Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Friday (Nov. 17) and Saturday (Nov. 18), 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $40.25-$120.25 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca
The tagline for Dance Victoria’s upcoming season — Bold, Breathtaking, Boundless — perfectly describes the performances which open the company’s 2023-24 season this weekend.
Riveting, remarkable, and rarefied also fit the bill.
Dance Victoria welcomes Gibney Company to Victoria for the first time ever on Friday and Saturday, with a program of mixed repertoire performances on tap. It is a long awaited debut. The acclaimed New York-based contemporary repertory company, founded in 1991 by artistic director Gina Gibney, has been pushing contemporary dance forward for more than three decades.
But while Gibney herself has yet to visit the Broughton Street theatre, company director Gilbert T Small II will be familiar to local audiences. He spent a decade as a dancer with Vancouver-based Ballet BC, which has a longstanding relationship with Dance Victoria. “I’m quite excited to bring this company to Victoria,” the Brooklyn-based Small, 36, told the Times Colonist. “It’s a very special group.”
Many of his friends from Vancouver (where Small lived from 2009 until 2019) are coming over for the performances, too. “It’s really nice to be able to share the work that I’m doing in New York with them,” he added.
There are several layers to the visit, on and off stage. Small will join Gina Gibney for free pre-show talks, prior to both performances at the Royal Theatre, while Gibney dancers will visit STAGES Dance on Cedar Hill Cross Road to provide a free contemporary dance masterclass for students.
The company will also join Dance Victoria and Victoria Women’s Transition House to offer a program to survivors of gender-based violence. “These kinds of partnerships deepen Dance Victoria’s connection to our community and provide access to individuals who face significant barriers,” Gillian Jones, executive director of Dance Victoria, said in a statement.
“Our hope is that participants in this program have a positive experience that honours each person’s self-expression, and that supports their healing journey.”
Small is happy to to give something back to Victoria, where his learning curve grew exponentially years ago. He danced in choreographer Johan Inger’s Walking Mad during Dance Victoria’s 2013-14 season. As luck would have it, Bliss — a new piece from Inger — joins Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s SARA and Yue Yin’s A Measurable Existence on the program at the Royal Theatre this week.
“Johan’s work is something that really shifted my trajectory as a dance artist with Ballet BC,” Small said. “It was really a time for me to step out of the viewpoint of a young dancer to a more mature artist.”
He brought a range of experience to his job with Gibney Company, in both a personal and professional capacity. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Small has lived and worked in Canada, the U.S., and Netherlands, contributing — and creating — mightily during each stop. Following his arrival in 2021, honesty quickly became a hallmark of Gibney Company.
“As far as I rehearse, coach, and work with the dancers, it’s quite a different aesthetic than you see in the States, in general,” he said, adding that much of the focus of training in the U.S. is centred on athleticism and strength.
“Something I really gained by going to school in Holland and being at Ballet BC, was that on top of atehleticism and strength you need quality of work. That’s the way we work [at Gibney]. We identify what qualities exist in the work, and what is honest and what is put on. Sometimes I think through sheer physicality we all lose a bit of honesty in the work.”
The company operates out of two buildings on Broadway, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. Penthouse apartments in the area sell for many millions of dollars, and have housed everyone from Taylor Swift to Beyoncé and Jay-Z over the years. But Gina Gibney and Small are no dilettantes. They have visionary approaches, ones that bring culture from outside of the U.S. into the company.
That is on display this week with SARA (created in 2017 by Eyal and Behar, but reworked by Gibney Company for a performance last year in Tel Aviv), A Measurable Existence, from Shanghai-born Yue Yin, and Bliss by Sweden native Inger, Small said.
“I’m always interested in the perspective of other communities — I don’t think so much about standing out in New York,” he said. “Through that, I think we stand out. The work is first. No one else in New York is really doing the repertoire we’re doing. I feel like we are filling a necessary need in America, period.”