Interview – Emily Molnar, Ballet British Columbia’s artistic director, on their work and UK tour

Emily Molnar.<br />© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version)
Emily Molnar.
© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version)

Ballet British Columbia (Ballet BC) tour the UK this March with a triple bil of works by Crystal Pite, Sharon Eyal/Gai Behar and Emily Molnar. They tour to London’s Sadler’s Wells, Brighton Dome, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Birmingham Hippodrome, The Lowry in Salford and Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre. Full tour details.,

Ballet British Columbia has the UK in its sights

When Emily Molnar became artistic director of Ballet British Columbia she had a vision for the company – for it to grow, develop, build new work and reach new audiences. It’s taken a few years but gradually that vision is being realised.

Emily, a former principal dancer, took over the helm of the Vancouver-based company in 2009 and since then Ballet BC has become one of Canada’s most sought-after contemporary dance companies. So much so that she feels it is now time to bring the company to British audiences.

“Since 2009 we have really been developing the perspective of the company and questioning what we mean by contemporary,” says Emily. “It’s such a loaded word but our question was ‘what exactly is our responsibility to a contemporary point of view in Canada and in relation to the international dance world?’

“That was going to take a certain amount of time and also, inside that vision, I felt that for us to be ambassadors for Canadian work and to have a global conversation we would need to be able to tour and really extend the work that we are creating to different audiences.”

And for Emily, Britain is a key audience.

“The UK is a very important platform for dance in the world today, it’s developing, producing and presenting some incredible work at the moment. So to be able to come to the UK and share the work and tour is exciting for us,” she adds.

“It’s happening for us now, it didn’t happen overnight. The company is more than 30 years old and it’s taken me, and us, nine years but touring like this gives us the impetus to go forward. It also gives us the information that we need to understand what the next level is for us. We needed to build the work, we needed to build our practice, we needed to build our culture and then eventually go out to various audiences. We’ve been touring for quite a while now but the reach has not been as far, it’s tended to be closer to home. And it’s the natural evolution to expand into the European market and particularly come to the UK.”

The company’s British debut was performing at International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016 and, having tested out the British market, Ballet BC is now ready for a full UK tour. Presented by Dance Consortium, a group of 19 UK venues committed to showcasing international dance, the tour in March takes in London’s Sadler’s Wells and theatres from Brighton to Newcastle (full details).

Emily is ambitious for the company and is hopeful that the dates will open other doors for Ballet BC.

“I hope this UK tour will create other opportunities for touring across Europe. We want to continue to develop our audiences around the world. The company will have a future by building audiences around the world.”

Andrew Bartee, Scott Fowler, Christoph von Riedemann, Alexis Fletcher, Emily Chessa, Kirsten Wicklund and Brandon Alley in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo.© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version)
Andrew Bartee, Scott Fowler, Christoph von Riedemann, Alexis Fletcher, Emily Chessa, Kirsten Wicklund and Brandon Alley in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo.
© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version)

The programme features a triple bill of works all created by female choreographers. Emily’s own work 16 + a room, Canadian dancer and choreographer Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo and Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal’s Bill.

“The programme offers a variety of voices from the contemporary dance world,” says Emily. “We have work by two Canadian choreographers and one international. It’s very important to us that we have a global conversation. Crystal and Sharon are both very prominent voices right now in international dance and we are really pleased to be able to showcase their work to international audiences.

“Crystal’s piece is a beautiful work. It was created for Nederlands Dans Theater and we are the first company to receive the work after its original company. It is inspired by a poem by Mark Strand – Crystal was very taken by his poem called Lines for Winter. It’s an intimate small work, a signature piece for her. It’s for seven dancers which Crystal says is one person seeing through seven different eyes, so it’s a reflection of one person through seven.

Alexis Fletcher and Andrew Bartee in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo.© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version
Alexis Fletcher and Andrew Bartee in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo.
© Michael Slobodian. (Click image for larger version

“It’s set to two pieces by Brahms. The first sonata was created at the very beginning of Johannes Brahms’ working life and the second sonata was composed at a very late stage in his life. And this reflects the idea that the piece is exploring, the idea of the human journey going from adolescence into adulthood.

