In its 14th season, Ballet Victoria presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set to music by Felix Mendelssohn and choreographed by Artistic Director Paul Destrooper, as well as two shorter pieces, Le Banc (The Bench) created by Destrooper with live Cello Suites by Bach performed by Leslie Atherton, and Luminous choreographed by renowned Canadian choreographer Peter Quanz to the music of Marjan Mozetich. The productions tour BC until March 31, 2017.
One of Destrooper’s best signature marks in all his ballets (even in dramatic tragedies such as Romeo and Juliet) is his sense of humour. It can be layered and nuanced, and it ranges from joyful, to silly, to mischievous, to bawdy, to situational, and even to moving. Destrooper utilizes his dancers’ and his own body to express and communicate – through gestures, movements, body language, facial expressions, pantomime, character quirks and through costumes and props – a whole emotional range of the characters’ inner worlds. And perhaps the most masterful and joyful culmination of that skillful expressiveness to date is Andrea Bayne’s performance of Puck.
Bayne’s Puck is cheerful, playful, and mischievous. She is a trickster and an expressive genius who commands the audience’s attention with her presence and her nonchalant confidence. Her comedic timing, responsiveness, body language, and physical comedy are so on the beat, so charged with energy, intention, and presence that she inspires joy and laughter. Her every movement is calibrated and packed with purposeful and contagious energy. She doesn’t just perform as Puck, she becomes Puck – with every gesture and every stepidy-step – before our eyes. Last year, Bayne had demonstrated her superb acting skills in Romeo and Juliet that was filled with passionate love scenes and had an impressive emotional range. But this year, she has taken her acting to a whole new level, showing us a side of her – the humorous, funny, playful, and even badass side – that we didn’t have access to before.
Bayne’s performance in Luminous, and especially when partnering Destrooper, is by contrast more technique-based, blending both classical and modern elements of ballet. Choreographer Paul Quanz has a distinct visual style and rhythm, both celebrating classical ballet vocabulary and deconstructing it to get to the core of emotional expression. He plays with tempo, accelerating and decelerating movements and connections. He plays with balance – literally and figuratively – as the couples inter-connect and run away. The four couples move in and out of formations and constellations, with Bayne and Destrooper’s powerful and emotional pas des deux at the heart of it, calibrating each other’s movements and balances.
Equally noteworthy are the performances of Luke Thomson, who is in his third year with company, and Peter Taylor, who joined this season. Each of them transcends the supporting roles they inhabit and infuse them with distinct characteristics and individuality. Taylor’s Bottom is a worthy comedic companion to Bayne’s Puck, while Thomson’s Oberon, the King of the Fairies, is portrayed with regal strength and commanding presence. Both dancers have the unique capacity of simultaneously owning the stage and elevating and supporting their partners. Both have demonstrated their technical skills as well, with impressive leaps, leaving the audience crave more.
Despite their highly demanding touring schedule, all three performers kindly took the time to answer my interview questions:
KAT SARK: In your role as Puck, we got to see a different side of you in a comedy role. Your dancing is so playful and joyful, and you convey the trickster nature of Puck and his/her playfulness so well! How did it feel preparing for this role? And is comedy harder to perform than dramatic, lyrical or romantic roles such as Romeo and Juliet?
ANDREA BAYNE: Preparing for the role of Puck was definitely something that I had to think hard about. In my career I have danced many lead roles: Cinderella, Sugar Plum Fairy, Juliet. All of these roles seemed to come to me so naturally. As a little girl, my dream was to be able to dance all of these beautiful classical and lyrical roles. When I was cast as Puck for Paul’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I have to admit, I was quite nervous. Never before had I had to be quite so comedic and play a trickster such as Puck. I had times in the studio where I feared I would look “silly” on stage and no one would laugh! I had to quickly realize that unless I truly let myself in to the essence of Puck’s playful and calculating persona, I most likely would look uncomfortable up there. I remember Paul telling me something that stuck quite well in rehearsal one day. He told me that “if you feel silly, stupid or embarrassed, the audience will feel that as well.” This I found to be surprisingly true. The more I held back my dramatics because of self-consciousness, the less I was able to convey the role I needed to. Letting go of my inhibitions was a struggle at first, but after re-reading the play and getting a true sense of my role, I was able to jump in head first! Paul’s quirky and very humorous choreography made things easier and he allowed me a lot of artistic freedom in this particular role, for which I am very grateful.
