Category: Choreography

“Cripping” the Story Ballet

Kathleen Rea 11 years old in her Napoli custume

Kathleen Rea in “Napoli”(1981)

The first time I experienced a story ballet was when I was cast as one of Isadora Duncan’s students in the English National Ballet’s Isadora Duncan. I was ten years old and the English National Ballet was touring in Toronto. I remember the details vividly… my costume fitting for my Isadora-style tunic, being chaperoned around the stage by Monica Mason who was playing the role of the “nanny”. Each night I found a spot in the wings to watch the tragic death scene. The genre of story ballet captured my heart and transported me. This love never left me. When I was in the National Ballet of Canada corp de ballet during Romeo and Juliet, I stood in the wings in my peasant costume and watched all the big scenes. I was fascinated by how dancers interpreted the story differently within the frame of the choreography. I stood there transfixed. I loved the feeling of my heart breaking and rebounding. I felt alive. Giselle, Napoli, Taming of the Shrew, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Right of Spring, Sleeping Beauty, The Merry Widow, West Side Story… they are all in my blood.

Frames of Control 1996

Kathleen Rea (Frames 1996) Judee Brahm

When I was starting out as a choreographer there was a push towards abstraction in both the ballet world and the modern dance world. I remember an esteemed choreographer seeing my work at a National Ballet Company choreographic workshop saying, “it’s all too personal and too emotion based”. At the time, I was twenty and trying to find my way as a woman choreographer. I could’ve taken his advice and moved towards abstraction. But I had a stubborn steak in me and always seemed to do things differently than others. I let his advice point towards that which I loved and could be good at with practice. And to this day, I continue to move towards story-based work. In “Frames of Control” (1996), I told the story of recovering from an eating disorder. In “Long Live” (2010) I told the story of a daughter grieving the death of her dad. In “Men’s Circle” (2017) I told the story of men in a therapy group. In “Thread Bound” (2019), Suzanne Liska and I told personal stories of epigenetic inheritance from our grandmothers. These pieces were multidisciplinary. I used a pallet of ballet, modern dance, contact dance, text and song. But at their heart they were following the dream a ten-year-old sitting in the wings, her heart breaking and rebounding with each dancer’s steps.

Long live 2010
Robert Halley in “Long Live” (2010). Photo by Greg Schilhab

I was on this path when a life changing event happened that re-adjusted my course. My youngest son was diagnosed with high functioning autism. The psychologist gave me an autism symptom check list and told me how my son had received his diagnosis because he had so many checkmarks on the list. I looked at that list and discovered that I had all the same check marks and then some! In that moment I realized I had high functioning autism.

It is common for women with autism to be so good at masking their symptoms by learning social patterns and relying on coping strategies that they often don’t get diagnosed until their 30s to 40s. Seeing life through the lens of a diagnosis of high functioning autism shifted all my past and present stories about myself. I turned the kaleidoscope just one turn and saw how different everything looked. It explained so much about why I tend to do things differently than others, my unique look on life, my challenges with career networking, the way I follow my own path without wavering, my sensory challenges, how I get sensory “hang-over for days after a big social outing and so on. I did not want my son to feel ashamed about having autism and I was his main example. I realized it was my job to go forth in life without shame and to embrace my autism. This new way of seeing myself started to change the way I told stories.

Men's Cricle 1017
Paul Lewis & Bill Coleman in “Men’s Circle” (2017)

Accepting and embracing my disability led me to be curious about a movement called Cripping the Arts. “Cripping” is a term that reclaims the pejorative term crippled to enable people with disabilities to take back power and ownership over their bodies and minds. Cripping the arts is a movement that describes a process of adapting/ re-writing the script of the traditional theatre experience to be more accessible and inviting to both performers and attendees with disabilities. I realized that simply by having autism and telling stories through my unique lens I had been cripping the story ballet for years without realizing it. But I wanted to step further into this movement and started by offering relaxed performances.

A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules are relaxed to be more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically atypical including, but not limited to, those with autism spectrum disorder, Tourette’s, concussion syndrome, sensory and communication differences, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.

Thread Bound 2017 post card image.
Suzanne Liska & Kathleen Rea in “Thread Bound” (2019). Photo by Sarah Jones

The first relaxed performance I produced was during the run of “Thread Bound” and it moved me to tears. I was creating an inviting atmosphere for people like me. I felt a tension relax in my body that had been so constant that I did not realize it was there. My crew was uncertain about the endeavor. We had never done this before, and I could feel the sense of stretching and letting go it took. My stage manager asked me, “so you really want me to say that people are allowed check their phones during the show?!”. I said, “if knowing they can use their phone reduces anxiety enough so that someone can attend a show who otherwise might not, then yes I want that.” We offered free ear plugs to anyone who needed at the venue. My box office person said, “only one person took a pair of sound canceling ear plugs, so maybe next time we skip offering them”. I responded that even if no one takes any it sends a message that we see you. I explained how seeing people is a vital part of cripping the arts. A ramp says to those in wheelchairs, “we see you”. Offering free sound canceling ear plugs says, “we see you” to those with sensory processing disorders. Audio description services says, “we see you” to those with vision loss.

