Some people just welcome you in. Emily Molnar’s passion for contemporary dance and personal connection transcends genres or expectations.
That’s the biggest thing I learned from my chat with Emily: no expectations. That’s all the prep you’ll need for Ballet BC‘s rule-breaking performances.
Emily is a prairie girl who loves to dance. She left Saskatchewan when she was ten to dance in Toronto for the National Ballet School. Early on, Emily discovered an affinity for contemporary dance. In contrast, classical ballet was and is a codified language, the rules are obvious and dancers had to learn how to interpret within them. Emily, however, knew early on that she “wanted to take responsibility for the invention for the work.” After dancing for rule-bending choreographers in Europe, Emily returned to Canada to become Artistic Director of B.C.’s largest ballet company.
She sees Ballet BC closer to what ballet is like in Europe today. Emily compares ‘contemporary dance’ to a “classical musician that has become a jazz musician.” The roots are still deeply based in classical training. Dancers need that grounding before they can read between the lines; or, as Emily puts it, “put the picture into focus when the rules aren’t clear.”
Ballet BC is a creation-based company and not one built on repertoire. The distinction is an important one; Emily strives to generate new work, supporting choreographers in their craft. “We want to be a hub where minds concerned with dance can come and explore.” Similar to how a painter relies on canvas and brushes, dance incorporates the human body into expressing the choreographer’s masterpiece. And it all comes down to the commitment and mindset of each individual dancer.
“You can’t create great art without failing.” While recognizing this reality, every minute you see on stage is the culmination of at least six hours rehearsal off-stage.
Emily works to strip it all away – the largest ego on stage, she believes, should be the art. Working against the stereotypes of strong egos within the studio, Ballet BC doesn’t move in fear of silencing dancers. Individual dancers are encouraged to take ownership of the work and themselves, being equal soloists within the group.
Refreshingly, there are no A-team stars here. You won’t see the traditional hierarchy a la Black Swan, where one dancer is valued over another depending on role and experience. Each has their moments to stand out, but it’s the blending and teamwork that Emily is most concerned with.
“We all are dancers. We all move. There’s something about the vulnerability and fragility of the human body.”
Emily believes there’s still great value in live performance because people are seeking the connection. Perhaps because our attention spans are shrinking, so dance must change as well – either shortened pieces like Ballet BC’s upcoming UN/A to match our instant-gratification culture, or perhaps deliberately slowing down performances to allow the audience room to breathe.
With plenty of on-demand entertainment like Netflix, there needs to be something truly special for people to buy in. Emily thinks that difference is in the human potential of dance – there’s a personal connection that you can’t find on any screen. Also, the moment the show is over and wrapped, there’s an exclusivity about the performance: you’ll never see it in the exact same way again.
“You don’t need to know anything about dance. You just need great work.” Emily says that some of the most insightful feedback she’s ever gotten come from audiences who have never seen dance in their lives. And Ballet BC is hard at work in nurturing that feeling, creating a welcoming connection beyond their performances.
Her best advice? Let go and relax in the moment. Audiences need to get rid of the underlying urge to ‘get’ a performance, to understand that there’s no right or wrong. There’s just you and the visceral movement on stage.
Ballet BC’s last performance of the season, UN/A, plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from April 24 to 26, 2014. More information here.
Photo Credit: Michael Slobodian