Off to see the wizards of dance with 2019-20 NAC Dance season

Mînowin by Margaret Grenier will open the NAC Dance season It will also be on stage at the Banff Centre this May. Photo: Chris Randle

The yellow brick road runs right through the NAC Dance season in 2019-20. That’s because the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is bringing its take on The Wizard of Oz to Southam Hall in January.

But, as has been the case with the seasons programmed by NAC Dance’s Executive Producer Cathy Levy, the world in motion will be stepping up starting in September.

The NAC will celebrate 50 years in June, and next fall it will mark the opening of the new department of Indigenous Theatre across all departments.

The NAC Dance season begins Sept. 26 with a major work by the innovative Indigenous company the Dancers of Damelahamid called Minowin. This is a co-production with Indigenous Theatre and it is also a show that has been developed with funds from the NAC’s $25 million creation fund. 

The Wizard of Oz by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet: Josh Reynolds, Katie Bonnell, Stephan Azulay, Yosuke Mino. Photo: David Cooper

“I have been very interested in the Dancers of Damelahamid. We haven’t had them on our season yet. Margaret Grenier is exploring things that are very topical and contemporary and interesting for her. When we began to talk about how we could co-present something special with the opening of Indigenous Theatre. We wanted to do a project together.

“This was an obvious match for us to invest in Minowin.”

She likes the fact that the piece is retelling tradition west coast stories in an ambitious multi-media, multi-disciplinary work.

“It will come to us as a world premiere,” she said, after a workshop at the Banff Centre.

The number of cross-disciplinary performances in an NAC Dance season is growing exponentially.

“I think in the big picture, beyond Canada, choreographers are very experimental, risk-taking adventurous people as a group. And one of the thing you see a lot for years, choreographers are ahead of the curve around technology and theatre and the melding of art forms has been very dominant in choreography.

“You don’t necessarily see as much traditional theatre, for example, embrace dance as much as dance embraces theatre. I do think that there are a lot of these cross-disciplinary projects that have been initiated through the choreographic arts that are leading the way. I am very interested in them. I don’t know if I would bring a full season of them because my mantra is balance but I think personally that some of them are the most exciting works because they are speaking of today.”

This can be seen in the reimagining of traditional story ballets such as Swan Lake which has been given a fresh take by the Irish choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan on Oct. 30.

A major highlight for Levy is the return of the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) after a 33-year absence. This will feature a work by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young called The Statement.

“(Multi-disciplinary work) is something that has infiltrated one of the top ballet companies in the world and by bringing her in they allowed her to bring in Jonathan to create a piece that is their brand of dance theatre that is quite political, quite visual. Multi-disciplinary work has been around for a long time but I do think it’s getting a lot more attention. It’s not just over in the corner anymore.”

NDT will bring with them a piece by Vancouver’s Crystal Pite. Another piece on the season lineup that has been underwritten by the creation fund is Dana Gingras’s ambitious FRONTERA. Gingras continues to be “very curious about music and dance,” Levy said. And now in FRONTERA Gingras is exploring the role of music and film in expanding the reach of a choreography, she added. 

There is also a lot of “dancing” in the season, she said. That’s obvious but maybe it needed stating because of all the cross-disciplinary work that is there too. It will feature, Levy said, mentioning people like the ground-breaking, “unstoppable” Quebecoise Louise Lecavalier and the New York based tap artist Michelle Dorrance.

In all the NAC will host 17 ‘dance events’ with more than 27 choreographic voices from countries around the world including: Argentina, Australia, Cuba, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United States and, of course, Canada.

Here is the season:

The Dancers of Damelahamid (Sept, 26-28) The Dancers of Damelahamid, led by Margaret Grenier, are from the northwest coast of British Columbia. Mînowin “links Northwest coastal landscapes with contemporary views of Indigenous dance, shining a light on the moments of connection and understanding that lead us ultimately to renewal.”

The New Zealand Dance Company (Oct. 8-9) The company presents three pieces: The Geography of an Archipelago by Stephen Shropshire; In Transit by Māori artist Louise Potiki Bryant and Sigan by Korean choreographer Kim Jae Duk.

