A New Work by Cameron Fraser-Monroe

Rhythm, Shape and Narrative

By John Hart
September 27, 2023

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Cameron Fraser-Monroe giving notes to Calley Skalnik and Artists of the Ballet pre-performance at Sharing the Stage. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Cameron Fraser-Monroe, a member of the Tla'amin First Nation, studied with World Champion Hoop Dancer Dallas Arcand, with Elder Mollie Bono in Grass Dance and with Zirka Ukrainian Dancers and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. He has performed with and choreographed for several companies Canada-wide and joined Ballet Kelowna as their first Artist in Residence in 2022. In his first collaboration with The National Ballet of Canada, Fraser-Monroe created payɛʔot which received its world premiere at Sharing the Stage in August. 

You've had training and performance experience in varied styles. How do they inform how you view and choreograph movement? 

I try to bring the best of myself and what I’ve learned in each vocabulary into my work, while respecting the traditions and history of where they come from. I am most attentive to First Nations Hoop and Grass dance, and the way they can be taught and shared in a good way. However, growing up in this practice impacts my creation even beyond movement by how I hear rhythm, see shapes and craft narrative. 

Can you tell us about the title of your piece, payɛʔot, and your inspiration? 

payɛʔot is about returning to relationships that have always been there and the comfort they can offer, specifically my relationship to Hoop Dance. It shows up in the work through strong circularity and continuity, and firm and reassuring contact between dancers. It’s fitting that the translation of payɛʔot in my language of Ayajuthem is “always." 

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Calley Skalnik and Albjon Gjorllaku in payɛʔot. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

How did you select the music* by cellist and composer Cris Derksen?

I seek to centre Indigenous voices in my work as evidenced by using Indigenous composers for every commission I’ve received on ballet companies. Cris happens to be incredibly talented and a lovely person, and I find a real parallel in our practice. Classical training and community connection make for a really beautiful collaboration. 

This is your first time working with The National Ballet of Canada. Can you describe your experience? 

The dancers are generous, attentive and skilled technicians. It’s careful work to incorporate Traditional dance into ballet context but the space was made to feel safe. I felt supported even beyond the studio by the whole artistic team including Hope [Muir], Rob [Binet] and the tech trio of Jeffs [Staff Manager Jeff Morris, Lighting Coordinator Jeff Logue and Jeff Soucy, Stage Manager for Sharing the Stage at Harbourfront]. 

I heard it was a very short rehearsal time. Did that affect your process? 

A huge part of choreography is prioritization and time management. I could create something intricate and stunning in the studio, but without the proper rehearsal the dancers will not be set up to succeed onstage. I decided to devote the time to the unfamiliar traditional footwork, which meant incorporating steps I knew the artists could execute with confidence for their other work, namely ballet vocabulary. 

What did you enjoy about participating in Sharing the Stage?

I was so happy to premiere payɛʔot outside at Harbourfront because it’s a bright and open space. Rob did an excellent job curating a show that I could watch for four nights in a row and more, and it was a pleasure to share the stage with such a diverse and talented line-up. 

* Music: “Smile at Me” & “We Danced Movement I” by Cris Derksen from the album The Cusp (2010)

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Artists of the Ballet in payɛʔot. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

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