The Dreamers Ever Leave You

Shifting and Ephemeral
by John Hart
March 2, 2021


Skylar Campbell and Artists of the Ballet in The Dreamers Ever Leave You, presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 2016. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Audiences for the world premiere of The Dreamers Ever Leave You at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2016 were invited to participate in the excitement, novelty and power of an exciting new work. The ballet, conceived and choreographed by Robert Binet, was presented in collaboration with the exhibition “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris.” Audience members could move around the three, long rectangular performance areas that were set up in one of the AGO’s gallery spaces. As a result, each individual could choose their vantage point and which dancers to focus on, creating changeable perspectives and unique vistas with a foreground, middle ground and background. Similarly, the dancers moved around the space according to a set outline, though Robert also provided a flexible choreographic vocabulary that allowed the dancers freedom to respond to each other and to the audience. 

There was always a palpable sense of immediacy, energy and vulnerability within the gallery during the performances. Audiences were fully immersed in the world of the ballet in the intimate setting, surrounded by the lighting, the live music of Lubomyr Melnyk and the dancers’ performances. The Dreamers Ever Leave You was a great success, judging by the sold-out performances and the critical reception – “a thrilling and affirming victory for the art form” (The Globe and Mail). 

As Robert explained at that time about the creation process: “I wanted to tap into the profound sense of movement, ephemerality and urgency in Harris’s work, which dance naturally shares. The images he captures existed only fleetingly, before the light shifted or the clouds moved and nature took its course. Rather than choreograph something that would try to fix these transient moments, I decided to create a work in which all the elements are constantly shifting in response to one another, as they do in nature.” 

The notions of ephemerality and flexibility were hallmarks for the show and have only continued to present themselves through eight other iterations of the work over the last five years. In each case – from theatre versions in Toronto and Hamburg (both 2018), to gallery/immersive versions in London, UK (2017) and Algoma (2018), Robert has adapted the work to suit both the dancers and the locale. 


Alexandra MacDonald and Brendan Saye with Artists of the Ballet in The Dreamers Ever Leave You, presented at the Four Seasons Centre, 2018. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

“What I have slowly learned with The Dreamers Ever Leave You,” says Robert, “is that the final show is not really the work in a formal, definitive sense. The ballet is a collection of 13 solos, 12 duets and 2 trios, 14 pieces of music, 11 costume designs and a very specific palate of colours and shapes for light. These elements can be rearranged for different spaces and circumstances so long as the principles of risk, chance and intimacy are central to all decisions, as that is how the elements combine to evoke a natural landscape.” 

In the summer of 2020, the National Ballet began a residency at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, which was to culminate in socially-distanced performances for a maximum audience capacity of 34 members. The setting was intimate like a gallery, but to prevent contact, audience members were to be assigned seats around the perimeter of the room. Robert worked to re-conceptualize the ballet not once but twice in response to pandemic restrictions that were constantly shifting. Unfortunately, the opening day – with four performances – was also the day that a lockdown was announced with immediate effect; after the initial four performances, the rest of the run was postponed. The moment was ephemeral yet again. 

To share Dreamers with a wider audience, and to connect with audiences during this digital era we’re currently in, excerpts from the ballet were filmed at Harbourfront Centre prior to the latest state of emergency. Directed by Ben Shirinian (Lost in Motion, Lulu) and produced by Lookout, the film captures the immersive quality of the gallery versions.  


Tirion Law and Peng-Fei Jiang in The Dreamers Ever Leave You, presented at Harbourfront Centre, 2020. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

“The original intimacy of the performances at the AGO, when the audience could move freely and stand eye-to-eye with the dancers, is what makes The Dreamers Ever Leave You so well-suited to film,” says Robert. “The viewer can now fly around with the dancers and be close enough to see their sweat and hear them breathing, which I hope will give people some of the intimacy and connection we are all missing so much.”  

Dreamers the film provides a permanent record of excerpts of the ballet, in some ways a contradiction both to the idea of live performance and Robert’s aim of portraying ephemerality. And yet the film portrays a specific moment in time, captured to share widely but fleeting in its context. And if there’s anything we have learned about Dreamers, it will continue to shift and respond each time it’s performed. The clouds we are under now will part, the sun will shine through and a moment of beauty will inspire awe.  

Watch The Dreamers Ever Leave You

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