The National Arts Centre's new dance season looks visionary and artist-centric. It's exactly what you'd want out of an important national venue: programming that showcases new choreographic thinking around the world, while investing in the work of emerging and established Canadian artists.
"We are always looking to put together a very balanced program so that we're continually introducing our audiences to a number of different trends, ideas and issues – everything that we are observing and developing within the contemporary dance and ballet world," says NAC dance executive producer Cathy Levy.
For 2017, Levy was keen on focusing on contemporary ballet since much of the NAC's previous co-productions have fallen on the contemporary/modern spectrum. "I was also really conscious of wanting to invest in a project that wouldn't just live for a few days in Ottawa, but would have legacy after that, and see the NAC really contributing to the canon of Canadian dance."
Her goal has translated into ENCOUNT3RS (April 20-22, 2017), an all-Canadian, NAC commission in honour of the country's sesquicentennial. It pairs three established Canadian choreographers – Guillaume Côté (National Ballet), Emily Molnar (Ballet BC) and Jean Grand-Maître (Alberta Ballet) – with three Canadian composers (Kevin Lau, Nicole Lizée and Andrew Staniland, respectively). After the premiere in April, each 35-minute piece will belong to the choreographers' home company, making a concrete contribution to Canadian repertory.
The season has an exciting mix of major international companies alongside lesser-known artists working more experimentally in Canadian, American and European dance. In the former category, we'll see the theatrical Shanghai Ballet (their first performance in Ottawa since 1989) present the romantic classic Giselle in November.
The National Ballet of Canada will tour their season's production of Onegin in January; the parodic Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo will perform in February; Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal will present Minus One, by the inimitably creative Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, in May. There will also be the requisite holiday-season Nutcracker, presented by the Albert Ballet.
Series A will also showcase Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance presenting work by eminent choreographers like William Forsythe, Crystal Pite, Jiri Kylian and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo (November). In March, the acclaimed German company Gauthier Dance // Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart, led by Canadian Eric Gauthier, will make its NAC debut with a mixed program.
American tap-dance innovator and MacArthur fellow Michelle Dorrance was an audience favourite at Toronto's Fall For Dance North in 2015. Her company, Dorrance Dance, will present ETM: Double Down at the NAC Theatre in October. I'm particularly excited about the NAC co-production with renowned Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who is creating a piece for five dancers called Fractus V, which derives its unlikely inspiration from the political writings of Noam Chomsky (November). The endlessly innovative Batsheva Dance Company will perform Last Work by Naharin (January) and French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi makes his NAC debut in April 2017 with a 12-male-dancer piece titled What the day owes the night.
From March 23-24, 2017, the NAC's three Associate Dance Artists will have their work presented side by side in an evening of important Canadian dance. The program features Marie Chouinard's solo Etude no 1, Crystal Pite's duet A Picture of You Falling and Christopher House's moody ensemble piece Echo, which had a beautiful premiere in Toronto in 2015.
Series C in the NAC studio showcases the work of three ambitious, emerging choreographers. It's an exciting opportunity to see fresh ideas in contemporary dance, coming from young artists from different countries. Flemish choreographer Lisbeth Gruwez will present AH/HA, a five-dancer piece about laughter in October. Italian choreographer Alessandro Sciarroni makes his NAC debut in February and rising Montreal choreographer Virginie Brunelle will present a new work in April, co-produced by the NAC.
I've made a point of keeping tabs on the number of female choreographers included in the 2016/17 seasons, hoping to draw attention to the rather grim gender disparity in the dance world – a disparity that's even worse on the ballet side of the spectrum. But the NAC is light years ahead of its peers in this department; eight out of 23 choreographers in the new season are women.
"We've always tried to balance our season in a number of ways, including around gender," says Levy. "That's very important to us."
Special to The Globe and Mail.