The Future of Dance in B.C.

Arts Umbrella and Ballet BC Affiliate By Kate Morris
  • Ballet BC dancer Christoph von Riedemann in RITE by Emily Molnar / Photo Chris Randle

Ballet BC and Arts Umbrella BC have issued a memorandum of understanding formalizing a relationship between the two Vancouver-based organizations – an affiliation that has been developing informally over the last decade.

Arts Umbrella is a not-for-profit arts education centre founded in 1979 with programs for preschool-aged students to pre-professionals. Artemis Gordon is the artistic director for dance. The 2015/2016 season represents Ballet BC’s thirtieth-anniversary year.

Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar took the reins of the organization in 2009 and was named The Globe and Mail’s “Dance Artist of the Year” in 2013 for her efforts. Molnar, who is no stranger to the international scene comments in an email: “We believe that this official alliance will help to create a deeper awareness, sense of research and enrichment of opportunities for our shared vision of supporting contemporary dance training.” Molnar has created works for Cedar Lake Dance, Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, Ballet Mannheim, Ballet Augsberg, Alberta Ballet, Pro Arte Danza and Ballet BC among others. Under Molnar’s directorship, the company has recalibrated to become one of the most dynamic contemporary ballet companies in Canada. Regularly inviting national and international choreographers to Vancouver to choreograph on the dancers and to mount internationally reputed works for Canadian audiences, the formal relationship aims at influencing the future of dance in Vancouver by amplifying the potential reach of international choreographers working with either organization and providing new opportunities for young dancers. Ballet BC currently employs six graduates of Arts Umbrella as company dancers (Emily Chessa, Livona Ellis, Alexis Fletcher, Scott Fowler, Connor Gnam and Christoph von Riedemann), as well as apprentice Maya Tenzer. “As the foundation of the training includes a classical basis coupled with a contemporary perspective and the learning of various forms of dance, their graduates develop the skill set and creative expertise that are intimately suited to Ballet BC’s philosophy for innovating contemporary ballet,” says Molnar.

The announcement is welcome news in contrast to a divisive spring in dance education in the United Kingdom. In April, at the UK Dance Conference, tensions came to a head between choreographers and administrators at dance training programs when three of the country’s top choreographers – Akram Khan, Hofesh Schechter and Lloyd Newson – went public with their struggles to find UK dancers “of sufficient calibre.” Farooq Chaudhry, then chairman of Dance UK and former dancer and producer for Akram Khan Company, resigned his position after having accused schools of “mollycoddling” students – a British term meaning to treat with indulgence. The relationship between Ballet BC and  Arts Umbrella augers in a different kind of positive infrastructure, reinforcing and providing feedback between companies, choreographers, dancers and the facilities that train them.

“There is really nothing surprising in this agreement being formalized. We have all witnessed a longstanding relationship which had already started during John Alleyne’s time as director, and has been reinforced under Emily’s mandate,” says Mirna Zagar, executive director of The Dance Centre in Vancouver. “It promises that this relationship, which has worked for both organizations, will now be nurtured with more focus and as such will be a legacy in the development of dance artists in British Columbia.”

In the long term, the hope is that the relationship will solidify Vancouver as an important springboard for dancers starting their careers. “This affiliation allows Arts Umbrella and Ballet BC to grow our shared vision of bringing new, exciting and contemporary dance forms to Vancouver and the world,” said Michael Lee, chair of the Arts Umbrella Association Board in a press release issued last week. “Arts Umbrella is excited that young dancers in our vanguard dance program will have the potential for this incredible connection to the professional dance industry.”~


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