Ballet Stars

The National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Côté on Creating the Wildly Interdisciplinary World Premiere "Frame by Frame"

Guillaume Côté in rehearsal with Harrison James for "Frame by Frame." Photo by David Leclerc, Courtesy NBoC.

This week marks the world premiere of Frame by Frame, The National Ballet of Canada's new full length ballet based on the life and work of innovative filmmaker Norman McLaren. While those outside of the cinephile community might not be familiar with McLaren's work, he is commonly credited with advancing film techniques including animation and pixilation in the 20th century—he died in 1987. The Canadian artist's many accolades include a 1952 Oscar for Best Documentary for his abstract short film Neighbours (watch the whole thing here). Later in life, McLaren became interested in ballet, and made a number of dance films including his renowned 1968 Pas de deux.

NBoC's new work, titled Frame by Frame, will run June 1-10 in Toronto. The ballet combines vignettes of McLaren's life with movement quotes from his films and real time recreations of his technological advances. It was created in collaboration by NBoC principal dancer and choreographic associate Guillaume Côté and film and stage director Robert Lepage, who is making his NBoC debut. Pointe touched base with Côté on how this interdisciplinary project came together.


Where did the initial spark for this idea come from?

Robert and I have been wanting to work together for years. I approached him about doing a different project a long time ago, and he said "well, maybe that's not the correct project." He came to me about four years after that and said "I think I finally have something I'd like to work on with you," so then I approached the National Ballet.

Were you familiar with McLaren's work before this project?

I wasn't. Robert had just worked on a big McLaren documentary, and he got me to come see it and I realized that it was all about movement, and that this animator was basically a choreographer himself, a choreographer of space and time. There was all this material to work with and he'd made a number of iconic dance films, so it seemed like a no brainer. So I started my research and kept finding out more surprising fun facts about McLaren's passion for dance, like that he met Guy Glover, the man that he was in a relationship with for 50 years or so, in the audience at Covent Garden while watching a ballet. Guy was a curator of a dance festival in Canada.

Robert Lepage and Guillaume Côté in rehearsal for "Frame By Frame." Photo by Elias Djemil-Matassov, Courtesy NBoC.

What was the research process like?

Robert had just finished his documentary and has a really deep understanding of this kind of Canadian culture. He'd already gotten incredible footage from the National Film Board of Canada of McLaren behind-the-scenes. I watched a tremendous amount of film, and I read a lot about him and his collaborators, and even met a few who are still alive. The research was truly enriching, because I realized how wonderful of a person he was as well, which dictates how we share his personal life onstage.

What was the timeline of the project?

We had our first workshop four years ago. Since then we've been doing five-day workshops once a year in Robert's studio, Ex Machina, where he has a multi media team. They would put together projections and props for us to experiment with. Robert would give me some homework, and I'd take it on myself to create some impressionist sections. Sometimes we decided that they were great, and sometimes we decided that they weren't. It was this really collaborative way of getting things started because I was able to present dance first, and then we were able to add technology to it, as opposed to the technology taking over and stealing from the dance.

Artists of the Ballet in rehearsal for "Frame by Frame." Photo by David Leclerc, Courtesy NBoC.

How does the piece balance a narrative retelling of McLaren's life with reproductions of his works?

I would say that the vignettes of his life are one third, and then the technologies that he pioneered and making abstract dance interpretations based on those technologies like stop motion or body painting and body projection are the second third. And then the last third is basically just direct quotes from his films and bringing them back to life. Like with Pas de deux, the effects in that film took him months to make, but now thanks to technology we can duplicate it live. It's not a story ballet per say, but there is a story from beginning to end.

What was the process like of taking movement quotes from McLaren's films?

I would endlessly study a particular sequence and see how it was done, and then relearn it. It's important to realize that there have been a lot of really wonderful things done before you. It's enriching to realize that you don't always have to take your own spin on things or remix it; you can just take a direct quote as long as it's done with integrity and sincerity. I've never done anything like that.; I have a young choreographer's syndrome I guess, which is that I always think I'm going to reinvent the wheel.

Show Comments ()
Your Training
Dara Oda in Ben Stevenson's Alice in Wonderland with Texas Ballet Theater. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Texas Ballet Theater

These three current professionals opened up about opting for a degree first, how it impacted their careers and their favorite college memories.

Dara Oda, Texas Ballet Theater Dancer

Photo by Max Caro, Courtesy of Texas Ballet Theater

Belhaven University, BFA in dance (ballet emphasis), 2014

Growing up, Dara Oda knew she wanted to dance professionally, but she didn't feel ready to audition at the end of high school. "It was really easy to think of college as a fallback," she says. But her perception soon changed. "When I went to Belhaven and saw the level of training I would be getting, that encouraged me to pursue my dream but also be proactive and get my degree at the same time."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Why your dance floor is slippery and how to fix it.

The biggest problem dancers have with floors is that they are too slippery. Slippery is unstable and dangerous, a formula for disaster. But did your floor start out slippery or did it get that way over time? Just one of many questions that need to be answered before we can fix the problem
Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Houston Ballet demi-soloist Alyssa Springer and principal Chun Wai Chan in rehearsal at Jacob's Pillow. Via YouTube.