The New Zealand Dance Company’s Sigan. Photo: John McDermott

Lucy Guerin Inc. (Oct. 24-26) Lucy Guerin’s fearless Australian company presents Split, a celebrated work at once abstract and dramatic. With a score the U.K. composer Scanner.   

TEAĊ DAṀSA (Oct. 30) The Irish choreographer Michale Keegan-Dolan has reimagined Swan Lake (Loch na hEala) and set it in present day Ireland. It features live music by the Dublin-based band Slow Moving Clouds and a script with lines delivered by a Catholic priest.

Boston Ballet with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Nov. 7-9) One of North America’s top ballet companies, Boston Ballet presents William Forsythe’s Blake Works I set to music by James Blake. George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue accompanies a new work by Principal Dancer Paulo Arrais. The third piece features the 1940s Broadway vibe of Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free.

Bangarra Dance Theatre (Nov. 15-16) Bangarra is a leading Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance company. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019. It’s program showcases the best of its repertoire, Spirit, and Nyapanyapa, which was inspired by the life story of the artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.

Royal Winnipeg Ballet with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Dec. 4-8) This Nutcracker features polar bears, Mounties, and a pond hockey game. 

Fou glorieux Louise Lecavalier (Jan. 15-16, 2020) The legendary Louise Lecavalier explores the antihero in the duet Battleground. 

Che Malambo. Photo: Diane Smithers

Royal Winnipeg Ballet with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (Jan. 23-25) L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, is brought to life by choreographer Septime Webre in this new story ballet. Audiences can expect everything from an on-stage twister in Kansas to the explosion of colour and fantastical costumes in Oz.

Che Malambo (Feb. 8) The Argentine company makes its NAC debut with its take on the traditional South American dance known as the malambo which is performed by men.

Animals of Distinction Dana Gingras (Feb.19-20) Dana Gingras’s choreography is described as visceral and sensually charged. FRONTERA features music by Montreal band Fly Pan Am with scenography by the UK-based United Visual Artists. Nine dancers investigate themes and questions around borders and boundaries. 

Dorrance Dance (Feb. 29) Michelle Dorrance is one of the tap world’s luminaries. In her ensemble piece Myelination, 11 dancers layer on and build up the rhythm with rapid-fire footwork to a live original jazz score by Prawn til Dante. The show also includes the bessie-Award winning Three to One and Jungle Blues with music by Brandford Marsalis.

Nederlands Danz Theatre. A scene from Singuliere Odyssee. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

Nederlands Dans Theater (March 17-18) Nederlands Dans Theater is one of the world’s pre-eminent companies and its return to Ottawa is considered a highlight of the season. The company presents a triple bill including The Statement by Vancouver’s Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young, VLADIMIR by Hofesh Shechter and Singulière Odyssée by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. The NAC will be focussed on the arts and artists of the Netherlands, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the friendship between Canada and the Netherlands.

The National Ballet of Canada with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (April 2-4)
Choreographed by the Russian Alexei Ratmansky, this version of Romeo and Juliet was commissioned by The National Ballet of Canada’s Artistic Director Karen Kain in 2011.

A.I.M (April 7-8) Kyle Abraham delivers physical, sensual movement that blends hip-hop, classical technique and urban dance. His diverse artistic background (classical cello, visual arts, dance) inspires interdisciplinary work that delves into personal identity. This program includes INDY his first full-length solo for himself in more than a decade.

Compagnie Flak José Navas (April 30-May 2) José Navas has translated Schubert’s final work the song cycle the Winterreise (Winter Journey). 

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba (May 9) Danza Contemporánea de Cuba blends Afro-Caribbean rhythms with contemporary dance. Thisprogram features two large group works: Julio Cesar Iglesias’s Coil, and the company’s flagship work Mambo 3XXI by George Céspedes. Laura Domingo Agüero’s Cénit, and La Ecuación by George Céspedes complete this evening.

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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.