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Ballet Kelowna tours entire province

Dancer Kelsey Hanna with Ballet Kelowna during a performance of Bolero, one of the performances that will be shown during their Newfoundland Tour – Photo by © Emily Cooper

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WEST COAST — For the first time in years, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will get the opportunity to experience ballet performances in person at numerous Arts and Culture Centres across Newfoundland and Labrador. From May 12 to 30, Ballet Kelowna, will make six stops during their provincial tour. Calla Lachance, Artistic Director at Neighbourhood Dance Works, is excited to finally get the tour off the ground. “We do other activities in the province that people may be more familiar with. We host an annual dance festival called the Festival of New Dance, but this particular project, this ballet provincial tour, we have been partnering with the Arts and Culture Centres, so it’s a co-presentation between Neighbourhood Dance Works and the Arts and Culture Centres, and it’s featuring, primarily, the work of Ballet Kelowna, but also the work of Kittiwake Dance Theatre. They will be included in the programming that will happen in St. John’s, Gander, and Grand Falls-Windsor.” Like many live performances, the original dates for the Ballet Kelowna tour were put on hold due to the pandemic. “We started planning this provincial tour back in COVID days and, due to restrictions and cancellations, we are only now getting the chance to actually make it happen. We are taking Ballet Kelowna’s company from British Columbia. They’re going to be on the road starting in St. John’s and going to all of the Arts and Culture Centre’s in the province, including Gander, Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook, Stephenville, and Labrador West,” said Lachance. Lachance hopes people will be impressed by all of the effort made by the small ballet company. “It has been a long time since ballet toured the island, so we saw an opportunity to get people excited about a dance forum that is something people are really familiar with, but don’t have regular access to,” shared Lachance. “This is a company that is scalable. It’s really difficult to take a big ballet company on the road. It’s really expensive, and Ballet Kelowna is a small, regional company of nine dancers, and they have a really beautiful program, so we said, let’s take it on the road here, and so that’s what we’re doing.” Having to cancel the original dates was a definite blow for everyone involved. “In the work that we do, we are constantly working with other regional partners to help piggyback on each other’s efforts, and in my industry, because it’s so specialized, if we’re bringing an artist all the way across the country, all the way from B.C. to Atlantic Canada, we often partner with other organizations, presenters, in the Atlantic provinces to help get more bang for your buck, so to speak,” said Lachance. “At the time, when we planned this, we were working with other presenters in Atlantic Canada, in Fredericton, Moncton, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, but the tour fell apart a little bit. But we were all really careful to make sure we didn’t just walk away from that. It’s a real loss to anyone who works in the cultural sector, to just have a tour fall apart.” There was a silver lining to the numerous delays. “It’s so hard to make these things happen, whether you’re in music or you’re in dance, or you’re in live theatre. Whatever it is, putting together a tour of any kind is an incredible amount of work. To lose all that effort, energy, and human resource power is a lost opportunity, not only for the company, but for the audience as well,” said Lachance. “So we said, let’s just keep trying to make this happen. We rescheduled for 2022, and it got cancelled again because of Omicron (variant), and when it was cancelled that time we thought, we have a lot more time now so let’s make it a bigger tour, because initially we were only going to St. John’s, Gander, and Grand Falls-Windsor. Then we made the tour bigger since we had more time in the lead up to make that happen.” Lachance is thankful for the funding they were able to get to make the tour happen. “We actually received funding from Canadian Heritage. It was one of these programs that was aimed to help arts organizations and cultural organizations keep artists active and busy, to look after the artists who were hit really hard by the pandemic and who’ve had so many of their shows and gigs cancelled. This fund that we accessed is a federal funding body and they support cultural programming across the country and one of the programs we availed of was support for arts workers.” Anticipation for the tour is increasing with audiences. “I think the excitement is building. The cultural calendar is always so busy in this province. There is always something going on, so for sure people are excited, people are talking about it, and because ballet is not