In November, Eric Beauchesne, the right-hand man of leading Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, worked with the second-year Associate Degree students for three weeks. The first week focused on improvisation exercises to familiarise the students with Pite’s vision and style, after which Beauchesne taught two sections from Pite’s The Seasons’ Canon, which she created in 2016 for the prestigious Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris. Together with a large group of students from Arts Umbrella Vancouver, the AD students will be dancing these sections during the coming edition of Dancers of Tomorrow, in July 2022.
The collaboration with Arts Umbrella Vancouver on this project is no coincidence. Eric Beauchesne, associate artistic director of Pite’s company Kidd Pivot, says “The Seasons’ Canon was Crystal’s first production for the Paris Opéra Ballet, and before she started in Paris she’d already done some workshops in preparation for the new work at Arts Umbrella, to try things out. The two sections I’m teaching for Dancers of Tomorrow basically originated at the school in Vancouver. It was Artemis Gordon, director of the dance department of Arts Umbrella, who came up with the idea of now bringing back those sections in collaboration with a school in Europe. It’s very special, as since the premiere in Paris in 2016, The Seasons’ Canon has never been performed by another company or school”.
In Amsterdam, Beauchesne worked with 27 students from the Dutch National Ballet Academy. “It was a truly moving experience. The dancers were extremely eager and open. In Crystal’s work, it’s very important to really work as a team, and they did that very well indeed. The chemistry was there. And so was the power”.
In February, Beauchesne will also be leading rehearsals with a big group of students in Vancouver. “In total, there’ll be 54 dancers on stage. In Amsterdam, academy teacher Lia Witjes-Poole is now taking over the rehearsals and I’ll be returning to Amsterdam ten days before the Dancers of Tomorrow performances, when we’ll be rehearsing with all the students, from the Netherlands and from Canada”.
Crystal Pite set The Seasons’ Canon to Max Richter’s acclaimed arrangement of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (now familiar in the Netherlands from David Dawson’s recent ballet The Four Seasons). Beauchesne says, “It’s incredibly powerful music, which Crystal combines with images of nature in the set and lighting designs. The Seasons’ Canon is predominantly a very physical work. Although there’s no storyline from A to Z, it does deal with the question of how we as individuals and as a society – in a world filled with conflict – can bring things together and create connections”.
For the young dancers, says Beauchesne, it’s first and foremost a technical challenge. “The Seasons’ Canon was created for the fantastic dancers of the Paris Opéra, so it’s a challenge in itself to follow in their footsteps. In addition, the students are confronted for the first time with Crystal’s very personal style, which is extremely articulated, extremely detailed, extremely precise and extremely musical. With regard to the required detail and precision, some fragments could be compared to Swan Lake, where big groups of dancers also have to move as one, but then of course not in the same balletic way”.
Another big challenge for the students is the great speed – not just of certain fragments of The Seasons’ Canon, but also of separate parts of the body. “For instance, there’s one scene in the piece where the hands move incredibly quickly, while the rest of the body moves super slow”.
And finally, Beauchesne challenged the NBA students to really work like professional dancers in the rehearsals. “They won’t be students for much longer, so they have to learn to act like professionals with regard to work attitude and the speed at which they pick things up”. He says laughingly, “And that’s easier for some than for others”. Nevertheless, Beauchesne is extremely satisfied. “It’s gone very well. We’ve had an amazing time together and the support from teacher Lia Witjes-Poole has been wonderful. Moreover, it’s incredibly brave for a school to tackle this important, powerful work by Crystal, because believe me: not every school would dare to take it on. But Ernst and the students are pulling out all the stops, along with Arts Umbrella, and I count myself a privileged man to be able to play a role in the venture”.
Crystal Pite about The Seasons’ Canon:
“This work is a gesture, an offering. It is as much my way of coping with the vastness and complexity of the natural world as it is a way of giving thanks for it.”