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A Journey Through the Creative Process

Hello Everyone,

As you may or may not know, this year our school will be performing with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in a new production of Peer Gynt. Dancing on stage with a full live orchestra is always an exciting and invigorating experience but there is a lot that goes into the creation of a piece before it gets to the stage. This is part 1 of a series we will be doing with our Artistic Director, and choreographer of the performance, Yukichi Hattori on his journey through this creative process and where he draws his ideas and inspiration from. If you have any questions for him please send them in!

Enjoy!

“I can’t speak for all choreographers in the world, but I usually start with a structure. A blue print for the entire piece, if you will.

The beginning, development, twist, and conclusion.

Once I have those, I listen and read the score repeatedly. As much as choreographing to the groove is important, I like to have a more analytical understanding of the score also. The composer hides their story between the notes, so I dissect the score to figure that out. If there is a source material, in this case there is the novel, I read the source material over and over again to find my own interpretation.

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All this gives me ta on of information, so once I have it all laid out in front of me, the editing starts. What’s important? Which scene is necessary? Why does the character behave this way? Does this all make sense? The never-ending Q&A is the fun but exhausting part.

It’s like kneading dough inside my head. Sculpting a clay into a shape.

At this point, I haven’t made a single step yet lol. Having this thorough of a structure beforehand helps me work more efficiently later in the studio. But guess what…

I forget everything I wrote once I enter the studio. That way, I am able to stay spontaneous and creative. I have ruined pieces just because I tried to stay on script the whole time. It is so important to go with the flow and the chemistry of the room.

We are staring in the studio next week. Hope this will be a good one!”

DSC_8616Stage Rehearsal from “True North” with the CPO 2017

Surviving Homesickness

It’s that time of year when young dancers are moving away to new training schools and company members young and old are making their return or debut at work. In the spirit of this very exciting time in life I wanted to share a story I wrote a few years back on homesickness. This is something that I always struggled with and I have had many friends along the way who have shared this all too familiar feeling. I hope this helps any homesick child, big or small, out there know that they are not alone and that with a little distraction… it will pass.

Galien xo

“I am no stranger to living far from home. At the young age of nine, with the support of my parents, I moved across the country to follow my dream. I was determined that one day; I would become one of the graceful and elegant tutued ballerinas that so many little girls idolize. It was this determination that moved me from St. Albert, Alberta to the National Ballet School in Toronto, Ontario. 

Like most of the students at the school, I lived in the residence. It was not always easy living away from my family, especially in my younger years. Bouts of homesickness were frequent and the lack of personal space due to living so closely with 100 or so other students took some adjustment. Also missing was the comfort of my parents’ arms when I was feeling tired or sad. Most of us students found our ways of coping. 

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Grade 5 at the National Ballet School 1990

The first week at school was usually the hardest to get through. Upon arriving I would promptly unpack my belongings and try to make my room feel comfortable and homey. Then I would be sure to surround myself with friends. Keeping busy was key. Once it was time for “lights out” I would play solitaire by the light of my trusty Mag Light until my eyes could stay open no longer. By the time I graduated from the National Ballet School I thought I had homesickness under control. That was, until I moved to Hamburg, Germany. 

As is the case with so many young dancers, I dreamed of going to Europe to dance for one of the great old companies. This opportunity presented itself to me when at the age of nineteen I was offered a contract with the Hamburg Ballet. My good friend Megan, who had grown up with me at the National, was going as well and we decided to get an apartment together. Over the ocean we flew with all the confidence and excitement of youth propelling us. 

The first few weeks in Hamburg passed by in a blur. My homesickness was kept at bay by all the things I had to get done. I had to set up my apartment, open a bank account, and sign contracts for phones and television, all in a foreign language and in a country that seemed to have four steps and rules for every one we had in Canada. The hours at work were fast-paced. I learned three new ballets at once in the first two weeks and worked at getting to know my new colleagues. Of course I was missing home but things were so busy and new that I barely had time for proper homesickness. 

By the third week in Hamburg I had everything set up and had settled in to the rhythm of my new workplace. With a bit of extra time on my hands I came to realize that this was not just a visit to Germany. This would be my home for a significant period of time. I could feel that old homesickness creeping up on me and knew that I had to do something to cheer myself up. Megan and I had heard there was a bookstore that sold English language books and we thought it might comfort us to see something from home. We made a date for the coming Saturday and planned a nice adventure around our visit to the bookstore. 

