Ballet B.C. brings the blues to Victoria's Royal Theatre

ON STAGE

What: Ballet B.C.
Where: The Royal Theatre
When: Friday and Saturday (March 15 and 16), 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $29-$99 from the Royal McPherson box office, by phone at 250-386-6121, or online at rmts.bc.ca

Emily Molnar began her dance training at the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto when she was just 10. By the time she was 16, Molnar had joined the company as an apprentice, and by 21, she was a principal dancer. As a result of her steady rise and subsequent high-profile postings (Germany’s Ballett Frankfurt; Alberta’s Banff Centre), the Regina native has been elevated to great heights within Canada’s dance community.

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After serving as a principal dancer at Ballet B.C. until 2003, Molnar returned to the Vancouver outfit as artistic director in 2009. Since her arrival, she has turned the company into one of North America’s leaders in contemporary dance.

She now commissions for the company more premières from Canadian and international choreographers (Victoria’s Crystal Pite among them) than any other organization of its kind in the country, with tours in the United States and Europe on the company’s docket.

Performances at the Royal Theatre will bring Molnar and dancers from Ballet B.C. to town for two nights, starting Friday, with a program that includes Medhi Walerski’s Petite Cérémonie and Cayetano Soto’s Beginning After, two highlights from her decade-long tenure at Ballet B.C. To This Day, a new creation from Molnar that premièred in November, will round out the offerings at the Broughton Street theatre this weekend.

Molnar recently returned from tours that took portions of the same program to Spain, Luxembourg, Germany and Israel. “Touring is important for lots of reasons. We get to bring Vancouver outside of Vancouver, and Canada outside of Canada as well. The entire program is quite diverse. You definitely feel like you are seeing three distinct pieces that take you on a very interesting journey as an audience member.”

To This Day is set to the music of Jimi Hendrix, a surprising turn given the almost non-existent role blues-rock music plays in contemporary dance. Molnar felt she had something fresh to offer by using the music included on Hendrix’s 1994 album Blues, a posthumous compilation of live and studio songs by the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, and licensed the music directly from Hendrix’s family, which runs the late musician’s multi-million dollar estate under the Experience Hendrix banner.

She has long desired to set her choreography to samplings of jazz music, but has yet to find the perfect companion piece. Molar embarked on a dry run with To This Day, which was inspired by world events — Martin Luther King’s assassination, Woodstock, NASA, the Vietnam War — at the time Hendrix was alive.

“I had been listening to Blues at home for so long, and finally said: ‘I’m going to try and do something here.’ I was thinking about identity and voice and collective voice, and was looking at the tone of our society and politics. Where do we come together and where do we stand on our own? What does that mean and how does art get involved in that?”

Even still, it begs the question: Ballet and the blues?

“I always know when I’m supposed to choreograph with something when it does something to my body right away. I can’t describe it. I find myself moving without even trying to move. That’s when I know there is something there I can research. It doesn’t happen to me very often. But I knew there was a purpose in there.”

To This Day stands out alongside Romeo and Juliet, which Ballet B.C. tackled in 2018 — one of the rare occasions when the company included a certifiable classic on its seasonal program. Molnar knows all too well the financial benefits of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, for example, having danced in similar productions during her younger years. But she believes the role of Ballet B.C. is to get audiences excited about new work, not exclusively pieces created centuries earlier.

“We are very aware of that balance, which is why the diversity of programming is so important. When we do something like Romeo and Juliet, we want to push the art form forward. We don’t want to avoid something like Swan Lake — we just to do it to the point where it is asking some questions.

“We are one of five major ballet companies in the country, and we do the most new work of any of them. My focus is the canon of work we are leaving for Canada. If we have done our job well, we are adding to the legacy of Canadian contemporary dance.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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