There are few things more magical, glamourous and transcendental than the world of classical ballet: satin pointe shoes, tutus and billowy-shirted princes all appear to live in a world of stage-lit perfection.
For more than 40 years, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) School’s Professional Division has been bringing the joys of dance to young audiences that otherwise may not have had the opportunity to experience a pirouette, let alone an entire live ballet production.
“Children are enthralled by what happens with dance,” says Arlene Minkhorst, the RWB School’s director. “Getting to see it up close and watching some of the partnering that happens and the costumes and everything else, they’re really entranced by it. The responses to the show are so positive that we couldn’t not do it.”
The Concert Hour Ballet performance series tours to schools around Winnipeg as well as to communities such as Thunder Bay and Lac du Bonnet, presenting a broad range of dance styles from classical to contemporary.
“I think the audience gains an appreciation for the hard work that goes into training and they certainly get a taste of the beauty of it,” Minkhorst says. “For some kids it’s exciting enough for them to say ‘I’d like to try that.’”
In addition to showing a variety of movement styles, there’s a balanced mix of male and female dancers featured on the tour in attempt to open young minds to the wide range of possibilities that exist within the dance world. It’s not just the Russian classics anymore: this year the tour will feature a hip-hop piece instead of the usual classical ballet work.
“It’s a wonderful experience to have our classical ballet dancers try their hand at hip hop,” Minkhorst explains. “It’s a win-win situation. We often get feedback from the schools where the kids will tell us their favourite pieces and it’s always different. Different children connect to different things so it’s important to have a good mix.”
The Concert Hour Ballet series is also excellent performance training for the ballet students. Dancing two or three shows a day for a handful of weeks provides some of the best practice around and is an intensive experience in what it takes to be a performing artist.
“It’s a huge journey and a learning experience for our dancers,” Minkhorst says. “We spend many years in the studio learning the craft, training, studying, working and it’s all to get on stage and just do it. You can’t become a good performer unless you get on stage and practice performing.”
The young dancers not only get first-hand tour bus experience but also learn about what happens behind the scenes and how to handle creative performance venue situations.
“Historically, the RWB has always been a company that connects to our audience, no matter what the venue,” Minkhorst states. “Whether you’re in a big theatre or a school gym, the magic of performing is the same.”
Concert Hour Ballet begins Nov. 17 and the dancers will tour until Dec. 1. Visit www.rwb.org for more information.