K.S.: In Luminous, you and Paul Destrooper have an extensive romantic pas des deux. How would you describe dancing with Paul and how does it compare to dancing with other partners?
A.B.: Luminous by Peter Quanz is a ballet that I do believe changed me as an artist and for the better. Peter came to work with the company just after the New Year began in January during a very difficult time in my life. My dad and my biggest fan ever, who was far too young to leave this world, passed away on January 4th. Being a true daddy’s girl, I was devastated and unsure I would be able to start back after our break with the rest of the company the following week. In the end I thought I would give it a try and see how things played out, as I know that is what my dad would have wanted. Working with Peter was truly my saving grace during this time. He is such an inspiring individual, and his choreography is truly brilliant. When Peter cast Paul and me in the lead pas in his piece I was not surprised considering what an amazing partner Paul is. Dancing with Paul, to be honest, is truly amazing, but equally frustrating;) I have to be careful what I say here – my job is on the line!! Lol, Paul has taught me sooo much about partnering over my career here at Ballet Victoria. He truly has a sixth sense when it comes to partnering and always makes his partner look the best he can. Now that I have danced with him both as a partner and his principal dancer, he has expectations that he wants to see in rehearsal and onstage. It can be frustrating trying to attain that effortless “fingertip partnering” that Paul always strives for, but in the end, it makes the product the audience sees on stage truly magical. I was lucky to be able to dance this role with Paul. With his extensive experience and expertise, I was able to push myself beyond an artistic level that I would not have been able to do with many other partners, and I’m talking world-wide. It was also a very emotional piece about love and lost love and betrayal. This is where Peter’s vision of Luminous allowed me to dig deep into my own life and my own emotions and allow them to create something truly honest.
K.S.: Ballet Victoria got a few new dancers this season, but the ensemble seems to be very harmonious together on stage. Do you all get along behind the scenes as well? What are the dynamics like between all of you? And do you get to bond while you tour?
A.B.: The current group of dancers at BV is amazing. We are like a little family. Each person in the company brings greatness to the group both artistically and personally. Deciding to stay in Victoria has made me see many of my very best friends move on to other careers whether it be in dance or other. This was always hard for me, but the realization that we could still be best friends even without working together every day made the transitions smoother. The current group is fantastic. Everyone supports each other and cheers each other on both on and off the stage. On tour we always bond. This year we were away doing 24 shows of Nutcracker from Arizona to Alberta for a month! If being around the same people all day everyday when your body is tired and you just want to sleep in your own bed doesn’t create drama, you know you are a true team. I feel blessed to be able to dance with such an inspiring group of people both inside and out.
K.S.: Your upcoming role will be Belle in Beauty and the Beast in May, right? How is that role different to prepare for? And what can we look forward to in that performance?
A.B.: I’m very excited about BV’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast. I believe it is good timing, with the new Disney movie coming out. I am most definitely looking forward to playing the role of Belle. My biggest hope is that I can portray a character that every little girl believes that Belle is and I have no doubt that with Paul’s brilliant interpretation that I will be able to do just that.
KAT SARK: This is your first season with Ballet Victoria. How is it? How would you describe your collaborations with the ensemble and how do you like the city of Victoria?