On Saturday morning we woke up and got ourselves ready. We knew which trains we needed to take and at which station we needed to get off. With my German/English phrase book in hand, we ventured forth. Arriving at our destination, we found ourselves in a two-story shop that, at the time, seemed larger than most Chapters stores in Canada. Trying to locate the English language section was difficult because of the size of the store and the fact that all the signage was in German. I mustered up some courage, looked up how to ask for English books in my phrase book, and asked the first sales person I could find. “Entschuldigen Sie,” I said with much more confidence than I felt. “Wo sind die Englische Bücher?” The sales woman looked at me and paused, no doubt trying to determine whether or not I understood what I had asked her, and began directing me in fast German sentences. Unable to understand her words and too intimidated to ask again, Megan and I tried to recall her various hand signals as we made our way to where we thought she had directed us to go. 

Arriving at what we hoped was the English language section we found ourselves staring at a row of dictionaries. This was not what we were looking for. Once again using the phrases from my book, with notably less confidence, I asked another clerk and was answered with another string of words I could not understand but with a few gestures that I hoped I could. We determined that we had been directed to the far end of the second floor. We soon found ourselves in the Anatomy section. Our frustration was becoming palpable and with a hint of hysteria creeping into my voice I asked my question of yet another employee. A similar response followed only this time there were no gestures to guide us. Feeling totally defeated, Megan and I made our way back down the stairs. 

We didn’t know what to do or where to go. We just stood there looking around aimlessly and then met each other’s gaze. In that instant, all the homesickness and frustration I was feeling was reflected back at me through Megan’s eyes. Before I knew it we two were a sobbing heap on the floor of a Hamburg bookstore and so far from home. We sat there sobbing for at least five minutes before becoming aware of our surroundings and how we must have looked. Naturally enough, this brought on a fit of hysterical laughter. When we eventually calmed down and got up off the floor we realized that our meltdown had taken place right in the middle of the English language book section. 

I don’t recall if either of us bought anything that day. What I do recall is  that as soon as I got back to our apartment I called my parents at five a.m. Alberta time just to hear their voices and get the kind of comfort and reassurance only parents can give. This was probably one of my worst, or best, experiences with homesickness. I thought I knew how to cope with life away from home but somewhere inside of me there was still that nine year old girl leaving home for the first time. 

That night I played solitaire by the light of that same trusty Mag Light until my eyes could stay open no longer. “

IMG_5031Backstage family visit Hamburg Ballet 1999

Meet the Teachers!

It’s been a while! It was a wonderful summer and a very busy summer school and with the new school year ahead, we want to do better at keeping up with our blog! With that said, we thought we would start by introducing you to the H/W staff. We hope you enjoy getting to know us and we would love to hear from you! If you have any questions for our fantastic teachers please send us a message.

Welcome back and here’s to a great year of training ahead!

Hayna Guttierez

Teaching PD2 and Post Grad

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Photo Credit: PMGimage

Q) Why did you start dancing?

A) My mother was a dancer. She was a soloist with the Cuban National Ballet. From an early age I visited the studios of the company and I was at every show. Tutus and pointe shoes always caught my attention, but beyond the dream of being able to use them one day, I was excited to be able to dance with my mother one day…And I did!

Q)What is a favourite memory or career highlight?

A) When I danced the role of Giselle with the National Ballet of Cuba it was a memorable moment for me. I was only with the company for a short time and I still did not have the rank of Principal Dancer. That was the beginning of a beautiful artistic career.

Q)What is your favourite ballet?

A) Giselle

Q) What advice would you give to young dancers?

A) In order to dance well, with quality, you have to have a lot of discipline and a great attitude. Passion is found when we are able to maintain discipline and attitude. It will be years of hard and exhausting work, but when we achieve our goal, then we feel immense satisfaction.

Q) What drives you crazy in class?

A) As a dancer it always bothered me not to have time to warm up before class. As a teacher… lack of concentration.

Q) What are you most looking forward to for the coming year?

A) First of all returning to work with three of the best dancers who danced with Alberta Ballet. Galien, Tara, and Yukichi were my coworkers and we always had not only a good relationship but we also share the same artistic opinions. I am also very excited to continue helping the growth of the school and the development of each of the students.

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Photo Credit: Tim Johnston

Yukichi Hattori

Teaching Grades 1,2, and 4 as well as Post Grad

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Q) Why did you start dancing?

A) My whole family is in the arts and I grew up in the theatre in my parents’ acting company. For me it was my natural environment and the only road I wanted to follow.

Q) What do you love about teaching?

