On a warm Friday in August, 2017, a group of dancers are weaving their way among one another in a studio at SFU Woodwards. Yvan Dubreuil, a Paris-born choreographer, walks through the room giving direction. It’s the last 15 minutes of a partnering class at the Arts Umbrella International Summer Dance Intensive, and Yvan pushes his students to their limits, not only with minutes-long planks, but also by encouraging the dancers to interact with one another in creative, mind-bending ways.
Yvan trained at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris in the 1980s. In 1989, he joined Nederlands Dans Theater 2, and later NDT, where he danced until 2009. He is one of many internationally acclaimed choreographers, répétiteurs, and rehearsal directors that join us each summer for the ISDI. Other past guest teachers include Aurelie Caya of NDT, Francisco Martinez of Juilliard Dance, Risa Steinberg of Limon, and Sidra Bell of Sidra Bell New York.
Following class, we spoke to four dancers about their experiences at ISDI. Here’s what they have to say about this intensive three-week program.
Juliette Wooden, from Houston, TX, attending Boston Conservatory, age 19
Nasiv Sall, from Vancouver, attending Arts Umbrella, age 18
Zachary Gondor, from Chicago, IL, attending Juilliard, age 21
Derick McKoy, from Miami, FL, attending Ailey Fordham, age 20
*details current as of August, 2017
Is it everyone’s first time at the AU International Summer Dance Intensive?
Derick McKoy (DM): It’s my first time.
Zachary Gondor (ZG): Me too.
Nasiv Sall (NS): It’s my third year at Arts Umbrella and at the intensive.
Juliette Wooden (JW): It’s my first year as well.
What drew you to the SDI here in comparison to some of the other programs available around the world?
ZG: To me it was the faculty that they were bringing in. A lot of diverse people. People from really well-known places or well-known techniques. Things that are really relevant in today’s dance world.
DM: I originally found out about it because of Ballet BC and then I realized that Ballet BC has this affiliation with Arts Umbrella. When I started to research Arts Umbrella… it’s this hidden gem. And Arts Umbrella students are everywhere [in the world]. And I made it my goal last year to come.
JW: For me it was the rep work that would be here and that I would be learning so much. It’s such a different experience from what I’m used to with school. It’s interesting and I’m learning beyond what I thought I would be.
Let’s talk about the repertoire and choreographers that are part of this program. Are there people, styles, or techniques that you wanted to work with or explore?
NS: Personally, one of the styles that Arty [Gordon] brings in that I’m really thankful for is Gaga with Tom [Weinberger] and Doug [Letheren, of TBC] in previous years. A lot of the Arts Umbrella students have had a little taste of Gaga here and there, and a lot of us just came from Israel where we did an intensive. So being here to work with Tom is—just like with ballet and any other technique—is ongoing research and it’s very fulfilling. It’s something that I don’t think I could ever get tired of.
DM: I think the fact that Arty has built these relationships with these top dance industry people—so she can bring in Kylian work and Nachle work (and those are some of my dance icons and I’ve always wanted to dance their works)—so the fact that we can do it here is amazing.
Tell me about partnering work with so many new people. Having just watched your last class, everyone was partnering with everyone else.
ZG: You just have to trust everyone. You don’t know many people, we have a collective trust because we’re all in this class together and we’re all in this intensive together. So I think we’ll all just try anything on anybody.
DM: In the first week when we were first getting to know each other, it was more about trying to let the body go. It’s one of the themes that we’ve all been having pushed towards us from the teachers: working with less tension and just letting your body go. Now that it’s starting to internalize in our bodies, we’re just open for somebody to just pick you up and take you around. It’s part of the process and program, trying to get us to open up to each other.
Walk me through a day at SDI.
NS: They’re very intense and very long. We all start out with ballet at 9 am but most of us are here in the studio at 8 am warming up. And then we’ll go into some modern technique classes or Gaga.
JW: The first week we had ballet and then we went into Gaga, then back to ballet partnering. You’re not just doing all ballet, then modern, you’re switching back and forth, which I think is good for the body and the mind to be able to adjust that quickly. We’re learning Lines and then we go into Kidd Pivot. It’s so different but it keeps you on your toes and keeps you having to stay invested in technique.
NS: And if I’m taking ideas from separate genres, it gets challenging when the classes are spread apart. But when you’re going straight from one into the other and you’re just thinking about floating in Gaga and then you go into Ballet and you have to think about all these other things, it’s very interesting to research.
Is it reflective of working in a company?