typically on the road here, I think it represents a unique performance experience that people are getting excited about.” The ballet program will run just over an hour long and is suitable for all ages to attend. “People will see a beautiful, mixed program. I really love this program. Some people are hesitant to go to dance. They may not be as familiar with dance, but ballet being this art form that’s been around for so long, it tends to be common ground. People can enter theatres and have a sense of what they’re in for, so they’re maybe more likely to go in and see ballet,” said Lachance. “This program is a collection of three different works. Kittiwake is going to open the show in St. John’s, Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor. They have a curtain riser piece they’re going to do, a work choreographed by Martin Vallée, but performed by five Kittiwake dancers, and then we will segue into the Ballet Kelowna program.” The program presented by Ballet Kelowna consists of three separate pieces. “The first program that we open with is a work by an Indigenous artist from British Columbia and it actually tells the traditional story, ‘Raven Returns the Water’. It draws from Indigenous world view, Indigenous knowledge, and is paired with the music of Jeremy Dutcher who people know is a very prolific and celebrated Indigenous singer originally from New Brunswick,” said Lachance. “Then it segues into a smaller ensemble work where there is one, central prima ballerina who is being lifted and carried and taken on this wonderful, intricately choreographed piece with five male dancers who are all supporting her. There is a lot of lifts, a lot of partnering work, and it’s performed to Maurice Ravel’s famous Bolero.” The second piece is one that will get increasingly more complex as it’s performed. “It has a really beautiful buildup. It gets faster. It gets more intricate. It gets more death defying. It’s a really beautiful piece that is actually choreographed by one of the principal dancers from the National Ballet of Canada, Guillaume Côté,” said Lachance. “The last piece is a piece called MAMBO (by Alysa Pires), which is very bright and energetic. It’s a large ensemble work performed to Perry Como’s Mambo, so it’s really a crowd pleaser. It’s lively and has very physical and cheerful dancing. It’s a good vibe piece and has all the really uplifting qualities of contemporary ballet with all the technique, the bright spirit of the dance form that really ends on a celebratory note.” Getting to experience the beauty of ballet is something Lachance sees as a wonderful opportunity. “In dance, I think seeing ensemble work is really special. We don’t have an opportunity to see larger ensemble work, and there is just something about a lot of dancers on stage at once, within a choreography, navigating that compositional and choreographic space. It becomes a very rich and exciting environment. Dancers are athletes in a dance practice. They are trained to perform incredibly complex and physically intricate maneuvers that really shows the breadth of what ballet technique and what dance technique look like. It really gives people an understanding of this discipline and a window into the creative ideas that inspire artists and their work in the field of dance,” said Lachance. “I think it’s worthwhile to take time away from the TV screen where we tend to be a little more situated these days and take a moment to step outside that and really connect with human beings on stage, performing a live and exciting work. People walk away feeling uplifted. They feel good and the collective audience experience is really wonderful.” For further information on the performances and for a more in-depth look at dance educators across the province, you can visit the website: neighbourhooddanceworks.com. “We’re starting to unveil a series of links, videos and articles, because it was really important for us to try to elevate and spotlight other dance educators across the province who have ballet as part of their studio offerings. In our campaign, we have an article with a dance teacher in Labrador West, another interview with the folks at Nomad Stages in Stephenville, and another article with a dance teacher based here in Mount Pearl. So we’re really trying to not keep it centered on St. John’s, but to really be mindful of the whole province and talk about that education piece. Ballet is a dance form that has been around for so long and oftentimes it is the place where most people get their start in dance.” Workshops will also be hosted in each of the communities. “The information will be available soon on our website, so if anyone is looking for opportunities to train with a guest artist and enhance all the other wonderful training they are getting at their local studio, it’s a way to gather more tools into your tool kit. We’re excited to bring dance to this province. It’s really a gift and a joy to share this experience with audiences across the island and into Labrador.”

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