A) Knowing that my life experience will be passed on to future generations is like being immortal haha! I live on through my students, just like all my teachers and their teachers live through me and beyond. The students also keep me humble and grounded.

Q) What are you most looking forward to for the upcoming year?

A) Our performance with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra of “Peer Gynt”. It is such a great opportunity for young artists to share the stage with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. I love seeing the artists within them awaken through such an experience.

Q) What is your secret talent or something funny we don’t know about you?

A) I can speak three languages fluently and can fake my way/imitate any other language immediately!

Q) What is your favourite ballet score?

A) Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

Q) What is your favourite memory or career highlight?

A) It is yet to come…

Tara Williamson Campbell

Teaching PD1 and Post Grad

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Photo Credit: PMGimage

Q) Why did you start dancing?

A) I was always full of energy and wanted to be beautiful. After a few years in dance, I would hide my Nutcracker in our Christmas tree and copy Clara’s dance from PNB’s Nutcracker!

Q)What do you love about teaching?

A) I value the importance of carrying on the history of dance and how it can connect community without words, but with feeling. Dance bonds us more than we know and is a universal language. I love to share my knowledge and desire to express this language with students in hopes that they will care as much as I do and inspire others with their craft. I want my students to feel empowered and have the guts and confidence to go out in the world and take it on all while being respectful and mindful to themselves and others in whatever field they go on to.

Q) What drives you crazy in the studio?

A) When someone complains before they even try. Don’t be fearful. Have the courage to try!

Q) What is your secret talent or something funny that we don’t know about you?

A) I can make my face and body language look legit like a turtle!

Q) Favorite Ballet?

A) Swan Lake…I’m a sucker

Q) What advice would you give to a young dancer?

A) Over my career I learned to be patient, veer away from the buzz that disconnects me from my focus, see the bigger picture, be KIND, and always stand up. I mean that last part literally. Stand up. When you are tired fight through the exhaustion, mentally remind yourself what you are capable of and what it takes to deliver that, and keep going. It is so much easier to give in. Stand up and do something to help yourself get better.

Shino Mori Sakurai

Teaching Teen Rec Ballet and Adult Ballet

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Q) Why did you start dancing?

A)  I started dancing because my friend was learning ballet and she was wearing a really cute leotard. I wanted to wear that!

Q) What was your strength as a dancer?

A)  I was very consistent and able to keep challenging my limits everyday.

Q) What do you love about teaching?

A)  I love to teach what I learned and experienced though my professional career to young dancers. In particular, how to express feelings through their bodies. I love to watch dancers to grow as artists and I can learn and grow a lot  from teaching dancers too.

Q) What is your secret talent or something funny we don’t know about you?

A) I can eat an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting.

Q) Favorite Ballet?

A) “The Four Seasons” by James Kudelka

Q) What are you most looking forward to for the coming year?

A) I am looking forward to seeing new and old faces of dancers and I can’t wait to see how they grow as artists.

Galien Johnston Hattori

Teaching Grade 3 and Post Grad

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Photo Credit: Holger Badekow

Q) Why did you start dancing?

A) My mom took me to see the Saddlers Wells perform Swan Lake when they were on tour in Edmonton. I was three years old and it was the most spectacular thing I had ever seen. I was taken on a tour after the show where I got to experience the magical world backstage for the first time and I was hooked. It was love at first sight and I never looked back.

Q) What do you love about performing?

A) I am a very shy person by nature but on stage I feel free to express myself and open up. I have always loved the whole prep for performance. Backstage is one of my favourite places to be. From the moment I step into the theatre, then go through the process of hair, make up, warm up, and costume, I transform into the best version of myself and feel at home.

Q) What are you most looking forward to for the upcoming year?

A) Another year of learning, sharing, progress, performances, travel, and opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.

Q) What is your secret talent or something funny we don’t know about you?

A) I can’t get through a speech without crying… oh wait… no… everyone knows that haha!  I have a “Lucky Frog” that has been at every performance of my life. The last thing I do before I leave the change room to go on stage is kiss it 7 times. Theatre people are weird…

Q) What drives you crazy in the studio?

A) Yawning with your mouth wide open. That and not learning exercises quickly.

Q) What was your strength as a dancer?

A) Jumping! My nickname in one of the companies I danced for was Air Canada!

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Photo Credit: Tim Johnston

Approach

Now that the first few weeks of training are over and we are getting into the serious grind of the year I have been thinking about approach. Not just about the approach of the students to their daily work but the approach of the teacher as well.

