December 18, 2018

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78 years of brilliance

Mixed bill celebrates history of RWB

Diana Blumczynski</p><p>RWB dancers rehearse Peter Quanz’s new piece, straight against the light i cross.</p></p>

Diana Blumczynski

RWB dancers rehearse Peter Quanz’s new piece, straight against the light i cross.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2017 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For 78 years, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has led the charge in the worldwide dance community as Canada’s oldest ballet company, as well as the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America.

The RWB celebrates that rich legacy with Our Story, taking balletomanes on a pirouette down memory lane with an eclectic mixed bill showcasing six Canadian choreographers who have left their footprints on the company.

The shows run Thursday, Nov. 16 and Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the RWB Founders Studio, 380 Graham Ave. — although the Friday and Saturday shows are sold out. They pay homage to the company’s past, present and future. Some of the acclaimed works that put the RWB on the international map, spearheaded by its late legendary artistic director Arnold Spohr, are featured in the shows.

“It is an absolute privilege to present Our Story, a historically rich performance in celebration of Canadian choreographers in honour of Canada’s 150th,” longtime artistic director Andre Lewis said. “Each of these dance artists have played a part in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s repertoire throughout our nearly 80-year history. I have had the privilege of working with many of them – first as a dancer, and then as artistic director — and can speak firsthand to how these six choreographers have impacted the RWB.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2017 (397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For 78 years, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet has led the charge in the worldwide dance community as Canada’s oldest ballet company, as well as the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America.

The RWB celebrates that rich legacy with Our Story, taking balletomanes on a pirouette down memory lane with an eclectic mixed bill showcasing six Canadian choreographers who have left their footprints on the company.

The shows run Thursday, Nov. 16 and Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the RWB Founders Studio, 380 Graham Ave. — although the Friday and Saturday shows are sold out. They pay homage to the company’s past, present and future. Some of the acclaimed works that put the RWB on the international map, spearheaded by its late legendary artistic director Arnold Spohr, are featured in the shows.

"It is an absolute privilege to present Our Story, a historically rich performance in celebration of Canadian choreographers in honour of Canada’s 150th," longtime artistic director Andre Lewis said. "Each of these dance artists have played a part in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s repertoire throughout our nearly 80-year history. I have had the privilege of working with many of them – first as a dancer, and then as artistic director — and can speak firsthand to how these six choreographers have impacted the RWB."

Ballet buffs with long memories will be enthralled by a rare local performance of Norbert Vesak’s Belong, from his RWB-commissioned 1973 ballet What to Do Till the Messiah Comes. The searing pas de deux earned the RWB’s former prima ballerina Evelyn Hart a prestigious gold medal with David Peregrine at the Varna International Ballet Competition in 1980. It became one of her signature works.

The evening also features a second pas de deux, LED, choreographed by Shawn Hounsell in honour of former principal dancer — now company ballet master — Tara Birtwhistle’s retirement from the stage in 2008.

Other highlights include the RWB’s first resident choreographer Mark Godden’s Miroirs from 1995, with the Montreal-based choreographer critically acclaimed for his subsequent, darkly dramatic full-length ballets Dracula and Svengali, among others.

The program’s oldest work features another company pillar: multi-award-winning choreographer Brian Macdonald’s Pas D’Action. It premiered in 1964; the late dance artist’s wife, retired ballet dancer Annette av Paul, travelled here from their Stratford, Ont., home to stage the work.

For those who like their ballet sizzling, Jacques Lemay’s Le Jazz Hot (1985) also brings back Laura Graham, another former principal dancer who earned a silver medal at Varna in 1990, ensuring a continuity of generations that has always been the lifeblood of the RWB.

But the company fabled for its "Prairie freshness" also looks firmly to the next chapters in its ever-evolving story. The (mostly) retrospective, 123-minute show (with alternating casts) features the world premiere of renowned choreographer and RWB School Professional Division alum Peter Quanz’s straight against the light i cross. Notably, the ensemble piece is the Clifford E. Lee-award winning artist’s first work created especially for the RWB, co-produced with his own seven-year-old company Q Dance.

" ‘Straight against the light I cross’ is a line from a poem by American poet, Frank O’Hara," Quanz said of his new work, set to Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich’s Concerto for Bassoon and Strings with Marimba, with costume design by Anne Armit.

The 21-minute work "celebrating beauty" is dedicated to one of Quanz’s revered mentors, Canadian dance icon and former Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal company member, teacher and historian Vincent Warren, who died during the choreographer’s first week of rehearsals. This ignited Quanz’s desire to honour the elder artist, fittingly, with a tribute of dance.

"This was a magical time as I worked alongside the dancers and ballet master, Tara Birtwhistle," Quanz said of their creative process. "In these rehearsals, I felt a meeting of minds among all of us. We united as a team to complete the work, play with movement possibilities and to share our stories of lost mentors. The RWB dancers have lavished this process with their dedication and trust. We have discovered the richness of the music together and can’t wait to share this new ballet that revels in the beauty of the dancers’ motions, and their fragile and temporal existence with audiences."

Lewis was appointed artistic director in 1996, following two interim terms in 1988 and 1992. The Gatineau, Que., native joined the company after graduating from the RWB School Professional Division in 1979 and was promoted to principal dancer in 1987. The RWB’s story has also been his own, having now been deeply embedded within its fabric for 40 of its 78 years.

holly.harris@shaw.ca

Our Story opens tonight, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m., and runs through Saturday, Nov. 18, at the RWB’s Founders Studio, 310 Graham Ave. For tickets or more information, see rwb.org.

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History

Updated on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 9:13 AM CST: Show times clarified.

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