Encount3rs in a dream: Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar finds creation in deconstruction

Emily Molnar with the artists of Ballet BC. Photo: Michael Slobodian

The National Arts Centre has commissioned three new dance works from three of the country’s best choreographers and companies. In addition, each work will be accompanied by a new piece of music by an important Canadian composer, chosen by the choreographers. The music and dance were jointly funded by the NAC’s Music and Dance departments. ARTSFILE has interviewed each of the artists involved in these new works. We have already met Alberta Ballet’s Jean Grand-Maître and composer Andrew Staniland talking about their creation Caelestis. Today we meet Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar and, in a second interview, the composer Nicole Lizée, discussing their work, Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming. Early next week we’ll meet the National Ballet of Canada’s Guillaume Côté (paired with composer Kevin Lau). Encount3rs debuts on April 20.

On the very first day of work on Keep Driving I’m Dreaming, Emily Molnar, the artistic director of Ballet BC asked her dancers:

“If you were to put your life on hold where would you go,” she recalled during an interview.

“Out of that we started to develop a vocabulary for the piece.”

This is how Molnar works and so far it is a technique that has taken her from Saskatchewan to the National Ballet School in Toronto to leading a talented company based in Vancouver that travels the country and the globe.

“I build a language for each piece and then I ask the dancers to take a part of it and add something different to it.”

“I also deconstruct movement in a very similar way.”

Both Molnar and her collaborator, the Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée, have a similar bent. They are interested in breaking down things and having one idea or sound become many different ideas or sounds just by the way that you break things down.

Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming is part of the NAC’s Encount3rs series which is a unique pairing of Canadian choreographers with Canadian composers.

The choreographers chose the composers they wanted to work with and the projects began about 18 months ago.

After Molnar chose Lizée, the two had some conversations and then went their separate ways. The composer started work on her score in Montreal, while on the West Coast Molnar started work wth her dancers

The piece has evolved, adapting as each new recording arrived in Molnar’s inbox. But one thing has always been clear to Molnar.

“The music is always going into different worlds. The way I interpret that? It is dreams within dreams within dreams. For the audience, the stage is their dream. You can watch the layers happen.

“I’ve taken the title that Nicole gave to her music,  Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming. The idea is a … surreal world where nothing really ends.

“We are evoking different landscapes. These eight characters, eight dancers, they keep navigating the space, falling out of one scene and into the next. They are left there as an abstract poem for people to pull from it what they wish.”

Lizée’s music is so dense and creates so much energy that Molnar says she felt the piece was not meant to be literal.

“There are a lot of layers going on with the piece but nothing is meant to develop to the point where it finishes.

“I had planned, at the beginning, to make something that was more of a narrative with eight characters following a certain path but once I heard the music, I found it very difficult to address that idea.

“I also wanted to make sure that I was creating bold gestures because (Southam Hall) has a very large stage and this is a big piece of music. So there are a lot of solo and solo-istic moments, but there is also layering of scenes. There will also be group sections to activate the space. There is a lot of dance going on.”

Molnar says the collaboration is typical of way she works and the way Ballet BC works.

“We have a group of 18 dancers, including four apprentices. We work with people from all over the world and there are some seasons when we have had up to nine new creations. We are a company that is creation-based.

“We have an audience that has an appetite for new work and artists within the company who realize that whenever a new piece is being created they have about 50 per cent of the responsibility (for) an idea.

“When a choreographer comes in, we hope they will make a piece for us as if it was for their own company.”

She says Ballet BC wants to be a “hub” where artists can extend where they are going choreographically.

“I have benefited from that. These are dancers who can work with very improvised scores and can also work with very structured choreography. They have classical training and a lot of training in contemporary dance. We take risks.”

Molnar is excited by what the Encount3rs commission can mean for her company.

“For the dancers to have this experience, to work with an orchestra like NACO, is not a normal thing for our company. We are a mid-sized organization that tours a lot so we aren’t taking an orchestra with us when we hit the road.”

Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming is a work of dance, Molnar says, adding that Ballet BC is expanding what the word ‘ballet’ means.

“That’s why we still keep Ballet in Ballet BC. We want to show what ballet can be, but we need the reference points. We need Swan Lake there so people can have a point of departure. So this is why I say we are a ballet company because our training is ballet first and foremost not because when you come to see our pieces you are going to see (classical) ballet.

“Ballet has an enormous vocabulary, but you need training. This isn’t movement for movement’s sake and it is not anything goes.”

Once Keep Driving, I’m Dreaming is done its three performances in Ottawa, it will be staged in Vancouver.

Molnar says the Encount3rs experience has been beneficial.

“I have learned so much as a choreographer during this process. I always do when I have relationships with live music. It offers challenges and miracles and all kinds of things.”

Working with a 60-piece orchestra in Ottawa will mean the dancers will grow as artists, she says. It is  also a rare opportunity to perform with two sister ballet companies.

“That’s not something you ever get to do.”

For tickets and more information on Encount3rs, please see 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.