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I look back upon my last few years of school training and remember a level of intensity that I have not felt in many other situations. The competition between peers was healthy but tough and there was always a demand from our teachers that we push harder and farther than we thought possible. I remember having days where I felt their demands were unreasonable and what they were asking of us was simply too much. It was a level that at times I thought I couldn’t reach. I remember wondering why they were being so hard, so serious and demanding. Our tears only brought tougher demands, our failures required more attempts to right them. I couldn’t quite understand it at the time. Fast forward twenty years and I now face my students with that same intensity. What happens between the ages of 17 and 37 that makes the impossible seem not only possible but necessary? I guess it is life and experience.

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NBS Class of 1997

I’m sure many professional dancers will tell a similar tale of their first year in company or of their first few company auditions. You step out of your sheltered school world which has been all encompassing for years. You are likely one of the top students, full of confidence and the knowledge of how good and strong you are. That is…until your first cattle call when over half the group get cut by rond de jambe just for being the wrong height or hair colour. You may be one of the lucky ones who get a job right out of school or one who only has to do one or two auditions. Many dancers face multiple rejections before they ever set foot inside a company with a full contract. Getting this far alone requires tenacity and a stick-to-it attitude. Then there is the survival of your first year. The realization that there is a whole world of dancers out there who are a little bit better, work a little bit harder, want it a little bit more even though you are giving everything just to be there. This is a very humbling experience. It is also one that makes us realize that we have to earn our place and our roles every day with continued focus, dedication, and drive. It’s what makes the practice of ballet at once so rewarding and so daunting at the same time. It is also where I became so grateful to my teachers who were hard at times but prepared me well for the professional field. Their lessons sit with me still and I hear their voices and corrections daily.

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Another day in the Corps de Ballet

It’s a funny thing to dedicate years to the art of ballet. It is a never ending balance of patience, as the steps and technique take years to master and even then there is always more that can be done, and of attack. One needs to find a way of being patient with their body and mind for the time it takes to grasp concepts and build up the strength to execute them without letting complacency slip in. This is something that you figure out as you mature in your career and as you settle in to your body and your ways of coping and excelling. It is a lesson that we all seem to look back on and wish we had known or realized earlier. That age old thought of “if only I knew then what I know now…” I wonder if this is where the demands and perceived impatience of teachers comes from. That knowledge and experience that says “Don’t hold back. Give it everything you’ve got now while you are young and have time”. We want our students to do better than we did. To avoid the same mistakes and pitfalls. The question is, is that possible? How does one reach that level of intensity without ever having seen what they are going to go up against? How will they understand how many knocks they will take and how they will overcome them and thrive without living through them? Is this the everlasting cycle between teacher and student?

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Little me…at the beginning

I can only hope that I will instil in my students the same drive, dedication, and attack that my teachers instilled in me. A certain toughness and backbone that got me through. I know it was what saved me time and time again when company life got tough. I just have to remember too that we were all young once and that without experience, we can only dream and do our best. We must all keep striving to find the right balance and approach.

Teachers, dancers, and students, we would love to hear your thoughts on approach. Leave us a comment or a message and let’s talk about how to create a strong future generation of dancers and teachers to come.

Back To the Barre

It’s back to school season and that means coming back to the studio to begin a new year of training. For most dancers, that means a mixture of excitement, hope, and maybe a little bit of nerves about some of the big events they may have coming up. That could be a performance you have been waiting for, an audition, an exam, or even joining a new level.

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Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself calm and get prepared for what’s to come.

  • Set realistic goals. Ballet is a difficult art form to master so remember to be patient with yourself and set goals that are manageable.
  • Get lots of rest. When we get tired it becomes more difficult to be patient with ourselves and with others. It is also important for your body so that it can heal and remain strong!
  • Eat well. This one is super important! Contrary to popular belief, dancers need to eat well in order to have enough fuel for their strenuous training. Make sure to have enough healthy snacks and plenty to drink along with your regular meals!
  • Ease back in and listen to your body. It is easy to get over excited and try to push too hard too soon. Remember to listen to your body and give yourself time to get fully back in shape to avoid injury. *A little vinegar can help ease those sore and stiff muscles. Try the recipe below!

Here at H/W we have a lot to look forward to this year and our students are already working hard and slowly getting prepared. We have the upcoming Fluid Festival, our annual Blue Gala, a school trip to Hamburg, and of course our end of the year show.

What are you looking forward to for the coming year?

*Honey Cayenne Apple Cider Vinegar Drink

  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey (ideally raw and local)
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups of warm/hot water
  • Mix together until honey has dissolved. Serve warm or pop in the fridge to chill.