New Ballet Edmonton choreographer’s inaugural performance includes emotional tribute

It’s been a time of change for Ballet Edmonton — previously known as Citie Ballet — and the company’s new artistic director will kick off the season with a moving contemporary performance.

Wen Wei Wang, an award-winning dancer and choreographer, recently joined Ballet Edmonton after working with Ballet B.C. for many years.

“We were over the moon that Wen Wei decided to come and lead us artistically,” executive director Sheri Somerville said.

“He has performed all over the world, he has choreographed internationally and of course nationally. He has a lot of artistic relationships. Artistic relationships, like any relationships, are very valuable in terms of lending some credibility to our company and encouraging national choreographers who maybe don’t venture out west very much to come to Edmonton.”

Wang made the move to Edmonton in August, at the same time Orville Chubb, a patron of the arts community and husband of Ballet Edmonton Board Chair Trudy Callaghan, was passing away.

“Wen Wei came to the hospital and he and Trudy went up to the healing garden and had a long conversation and as we left, he said, ‘I’m going to create a piece for her in memory of Orville and the loss.’ The loss to the city, to her family and to all of us. I was a friend of his.

“He managed to capture that incredible week as we were losing him so beautifully in this piece. So it’s a tribute to loss but it’s a tribute to moving on and love and community and family.”

Last Words is one of the two movements of Ballet Edmonton’s upcoming performance Where We Are. It is set to the haunting music of the Peter Gregson Quartet.

As a contemporary ballet company, Ballet Edmonton blends qualities of traditional ballet with more modern presentation and themes.

“We did a piece a year and a half ago about social peer pressure,” Somerville said. “You can do a piece on loss, you can do a piece on joy, you can comment that way.

“I think you strip away the stuff people are intimated with — the tutu and the tiara — and you just give them these beautiful bodies moving in concert to tell very clear stories with incredible music.”

Dancers rehearse Ballet Edmonton’s performance of Where We Are, the movement Last Words, on Oct. 26, 2018.

Dancers rehearse Ballet Edmonton’s performance of Where We Are, the X-Body movement, Oct. 2018

Dancers rehearse Ballet Edmonton’s performance of Where We Are, the movement Last Words, Oct. 2018.

Ballet Edmonton chief choreographer and artistic director Wen Wei Wang.

The second movement, called X-Body, explores the qualities that constitute a ballet dancer’s body.

“These dancers, I always say, are like thoroughbred ponies or Olympic athletes,” Somerville said. “They’re exceptional at what they do. They’re highly skilled, highly trained, very disciplined. Their whole world is around dance and their bodies. That piece explores that in a very contemporary setting but with pointe shoes.

“People recognize pointe as being: ‘Oh, ballet.’”

Punctuated electronic music by Ben Frost, Olaf Bender, Kangding Ray and Max Richter highlights the dancers as they use rhythm and tempo to showcase this theme.

“Anybody who appreciates the skill that it takes to execute a ballet, this is for them… but we want to evolve the art form,” Somerville said.

“Ballet needs to move forward as every other art form does. It is wonderful to be referential to past works but it is also very important that we speak the language of today, that we use music and movement in interesting new ways, that we are allowed to tell stories in interesting new ways.

“There’s a lot going on in our world and there’s a lot that ballet and movement and dance can say.”

Where We Are will be performed Nov. 2, 3 and 4 at the Triffo Theatre in Allard Hall at MacEwan University.

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