Sabrina Matthews (left), Crystal Pite and Peter Quanz pointe in a new direction with Innovation. Photo:Sian Richards
Unlike filmmakers, athletes or singers, Canadian choreographers who've achieved international acclaim aren't usually big stars on their home turf. That could change this week, when three of our top young choreographers - Peter Quanz, Sabrina Matthews and Crystal Pite - debut works commissioned by the National Ballet of Canada.
The Innovation program kicks off Wednesday (March 4). See Listings.
When did you realize you wanted to become a choreographer?
Peter Quanz: When I was nine years old, I saw Guys And Dolls at Stratford, choreographed by Brian Macdonald. I knew then I didn't want to dance - I wanted to choreograph.
Sabrina Matthews: I realized this was what I wanted to do after the premiere of my first piece, Unknown Territory, a male solo created for a workshop at Alberta Ballet.
Crystal Pite: I remember choreographing a dance at the age of three or four. I was choreographing before I even knew what it was. There was never a moment when I thought, "This is what I want to be."
Quanz: Petya. I got it working with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Pite: A few. But none I'm going mention in print.
The program's title is Innovation. What does that mean to you?
Matthews: It encourages the creation of new works and is vital to the growth of a company.
Pite: "Try to do something new, for god's sake!"
How did you split up the National's dancers?
Quanz: Sabrina and I both began rehearsal earlier than Crystal, so it made sense for us to have dancers in common so we wouldn't infringe on Crystal's rehearsal time.
Matthews: Almost all the company's dancers are in each of the three works.
Pite: Rock, paper, scissors.
How hands-on was artistic director Karen Kain?
Quanz: Quietly supportive.
Matthews: She gave us all the artistic room we needed to develop our vision for our work.
Pite: She has been wonderfully open and trusting.
What does the title of your piece reveal (or not reveal)?
Quanz: My piece is called In Colour and was inspired by the 1995 book Chroma: A Book Of Colour, by British film director, stage designer, visual artist and writer Derek Jarman. The book deals with colour in many different senses, from literature to science, philosophy, religion and alchemy. I use colour as a way of linking and contrasting the roles for soloists.
Matthews: Since my music, Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus (RV 594), has such a strong connection to religion, I named my piece DEXTRIS, taking a word from the Psalms text to reiterate that connection, since the piece itself doesn't really follow a religious path or vein.
Pite: My title (Emergence) refers to both meanings of the word: the complex structures or systems that rise out of a multiplicity of simple interactions and the appearance of something new, something recently formed.
You've all choreographed with European companies and Canadian ones. How do our dancers measure up?
Quanz: This company is more diverse (ethnicity, training, personalities) than companies I've worked with elsewhere.
Pite: I'm loving the skill they have as an ensemble - their willingness to work together, to share information, to take responsibility for the creation.
How are the crowds different?
Matthews: Canadian audiences may be a little more conservative, but that doesn't mean they're less appreciative.
Quanz: When Canadians like something, they clap quietly and are more subdued. They don't need to be for this program. We want them to holler!
Pite: The European audience has more stamina for applause. Other than clapping styles, though, I'm not sure I've noticed much of a difference. Canadians have a great capacity for wonder, even when it tips into bewilderment.
It's 10 minutes before your piece goes up. What's going through your mind?
Quanz: It's like watching a train leave the station: you hope nobody falls off.
Matthews: There are always butterflies, especially before a premiere, but I try to sit back and relax.
Pite: I'm usually a mess - nauseous, weak-kneed and stammering. It's intense to let go of the thing you've been moulding and nurturing obsessively for so long. You feel exposed and helpless at the same time. But I calm myself by focusing on the dancers and trusting them.
It's the morning after. Now what's going through your mind?
Pite: "How much of it can I fix before the next show?"
Matthews: I sleep really well after a premiere, and the next morning I'm already thinking about the next performance.
Quanz: During the creation I'm usually too stressed and busy to eat balanced meals, so the day after opening I'm ready for a big feast.