RWB Spotlight - February

Feb 24 2020 | Posted in Blog

Teaching Dance an Artform Unto Itself

Dancers are not born, they are made. Forged in classrooms and studios, over years of practice, dancers hone their natural abilities as they push themselves toward perfection. Supporting them in this journey are teachers whose job it is to instill students with the knowledge and direction needed to maximize their training. Those teachers are dancers themselves, first and foremost, but teaching and dancing require different skillsets. So, how do dancers become teachers? By joining the Teacher Training Program at the RWB.

Boasting an impressive 100% employment rate, the Teacher Training Program is a three-year post-secondary program designed for dancers to become qualified dance instructors. Under the guidance of Johanne Gingras, the Director of the Teacher Training Program since 1997, the program features a specially designed curriculum of courses in creative movement, pre-ballet, pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) for ballet, jazz, and modern, Pilates, choreography, dance history, and music, as well as nutrition, performance enhancement, and anatomy classes.

“A good dancer can go out there and probably teach a good class but sustaining and developing children from one level to the next requires a more systematic approach,” said Ms. Gingras. “It’s important to have [teachers] who are knowledgeable of what they teach, and knowledgeable not just in learning steps, but also in music, in anatomy, and the arts. That they have these different kinds of experiences, and they know how to deal with different age groups of children, is part of the broader knowledge of what they bring to the classroom.”

There are many valuable opportunities available to students of the Teacher Training Program. Student teachers regularly observe classes and rehearsals with the world-renowned Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company and are frequently called upon to support students in the Company’s full-length classical ballet productions.

According to Emilia Radawetz, the connection to the Company is key. “It’s lucky that students with the RWB get exposure to the company,” said Emilia. “It’s more tangible. [Students think] the school is right here, maybe I can reach that.”

Emilia is a graduate of the Teacher Training Program. She began at the RWB at a young age when her mother registered her for classes in the recreational division. “I’ve always felt that the teachers gave me the time of day, that they paid attention to me. If we were having a bad day or we were tired, the teachers would acknowledge that,” explained Emilia, “I always felt like this was a safe space.”

As a graduate of the Teacher Training Program, Emilia says how important it has been for her to stay at the RWB for her training. “The RWB was like my second home, so I felt very comfortable here,” she said. “My transition from being a dancer to a teacher at the RWB felt very seamless. I love being in the studio and in the classroom with kids; to me, that’s the biggest thing. This is what I want.”

Creating teachers like Emilia, who can inspire and instill the best in their students, is what the Teacher Training Program is all about. According to Ms. Gingras, “For me, what’s important is that I have teachers who have the skill and confidence, and enjoy the teaching, making sure that children learn an appreciation of the art form of ballet and enjoy movement as the most fun part of learning.”

The Teacher Training Program is the best way for an excellent dancer to develop the skills and knowledge needed to be an excellent teacher. “We have to make sure that whoever we put into a classroom has knowledge to do it and do it safely,” Ms. Gingras says.

“Today it’s very important that teachers understand the mechanics of dance and training the physique. Whether the child is coming once a week, ten times a week, or twenty times a week, it doesn’t matter, the teacher needs to know when they go into a classroom they have a good toolbox to support the children.”

To find out more about the Teacher Training Program, visit our website, contact the RWB School Office at 204.957.3467 or drop by the School located at 380 Graham Avenue.

Celebrating 30 Years of Original Choreography from First Steps

Since 1990, First Steps has inspired the next generation of choreographers and provided an intimate look into the creative process, thereby enhancing artistic sensitivity through awareness and respect for the creative process.

The annual competition and performance by students of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division features budding choreographers, often as young as 15 years old, experiencing for the first time the entire creative process: inspiration, rehearsals, wardrobe, lights, artistic mentorship and finally seeing the curtain rise and sharing their work on stage with the world.

What began as a single 60-minute one-day performance has since morphed into four back-to-back days of 90-minute productions, culminating in a celebratory reception and awards night. First Steps has, after 30 years, cemented itself as an audience favourite thanks to the incredible professional talent displayed by the choreographers.

Former Artistic Coordinator and RWB School Artistic Faculty Member Josée Garant began the mentorship program that supported the creative process and paired fledgling choreographers with Artistic Faculty, who provided direction, challenge, and tools to broaden choreographic skills. In 2000, a competitive element was added, featuring artists from around the community volunteering their time as jury members.

Last year, Logan Savard won the jury over and took home 1st place for his piece, “I Don’t Need to Know.” This year he has returned to the role of choreographer because he enjoyed the previous experience and found he had an aptitude for it. Logan decided to challenge himself this year in both concept development and the number of dancers he is working with and admits to being challenged by drawing the line between dancers and friends.

