Coastal City Ballet (CCB) will open its 2014-2015 season with Don Quixote’s Dream and Mixed Repertoire, a creatively diverse performance that is a testament to the uniqueness of CCB’s artistic vision. The versatility of the program is also a symbol of the company’s commitment to keeping ballet alive on the Vancouver dance scene – a task that proves to be an art form in itself.
Li Yaming, CCB’s artistic director, prides himself on the company’s mix of original contemporary and classical ballet works and full-length story ballets, as well as on its youth-centered focus.
In addition to featuring youth-friendly productions like the upcoming spring performance of Cinderella, Li nurtures the diversity of the company’s output through mixed repertoire performances where CCB’s dancers are challenged by working with a variety of choreographers and dance styles.
“I strive to show that the best dancers can do most genres well, therefore allowing audiences to enjoy classical ballet in the same performance as contemporary,” says Li.
So alongside the dream scene from Don Quixote, which Li calls one of the most beautiful and popular classical ballets in the world, he also chose to feature several other inspired choreographies such as Alice Gerbrecht’s You Keep Quiet and I Will Go, based on the poem by the Chilean Nobel Prize laureate Pablo Neruda.
Gerbrecht is an accomplished dancer and choreographer who teaches CCB’s company class and runs rehearsals.
Her interest in the piece, originally choreographed for the Louisville Ballet Civic Company in 2002, was spurred by her experience of living and working in the United States, and seeing how quickly 9/11 was changing people around her.
“Pablo Neruda’s poem, Keeping Quiet, which calls for everyone to stop for a moment and reflect, seemed the perfect response to this climate of fear. Of course, it is much harder to be still than it is to respond, and the piece is about this struggle,” says Gerbrecht.
Featuring choreographically diverse performances is not only a reflection of CCB’s commitment to exploring artistic excellence, but is also a method of securing broader audience outreach and survival in a climate where arts grant funding is scarce compared to Europe and China, Li’s country of origin.
In China most ballet institutions are state-owned and funded, thereby allowing for better job security for the dancers and greater financial accessibility of the work for the audiences.
Vancouver-based and Chinese-born Wen Wei Wang is an award winning choreographer and artistic director of Wen Wei Dance. His contemporary works are known for their subtle exploration of personal and social identities and unique use of body language, music and visual effects.
Wang began his professional career in China with the military-owned Lanzhou Song and Dance Company, and can relate to the difference between the Chinese and Canadian performing arts systems.
“In China you work for a big company, they take care of you until you die, you never worry about money, but you never really question who you are [either], and you don’t [necessarily] have the freedom to express yourself,” he says.
However, Wang acknowledges that China is becoming increasingly more open to envelope-pushing artistic expression. The 2010 Beijing staging of his piece Under the Skin contrasted video projections of live Peking duck with that served in restaurants to represent the victimization of those challenging the political system.
Surviving and thriving
Wang created an abstract piece for CCB’s season opener called Pure Emotion, and he enjoyed the challenge of both working with another company’s dancers and choreographing for pointe ballet.
For both Wang and Li, the passion for the artistry of dance is what drives them despite the challenges of economic survival.
“In Canada [dancer/choreographer’s] work is not about money…you are lucky if you survive, and you have to be honest with yourself, and love what you do,” says Wang.
Li’s ultimate vision is to turn the student-based CCB into the only professional company that will perform full-length classical ballets for Vancouver audiences, who he feels appreciate the artistic subtlety of the form.
“While [audiences] enjoy seeing the many tricks and turns that dancers can execute, they can still be moved by the simplest of gestures if they are performed by a true artist,” says Li.
Don Quixote’s Dream and Mixed Repertoire will take place at 8 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver. For more info on the full content of the performance, visit www.coastalcityballet.com, and for tickets go to www.centennialtheatre.com