Alberta Ballet’s Up Close features a rare circumstance for the ballet world: an (almost) all-male cast. Of the three pieces in the show, a lone female dancer (Reilly Bell) is slated to perform in ruin/time, a duet created by the company’s ballet master, Alex Ballard.
The rest of the show presents Ballard’s The Precise Nature of Catastrophe and Yukichi Hattori’s Temple—both in world première showings—with the men of Alberta Ballet in an unusually proximal setting.
“We usually perform in the Jubilee. It’s big and the audience profile is a certain type,” explains Hattori, who, as one of the company’s oft-featured dancers (like the Elton Fan in Love Lies Bleeding), has been exploring the choreographic side of things of late. “This time we get to perform in a smaller, more intimate theatre, so it’s definitely a different approach. You will see a different side of dancers because of the theatre itself.”
The ideas for Temple started percolating when Hattori found out there would be no female dancers available during his rehearsal window. It’s not a statement, he notes, it’s because the female corps is occupied with preparations for Giselle in March. Budget parameters then required his piece to use music from the public domain.
“That led me to Gregorian chants and what those mean,” he says, citing their monastic origins. “Then I saw a ballet barre in the studio and thought, ‘That’s a good starting point.’”
The result in Temple is an examination of the dancer’s body as a spiritual structure. The barre, onstage throughout the piece, in the end becomes a kind of religious architecture.
“The theme is about our body being the art piece itself, and how we work on it every single day in training,” Hattori explains. “Usually ballet dancers start at the barre doing very simple warmups, but that’s our foundation of our art and how it builds a sacred body per se—that body mediates what we want to express.”
Hattori, who grew up in Japan before moving to Germany to perform with the Hamburg Ballet in 1999, sees ballet as a doorway to create exchange between the audience and artist beyond the restrictions of verbal language.
“Especially in dance, you interact with people from all over the world and languages aren’t necessarily needed to communicate with them, so you kind of build a sense of being an earthling. The nations disappear because of language barriers not being there,” he says. “I kind of want to convey that doing performing arts is, for me, like human education.”
He also notes that theme of the sacred body defies a stigma that dancers and their careers see here in North America. Dancers, he says, don’t often receive the same reverence or respect for their profession that, say, lauded actors or visual artists may experience.
“You tell people that you’re a ballet dancer and they say, ‘So what’s your day job?’ I wanted to show that a lot of knowledge and intensity and discipline goes into our work,” he adds. “For me, it’s a religion, the daily work and how we work with our bodies. It’s not something that we do just because we love it—we have a sense of duty. We have a sense of respect for this art that’s been going on for 700 years.”
Fri, Jan 17 – Sat, Jan 18 (8 pm)
Timms Centre for the Arts, $25 – $35