“Since you are working with your peers, you want to be lenient and kind, but as a choreographer you really want to push them to work hard and it’s a difficult balance,” said Logan.

For many students, First Steps is only way they can truly build an appreciation for being the person at the front of the room. As Logan puts it, “As a choreographer you see and experience all the hard work that goes into creating a piece and making it stage ready, all the things that you sometimes take for granted as a dancer. Being a choreographer can also help you as a dancer because you better understand where ideas are coming from, and what is expected of you.”

Largely due to the intimate and honest artistry on display, First Steps has been a must-see performance for 30 years. It has the power to build you up and tear you down with the full spectrum of emotions conveyed by dance. You will leave inspired to be more in tune to the world around you, and perhaps see how you can dance through life.

Philippe Larouche On Finding His Yellow Brick Road

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) recently returned from a wildly successful tour of Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa. The show was so popular that a fourth performance was added to meet demand. Among those responsible for the show’s success was Philippe Larouche, a former RWB Aspirant who is quickly establishing himself as a leader in the artistic side of the dance world.

Philippe began dancing at a young age in his home community of Laval, Quebec. While studying at a recreational school and taking private classes, he began to establish himself as a promising dancer. At age fourteen, he auditioned for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s audition tour in Montreal and was immediately accepted to the RWB. Philippe completed three years with the RWB professional division before leaving for two seasons to study engineering at McGill University.

“While I liked going to school, the program wasn’t really for me and there was a lot of unfinished business that I had in dance,” said Philippe. “I came back to dance the following year. I was taking classes in Montreal and working part time, and the year after that I came back [to the RWB] and did Aspirant.”

Philippe would stay an Aspirant from 2013-2015, until earning a job as an Apprentice with the RWB. For two more seasons, Philippe continued to display his prowess as an Apprentice, but in 2017, due to circumstances beyond his control, he lost his contract with the RWB.

“When I lost my contract,” recalls Philippe, “I had to rethink my position in the dance world.”

Losing a dance contract can be traumatic for professional dancers, many of whom see themselves as performers first. That means dancers tend to envision themselves being employed with a dance company for life, but even the best dancers sometimes face challenges that they cannot overcome.

“To be honest, it took a while to get over. I was a good dancer. I was hard working. I was good at my job,” said Philippe, “but sometimes you just stop fitting in, and so you have to find somewhere that fits you better.”

Philippe is an excellent example of how a dancer can parlay the skills they developed in studios and on the stage into a long-term career in the dance world, but it wasn’t an easy path to take.

“When I lost my contract, I was angry at first, but then I realized I was frustrated by having to wait for other people to dictate what my career should look like,” said Philippe, “So I made a decision at that point to ask for what I wanted.”

With a renewed sense of purpose, Philippe requested a meeting with André Lewis, the Artistic Director of the RWB. At the meeting, Philippe and told André that he still wanted to be a part of the RWB’s future and would love to choreograph for the company. This had a profound effect on André.

“I found him to be intellectually highly capable. He had a very sharp mind, very good for details, and very organized,” said André. “When we were asked to stage a work, I asked Philippe if he would be willing to do it. He did, and he did really well. Because of that, I asked him if he would be interested in Septime Webre’s The Wizard of Oz.”

As the stager for The Wizard of Oz, Philippe was responsible for familiarizing himself with Septime Webre’s choreography and artistic vision. In Ottawa, it was Philippe who oversaw all aspects of the show, including the lighting, costumes, sets, flying equipment, and much more. Philippe had to ensure all pieces of the show matched Septime’s artistic vision and were ready for curtain time. It was a huge responsibility, and Philippe attributes much of his success today to that meeting with André.

“When I heard [the RWB was] doing The Wizard of Oz, I pitched myself as a stager, a person who could help with the creative process and learn the choreography and help the work keep its creative integrity as it went with various companies,” said Philippe. “A lot of that starts with just asking.”

Today, Philippe has difficulty labelling himself. The way he puts it, “Instead of trying to be so specialized in one thing, I’m trying to become a jack-of-all-trades and use many mediums.”

When asked about advice for current dancers who face similar hardships, Philippe was profuse. “At the end of the day, just try things,” he recommends, “I really think that’s the best way to know what you want. Explore your technique in the studio, work hard, and understand how your body uses movement. That will give you a lot of tools that choreographers are going to love, that’s where I would start.”

As Philippe attests, change is often a good thing. It can lead you toward exciting, new possibilities but having the confidence to seize new opportunities is most important.

“For me, it was about having the guts to take on the things that I actually wanted to do as opposed to the things that were safest.”

