep the art alive, for the dancers and the community,” says Mr. Godden, regarding the new techniques and staging he introduced while rehearsing for The Magic Flute. “In previous versions of my ballet, all the characters overlap, and in the end Sarastro and The Queen of the Night reconcile their differences in the final scene, but with the pandemic, the dancers are relegated to their cohorts. It took a few weeks to figure it out, but the solution I found is actually more relevant for our time and shares more in common with the original opera than before.”
Mozart’s original vision for The Magic Flute explores themes of light and darkness, chaos and order, and truth and deception, while managing to remain surprisingly funny in places. Those themes and the airy, character-driven humour all make an appearance in Mr. Godden’s latest rendition, which is being produced for film by the Indigenous-led StrongFront A/V Productions. As important as it is to reinvent and reimagine classic stories for modern audiences, Mr. Godden believes in his responsibility to hem as close to the source material as possible.
“In the ballet world we’re more evolutionaries than revolutionaries,” says Mr. Godden. “We’re not trying to throw everything out and make something entirely new, we’re trying to take the things that we’ve inherited and keep moving it in the directions that we think it should go. I think that’s what we’re trying to do when making this opera into a ballet, to continue what Mozart setup and to honour the ideas, the characters and the music.”
Restaging The Magic Flute for the screen has not been entirely easy for Mr. Godden, who lives in Montréal. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that not only are dancers grouped into cohorts which cannot overlap, and physical distancing guidelines must be observed during filming, but Mr. Godden is also working with the dancers remotely. This has meant relying on his experience and technology to get the job done.
“Usually, I fly in and I’ll have a rehearsal with everybody in the room. It’s a three-or-four-week process where I slowly piece it together, scene by scene by scene, from A to Z,” says Mr. Godden. “Because of Zoom, I can communicate with the RWB artistic staff, who have been really instrumental in being able to put this together is such a short amount of time, but it took a while to get it all figured out.” Part of the reason why recreating The Magic Flute for the screen has been so involved is the condensed runtime. Typically, The Magic Flute ballet utilizes every minute of its two-hour runtime to tell a story, but for the streaming medium, The Magic Flute has had to be shortened to just over an hour in total. This restriction, however, led Mr. Godden to creatively examine each piece of the ballet for its weight and significance, while striving to remain faithful to the original vision.
“I loved the idea that somehow as long as I let the music keep the characters floating, they always stayed in perfect balance,” said Mr. Godden, of his working process on The Magic Flute. “Whenever I tried to use my mind to figure it out, I found that it never worked, it just collapsed. That’s the beauty and the genius of Mozart’s work, the music he created really legitimizes the fantastical nature of all these different characters. You can change some things and move them around, but you really can’t do it without the music.”
Tickets for the RWB’s latest iteration of Mozart classic opera, The Magic Flute, go on sale April 1 at Noon. The digital performance will be streamed in the evenings of April 30 and May 1, plus a 2pm on May 2, with a pre-show reel and a live Q&A after each stream. The following two weeks, the performance of The Magic Flute will be made available to stream on-demand.
The RWB School Students Return to In-Studio Learning
As of March 7th, students at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School Recreational Division are back learning their dance discipline inside the studio. It is an important moment for the students as well as the artistic faculty because it represents a significant return to a typical learning environment.
When the province entered critical (code red) on the pandemic response level in November 2020, students around the province had to take their learning online. The RWB School, in the lead up to this, expanded its capacity for delivering online classes, with new technology, and better equipment, and so was able to continue delivering high-quality dance education remotely. Keeping students safe is the highest priority for the RWB School, however, distance-learning is far from an ideal way for dancers to develop.
“There are many benefits to participating in classes,” says Katrin Benedictson, Vice-Principal of the RWB School Recreational Division. “There is more space to move, the students can travel, which is very challenging to do at home. A lot of the bigger turns and jumps, especially for our older students are almost impossible to do inside their houses. For me as a teacher, just being in the room, I can see much better what they are doing, and I can give them better corrections.”
