NAC Dance: Canada’s dancing diaspora makes a triumphant return home next season

When How is Now is presented in the 2017-18 NAC Dance season it will be a homecoming of sorts for the Ottawa native, choreographer and Canterbury High School graduate, Laurie Young.

Young began her career at Le Groupe Dance Lab in Ottawa, said NAC Dance’s director Cathy Levy.

“(Le Groupe Dance Lab’s) Peter Boneham brought the German choreographer Sasha Waltz over to be a mentor (to his young dancers at Le Groupe) in the mid-1990s. And Sasha kidnapped Laurie and took her back to Berlin. Laurie had an incredible career there. She was one of the leading companies in Europe.”

Today with her performing career slowing down, Young has become a choreographer.

Many, many Canadian dancers and choreographers have gone elsewhere in the world — some to New York, some to Europe and elsewhere — to pursue their passion.

That dancing diaspora is being given pride of place at the NAC next season, Levy says.

“We are trying to shine a light on Canadians who are outside the country.

“For example: In the fall of 2017 we are inviting for the first time a ballet company that I think is one of the most interesting companies around called Semperoper Ballett Dresden. It’s run by Aaron Watkin who is from Vancouver. He has been there for nine year years running the company.

“He does gorgeous work himself and he brings in lots of talented choreographers. And they have a very privileged relationship with William Forsythe, one of world’s great choreographers who is based in Frankfurt.

“We are inviting in his Swan Lake in November. It’s very classical but it has a modern feel. It is a big highlight for us.”

Early on in the season aficionados will be introduced to a Face 2 Face series that will focus on Canadians from home and abroad. One performance to watch out for is a work by the young indigenous choreographer Daina Ashbee, who is based in Montreal and hails from Vancouver.

“One of (Ashbee’s) first pieces is called Unrelated. It will be part of Face 2 Face. It’s a duet for two women. It’s a rough piece; it very much spoke to me of disenfranchised indigenous women. It’s more angst than anger. More beauty than sadness in it.”

There are intriguing NAC co-commissions on view including Solitudes duo from Daniel Leveille Dance and Frederick Gravel’s Some Hope for the Bastards

Of course there are major international companies, from Finland, Spain, France, Germany and Israel paying Ottawa a visit. But one is a real treat, Levy says. That’s a rare three nights of The Rite of Spring as interpreted by the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Sept. 28-30.

“The company has been here before but we have never had a chance to do The Rite of Spring. The NAC Orchestra will play the score. They don’t often get chance to play that repertoire. For us an extra performance outside ballet series with the orchestra is another bonus.

“For the Pina Bausch company, it’s a rare thing too. They have only done it a few times in the existence of the work. Logistically it’s a challenge to put together. Not every venue has an orchestra. Orchestras have huge seasons of their own, so carving out time can be difficult.”

To top that off The Rite of Spring is hard to host because it’s a stage literally full of dirt. The earth is a metaphor for this idea of The Rite of Spring, Levy says.

Other major companies coming through town include the National Ballet of Canada who will be presenting Nijinsky by choreographer John Neumeier. There is a synchronicity with the Bausch performance of The Rite of Spring. Vaslav Nijinsky choreographed the original performance by Ballet Russes in 1913.

The Royal Winnipeg will also come to town with the gothic tale of Dracula choreographed by Mark Godden. The RWB is also doing The Nutcracker next season.

Levy also noted an appearance by the Taiwanese company Legend Lin Dance Theatre performing The Eternal Tides.

“Eternal Tides is based on water, so I was thinking I’ve got earth, water and fire in the Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal production of Dance me featuring the music of Leonard Cohen/ There has got to be some fire there. Air is all over the place I guess.”

The season will shine a light on the intersection between modern dance and the circus.

“If you look at some of the big dance festivals around the world there are often dances that embrace a kind of circus hybrid that is based on movement as opposed to juggling and acrobatics.”

One piece she highlight is He Who Falls by Yoann Bourgeois from France. In this work the dancers work on a big platform, levy says, and they are always moving, “always on a precipice.” Another to look for in this area is performance by MOMIX (Opus Cactus).

Next season will see the return of the biannual Canada Dance festival to the NAC.

Levy has been a witness to the explosion in Canadian dance starting in the 1980s. Nowadays choreographers like Crystal Pite and Marie Chouinard are in demand all over the world.

But there still are more opportunities to work for talented Canadians overseas.

“A lot of people leave Canada to get more training and more opportunities as dancers.

The number of Canadian dancers living in Germany for example is astounding. It’s affordable, education is free and there are a lot of companies. It astounds me that, when I am there, a small city of 200,000 will have a resident dance company and perform for 12 nights in a 1000 seat house.”

Contrast that with Ottawa where there hasn’t been a major ballet company since Ottawa Ballet closed in 1994. Te city lost Le Groupe Dance Lab in 2009. The Ottawa Dance Directive is picking up a lot of the slack, Levy says, noting though that for a city Ottawa’s size there are not a lot of opportunities for young artists.

“Why? We’ve been discussing that for years. When Theatre Ballet became Ottawa Ballet, Frank Augustyn was running it, but for whatever reason, it didn’t take.

“If you are a young professional dancer in Ottawa, chances are you will go down Highway 417 to Montreal or head to Europe. We don’t have institutions and venues that keep people here.”

This despite what Levy says is an interested audience that comes to the centre for performances.

For more information about performances and tickets please nac-cna.ca.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.