Nutcracker Features One-of-a-Kind Walk-On Engagement

As a long-standing tradition, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) hosts honoured guests for walk-on roles in our classic holiday ballet, Nutcracker. Past shows have featured Winnipeg Jets players, Winnipeg Blue Bombers players, movie stars, and musicians, but when two unassuming ballet fans named Marc and Samantha took the stage, the audience had no idea what was in store.

Marc and Samantha had been dating for three and a half years, and for Marc it was time to take the next step.

“We’ve been to a lot of ballets and the RWB is such an amazing organization,” said Marc. “Nutcracker is magical. We’ve seen it several times and the whole show is great. To watch and be a part of it has been a dream of Samantha’s and for me it was a natural idea to incorporate that into the proposal.”

A lot goes on behind the scenes to plan the Nutcracker walk-on roles, but André Lewis, the Artistic Director and CEO at the RWB, along with the RWB Ballet Masters, embraced the opportunity. We wanted the proposal to be a special experience, and once everything was accounted for, all that was left for Marc to do was arrive at the show with Samantha and his ring.

“From the moment we got there, we were handled fantastically,” said Marc, “We got to see props, and the costumes were amazing and so well put together. Getting to see everyone backstage and getting ready was extremely exciting of us, [but] the closer we got to the scene, things started to sink in. The extra level of pressure made me sweat.”

Marc and Samantha were given cues during a specific scene in Nutcracker, at the right moment they were to go down on one knee along with the dancers, but there was another cue, known only to Marc and a few of the dancers on stage, where he would be the only person on one knee. When the time was right, he didn’t miss it.

“When I went down, Samantha was so confused,” Marc recalled afterward. “She was worried I had missed the mark! It wasn’t until the ring came out that her jaw dropped.”

Samantha, completely astounded, took no time in nodding “yes,” and Marc, relieved his plan had come to fruition, happily placed the ring on her finger. Dancers ooo-ed and aww-ed in the wings, and the thunderous applause that followed seemed to celebrate the newly engaged couple.

Backstage, the news of the engagement spread quickly. Everyone offered their congratulations to Marc and Samantha and seeing them together was an unforgettable experience for all involved.

“It’s something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives,” Marc said, after the proposal was complete. “From doing a fitting before the show, to being backstage at rehearsal, the whole thing was such a wonderful experience for both of us.”

Moulin Rouge ®—The Ballet Q&A with the Dancers

Leading up to the premiere of Moulin Rouge ®—The Ballet, we asked our dancers a few questions about themselves and what they were most looking forward to about the upcoming show.

What’s your favourite scene from Moulin Rouge ®—The Ballet?

Sophia Lee (Principal): One of my favourite scenes in Moulin Rouge ® – The Ballet is the fight scene near the end of the ballet. The suspense is built up during Act II and finally it reaches a very intense & emotional point where all the characters are about to face their fate.

Yayoi Ban (Soloist): My favourite scene is when Natalie and Matthew dance pas de deux at the end of act I. Beautiful scenery and music.

Alanna McAde (Soloist): The tailor scene.

Beth Lamont (Soloist): Green Fairies absinthe scene.

Chenxin Liu (Soloist): The tango scene is my favourite.

Do you have a favourite costume or detail from Moulin Rouge ® – The Ballet?

Sophia Lee (Principal): I truly love all the costumes for this ballet. We get to wear these costumes and look glamourous, eccentric and elegant.

Yayoi Ban (Soloist): I love all the can-can ladies costumes!

Alanna McAdie (Soloist): I like the cancan girls costumes and the green fairies.

Jaimi Deleau (Corps de Ballet): The cancan costumes because they are so vibrant and unique.

Tell us, what’s one thing that you always keep in your dance bag?

Sophia Lee (Principal): One item I always carry with me in my dance bag is my foot roller. I try to take good care of my feet and legs as dancing on them all day can very quickly take a toll on them. Another item that I cannot leave out of my bag is my water bottle. I feel a huge difference when I drink enough water throughout rehearsals & performances compared to when I don’t drink enough.

Yayoi Ban (Soloist): Candies.

Alanna McAdie (Soloist): A golf ball, it’s one of the most important tools to carry with me. It’s really good for muscle knots in the back, hips and calves but also if I don’t happen to have a foot roller with me it works well for rolling out the feet. I am constantly trying to keep my body healthy and relaxed and it really helps me!

Joshua Hidson (Corps de Ballet): I always keep a snack in my dance bag! Keeping your body fed and energized is the only way to get through those long rehearsal days and killer performances!

Katie Simpson (Second Soloist) - I always keep hockey tape in my bag in case of a sudden blister as well as a protein bar so I never feel weak or tired in rehearsal.

Sarah Joan Smith (Corps de Ballet): My wooden foot roller, I use it almost every five minutes.