Returning to the classroom has brought changes along with it. Studios are only able to host students at 25% capacity, to ensure that physical distancing can be maintained. This means that larger classes have had to be grouped into smaller segments who take turns learning in the studio versus at home through webcam. At least now, every student in the Recreational Division will get some in-studio time that for the past four months has been sorely missed.
“The students are very happy,” says Katrin, “their demeanor during class is much more positive. I think that being with your classmates when learning is a huge part of the experience. The camaraderie they feel being with their dance friends, even if its only half the class, has been one of the more positive aspects for us.”
RWB School Recreational Division is currently planning for its Dance Ensemble groups and Dance Intensive classes to take part in virtual competitions and events. Last year, the school was working toward a performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was ultimately cancelled due to the initial shutdown. This year, the school has found ways to continue working within the public health guidelines outlined by Manitoba Health. As of today, a new made-for-video version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is scheduled to be completed before the end of the school year, along with other video performances.
For more information on the RWB School’s return to the studios, particularly as public health measures can be safely reduced, visit the RWB School website or follow the RWB School on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for regular updates.
Green Room – The Pre-show Rituals of Company Dancers
Welcome to Green Room, where we get to spend time with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company dancers. Join us in getting to know their personalities, experiences, and everything that makes them unique. Each month En Pointe features new, fun, and sometimes surprising glimpses into the lives of our dancers. This month, En Pointe asked the dancers to tell us about their pre-show rituals and the tricks they use to prepare. Enjoy!
“While I’m getting ready, I like to go over all my steps for the roles I’m playing. I also have to put my left shoe on first, and then I have to chew a piece of mint gum 30 minutes before each show.” - Jaimi Deleau
“I like to eat two or three hours before the show, and I put my left pointe shoe on before my right one. There are always a couple steps that I’m worried about, so I practice them first until I feel good.” - Katie Bonnell
“I usually start preparing two hours before the show starts. First, I work on my makeup for a while. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I like to get all my lines perfect. It helps get me in the right headspace for a show.” - Josh Hidson
“I have a two-hour process that starts with eating dinner, then a 30-minute nap. I have two playlists, one is my napping playlist and I follow that up with a preshow playlist of more intense, up-tempo songs while I warm up. Then I do my makeup and head to the stage.” - Liam Caines
“Before the show, I like to relax, or play videogames with other dancers to keep my mind busy. I also like to take the warmup class. I get into costume and then I like to be on my own before the show. I do eat cookies before the show and on the break. When the show is really hard, like Wizard of Oz hard, I will sometimes drink a Red Bull, but I don’t recommend that for most dancers.” - Peter Lancksweerdt
“I try not to have rituals before the show, because if I had them, I would be super stressed whenever I couldn’t do them. I sort of trained myself to not have a schedule. You never know what’s going to happen at the theatre, things might be moving slower on a certain day, and I don’t want to rely on a ritual to feel like I’m going to have a good show.” - Ryan Vetter
“I like to eat three hours before a show, it helps me to not get nervous. After that, I take a nap and then get my costume on an hour before the show starts. I like to make sure my hair and makeup are done and then I start going through the steps of the show. I’ll also sometimes put on a sage-scented roll-on that has a really calming scent, and it helps my nerves. When I get on stage, I always do the same rise combination, just to feel grounded, then I’m ready.” - Elizabeth Lamont
“The biggest thing I use is music. For each show I have a different playlist, especially for my character roles. I tend to have a lot of evil characters, so for Zidler in Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet, I would have really intense music to help get me in the zone. I’ll start working on my makeup about an hour before the show starts, while playing my playlist. That’s about all I do for preparation, I don’t do much warm-up.” - Stephan Azulay
“I’m normally very focused before the show. It depends on what role I’m performing, but if I find the choreography difficult, I’ll practice it. Especially if there’s a hard move or turn in the steps that I’ll have to do.” - Tymin Keown
“I will eat two hours before the show, then take the time for makeup and participate in the warmup. I also like to go on the stage and go over everything. I also listen to music before the show, onstage particularly, before the half hour.” - Yayoi Ban