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Interviews, essays and commentary published by The Dance Current.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

IN THE STUDIO: Jorden Morris and the RWB for Moulin Rouge - The Ballet

Interview by Megan Andrews
Photos by Bruce Monk

Amanda Green and Jorden Morris rehearsing for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

After retiring as a principal dancer with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB), Jorden Morris began to explore choreography. His first ballet, The Three Musketeers, premiered in 1999. He has created numerous works since, including the transformation of the popular children’s television show The Toy Castle into an interactive live dance performance, and the Celtic-themed ballet Deverell. In 2006, the RWB presented the world premiere of Morris’s full-length ballet Peter Pan. The critically acclaimed work is the company’s biggest box office success to date, and toured Canada last year. Morris is also the associate director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

As part of its seventieth anniversary season, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet premieres Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Jorden Morris from October 21st through 24th at Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg. A Canadian tour follows from November 2009 through April 2010.

You’ve said that you consider music the soul of a ballet. Where do you begin in terms of making this fundamental choice?

After I have found a story and characters (this is for full length works), then I start the process of finding music that speaks to me for those scenes and characters. I spend anywhere from twelve to eighteen months finding music for my ballets. I try to find a composer, or group of composers that have great harmony and cohesiveness with their music. For Peter Pan I used primarily British composers that were writing music at the same time that J.M Barrie was writing the book. I like to think that perhaps Mr. Barrie heard some of that music while writing and therefore for me it creates a connection between the music and the story. For Moulin Rouge - The Ballet I explored the French composers from the time the Moulin Rouge was opening, Toulouse Lautrec was painting and the Eiffel Tower was being constructed. For the Tango and Gypsy scenes I found Quartetto Gelato and Astor Piazzola made a great fit with the mix.

Costume sketch by Shannon Lovelace for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

As you’ve indicated, developing a score for a full-length work isn’t a simple matter of finding a single piece of the required length. How do you decide which selections you’ll use and how they fit together?

Initially I make a list of music for a scene that I think will work – then I listen to those selections over and over again until one of them sort of jumps out and says, “I’m the right music for this scene.” This process can take hours, days or weeks. Sometimes it speaks to me very clearly, and sometimes it’s a piece I’ve listened to twenty-five times before I hear something in the score I hadn’t heard before, and it just clicks. Occasionally, there is a piece that I like for a particular scene, but it doesn’t work well as a transition to the following scene. This is where the lengthy process of “weaving” the score takes place. I try to find a way for all the selections I’ve chosen to work together. I may change the order of the scenes slightly to accommodate the music, or I may re-think the characters’ action in a scene if the music is right and suggests I take a slight turn with the story. This is one of the most exciting times of the creation process, but also one of the most frustrating and exhausting times.

Angela Galt sewing a costume for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Once you have the music in place, how do you begin to develop the dance?

People often ask me if I choreograph the steps first and then find the music, or if I find the music and then choreograph the movement? For me the music is the most important thing after the initial idea. However, I start to envision choreography from day one of story and through music selection. I make notes for future reference and then pull those choreographic ideas into play at this point in the process. During the story/music process, I have an idea of what the dance will be like in each scene. For example: this will be her entrance solo, this a pas de deux, this a group corps section etc. So when I get in the studio with the dancers, I know what “type” of scene it is and what the dancing will be like to a point. I will work on my own to identify certain movements or series of steps for each character, as well as the “flavour” of big scene dances (lots of jumps and turns, or pattern work with canons) or pas de deux (lyrical, romantic, hostile etc.).

Set construction for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

In terms of developing the movement material overall, and for specific characters, how would you describe your use of the established classical ballet vocabulary?

The classical vocabulary is such a great medium to work in, so I try to stay within that language. But I also develop derivative movements or a slightly different dialect for certain characters or sections. At times I will use more contemporary movements, and it’s always good to think outside the box.

Thiago Dos Santos, Jorden Morris, Gael Lambiotte and Tristan Dobrowney in Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Classical ballet has sometimes been seen as an art that features the female dancer, and that the male dancer is simply there to present and support the ballerina. What is your perspective on the balance between male and female dancers in a work?

I think that perception is a bit dated personally – as a choreographer, I look at what stories would make great ballets. (Cyrano would be great for a male dancer, Joan of Arc for a woman). I think historically there were more female-focussed works, but I hope in the future of this art form, we will create works that promote the balance.