“At the beginning of the piece, we are at the beginning of our lives and there’s a sense of exuberance and curiosity, joy and daringness and Crystal demonstrates that choreographically with very virtuosic solos and duets, with a lot of energy and passion. The second movement turns a different note and becomes a very collective conversation so all the dancers are on stage all at once and they work with echoing effects and it’s dealing with the idea of collective consciousness and the acceptance of loss.”

Ballet BC in Bill.© Chris Randle. (Click image for larger version)
Ballet BC in Bill.
© Chris Randle. (Click image for larger version)

Jerusalem born Eyal worked with long-time collaborators Gai Behar and Ori Lichtik and created Bill for Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company but the version being toured by Ballet BC is a slightly condensed production of the original piece.

Bill is also a discussion of one and many,” says Emily. “Everyone is dressed exactly the same so they take on a kind of androgyny so that for Sharon everyone is the same person seen from many different angles. It’s a large group work and it is very difficult to describe – which is probably the greatest compliment I could give it! It requires the experience of it.

“There’s a type of depth and discovery to her work. The piece opens with five different solos so you get these five personalities, these five different worlds, and then it moves into a very large group work. Sharon describes this as ‘the brain opening up to the audience’ and it works on different levels. It’s very powerful. Sharon is very much drawing on the past but also inventing her own approach.”

Ballet BC in Bill.© Cindi Wicklund. (Click image for larger version)
Ballet BC in Bill.
© Cindi Wicklund. (Click image for larger version)

A graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School, Emily went on to dance with the National Ballet of Canada, was a soloist with Ballett Frankfurt under director William Forsythe and a principal with Ballet BC. As a choreographer she has created works for companies across the world including Alberta Ballet, Ballet Augsburg and New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute. A leading figure in Canadian dance, Emily was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for her work at Ballet BC and in advancing dance in her home nation.

Under her leadership, Ballet BC has a strong commitment to creating new work and the company now has more than 40 new works in its repertoire which have been created by international choreographers. And Emily says the dancers’ experience of this process enabled her to develop 16 + a room with the company.

“Taking off my director’s hat and putting on my choreographer’s hat, I feel very grateful that I am able to work with the dancers of Ballet BC because they have such an ability to generate and to converse in the creative process,” she says.

“This is because they are working with choreographers on a regular basis and each choreographer has their own approach so they are used to working in a variety of styles. So they worked very closely with me and they helped me generate a lot of ideas.

“The idea from the very beginning was that if you were to put 16 people in a room and you start tipping the room and that tipping of the room is metaphor for the ‘unknownness’ that we feel in the world, then what are the patterns, the vibrations and the timings that relate to the idea of things shifting before we are ready for them to shift? It’s a very structured work which looks at studies of time and transition.”

Gilbert Small and Nicole Ward in 16+ a room by Emily Molnar.© Chris Randle. (Click image for larger version)
Gilbert Small and Nicole Ward in 16+ a room by Emily Molnar.
© Chris Randle. (Click image for larger version)

Despite the UK tour programme featuring all female choreographers, Emily stresses the gender of the creators was not the main attraction for her – it was the work itself. But she also says that company directors do have a responsibility to foster talent – both male and female.

“It has always been important to me as the director of a company to support emerging artists, both male and female, who have something to say. Primarily there has to be craft, passion and talent but we’ve also made sure we work with both Canadian and international voices. Initially we did each of these pieces in different evenings and then I put them together.

“In Canada a lot of our project-based companies are directed by women. Dance is a heavily female-dominated profession so I think there is an enormous amount of talent out there. Talent is not the issue, the issue is whether women are getting opportunities to choreograph. And that comes back to whether we, as directors of companies, make sure they have the opportunities.”

About the author

Diane Parkes

Diane Parkes is a freelance journalist specialising in the arts. Based in Birmingham, she has more than 20 years' experience of writing for print, websites and social media and specialises in syndicate features for a range of arts organisations including theatre and dance companies, venues and orchestras. Follow her on Twitter @DianeParkes1

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