By Tina Comeau
Natalie Sweeny uses an analogy she feels that more people might relate to as she describes just how big a deal this was.
‘This’ being recent master classes held at the Yarmouth Dance Academy that were led by Ballet Jörgen – a Canadian ballet company.
What occurred on the hardwood floors of the school’s dance studio in Arcadia would be comparable, Sweeney says, to having NHL players come to the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth to run a clinic for young hockey players.
The NHL, she says, is a big deal. In this case swap skates for pointe shoes and you get the idea.
So is Bengt Jörgen the equivalent of Sidney Crosby? Standing in the centre of the academy’s dance studio on April 22 he was certainly seen to be. Jörgen spent the afternoon and evening conducting master classes with the academy’s dance students, from some of its youngest members to those who are high-school aged.
So what’s the big deal? And why couldn’t Sweeney, the owner and director of the Yarmouth Dance Academy, wipe the smile from her face?
Well because Jörgen is the artistic director and CEO of Ballet Jörgen Canada and George Brown Dance. He has created over 30 ballets for numerous ballet and opera companies, including the National Ballet of Canada, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the American Ballet Studio Company, the Canadian Opera Company, Opera Hamilton and the Hong Kong Ballet.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, he is a graduate of the Royal Swedish Ballet School. He moved to Canada to further his studies at the National Ballet School of Canada and in the early to mid-80s was a member of the National Ballet of Canada. In 1987 he co-founded Ballet Jörgen Canada with his partner Susan Bodie.
“Ballet Jörgen is very unique in the dance world because they are accessible to Canada’s young dancers, something the National Ballet School or even Royal Winnipeg Ballet have never done,” says Sweeney. “It is a very important and exciting opportunity to have them visit us down here in Yarmouth.”
So then let’s go back in time to Monday, April 22.
As you first walk into the dance studio while Jörgen is working with the dancers, you are immediately struck by something.
He’s wearing jeans.
It’s not what you’d expect to see as he conducts the classes, but this trip to Yarmouth has been somewhat of a whirlwind visit. Jörgen and others from Ballet Jörgen were in Fredericton the day before. Coming here they were running late and so some of the dancers he was travelling with dropped him off at the dance academy and then headed to another community, whose name he can’t pronounce.
“Pub….Pub…..” he says.
“Pubnico?” says this reporter.
“Yes,” he says. “They’ve gone to the library there. All of my dance wear is still in the middle of the van which is now in Pub, Pub . . . what is that place again?”
“Pubnico,” he’s told.
Okay, so that explains the jeans.
Next Jörgen is asked what he hopes to accomplish at the Yarmouth Dance Academy, given that he’s only here for a few hours to work with the students.
“I want to inspire them to do better and work harder and be excited about what proper dance professional ballet is,” he says. “I want them to be engaged and spark their curiosity.”
There’s no reason, says Jörgen, why dancers in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, can’t feel as if they are part of the bigger dance community.
But with dance, he says, comes hard work.
“The thing with dance, as anything else, is what you put into it is what you get out of it,” he says. “If you really want to dance you have to be disciplined and work hard, but you’ve got to be inspired and excited by it too.
“What we’re trying to do is support what the schools do. Because we are professional artists, we can bring a different perspective,” Jörgen says. “The kids might listen to us more because we're coming in for just a short period of time, but hopefully what we say reinforces what the teachers are doing.”
There is no shortage of what the teachers are doing at the Yarmouth Dance Academy, not the least of which this spring.
“This, again, is probably me biting off more than I can chew,” admits Sweeney.
The dance academy is preparing for its annual spring recital on Sunday, June 2, at Th’YARC with performances at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available at Th’YARC.
The audience will see, hopefully, a seamless, flawless presentation on stage. It’ll be a far cry from the chaotic scene happening off stage, says Sweeney.
“At times it seems seamless but Megan Hanf and I are running around backstage yelling at each other, ‘Pull the curtain!’ ‘Shut the curtain!’ ‘Waaaiiitttttttt!!!’” laughs Sweeney. Hanf is an instructor and choreographer at the dance academy. Back in the day both she and Sweeney were students under the guidance of Elena Arnett, who is still a master instructor and choreographer with the school.
Preparing for the recital – a showcase of classical ballet, contemporary and jazz dance – is a large undertaking for the dance academy. So then why not at the same time also prepare for a full-length classical ballet spring production as well?
After all, who doesn’t love a challenge?
So on Saturday, May 18, the dance academy will be performing a presentation of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at Th’YARC. Tickets for this performance are $12 and are available at Th’YARC.
Meanwhile, Bengt Jörgen isn’t the only big name to be visiting the Yarmouth Dance Academy. Christian Claessens will be returning on July 8 for a summer ballet camp. Claessens established his own career three decades ago as soloist of the Dutch National Ballet. His classes will be open to all dancers from the age of 7 to 12 and will centre on the principles of ballet intensive technique and choreography. More information about the summer ballet camp is available through the Yarmouth Dance Academy.
As for Jörgen, who has since packed his jeans and left town, he’s hoping his recent trip to Yarmouth leaves the dancers he worked with with an even greater appreciation of how dance can enrich people’s lives.
“You can communicate through dance in a way that you can’t communicate through any other art form because it’s our own bodies,” he says. “Kids and adults always use non-verbal communication everyday and people aren’t really aware of it. With dance and by using music we’re able to touch on a whole range of emotions. It speaks to us on a primal level but it can be very sophisticated or it can be fun. It’s a tremendous range of things.”