The first steps are always the hardest

Students from RWB Professional Division create original pieces for competition

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Supplied

We all start out crawling. Once we’ve built up the confidence and curiosity, we take the risk of standing up. Usually we fall, but once we’ve gotten the hang of it, found some inspiration, and built up the momentum, we take off.

Life is similar for the students of the Professional Division of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

As with most artists, they are not content to be pigeon-holed, to remain just as performers, the brush of another painter, applying the strokes of paint to a blank canvas.

This desire to express through one’s own work is what led to the creation of the First Steps Choreographic Competition in 1990.

First Steps allows Professional Division students to hold complete artistic control over their pieces, from inspiration to costumes, lighting, staging, casting and music selection.

This is the third year that Level 7 student Phillipe-Alexandre Jacques has created a piece for the competition.

Hailing from Ottawa, Jacques, 19, is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg Collegiate. An RWB student for three years, Jacques says he came into dance late, but that doesn’t mean he loves it any less.

“It was a hard decision between university and continuing with dance (once I had graduated),” Jacques says. “Dance won.”

Jacques has been dancing since he was eight years old, but began ballet at age 10.

“I did a lot of tap and jazz, and some ballet, but I didn’t really start professionally until three years ago.”

Jacques’s composition for this year’s competition is quite dark, as he found inspiration in the Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Cask of Amontillado.

“It is quite a dark piece, yes. It’s a story about vengeance.

“It’s a duet. The first character does something horrible to the second character. We have no idea what it is, we just know it is horrible. And the second character finds out about this and decides to get vengeance on him. So he gets the first character inebriated, and in the story he brings him down into a dungeon, and leaves him there to perish.

“In the dance, you get the gist of it, but you don’t get the details. It’s the fear of being left alone, with no hope, I guess is what I’m going for. Just the idea of tricking someone.”

While he initially pondered casting the duet for two males, Jacques decided on a traditional pas de deux pairing of a male and female classmate.

The piece is accompanied by score music from director Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

“It’s lovely strings, it’s a bit of piano. It’s really, really dark. It builds really well.”

Great things and great people have come out of previous competitions.

Peter Quanz, celebrated choreographer and director of boundary pushing company QDance, whose piece is the highlight of the RWB’s final show in May, began honing his skills in First Steps.

Jacques hopes to continue performing, but he also has other aspirations following his graduation from the school this year, including joining the RWB Aspirant Program.

“First I hope to perform more, and choreograph on the side, and in the end I hope to be more of a choreographer.”

The RWB School Professional Division First Steps Choreographic Competition takes place from Tuesday, Feb. 14 to Saturday, Feb. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Founders’ Studio at the RWB Building, 380 Graham Ave. Admission to competition performances is by silver donation. Tickets to the Awards and Performance Gala on Feb. 18 are $25 and available at the RWB Customer Service Office or by calling 956- 2792.

Published in Volume 66, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 8, 2012)

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