Jorden Morris, Gael Lambiotte and Tristan Dobrowney in
Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

For Peter Pan and Moulin Rouge – The Ballet, you drew on an existing story or text as a primary source for the dance. Is this a common starting point for you? How is your process different when working with more abstract concepts, as compared to character and narrative?

For Moulin Rouge – The Ballet, I wrote an entirely new script. All I took from existing sources were historical facts and names; then I wrote a script and developed it with my dramaturge. It’s an exciting process, but creating new characters can be a challenge as well. When working on an abstract piece, I let the music dictate the source of movement and what I want it to say.

Costume sketch by Shannon Lovelace for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Morris for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

In the past, you adapted a children’s television show into a dance performance. Have you ever adapted dance for television or film? Do you have a dream project that you’d like to develop?

I have done several projects that take dance to television and film; it’s always an interesting process to combine these media. As long as I have the opportunity to create, this is my dream project. I would like to keep creating new ballets, and I would love to film Moulin Rouge – The Ballet. I think it would be a very successful ballet on film.

*A bilingual photo essay on Morris’ creative process for Moulin Rouge – The Ballet appears in the October 2009 issue of The Dance Current.

As part of its seventieth anniversary season, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet premieres Moulin Rouge – The Ballet by Jorden Morris from October 21st through 24th at Centennial Concert Hall, Winnipeg. A Canadian tour follows from November 2009 through April 2010.

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De Katharine Harris à l’École nationale de ballet du Canada
Traduction de Marie Claire Forté

L’Hallowe’en approche à grands pas et nombreux sont les parents et enfants qui pensent aux costumes. Pour ceux qui dansent, toutefois, le port du costume n’est pas un privilège réservé à un seul jour de l’année. La préparation de costumes pour le spectacle d’une classe peut être laborieuse, alors voici quelques conseils pour un processus sans embûches.


1. Évaluez votre classe. Tenez compte des types de corps, des convenances propres à l’âge et des questions culturelles possibles avant de planifier des costumes. Chaque danseur à une histoire de sa pire expérience avec un costume. Pour la plupart, c’est une anecdote drôle, mais pour certains, cela peut être traumatisant.

2. Mettez les parents à contribution. Vérifiez auprès du comité de parents pour voir si quelqu’un a une machine à coudre et collaborez pour un costume fait maison. C’est non seulement une option créative, mais elle peut aussi s’avérer très abordable.

3. Mettez les élèves à contribution. Prenez en considération les idées des élèves sur les costumes et les thèmes. C’est un bon moyen de les engager dans le processus.

4. Barbara de Kat, chef de l’atelier de costumes au National Ballet of Canada, offre un bon conseil pour le choix des tissus : « Rappelez-vous que le tissu danse aussi ». Les tissus légers et coulants rehaussent le mouvement.

5. Ne favorisez pas nécessairement les costumes amples. Le costume ajusté met en valeur le mouvement du danseur. Le vêtement ne devrait pas limiter le mouvement. Les jupes ne doivent pas dépasser le milieu du mollet et les pantalons doivent tomber juste en dessous de la cheville, pas plus bas.

6. Réduisez, revalorisez, recyclez. Goodwill, le Village des valeurs et l’Armée du salut et autres friperies sont de bons endroits pour trouver des costumes. Lorsque vous achetez du linge usager, demandez à vos élèves d’essayer les costumes et de faire de grands mouvements. Le vêtement devrait suivre le mouvement. Il faut parfois ajuster le costume. Si vous ou un parent n’êtes pas en mesure de le faire, un couturier peut vous aider pour une somme modique. Si vous cherchez des costumes pour toute une classe, choisissez un élément unifiant – une couleur, un chandail rayé ou un accessoire commun – pour assortir le groupe à peu de frais et d’effort.

7. Le coffre à costumes et le garde-robe à la maison sont aussi des sources abordables de costumes. Entreposez des costumes potentiels tout au long de l’année. Lorsque vous commencez la conception des costumes, demandez aux élèves de fouiller dans les coffres et les garde-robes pour des trésors.

