Bal­let be­gin­nings drive two di­ver­gent ca­reers DANCE

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Whether hold­ing the spot­light 2

with Bran­don Al­ley in a sen­sual duet or arch­ing back­ward like she’d been hit by light­ning in Ohad Na­harin’s Mi­nus 16, Emily Chessa stood out on the Bal­let BC stage last sea­son. The diminu­tive tal­ent is a fiery pres­ence in per­for­mance, flick­er­ing with en­ergy and emo­tion.

As she heads into her sixth sea­son with the com­pany, Chessa ad­mits she feels like she’s hit a new level.

“I think I’ve found my voice as a hu­man, as an artist, and as a dancer in the com­pany. And it feels good to be at this point,” she says thought­fully, on a break from re­hearsal in the quiet con­fines of the Bal­let BC of­fices. “It’s nice to be com­fort­able in my own skin. But there’s still a lot to dig into. At this stage you have to keep ex­plor­ing and keep won­der­ing and ques­tion­ing and still be cu­ri­ous.”

Born in Rich­mond, Chessa be­gan danc­ing recre­ation­ally as a child, tak­ing classes in bal­let, jazz, and mod­ern dance, just as she delved into sports at school—“vol­ley­ball and bas­ket­ball, even though I’m short,” she says with a laugh.

Af­ter be­ing wowed by a Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let per­for­mance, the driven Chessa de­cided she needed to go to its far­away school.

And so, at just 15, she lit out for Man­i­toba. “I knew it was the right de­ci­sion, so I felt okay with it. But it’s hard at 15 to move away from your fam­ily,” Chessa re­flects. “The train­ing was very hard—but I loved it.”

One of Chessa’s strengths seems to be know­ing what she wants and what she has to do to get there. And so it was that, as she neared grad­u­a­tion from the es­teemed RWB, she started look­ing for “dif­fer­ent ways of mov­ing”. Bal­let BC had just come un­der the lead­er­ship of artis­tic di­rec­tor Emily Mol­nar, and she started hear­ing about the bold new reper­toire the com­pany was tack­ling. She read that Arts Um­brella was train­ing dancers in sim­i­lar work, and moved home to at­tend its sum­mer in­ten­sive. Af­ter that she en­rolled in the Granville Is­land–based school for its two-year pre­pro­fes­sional pro­gram.

“I wanted to chal­lenge my­self, and this work is so chal­leng­ing ev­ery day,” ex­plains Chessa, who started at Bal­let BC as an ap­pren­tice. “I found it so in­vig­o­rat­ing.”

Dur­ing her last year of Arts Um­brella, she had watched Bal­let BC per­form Jo­han Inger’s Walk­ing Mad, a witty but un­set­tling piece for nine dancers, set to Mau­rice Ravel’s Bolero. “I re­mem­ber say­ing, ‘Yeah, that’s why I want to dance there.’ And then I got to do it here,” she says. “I fell in love with that piece. And then, to be able to per­form it later, I fell in love with it all over again. The move­ment was so hon­est and I wanted to have a piece of that.”

Now Chessa is ac­cess­ing that hon­esty one more time, re­hears­ing an­other Inger work, B.R.I.S.A., for the Bal­let BC sea­son opener on Novem­ber 2.

An­other high­light for her was last spring’s mount­ing of Na­harin’s iconic work, a mile­stone for the com­pany and a piece that re­quired her to tap a raw, ex­plo­sive en­ergy like never be­fore.

And then there was the ethe­real duet with Al­ley, in which the pair danced Lesley Telford’s If I Were 2 and had the en­tire, ex­pan­sive Queen Eliz­a­beth The­atre stage to them­selves. “To be able to do my first duet was a big mo­ment—to hold that space with an­other per­son,” she says. “It was a piv­otal part of my ca­reer. It was a big learn­ing curve as well—learn­ing how to hold that whole big space.”

In other words, it was a chal­lenge—the thing that has al­ways driven her, and that keeps her cre­at­ing sparks on-stage.


Marissa Wong is mak­ing this city 2

“That was the best de­ci­sion I’ve her head­quar­ters again, de­but­ing made in my whole life,” she says, a new work at Dance in Van­cou­ver this then adds, ges­tur­ing to the build­ing fall and start­ing up a col­lec­tive here. around her: “I wanted to dance here. But she’s taken a round­about route to And here I am six years later. see page 25

Emily Chessa (left) leaps ever higher at Bal­let BC, while Marissa Wong forges her own chore­o­graphic path. Emily Cooper photo.

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