On June 5, 2018, a special collaboration came to life between MacEwan University and Ballet Edmonton, which is Edmonton’s contemporary ballet company.
The professional ballet company was searching for additional space in Edmonton to expand the outreach of their company. But more than just a physical space, Ballet Edmonton was interested in finding a location that would allow for collaboration with the community. That’s where MacEwan came in.
“I did not want an institutional rental, I wanted a home base for our company. And so I thought, there’s so much that we could offer these kids or integrate with the stuff that everybody (at MacEwan) is learning. And not just the fine arts department, because Ballet Edmonton has other outreach goals into the community,” says Sheri Somerville, executive director of Ballet Edmonton.
As a graduate of an opera program that was offered at MacEwan before the fine arts moved to the Centre for Arts and Communication (CFAC), it makes sense that Somerville would be interested in partnering with the University. She is grateful for the time she spent at the institution and believes in the fine arts program here. “It launched my career and I’ve always recognized that. I’m grateful for that education.”
Another leading factor in the partnership is MacEwan’s proximity to Ballet Edmonton. “Our studios are a block north and a block west from MacEwan, and I watched this building be built. It occurred to me that, here we have an institution where there’s going to be all this young energy and talent moments away from my rehearsal facility where young professionals are already engaged in their career,” explains Somerville. The company still operates out of the Ruth Carse Centre for Dance on 107 Avenue, however, regular season performances now take place at Triffo Theatre at MacEwan’s Allard Hall as opposed to the Timms Centre for the Arts at the University of Alberta.
“I think that for the average person, that’s just good
for them to understand that arts and arts education is an integral part of their community.”
— Sheri Somerville
Of course, MacEwan was enthusiastic about the idea of merging with the city’s professional contemporary ballet company. The announcement of their new relationship was made inside MacEwan’s Triffo Theatre, the stage that is now the company’s performance home. According to an article from MacEwan, University President Deborah Saucier stated that “the partnership is certainly about far more than space.”
Likewise, Ballet Edmonton is about far more than dance. The not-for-profit company has been involved with the Edmonton community for many years, teaching dance classes to inner-city kids and offering dance as a therapy tool for seniors and people with cognitive issues. The company underwent significant changes this summer as it rebranded itself from its former name, Citie Ballet. They’ve also introduced a new artistic director, Wen Wei Wang.
Wang is an award-winning Chinese-Canadian choreographer whose work unites movement, music, and visuals with ideas around cultural and social identity as well as personal growth. His choreography was featured in Ballet Edmonton’s first performance at MacEwan’s Triffo Theatre called “Where We Are,” which centered on the sudden death of Orville Chubb, a friend of the company and husband of Trudy Callaghan, who is Ballet Edmonton’s board chair.
The difference between classical ballet and contemporary ballet can be seen through the style’s ability to tell emotional stories like “Where We Are.”
“Our movement vocabulary is different,” says Somerville. Although each dancer at Ballet Edmonton is classically trained and the performances are done en pointe, their dance movements reach beyond classical ballet traditions. “We want them to have additional language physically so that they are able to do stuff that is aesthetically connected to movement that people can relate to,” explains Somerville.
In many cultures, dance has long been a way to communicate ideas. With emphasis placed on inquiry in university, collaborating with a professional dance company offers a unique opportunity to make new discoveries. Ballet Edmonton is especially excited about the opportunity for interdisciplinary work with a variety of MacE- wan’s departments and faculties.
“MacEwan has a nursing department, a sociology department, a psychology department, a social work department,” says Somerville. “I thought, in the big picture, we could probably integrate some wellness with arts, medicine, kinesiology, social work, and I could access all of these bright young minds to come in and have some experiences with us, (and) use us as part of a tool for exploring different methodologies.”
After their first performance in November, Somerville reflected not only on how the venue, theatre, lobby, and crew worked to create a very warm experience and an exciting beginning for the company but also, on the fact that the new space facilitated community interest towards the arts.
“Our audience came over and are only (now) discovering the Triffo and this building (Allard Hall) and I watched all these people marvel and come early and walk around upstairs and I thought that’s great marketing for MacE- wan to have the public discover ‘wow this is where our young artists get to learn’,” says Somerville.
MacEwan was once well known for its dance training program at the CFAC building until it was removed in 2005. The school’s new collaboration with Ballet Edmon- ton is a gleam of hope for students hoping to pursue a career in dance or theatre, especially those who want a more immersive dance experience than what their regular classes offer.
Fine arts students are also welcome to work and learn from the dance company outside of their season’s regular scheduled performances. Students who are interested in partnering with Ballet Edmonton are welcome to submit their writing, compositions, and designs for possible collaboration. The opportunity will give fine arts students a hands-on learning experience with professionals. It’s also a way to encourage students and young professionals to work within their community here in Edmonton.
With the new year comes a number of exciting performances both by MacEwan students and Ballet Edmonton. Ballet Edmonton’s “I’m Still Here” will feature the choreography of Joshua Beamish and Rachel Meyers and run from March 1 to 3, and “Now I Know” will end off the company’s performance season on May 3 to 5, with work from both Gioconda Barbuto and Wen Wei Wang.
MacEwan’s collaboration with Edmonton Ballet is just one of the many advantages the Fine Arts and Communications Faculty’s new downtown home has allowed.
“By having a series of professional companies in the building, it’s a way to really speak to the broader community of Edmonton who maybe don’t have kids who are in this program, that young artists have a place to learn, and it’s a serious business, the business of learning how to be an artist or a journalist or a writer or a designer,” says Somerville.
“I think that there’s a respect when you walk into an institution like this and see the thought put into the design, how big the building is — therefore, it must have a great number of students. And I think that for the average person, that’s just good for them to understand that arts and arts education is an integral part of their community.”