8. Si vous optez pour l’achat de costumes, cherchez bien. Demandez conseil auprès des autres studios et professeurs de danse dans votre région. Autant que possible, achetez local. Vérifiez dans les pages jaunes pour les rubriques de magasins de costumes.

Avant tout, souvenez-vous que bien que les costumes fassent partie de l’expérience du spectacle, le public vient pour voir les danseurs ; ainsi, assurez-vous que votre classe se concentre sur la danse et non seulement leurs habits.

For the English version of this article, see The Dance Current October 2009 print issue. | Pour la version anglais de cette rubrique, voyez The Dance Current October 2009 édition imprimé.

Pour en savoir plus | Learn more >>

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

IN THE STUDIO: Janak Khendry

Interview by Megan Andrews
Photos of Janak Khendry Dance Company in rehearsal by David Hou

Janak Khendry is an internationally renowned classical dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of the Janak Khendry Dance Company. He has trained extensively in four distinct dance styles of India: bharatanatyam, kathak, sattriya, manipuri and also in western modern dance. Khendry’s choreographic career started in 1961 in Hyderabad, India, and he has performed around the world, including five command performances for two past Presidents of India. Khendry has a Master’s degree in sculpture from Ohio State University. His works have been exhibited and are in private collections in India, the United States, Canada and Europe.

Janak Khendry Dance Company presents GANGA from September 17th through 20th at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

In addition to your training in four different Indian dance styles, you also trained in modern dance. How does this complement your Indian dance practice?

I studied modern dance as part of my Master’s degree program in sculpture at Ohio State University, Columbus. The focus of my modern dance study was Graham, Limon and Cunningham techniques. What fascinated me about the modern dance was the floor technique of Graham, the emotional impact of Limon and the powerful-expanded movements of Cunningham. I have studied several Indian dance styles and with study of each new style I become aware of the potential of the human body and the beauty of each new form. The study of modern dance was a very special experience because it was completely different than any dance style I had studied before. In my current choreography it gives me a great deal of understanding of the movement and flexibility to merge different dance styles. If used properly and with understanding then all dance styles complement each other.

With respect to your training as a sculptor, how does this background influence your approach to choreography?

The study of sculpture has given me very deep understanding of form, space and movement, which I use in my choreography with great freedom. In my choreography I see the human body as a moving and alive sculpture. Due to my study and knowledge of sculpture, the space has become very important for my choreography. My choreographic works can be viewed from front, back, sides and above. Each view is equally interesting.

For the past eighteen years, you’ve been conducting research into ancient Indian scripture, seeking philosophical ideas to take up in your dance work. How have you developed these themes choreographically?

At this point in my choreographic life, I want to create works that have a universal message. The reason I am searching information in ancient Indian scripture is because the sages who compiled these scriptures had a universal vision. The themes I have handled so far have been about non-violence, human equality, self realization, life, light and creation – to name a few. Though some of my works are connected with the different religions of India, I do not look at them from the religious point of view. I never use the word religion in my work. I always search for the real message that is below the surface. It is that search below the surface that takes so much research time for each of my works. After extensive research and reading, several hundred verses are selected – which are very carefully edited keeping the most essential ones, then a script is prepared. The most challenging part is giving a concrete and sequential form to an abstract subject. Once we are satisfied with the script and are confident that the audience will receive the message we are trying to convey, a copy of the script is sent to the music composer.

How do you work with scholars and researchers? I want to understand more concretely this aspect of your preparatory work.

I work very closely with the scholars, anywhere from two to four years, depending on the subject we are dealing with. We meet quite frequently for three- to four-hour sessions and discuss the subject on several levels and I constantly take notes. They recommend books and I also keep searching for books on the subject. Most of the subjects I have been choreographing recently are very abstract subjects. To present them as dance works is a huge challenge. I have to create a sequential order for the audiences to understand what I have created. To be able to do this, I have to have the inside-out knowledge and understanding of the subject. These subjects have different meanings at different levels and to understand them, the serious discussions with the scholars are imperative. One cannot always find all the information in books, so one has to depend on the accumulative knowledge of the scholars. I have been very lucky to have contact with some of the most brilliant minds in the field.

You like to work with dancers from different disciplines. For
GANGA (The River Ganges), how many dancers are involved and what are their primary training backgrounds?