DM: I think it’s more of a mix. In class we’re definitely held at that standard of professionals. [Here,] the teachers aren’t on you for everything. They want you to discover and find it for yourself as a company member would, but it’s definitely not completely at the company level where the teachers stand off [to the side]. It’s very hands on.
NS: You feel like they care about you, and you feel like an individual even though there are so many kids here.
Have you had a chance to get to know one another with your busy schedule? Are you in class with the same core group of people throughout?
JW: I feel like I’ve gotten to know the people who are in the advanced group with me.
NS: Even in that, there are 30 of us and all of us are new.
JW: Having so many new relationships means just so much. Having more people to learn and invest in.
What are some of your favourite companies right now?
DM: I think Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Netherlands Dance Theater.
ZG: I don’t know. I think I’ve realized that there’s a lot more out there that I do not know about. There are smaller choreographers that do really interesting work that a lot of people haven’t heard about that would be really interesting to explore and collaborate with. If the Forsythe Company was still going on I would love it.
NS: Okay, so international [companies] are Batsheva. And then my other ones are all based out of Vancouver, so Kidd Pivot is the Holy Grail, and then there’s also Out Inner Space with Tiff and Dave who are in Kidd Pivot, and Peter Chu’s company in Vegas. There’s 605 Collective in Vancouver. There are people I want to work with, more than companies, you know?
JW: Hubbard Street is probably my number one that if I got into the company I would just stay for as long as I could. I would never retire from there. Ballet BC would be such an honour. I don’t know if I would want to—well no I want to but I don’t know if I’d be allowed to because they’re all super tall and beautiful—but Lines. I’ve always admired them. I think they’re so wise and intellectual and just the most beautiful people in the world. So that would be like my far-fetched dream.
You’ve mentioned a lot of people that you want to work with. Have you thought about being on the other side of that and becoming choreographers as well as dancers?
DM: I try to practice choreography regularly at school. Every year we have a concert called Local Harmony and we submit a piece at the beginning of the year and it has to go through several rounds to make it to the show in February. So I made it last year and had my piece performed and I’m going to submit another piece this year and hopefully it’ll get it. After my dance career, I definitely—hopefully, fingers crossed—want to be an artistic director of a company, a repertory company, or choreography.
NS: I’m putting my foot in the water this year. I’m from a competition studio in Port Coquitlam, so there’s a lot of younger girls that I’m setting pieces on for their festivals and things like that. That’s just me playing around. I’m lucky to have bodies to put stuff on. The second-year grads [at AU] do something every year with Crystal [Pite], where they do their own choreography. And I’m assisting one of the second-years this year and so hopefully I’ll learn more, and hopefully I can do my own piece. It’s all open, but I’m definitely interested in it.
JW: I’ve never been really interested in choreographing, but at school we’re required to take two years of composition, so I’ve been introduced to more ideas that can help me with my creative side. But I love performing; I love people putting repertoire on me and just diving into that and discovering what I can do with it. I think that after my performance career, I would love to be a rehearsal director because I love cleaning pieces, but I don’t think I want to be a world-renown choreographer. I don’t think that’s for me, but I so respect people who do. I think it’s so amazing how people come up with stuff like that, especially for things that are just so outside the typical contemporary ballet, pointe.
NS: And that’s who we’re working with here: people who are changing the dance world. There are a lot of days when I walk into the studio and I think, ‘Do you realize what we’re walking into right now?’ We’re doing Charone, we’re doing Kidd Pivot. We’re working with just the most amazing people in the world. Who gets to say that? We’re doing Kylian all in same three hours. We live blessed lives.
How do you like Vancouver? Have you had time to explore?
ZG: I’ve hiked a lot. I love all the nature here. It’s so cool.
JW: People here are so kind and genuine. It’s very different from being on the East Coast. I love it, it’s so peaceful. It’s a good environment to be in.
I don’t want to keep you too long, since you only have a few minutes for lunch before your next class. Any last thoughts about the program and the experience?
NS: Artemis Gordon is the best person in the world.
DM: I second that.
JW: What she said.
DM: Arty is just so passionate about educating young people. It just exudes from her. You can see that she’s very passionate about bringing these people in and giving you all the information.
NS: So many dancers wouldn’t be where they are today, including myself. I never thought I could be at Arts Umbrella if it wasn’t for Arty picking me up and telling me I can do it.
DM: She’s always walking around; she’s always in the studio; she’s always giving us little pep talks; she’s full of little tips.
NS: I’ll walk in and think I can’t do it today and she’ll say, ‘Why do you guys think you can’t do it? You can.’ And we just say, ‘Okay.’
JW: You think you’re tired today, but you’ll be more tired tomorrow.
NS: There will come a day when you’ll be more tired.