So You Think You Can Danse?
Naoya Ebe and Shino Mori.
The National Ballet of Canada will host the Ninth International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts this Saturday.
Made possible by an endowment from the late Erik Bruhn, considered one of the twentieth century’s greatest male classical dancers, the Bruhn Prize aims to spotlight the talent of the next generation of world-class performers. At the competition, each pair will present a classical and a contemporary partnered dance. Participating alongside the National Ballet of Canada in this year’s competition are dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, Hamburg Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, and Stuttgart Ballet.
Shino Mori and Naoya Ebe, representing the National Ballet of Canada, are getting ready to dance their hearts out. The performers, both from Japan, trained at Canada’s National Ballet School before joining the company and are now members of the company’s Corps de Ballet. They will perform a classical pair dance from The Sleeping Beauty, “Bluebirds,” and a newly choreographed contemporary piece by Robert Stephen, a second soloist for the company, who is competing for the Choreographic Prize.
On Friday, Torontoist was invited to attend a rehearsal for Stephen’s piece at the ballet company’s headquarters on Queens Quay West.
With the competition only a week away the three young dancers were busy ironing out the work’s kinks. They have been rehearsing since early January, but all three were in good spirits. However, when asked how they were feeling, both Mori and Ebe blurted, “Sore!”
The dance is to the musical piece Passacaglia by George Frideric Handel, arranged by Johan Halvorsen. It tells a familiar story of boy meets girl. The dancers play off the different moods of the music to express the highs and lows of love.
Stephen said that he tried to build a piece that would show off the technical capabilities of the two dancers in the competition, while creating a work that was true to his artistic vision of what the music represents. Stephen is an established member of the company, but he is just starting to explore a role as choreographer. This will be the second professional work he has choreographed.
His biggest challenge? Keeping it a secret.
In May last year, artistic director Karen Kain approached Stephen with the idea of choreographing something for the Bruhn Prize. He was sworn to secrecy until the fall when the official announcement was made. “It was really hard not to say anything. I was so relieved when the cat came out of the bag,” said Stephen.
Naoya Ebe and Shino Mori perform a lift.
The two dancers are thrilled to represent the company at this international competition. “It’s a great honour and an exciting challenge as a dancer,” said Ebe. However, both admitted they were initially very nervous about performing a contemporary ballet piece in a competition. According to Mori, the contemporary style can be challenging for classically trained dancers because it doesn’t use traditional bodylines. Inspired by modern dance techniques, contemporary ballet breaks with tradition by incorporating different movements of the spine—a big no-no in classical ballet.
Despite the pair’s reservations, Stephen said it was “a dream” to create a dance with them. “Being new to the style meant that they came into the process with really open minds and without a lot of affected mannerisms.” During the rehearsal, the group reworked one of the dance’s final lifts. Both ideas and Mori were thrown around.
Stephen explained that as the choreographer it was his job to come to rehearsals with a framework of how the dance should look, but stressed that it was equally important for him to respond to and use what happened in the room during the creation process. “The choreographer gives us an idea and we have to decide how to explain it with our bodies,” added Mori.
“Rehearsals can be a scary and exciting. They’re full of surprises!” laughed Stephen.
Photos by Nancy Paiva/Torontoist.
In this article we originally misspelled Karen Kain’s name. Our sincerest apologies.