Com­pany takes on new name, part­ner­ship, direc­tor

Edmonton Journal - - YOU - ROGER LEVESQUE

So long Citie Bal­let.

Hello Bal­let Ed­mon­ton. The city’s old­est con­tem­po­rary bal­let com­pany has re-po­si­tioned it­self with a new name and sev­eral new pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tions.

As the for­mer Citie Bal­let – now Bal­let Ed­mon­ton – takes a name change, the com­pany will also start a new part­ner­ship with the Fine Arts & Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Fac­ulty at MacEwan Univer­sity in­volv­ing a per­for­mance space and other pos­si­ble col­lab­o­ra­tions.

Fi­nally, Bal­let Ed­mon­ton has an­nounced that one of Canada’s most ac­claimed chore­og­ra­phers Wen Wei Wang will take over as its new artis­tic direc­tor for the 2018-2019 sea­son. De­tails of sev­eral shows for that sea­son were also part of a re­cent an­nounce­ment.

On the name change, the com­pany’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Sheri Som­merville ex­plained that the old name had in­spired a bit of con­fu­sion over the years.

“As I’ve made more friends in the bal­let com­mu­nity across the coun­try, I re­al­ized peo­ple were al­ways ask­ing me where we were from so this has been per­co­lat­ing for a while. We want to proudly say to the city, ‘We are your bal­let com­pany,’ and with all these other changes it seemed like the right time to change the name it­self.”

The prox­im­ity of the new MacEwan arts build­ing Al­lard Hall in the down­town area was part of the in­spi­ra­tion for Bal­let Ed­mon­ton’s new part­ner­ship with the univer­sity. Lo­cated on 104 Av­enue, MacEwan’s Al­lard Hall is just a few blocks from the com­pany’s re­hearsal stu­dios in the Ruth Carse Cen­tre for Dance on 107 Av­enue.

Som­merville touched on a pos­si­ble as­so­ci­a­tion with MacEwan last year in con­ver­sa­tions with Al­lan Gilliland, dean of the univer­sity’s Fine Arts and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Fac­ulty. As she ex­plained, the part­ner­ship means there’s a new per­ma­nent per­for­mance space for Bal­let Ed­mon­ton in Al­lard Hall’s new 415-seat Triffo The­atre, but there’s much more to the agree­ment.

“We want to ex­plore orig­i­nal mu­sic and de­sign and ways to in­cor­po­rate more of the arts into the bal­let, and what bet­ter way to do it than with the young, brave artists at MacEwan. In re­turn, we want to con­trib­ute to the arts com­mu­nity at the univer­sity.”

Their close prox­im­ity will ease the lo­gis­tics for pos­si­ble work­shops or col­lab­o­ra­tions tied to the dance com­pany’s pre­sen­ta­tions, which might in­clude orig­i­nal light­ing, sound and set de­sign, orig­i­nal mu­sic scores, graph­ics, work­shops in chore­og­ra­phy or pos­si­bly even a full bal­let nar­ra­tive. A short se­ries of works by the dancers them­selves will take place in Al­lard Hall’s black box the­atre lab.

“One of the beau­ti­ful things about con­tem­po­rary bal­let is that we’re not con­strained by any model. We can do what­ever we want. That’s the most ex­cit­ing thing. It’s all pos­si­ble and we hope to build re­la­tion­ships with MacEwan’s staff so that they can use us as a tool in their pro­grams.”

Som­merville points out that dance is also be­ing rec­og­nized around the world as part of wider phys­i­cal health pro­grams for both chil­dren and se­niors in par­tic­u­lar. Move­ment classes for se­niors or in­di­vid­u­als with cog­ni­tive move­ment is­sues are an­other pos­si­bil­ity.

“We will be work­ing with MacEwan to get that mes­sage out to the broader pub­lic,” said Som­merville.

For his part as dean of MacEwan’s Fine Arts and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Fac­ulty, Gilliland is happy to wel­come the part­ner­ship with Bal­let Ed­mon­ton.

“Since the arts fac­ulty moved down­town we’ve been look­ing for more ways that the univer­sity could in­ter­act with the com­mu­nity,” Gilliland ex­plained.

“This seemed like a nat­u­ral op­por­tu­nity that presents some very in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

In its pre­vi­ous guise as Grant MacEwan Col­lege the school once of­fered dance train­ing at the Jasper Place Cam­pus but that pro­gram closed in 2005.

Gilliland says a va­ri­ety of ini­tia­tives are un­der con­sid­er­a­tion as the new part­ner­ship evolves.

“There could be col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween the dance com­pany and stu­dents in the­atre pro­duc­tion or pos­si­bly in train­ing mu­sic stu­dents to be pi­ano ac­com­pa­nists for dance, just for a start. There are a few pos­si­bil­i­ties that are still in the de­vel­op­ing stages.”

Sev­eral new shows are sched­uled start­ing with Where We Are, Nov. 2-4, fol­lowed by I’m Still Here in March 2019, and Now I Know in May 2019.

The open­ing pro­gram Where We Are will in­tro­duce a se­ries of works by in­com­ing artis­tic direc­tor and chief chore­og­ra­pher Wen Wei Wang.

Wang be­came a pro­fes­sional dancer in his na­tive China back in 1978 and even­tu­ally im­mi­grated to Canada in 1991. He joined the Ju­dith Mar­cuse Dance Com­pany, Les Grand Bal­let Cana­di­ens, and Bal­let BC be­fore form­ing his own com­pany Wen Wei Dance in 2003. Since then his orig­i­nal shows have toured across Canada and in­ter­na­tion­ally, while the chore­og­ra­pher has also worked with the San Fran­cisco Opera on Nixon In China, and with sev­eral top the­atre and dance com­pa­nies in China.

Som­merville first met up with Wang last year and in­vited him to present a pro­gram of his works with Ed­mon­ton Bal­let. Once the com­pany ’s pre­vi­ous creative head Jor­den Mor­ris an­nounced his in­ten­tion to move on, she won­dered if the Van­cou­ver-based chore­og­ra­pher would con­sider a more ex­tended po­si­tion here. Wang will con­tinue to live on the West Coast but he’s ready to split his time with Ed­mon­ton Bal­let. To en­able all this, Ed­mon­ton Bal­let will also in­tro­duce two new po­si­tions, re­hearsal direc­tor Karissa Barry and guest teacher Emily No­ton.

Fur­ther de­tails on Ed­mon­ton Bal­let’s up­com­ing sea­son can be found at the com­pany’s newly re­tooled web­site bal­let­ed­mon­

Citie Bal­let started out as what Som­merville calls a “pre-pro­fes­sional” com­pany in 1998, mean­ing that its dancers were paid a small hon­o­rar­ium. The com­pany moved to full, pro­fes­sional non­profit sta­tus with paid salaries in 2012, shortly af­ter Trudy Cal­laghan (now chair of the com­pany ’s board) took over from orig­i­nal found­ing pres­i­dent Lynn Mandel.

“They both agreed it was time that such an arts-based city had its own bal­let com­pany,” ex­plains Som­merville. “Peo­ple don’t al­ways un­der­stand what that in­volves but in a pro­fes­sional com­pany, for the artists, that means ‘this is your job.’ We are pro­vid­ing jobs so that Cana­dian dancers can stay in Canada. They all have to meet a cer­tain cri­te­ria but if we can find Alberta dancers, we are es­pe­cially happy.”

Head­ing into its next sea­son Bal­let Ed­mon­ton will host eight dancers, four men and four women.

A dancer per­forms for Bal­let Ed­mon­ton, formerly known as Citie Bal­let, which just an­nounced its re-brand­ing.

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