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Possibility and precipices: The uplifting return of Alberta Ballet  

By Ansharah Shakil, October 24 2022

For the first time in this year’s season, Alberta Ballet dancers present Away We Go, a collection of three works from three celebrated female choreographers. Among this collection is Skyward, choreographed by Alysa Pires and originally choreographed for the National Ballet of Canada. Skyward, along with the other works in Away We Go, will be presented at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium from Oct. 27 to 29, with tickets available on the Alberta Ballet website.

Pires said that her favourite piece she has created is the one she is about to create — one which does not exist yet. This idea of looking forward to the future is clearly present in Skyward, a work which encompasses time, hope and optimism in a fascinating interplay of different elements. Drawing on personal experiences, Pires explained how this dance is meaningful to her because her process began as she was pregnant. 

“I think of every piece that I make as a time capsule of my life when I made it,” she said. 

Likening experiencing a performance to inhaling a perfume, Pires expressed the view that just as a smell can knock someone back into time to remember a memory, so can a performance bring back emotion. Of course, you can’t hold onto scent, or dance, which does not have a tangible thing left over. This is something Pires finds unique about the art form — “Dance is ephemeral.” 

At the same time that it does not leave a physical reminder, dance is very physical and depends on the bodies of the dancers. 

“Their interpretation is intrinsic to what we do,” noted Pires “This piece, even though it’s technically the same piece I did at the National Ballet, is completely their own. The Alberta Ballet are infusing it with their own sense of self.” 

Dance, she discussed, is versatile. It toes the line between narrative and abstraction. Skyward is a work that she thought was a clear example of this notion, where there is no narrative. These are the kinds of parts which make up Skyward — intrinsically human experiences. In making this work, Pires was inspired by the “urgency, optimism and enthusiasm” as she put it, which she was feeling in her life at the time. 

“I knew my life was about to fundamentally change, but I couldn’t fully comprehend what that would look like until it happened,” explained Pires. 

Indeed, the title Skyward implies a change, leaping into upward motion. It is a very uplifting title and dance. Part of the inspiration from this title, Pires added, comes from the finale music for the piece — “Learn to Fly” by David Lang.  

Created right after the first COVID-19 shut down, the optimism present in Skyward makes sense.

“I think as audiences come back to the theatre, in full force, hopefully, that’s something we all feel too — that energy and that joy of being able to have these collective experiences again,” said Pires. 

If nothing else, the pandemic certainly taught all of us how badly we miss human connection when we are utterly isolated. However, we individually interpret a performance, viewing it alone is not the same as viewing it together. 

“There’s nothing like being in a theatre with hundreds of other people experiencing the same thing as you in real time,” Pires said. “It’s — it’s magic.”

The movement present in dance is certainly magical, and it’s also a universal language. 

“You have a body,” she explained. “You use it every single day, you move through the world.” 

Relating to these dancers does not require technical knowledge or physical expertise. Beginners do not have to be concerned over not knowing enough about dance or not being able to understand it. 

“I always say to people they don’t have to get it, there’s nothing to get,” Pires said. “Whatever reaction you have is correct because it’s your own.” 

Pires praised the Alberta Ballet dancers and hopes that Skyward, in its hope and optimism, would remind audience members of a time in their lives where they were on the precipice of something and feeling electricity and excitement. A feeling of possibility is present in Skyward and in dance itself, in every twist and turn, with the dancers unafraid to fall.

Skyward and the two other pieces to be shown in October in the Away We Go collection are excellent choices to begin a journey on appreciating dance as an art form and are being shown right here in Calgary by dancers from our very own province. Pires encouraged anyone to come to the performance and give dance a chance. 

“You never know,” she said. “It might be your new favourite thing.” 

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