Monday, April 19, 2010

Dave St-Pierre's Bare Naked Souls will be part of the NAC 2010/2011 season (photo by Wolfgang Kirchner).

Story by Tony Martins

On balance, contemporary dance is as experimental, eclectic, and broadly engaging as it has ever been. Seeking wider appeal, even tradition-clad ballet companies are taking big artistic risks these days. Perhaps that’s why a full decade into her run as NAC Dance Producer, Cathy Levy is as energized as ever.

Though the current NAC season does not conclude until the Canada Dance Festival (June 5-12), Levy eagerly introduced the 2010/2011 program to a packed house at the NAC 4th Stage on Wednesday, April 7. The anticipation in the room was palpable; local dance enthusiasts licked their chops as the 17 scheduled performances that begin in October were revealed.

In addition to big-production appearances from Marinsky Ballet (The Kirov), the National Ballet of Canada, and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the coming season will again include a number of globally renowned avant-garde companies, including Edouard Lock and La La La Human Steps, the Canadian debut of BeijingDance | LDTX, and the NAC debut of Vuyani Dance Theatre.

How are Ottawa dance fans so blessed? While NAC seasons have become prized as the largest and most diverse in Canada, Levy acknowledges that her development efforts over the years were challenged by Ottawa’s rather modest profile as an international cultural destination.

“There’s a lot of courtship that goes on,” Levy said in an interview with Guerilla. “Fortunately I’ve been able to get major choreographers to understand why it’s important to come to the National Arts Centre.”

Levy notes that while bigger cities such as Montreal and Toronto have stronger local dance scenes, Ottawa audiences enjoy much more international dance, partly because committing to the NAC helps leading companies anchor Canada-wide tours.

Although next season has no formal theme, Levy described how the relationship between dancer and choreographer has become a common thread for 2010/2011. Just as the definition of dance continues to evolve through genre-bending experimentation with theatrical, street, and culture-specific elements, the dancer-choreographer dynamic also offers new levels of intrigue.

Levy wondered: “Is the dancer merely the muse or more than that?” She pointed to examples such as Montreal’s Louise Lecavalier who was a muse and mainstay at La La La Human Steps for 19 years before striking out on her own. (Lecavalier and her company, Fou Glorieux, perform at the NAC November 18 and 19.)

In addition to Levy’s global travels for research and development of NAC Dance, the producer feels that her success is equally rooted in the contact she keeps with the NAC’s devoted dance audience, a group never shy about vocalizing feedback, both positive and negative.

“It’s about talking to people all the time,” said Levy, who also crunches numbers to see which productions and series of productions are the most popular among subscribers. Levy takes it as a good sign that the most growth has appeared in the newly introduced Designer Series, where subscribers mix and match productions across all four of the NAC Dance groupings: Ballet and series A, B, and C.

Despite her success with attracting the world’s best choreographers and dance companies, Levy admits that she still has a sizable “wish list” of performers she hopes to bring to town.

And with the current rate of evolution in the dance world, the number of names on that wish list just might continue to grow at a faster rate than Levy can cross them out.

Beijing Dance LDTX One Table N Chairs (photo by Zhang He Ping).

Noah Long and Tiffany Mosher in National Ballet of Canada's 24 Preludes by Chopin (photo by Sian Richards).

La La La Human Steps brings new work to the NAC next season (photo by Edouard Lock).