Houston Ballet is at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival this week—and company soloist Harper Watters is taking us behind the scenes as the company settles in at this historic landmark. Catch HB in action on their first day of class and rehearsal, and stay tuned for more vlogs from Watters throughout the week!

Ballet Stars
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair.
Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.

If you had to pick one signature role which would it be?
Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.

Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Pacific Northwest Ballet School Professional Division students take Eva Stone's modern dance class. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

"Who here is terrified of choreographing?"

It was a question posed by Pacific Northwest Ballet School teacher Eva Stone five weeks ago, sitting on the floor among her class of female summer intensive students. "Almost all of them raised their hand, but I said, 'Don't worry, I got you,'" says Stone. "'I'm going to give you tools and skills and you're going to build on them.' It's amazing how their perspective changed in five weeks."

Stone's choreography class, introduced into the summer program last year, served as a pilot for a new initiative at PNB School beginning this September. New Voices: Choreography and Process for Young Women in Dance is a year-round class dedicated to educating and encouraging 14 to 16-year-old female students in the art of dancemaking. Made possible through funding from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the 38-week course was created to help address the lack of women choreographers working in major classical ballet companies.

PNB School is one of several academies offering choreographic opportunities to its students. Houston Ballet Academy and the Chautauqua Institution, for example, hold workshops during their summer intensives, while Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Ballet Academy East recently joined forces to create a choreographic exchange program. And School of American Ballet offers numerous choreographic projects for its dancers, including one for women. What makes PNB's initiative unique is its year-long scope and structured focus on composition.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The company is searching for an artistic director who is "humane"—and who might not be a choreographer. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Ever since Peter Martins retired from New York City Ballet this January amid an investigation into sexual harassment and abuse allegations, we've been speculating about who might take his place—and how the role of ballet master in chief might be transformed.

Until now, we've only known a bit about what the search for a new leader looks like. But yesterday, The New York Times reported that the company has released a job description for the position. Though the full posting isn't available to the public, here's what we're able to discern about the new leader and what this means for the future of NYCB:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by JoelValve/Unsplash

Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Lia Cirio and John Lam perform Tar and Feathers with Boston Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

A few years ago, Boston Ballet principal Lia Cirio was tasked with performing a contemporary program one week and dancing in The Sleeping Beauty the next. "We were doing Jiˇrí Kylián's Tar and Feathers, which had me sliding around in socks," says Cirio. "The day after the premiere, I had to run my Aurora variation. I needed my technique to be stable, for both my brain and body."

Being in a ballet company doesn't mean you will always be dancing entire evenings, let alone rehearsal days, in pointe shoes. With today's preference for more eclectic mixed bills, a dancer might need to shift from pointe shoes to socks, slippers or even heels. Yet moving between footwear can be tricky—you can easily get injured if you are not prepared for the differences in sensation and shifts in balance. But when you're frequently asked to switch footwear, what's your body, much less your feet, to do?

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Genée IBC gold medalist Monet Hewitt of New Zealand. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy Royal Academy of Dance.

If you missed the Genée International Ballet Competition's live-streamed finals this weekend, we've got you covered. Last night, 17-year-old Joshua Green of Australia and 16-year-old Monet Hewitt of New Zealand were named this year's gold medalists in the men's and women's category, out of 14 finalists. Caitlin Garlick (Australia) and Basil James (United Kingdom) won silver medals, while Enoka Sato (Japan) and Jordan Yeuk Hay Chan (Hong Kong) took home bronze. Chan also won the Margot Fonteyn Audience Choice Award, and Green was given the Choreographic Award for Dancer's Own Variation.

Gold medalist Joshua Green. Photo by Keith Sin, Courtesy RAD.

This year's IBC, which took place in Hong Kong, brought together 51 dancers between 15–19 years old and representing 13 nationalities (including three Americans). The candidates, all of whom are trained in the Royal Academy of Dancing syllabus, spent five days receiving coaching from esteemed faculty on a classical variation as well as a solo choreographed by themselves, a teacher or a peer. The dancers also had to learn and perform a new solo by specially commissioned choreographer Carlo AC Pacis.

Catch the winning dancers as they each perform Pacis' work below, and stay tuned—next year's Genée IBC takes place in Toronto.

News
Boston Ballet is bringing Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free to the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. Photo by Gene Shiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Houston Ballet Brings a World Premiere to Jacob's Pillow

August 15-18, for the first time in almost four decades, Houston Ballet is appearing at Jacob's Pillow, the famous summer dance festival in Becket, MA. Headlining the program is Just, a world premiere commissioned by the Pillow and choreographed by HB artistic director Stanton Welch, set to music by contemporary composer David Lang. Also from Welch are Clear, an abstract piece for seven men and seven women, and excerpts from Sons de L'ame, with music by Chopin. The company will also perform In Dreams, choreographed by former Pillow choreographic associate Trey McIntyre.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Gaynor Minden's celebrating 25 years in the best way possible: With a sale! (via dancer.com)

Time for a quick pop quiz: What does "BTS" stand for?

A. Back To the Studio

B. Behind The Scenes

C. Back To School

D. Back To Shopping

Answer: All of the above! We've searched far and wide to round up a quartet of blockbusting BTS online sales that you won't want to miss. Ready, set, stock up on everything you'll need for the 2018–2019 year of dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!