PETER-NICHOLAS TAYLOR: I really enjoy the company! Being the youngest and coming straight out of high school, I found it difficult at first, but everyone has helped me so much in transitioning to the professional dance world. The dancers in the company are all so nurturing, and the community of Victoria is very supportive of Ballet Victoria. Victoria is a wonderful city and I quite enjoy living here. I’ve really enjoyed the weather since September and look forward to my first summer here!
K.S.: How do you like working with Paul and what is he like as a choreographer, artistic director, and as a dancer?
P.T.: Paul is a true jack of all trades. He does everything, from choreographing and teaching class to setting up the stage and lighting design. I’ve enjoyed his interpretations of well-known ballets, and the fun twists that he adds to them. For example, in The Nutcracker he added a section in the party scene where the parents did the fad dance move “whip and nae nae.”
K.S.: You got to perform in two comedic roles this season, both as the opening character in Le Banc and as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Have you performed in comedic roles before? Do you have to prepare for them differently than for dramatic or modern ballets? Which roles do you personally prefer to dance and perform?
P.T.: I found that the preparation for Le Banc was very casual. The comedy was very pedestrian so I was able to relax and just let the natural comedy of the situation play out. I actually used the comedic role in Le Banc to prepare for the pas de deux I had right at the beginning. It was a way to get comfortable with the audience, as well as test the crowd. For my role as Bottom, I found that the comedy came from my face even though it was inside a donkey head. Being able to make ridiculous faces in the donkey head made it easy to get the body language right. I personally don’t have a preference for dramatic roles or comedic roles because they both provide a challenge for me.
K.S.: Is there one particular dance piece or performance that made you want to dance ballet? And what are some of the challenges of being a professional dancer for you?
P.T.: There hasn’t been a particular performance or dance piece that I have seen that made me want to pursue ballet as a career. I found that classical ballet really resonated with me because I thought it was effortlessly beautiful. I’ve always loved the female dancers more than the males because in my opinion there is more variety within the female variations. For example, the Kitri variations in Don Quixote are very different from the Sugar Plum Fairy variation, which is very different from all of the fairy variations in the prologue of Sleeping Beauty. Whereas, I find that all the male variations in classical ballet are the same formula. Nevertheless, I still love to dance the male parts because they are always challenging and when done right, the jumps and turns look superhuman.
KAT SARK: You’ve been with Ballet Victoria since 2015, and you’ve had very interesting roles and performances in all productions. What was your favourite role/performance so far and why?
LUKE THOMSON: My personal favourite role would have to be Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet. It was a fun and nuanced sort of role, and one that I have always wanted to perform since I started training to be a professional dancer.
K.S.: Before coming to Victoria, you lived in New Zealand and you studied with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. What are your best memories of these places and how do you like being/working in Victoria?
L.T.: My best memory from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school would have to be my Teacher Mr. Roman Rykine, as I learned more than I ever though I would about ballet, and would not be the dancer I am today without his teaching. As for New Zealand there is not one specific thing about the experience that was the “best” so to speak, I enjoyed every part of my time there, whether it was dancing at the school or exploring the magical New Zealand landscape.
K.S.: What are some of the challenges of ballet dancing for you and how do you prepare for your performances?
L.T.: For me the most challenging part of ballet is pacing myself to not cause injury, as I just want to go go go, and never stop. Before a performance I like to just relax and get into the mindset of whatever role I’m doing, basically I like to chill out and refocus before I perform.
K.S.: What made you want to be a dancer and which ballets /dance pieces/ music / art inspires you? What do you do when you’re not dancing or rehearsing?
L.T.: My decision to pursue professional dance was more initiated by the encouragement of some of my teachers back home in Ottawa, then was solidified into a “yeah, I want to do this” during my first year at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school. My inspiration comes from almost random sources, sometimes it’s a piece of old Renascence art, a different style of music form, or soundtrack, or random artists. For me, inspiration can come from almost anywhere and not really anything specific. When I’m not dancing or rehearsing, I like to listen to music, eat food, and just relax.
Photos by Gail Takahashi, Gordon Griffiths, and Derek Ford