Ballet BC, pegged as the largest dance company in the province, will participate in a Vancouver trade mission to China that starts this week. The delegation, organized by the Vancouver Economic Commission and led by Mayor Gregor Robertson, will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong with the goal of attracting new jobs and investment to Vancouver. Ballet BC executive director Branislav Henselmann spoke with The Globe and Mail on Thursday, hours before his departure.
How did this opportunity come about?
I had a very early conversation with Joan Elangovan, who is interim CEO of the Vancouver Economic Commission. I think following the mayor's initial visit to China in 2010, the VEC was very keen to include a cultural aspect to the mission. I think the 2010 mission was very successful and they felt they could build upon it. We had a conversation about cultural diplomacy and cultural citizenship and what it means in terms of business and attracting ambassadors and building bridges between the countries, and we realized it would be incredibly important to have a cultural aspect to the mission.
Why is it notable that Ballet BC will be one of the few professional performing arts organizations in a delegation of 32?
Vancouver, and B.C., is an extremely fruitful place for artists. We have some of the pre-eminent artists – in the visual arts, in the performing arts – living and working here. And I'm talking nation-wide, if not internationally. There is a tremendous amount of talent and a tremendous amount of really good work being done here. When we talk, in terms of cultural and business diplomacy with other countries, like China, where we're trying to attract investors, trying to attract talent, trying really to figure out how to do better business, it is absolutely crucial to have a cultural component to it. For example, look at talent acquisition and talent retention: They are going to be wanting much more than just a good paycheque. Vancouver has an amazing landscape – Grouse Mountain, Whistler – but it also has tremendously good art. This needs to be conveyed as well. People want to have a reason to be here.
What are some of your goals during your trip there?
There are some very clear goals [including] a meeting with some of the key people in the arts festival world, like the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Shanghai International Arts Festival, as well as some of the premier presenters. China has been doing capital developments and capital projects in the arts world on an unprecedented basis, building theatres and opera houses. Our sister city, Guangzhou, actually has one of the most beautiful new opera houses, built by Zaha Hadid [Architects]. These are the people I'll be meeting to see how and when we can bring Ballet BC over to China to perform. That's one aspect. The other aspect is looking at the big flagship companies, like the National Ballet of China, that we could present [in Vancouver]. Yet another component that is very important to us is talent spotting and talent development. We have this year launched a Ballet BC apprenticeship program … which has an international component too, so I will be meeting with conservators and academies in China to speak about the apprenticeship program.
Earlier this year, Ballet BC presented the National Ballet of China in its production of Swan Lake. What was so significant about this?
The National Ballet of China is the flagship company of the Peoples Republic of China and, in terms of cultural exchange, it had never been to Canada before. They had toured the U.S. and Europe, but it was the first time they had ever come to Canada. The other very important thing is that Vancouver has a significant Chinese population. It was an amazing privilege to bring that flagship company to the audiences here – first-, second- and third-generation immigrants. It was amazing to see their faces in the audience.
This interview has been edited and condensed.