Yes – I love to work with dancers of several different disciplines. For me it is a challenge to create dance movements that all dancers can perform comfortably and with ease. The dancers I work with are very special to me because they carry forward my creative dreams to the public. They become a very important part of my life. For GANGA I am working with seventeen dancers of African, modern, bharatanatyam, kathak, odissi, mohini attam and kathakali dance styles. They are excellent dancers. The dancers themselves enjoy working with colleagues of different disciplines.

Do you consider
GANGA to be a work about environmental awareness or is this angle secondary to the river’s historical and cultural significance in the dance work?

GANGA was started for its historical and cultural importance and I have found the most incredible amount of information about the river on many different levels. I have travelled and photographed the entire Ganga (Ganges) route of 1600 miles and have been fascinated by its unparalleled beauty, power, moods and colours. During this journey, I also saw to my horror that in certain places this magnificent river has been turned into sewage. Now the environmental issue has become as important as the historical and cultural aspect.

I would like to add that my working relationship with everyone involved with my creative work is very special. My scholars, music directors, dancers, designers, lighting director and photographers are very special to me. From the beginning I share every piece of information with them, I ask for their input and they become a very important part of the creative process and they give me their best.

*A bilingual photo essay on Khendry’s creative process for GANGA appears in the September 2009 issue of The Dance Current.

Janak Khendry Dance Company presents GANGA from September 17th through 20th at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

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De Katharine Harris à l’École nationale de ballet du Canada
Traduction de Marie Claire Forté

La rentrée est un moment excitant de l’année. L’année scolaire s’entame, ainsi que la plupart des programmes facultatifs et spécialisés. Les papillons du premier jour sont coutumes pour toute nouvelle activité. De l’élève qui commence un premier cours au professeur qui rencontre un nouveau groupe, chacun doit composer avec sa fébrilité. Voici quelques conseils pour partir l’année du bon pied.


1. L’objectif essentiel de votre première journée en studio : installer un climat de confiance et de communauté. C’est la journée qui donne le ton à l’année alors faites un effort particulier pour inclure tout le monde.

2. Une journée d’orientation est un bon moyen de commencer l’année. Voir le studio, trouver les vestiaires et rencontrer les enseignants et les employés avant de commencer le travail peut aider à tempérer le stress du premier jour. Les parents peuvent aussi faire une mise en situation complète, avec la préparation du sac de danse et le voyage au studio, afin que tous sachent à quoi s’attendre.

3. L’engagement des parents est une question cruciale pour la plupart des classes de danse, surtout pour les jeunes élèves. La formation d’un comité de parents crée un bon réseau et permet une communication facile sur tous les sujets, de la levée de fonds au covoiturage. Les élèves ont davantage d’appui lorsque les parents sont mis à contribution dans le studio.

4. Consultez la liste d’appel avant votre premier cours. Vous vous familiariserez avec les noms des élèves en plus de voir la taille de la classe et la proportion de filles et de garçons.

5. Le premier cours, les jeux pour faire connaissance sont un moyen de faire parler et danser tout le monde. Un excellent jeu en cercle : chaque participant crée un geste qui correspond à son nom. Non seulement cela aide élèves et professeurs à retenir les noms, mais ils s’amusent ensemble et commence à former une communauté.

6. Le toucher fait partie de l’enseignement et de l’apprentissage de la danse. Planifiez une présentation sur le toucher pour montrer aux élèves comment vous utiliserez vos mains pour corriger la posture, la coordination et la qualité de mouvement. Il est important de communiquer cela aux élèves dès le départ pour ouvrir un dialogue. Encouragez les élèves à articuler leur confort et leurs frontières par rapport au toucher.

7. Expliquez à votre classe que les questions et corrections d’un élève devraient être suivies de tous. Chacun tient à bénéficier de la réponse à une question ou d’une correction, peu importe à qui elle s’adresse.

8. Avant tout, gardez l’esprit ouvert. Vous ne saurez pas comment la classe se déroulera ni le niveau de vos élèves avant d’être en studio ensemble. L’ouverture d’esprit assurera la qualité de l’expérience pour tous.

For the English version of this article, see The Dance Current September 2009 print issue. | Pour la version anglais de cette rubrique, voyez The Dance Current September 2009 édition imprimé.

Pour en savoir plus | Learn more >>