Every single year, I wait for the end of July- not because of the unbearable sun and 30°C+ temperatures, but because Ballet in the Park happens and completes my little ballet soul. A local Travel Thursday if you will! If you are new to the blog, ballet has been a lifelong passion of mine! Although I never moved on past my professional exams, I’ve kept dancing and attending and following throughout the years. Ballet in the Park is unlike any other show; taking place at the Lyric Theatre at Assiniboine Park here in Winnipeg, it’s an amazing event that allows us to celebrate and enjoy the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and this fair city of ours!
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet gifts us with Ballet in the Park for three nights, every summer for over 40 years now! Tickets to a show at the RWB range in price during the year, typically starting around $30 CAD- incredibly reasonable given that it is a world class company- but Ballet in the Park is a free show that you can bring a blanket or a lawn chair to, whatever food you want, and spend the evening enjoying some of the most talented artists in ballet! Throughout the show, there is always a presentation from the Professional Division students who are training to be dancers themselves, Recreational Division students, and the Company itself.
This is probably because I have 25+ years of ballet myself, but I am fascinated watching warmups. It is often where you can see the tics and quirks of a dancer that may be hidden in choreography. It’s also reassuring to know that sometimes professional dancers also need to get their legs under them, too… I think it’s also a great way to show the general public that dancers are people like you and me, even though they move in ways we could only dream of!
The Professional Division performed the Fairy Doll Pas de Trois, and did an outstanding job with a fun, comedic piece! Natsume Kimura was a pleasure to watch, and she lead her male partners so well without getting fed up with them- given their ridiculous antics, she very easily could have rolled her eyes but instead kept us enthralled with her pointe work. Liam Reid and Joshua Phillips took their hilarious roles very seriously and gave slapstick comedy a very elegant twist!
This year was particularly special, as we were treated to an extra performance from the Professional Division. Saeka Shirai and Yue Shi both placed second at the 2016 International Ballet Competition Varna, and we were able to see their Don Quixote Pas de Deux. It’s easy to see how they placed so highly; flawless technique, a grounded but light quality, and genuine enjoyment. While it would have been amazing to see them at the competition, it was a nice surprise to see the performance live instead of on Youtube!
The technique demonstration from the Professional Division is always a big hit with the crowd- it’s a fast and fun way to educate people on the work, training, and stamina that goes into ballet! The dancers are always good sports about it, even though I’m sure it’s 1000x more difficult to hold your extension at 100° in extreme heat with the sun in your eyes….
And then we arrive at Celts. Celts premiered here in Winnipeg in January; sadly, I wasn’t able to go because I was sick. Choreographed by Lila York, it is a lively and fun piece that sees ballet and Irish dance meet in a fairly explosive and entertaining show. As someone who has done both ballet and Irish dance, I absolutely loved it. To look at it from the side of Irish dance, it’s incredibly bizarre and rather mind-bending to watch. However, as a ballet dancer, I loved the creativity of it all. The melding of these very different forms of dance that is rarely seen gave both a breath of fresh air. From the Ballet in the Park program, “Choreographed in 1995, the year before the Riverdance phenomenon hit North America, Lila York’s Celts is an exuberant fusion of ballet, modern, classical, and Irish folk dance set to the music of pulse pounding and foot stomping rhythms of Celtic music. The inspired choreography showcases ensemble pieces and energetic solos. The ballet springs to life with a pastiche score by The Chieftains, Mason Daring, William J. Ruyle, Bill Whelan and Celtic Thunder.”
If you know your Irish dance, you will know that the arms are held firmly and calmly behind you (essentially in the dip in the side of your butt). As a ballet dancer, it always felt restricting to me, but I do respect that it’s part of the art form. However, I was overjoyed to see the use of arms and extensions á la second (to the side) as something different and innovative to Irish dance! (They also scrapped the extreme over-crossing of Irish dance, which I always struggled with…)
To continue on this nerdy dance train, it was super interesting to see the male piece danced to a slip jig! In traditional Irish dance, the slip jig is a soft shoe dance, in a 9/8 time signature, danced only by females. While it wasn’t a slip jig per se, it did give me the giggles a little. Also, if I could jump like that, I think I would be in a different profession right now…
Given that this was choreographed the year prior to Riverdance, it is interesting to see the progression of Irish history told through dance in another venue. Early Irish history is actually my field of study; I’ve spent hours pouring over every text, article, presentation, and source available. While I love to read about it and analyse it, it is something entirely else to see it told through dance- something so dear to me. It was especially lovely to me because every single one of the dancers looked to be having a wonderful time dancing the piece, which is rarely the case. (As dancers, we all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we are only human.) As I was a small child when this piece came into being, it clearly wasn’t made for me but it very much felt so.
One of the most special parts of the night for me was when I was able to meet my favourite dancer after the show. She was so incredibly nice and friendly, and took the time after what I’m sure was a crazy busy day to speak with me. It’s rare to find someone who understands dance and is able to converse in detail, let alone someone who is a professional in the field! Truly one of the best nights I’ve had in years!
Do you have any questions about ballet?