My Debt To Ballet BC - An Apologist's ViewWednesday, November 26, 2008
Subject: Tragic - Ballet BC terminated
We have our work cut out for us. The cancellation of the CBC Radio Orchestra, huge cuts within the CBC with more potential layoffs announced today and now this. In my opinion, Ballet BC is the best arts organization in Vancouver and we need to save it. It's cutting edge artistic and run by the brilliant, creative and innovative mind of John Alleyne. We are so lucky to have them in our city and to have them represent Canada abroad. Please encourage people to go to the Nutcracker - if there are enough seat sales, we can save this jewel and hopefully save an important part of culture in our city.
Thank you all,
I received the above this morning. My friend Richard Dal Monte and editor at Tri-Ciy-News had sent me the Vancouver Sun article yesterday morning so I was already in a bit of a shock. I thought about it all night and slept badly. The above letter from artist Tiko Kerr made me think on my relationship with Ballet BC which began sometime around 1995 when I started shooting dance pictures for the Georgia Straight. Here (above) is one of my earliest ones with Ballet BC Director John Alleyne and dancer Gail Skrela.
It all began with an infatuation (love perhaps?) of watching Evelyn Hart dance, meet her and take her photographs. Evelyn Hart was my introduction into the wonders of ballet. From there I had to see more ballet so Ballet BC became my ticket. I became such a fan that I would notice when dancers would lose or gain weight or when they got new hair cuts. I could not understand why more people did not try to secure access to back stage or rehearsals. I felt many years younger because I became a groupie. I watched my swans prepare back stage. Many wore fluffy rabbit bedroom slippers to keep their feet warm!
But there was another awakening in myself that was all due to my experiences with Ballet BC. Going to some of the premiere performances I would note groups of men usually dressed in black (with some wearing leather pants). They were evidently gay and were there to enjoy the beautiful male dancers. I felt a bit on the dirty side as I was there to admire the beautiful female dancers. It was at about this time that I wrote a piece for the Vancouver Sun and for the CBC Arts Web Page about the sexual aspect of ballet and dance. I felt that as a man I should be able to proudly assert that I especially liked ballet and dance because the women were beautiful and graceful. Why was it that only the men who liked the boys could get away with it?
I soon found out what those men were enjoying because I too began to feel within me the excitement of seeing men dance and I was affected by their sexuality much in the same way as I was when I watched the women dance. Soon I was a fan of the men, too and I noticed when they had new haircuts. It was as if my pleasure at being a fan of Ballet BC was twofold. It was!
I began to realize that manliness and passion had nothing to do with sexual persuasion. My most favourite male dancer ever, (seen below painting on Tiko Kerr's head), was passion on the floor. I enjoyed every performance of his as if it were his last and to this day I regret that he never played Dracula! The three young men are from left to right, Chengxin Wei, Justin Peck and James Russell Toth.
Thanks to Ballet BC and dance in Vancouver I persuaded my daughter Hilary to put Rebecca into dance at Arts Umbrella. Her first teacher was Ballet BC's Andrea Hodge.It was at Arts Umbrella that I noticed the young boys and men of the company and how I could watch them without any personal embarrasment. I was watching dancers dance well. Their sex was irrelevant. It was thrilling. I even managed to write about it for a local magazine VLM. The interviews helped me understand the intelligence and approach of the taciturn Ballet BC dancer Edmond Kilpatrick, seen below, left with Acacia Schachte and Sandrine Cassini.
I will not argue that culture is important and that we must put more effort in attending (and buying tickets) dance, theatre, opera and musical performances. Not having a ballet company in Vancouver is a tragedy and Tiko Kerr points out that they represent Canada very well abroad.
I would only add that in many respects even with the death (I hope a most temporary one) Ballet BC represents us well even now. Lauri Stallings, seen here inspiring composer Owen Underhill at the piano, recently choreographed (one of the dancers she directed was Paloma Herrera) for the American Ballet Theater in New York City. And our very own Arts Umbrella alumnus and Ballet BC dancer Acacia Schachte dances for the prestigious US Cedar Lake contemporary ballet company. One of the choreographers is Crystal Pite also a former dancer from Ballet BC who went on to dance for the Frankfurt Ballet and is now in Vancouver directing her own company Kidd Pivot. And Ballet BC talent doesn't stop there. Some years ago Ballet BC Director and choreographer (seen here with dancer Gail Skrela) lured Frankfurt Ballet dancer Emily Molnar to Vancouver who was one major reason for steady shift from the company's classical ballet into the exciting new direction of modern ballet and modern dance. Emily Molnar now has her own dance company and she is busy traveling the world as a highly rated choreographer. There is Ballet BC blood there seeping into the dance culture of the world.
And we must not forget that through the years Ballet BC has attempted, when possible and when budgets permitted, to use original and live music to accompany its dancers. One of the more elaborate performances was Carmina Burana and Carmen where full-sized orchestras were used. This meant jobs for free lance musicians and composers as in the recent Fairy Queen. In recent times many of the new ballets (like the Fairy Queen) were choreographed by John Alleyne. I wondered why we had not recently seen anything (as an example) by choreographer William Forsythe. After all when Alleyne started at Ballet BC we were exposed to many of Forsythe's ballets. The answer (from that graceful horse's mouth, Alleyne himself) was a teling one. I asked him a couple of months ago. He said,"In order for us to mount a Forsythe ballet we have to pay a royalty upwards of 75 thousand dollars plus we have to pay air fair and accomodation for one of Forsythe's'representatives to monitor our production.
There is one more debt of gratitude that I have for Ballet BC. The company in the many photo assignments that I had with them inspired me to shoot some of the best photographs of my career. This inspiration has not stopped as dance is now a very big chunk of my life. John Alleyne, Ballet BC, Miroslav Zydowicz, Andrea Hodge, Simone Orlando, Acacia Schachte, Edmond Kilpatrick, Lauri Stallings (seen in last picture here with Miroslav Zydowicz), Crystal Pite, Emily Molnar and so many others thank you and come back soon.