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Co-production a first for Victoria Symphony and Dance Victoria

Ballet Edmonton: Music in Motion includes the first Dance Victoria-Victoria Symphony commission to date.
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Le Quattro is part of Ballet Edmonton's Music in Motion this weekend. MICHAEL SLOBODIAN

BALLET EDMONTON: MUSIC IN MOTION

Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Sunday, April 23, 2:30 p.m. and Monday, April 24, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $29-$98 from the Royal McPherson box office at 250-386-6121 or rmts.bc.ca

Dance Victoria and the Victoria Symphony have collaborated many times in the past, primarily for productions of The Nutcracker. But the companies — two of the premier arts organizations in the city — have never officially taken the plunge and co-produced an event.

That will change this weekend with Ballet Edmonton: Music in Motion, which includes the first Dance Victoria-Victoria Symphony commission to date.

“It’s pretty unique,” said Dance Victoria executive director Gillian Jones. “As a presenter on the dance and performing arts side, when an opportunity comes up to collaborate with a symphony, one that is eager and excited to try something new and outside of the box, it’s really refreshing.”

The union is a considerable one, with a strong sense of historical import: Victoria Symphony has been a bastion of arts and culture in Victoria since its formation in 1941; Dance Victoria arrived in 1995, but has made great strides during nearly three decades of operation. For these two companies to meet in the middle says something about the leadership of both.

“We both have financial skin in the game, so it’s not a question of one of us hiring the other,” said Victoria Symphony CEO Matthew White. “We’re putting all the expenses on the table, and sharing the responsibility for this thing — together.”

The idea for the union was conceived in 2020, during the pandemic, when White was looking at some of the 19th century works his company was planning for its virtual season. “I felt it was kind of weird that there wasn’t a dance component to it, because a disproportionate number of the pieces we were performing in that year had — at least 60 or 70 per cent of it — was music that was originally written for dance.”

White further explored merging dance and classical music once pandemic restrictions lifted. He found a willing partner in Dance Victoria, whose Stephen White, the company’s executive producer at the time, and general manager, Bernard Sauvé, signed on immediately. Music in Motion is the result, with radical new work from Ballet Edmonton’s artistic director, choreographer Wen Wei Wang, who was hired to create a piece specifically for this event.

“He had that vision to come in and create something new in a partnership like this,” Jones said of Wang, who has collaborated with Dance Victoria in the past. “He was the perfect fit for the opportunity.”

Le Quattro, with choreography set to Max Richter’s radical reinvention of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Mother Goose Suite, a version of the Maurice Ravel classic, are featured works this weekend. The new commission from Dance Victoria and the Victoria Symphony, choreographed by Wang and set to composer Ian Cusson’s Le loup de Lafontaine, will be a particular area of focus for everyone involved.

“It feels like we’re taking a chance,” Jones said, “and it’s paying off.”

Though the orchestra will be under the baton of Giuseppe Pietraroia for the upcoming performances, Christian Kluxen, the Victoria Symphony’s music director — who is known for his adventurous programming — played a key role. He suggested an unusual arrangement that will see the musicians perform on stage during the performances and not in the orchestra pit, where they reside during performances of The Nutcracker.

The event will require both dancers and members of the orchestra to come outside their comfort zones, and share the stage. It’s an interesting compromise, as both groups are used to having plenty of space to operate. How the space was divided, to allow room for musicians and dancers, was complementary and collaborative.

“It’s an opportunity for the artists to share the stage, as opposed to having one accompany the other,” White said. “Both are going to have challenges, but that is part of the fun of something like this. It takes people and it puts them in a new place.”

Jones said she does not expect Music in Motion to be a one-off event. “I think there is a definite energy behind it, and interest from both our side and the Symphony’s side. Both Matt and I want to see how this goes and what the response is from the audience and artists. If there’s an interest in seeing this continue, I think it’s definitely possible.”

Ticket sales are strong. At least one of the performances will be within the ballpark of selling out, reaffirming White’s initial hunch.

“It has definitely captured peoples’ imaginations. The danger with a symphony orchestra is that you can quickly fall into orthodoxy. And when you do, you risk losing your relevance. This project is about audience development, for both companies.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com