CreativAction: An Enduring Gift to Celebrate an Enduring Talent
by John Coulbourn
February 15, 2019

Heather Ogden in Anna Karenina.

To mark its half-century long relationship with Artistic Director Karen Kain, The National Ballet of Canada has created a new programme that not only honours the creative partnership between the legendary artist and the company, but one that is certain to enrich the future of both the National Ballet as well as Canada’s dance community.

Today we know Kain best as the poised and polished captain of the company – a skilled Artistic Director who sculpts every season with care, introducing entranced audiences to the very best emerging choreographers, while at the same time as wooing established dance geniuses from around the world to set their work on the company that she has helmed since 2005.

But that, of course, is simply one facet of her sparkling career with the National Ballet. When Kain joined the company 50 years ago as a member of the Corps de Ballet, few could have foreseen that her first step on the National Ballet stage would ignite a dance career that would carry her to international stardom.

To celebrate that long and fruitful relationship, after a soft rollout over the past several months, the National Ballet has launched CreativAction, a programme that fittingly celebrates Kain’s legacy of accomplishment on the world stage by working to ensure that the company she has fostered continues to sit at the very forefront of dance creativity in the broader dance community.

Unveiled at the announcement of the 2019/20 season on February 12, 2019, CreativAction’s stated focus will be “developing Canadian dancemakers and supporting the broader dance community in Toronto.”

While the focus of this new initiative may be broad, its execution as conceived by National Ballet Choreographic Associate Robert Binet, is elegantly simple and straight forward: a three pronged approach aimed at ensuring a strong foundation for Toronto’s dance community, combining the Choreographic Workshop with opportunities for independent choreographers to use studio space free of charge and a commitment to micro-commissioning, which will see a series of small works created and be presented in a variety of contexts.

Binet will helm the new programme, extending the work he has done in the past with the company’s Choreographic Workshop.

The idea of Open Space is rooted in those workshops, for it was there, as Binet recalls, that he started wondering “what if we started making studio space available as another way to support choreographers?”

The company’s studios are usually humming, Binet concedes, but there are times – when the National Ballet is performing or touring for example – that those studios sit near idle in a city where studio space is at a premium. It is in those times, he says, that the National Ballet studios will be made available for one to two weeks to independent choreographers who want to rehearse or refine their creations, or simply want to research and explore the complexities of the human movement.

Binet is encouraged by the soft launch that preceded the announcement of CreativAction. Over 20 groups have already participated in Open Space and he is eagerly awaiting the premiere of World After Dark, Shannon Litzenberger Contemporary Dance’s new work, slated to hit the stage of the Harbourfront Centre, March 6 – 9, 2019, marking the first public exposure of work from the Open Space program.

From these Open Space participants and from works created in the choreographic workshops, the National Ballet plans to award micro-commissions for works not intended or choreographed for the conventional stage.

As Binet talks about these works, it is all but impossible not to think of his acclaimed ballet The Dreamers Ever Leave You, inspired by the work of painter Lauren Harris, which premiered at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Binet admits the work has been central to a lot of his thinking on CreativAction, but adds that ultimately, the aim of the new program will always be to “create pathways for choreographers from a wide variety of backgrounds and to draw choreographic talent into the National Ballet – that has always been part of Karen’s vision.”

There’s more to come, Binet vows, promising that it will be an exciting and varied programme.

“CreativAction is open to everyone. There aren’t many pathways into this art form for those who haven’t trained in classical ballet and we want to encourage dancers and choreographers from all backgrounds and disciplines to apply and join our community,” says Binet.
 
It is a scene that was enriched by the presence of Karen Kain – and now, it seems, is about to grow richer.


 

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