Jessica Watkin is an artist-scholar living in Toronto, who is blind and disabled. She describes in a Toronto Star article how accessibility is not so much a checklist of protocols to check off but a correction to institutionalized ableism”. I have learned from personal experience that systemic change is needed to remove that barriers to the arts. Theatres do not have the infrastructure to support access initiatives and this leaves the cost of doing so on the shoulders of small producers who often have limited budgets. I would like to see it mandated that all theatres supply in-house audio description equipment. If this occurred, you would see many more theatre companies supply audio description for their performances.

To many institutions, “accessibility” means providing ramps and washrooms to accommodate audience members using wheelchairs. While this is very important, they have missed and important part of the process if performers using wheelchair do not have access to the stage.

Some forms of accessibility are often overlooked with acoustic accessibility being one of them. There is a theatre in Toronto that has a café/ lobby area that one has to walk through and often lineup in to get to the theatre. The ceiling is metal and the din caused by bouncing sound was so painful for me I made a note to never go there again without my sound canceling headphones. The fix is relativity simple and within financial reach for most theatre companies. It would involve buying sound absorbing panels for the ceiling. To have an acoustically pleasant café/lobby would benefit all and would be a much better set up for seeing a play.  It also would be an example of how non disabled people often benefit from accommodations made to disabled peoples. It is a win, win. But if people like me are not on their radar this fix will never happen.

In my upcoming project “Dancing with the Universe” I am cripping the story ballet with my friend and colleague Vivian Chong who is a multidisciplinary artist who lost her sight fifteen years ago. In “Dancing with the Universe” Vivian tells her story with an ensemble cast of six dancers and cellist Cheryl O. We are co-directing together, and audio description of the choreography is key so that Vivian can have a sense of what is happing on stage and makes sure we are telling her story though movement as she wants it to be told. Cripping the arts for me is about being disability-led. This project does not involve theatre experts telling Vivian how to tell her story. It involves Vivian taking the creative reigns. As the choreographer and co-director, I am in service of her vision. “Dancing with the Universe” will involve a performance with on-stage ASL interpretation, optional audio description via headsets, and a relaxed performance. The performance happens in tandem with the book launch of Vivian graphic memoir “dancing After TEN”, co-created by Vivian and comics artist Georgia Webber. The graphic novel will be in available in hard-cover and audio-described format.

Nothing can ever be one hundred percent accessible due to completing access needs. We can only aim to open up accessibility as much as possible. I invite you to come out and see the show!

Dancing with the Universe Postcard
Vivian Chong. Photo by Sarah Jones

EVENT DESCRIPTION
In 2005, Vivian Chong experienced a rare reaction to Ibuprofen that caused third-degree skin burns over her entire body. She was put in a medically induced coma. Upon waking, she had to relearn how to breathe, eat and walk and her reaction to Ibuprofen eventually cause complete loss of sight. As her vision deteriorated, she accepted her sight-loss and learned new ways to navigate her environment.

“Dancing with the Universe” is a dance theatre production adaption of Vivian Chong’s one-woman show “The Sunglasses Monologue”. The production is co-directed by Vivian Chong and choreographer Kathleen Rea with dramaturge by Tristan Whiston. Vivian tells her life story alongside an ensemble cast of six dancers and cellist Cheryl Ockrant. “Dancing with the Universe” is a multi-disciplinary journey of human emotions that shines a light on loss, grief and resiliency.

When Vivian was in the process of losing her sight, she was driven to document her medical experiences through drawing. She created the first 100 pages of a graphic memoir before sight loss made it impossible to draw further. This draft stayed on the shelf for twelve years, until she found comics artist Georgia Webber who collaborated with Vivian to bring the rest of her story to the page. Vivian’s graphic memoir “Dancing After TEN” , published by Fantagraphics will have its book launch alongside the “Dancing with the Universe” premiere. The book launch will include book sales in paper format and in audio described format.

LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, Toronto. Venue is wheelchair accessible

DATES:
Thursday, April 9, 10, 17 AND 18 at 8 pm – “Dancing with the Universe” Production

Sunday, April 12 at 3 pm – “Dancing with the Universe” Production and “Dancing After TEN” Book Launch. RELAXED PERFORMANCE with ASL INTERPRETATION and AUDIO-DESCRIPTION

FUNDING: This project received project funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Ballet of Canada’s Open Spaces Residency. REAson d’etre dance production currently also receives operation funding from the Toronto Arts Council.

ACCESSIBLE BOX OFFICE:
http://bit.ly/DancingAfterTEN where you can buy tickets for the 3pm matinee (April 12, 2020) performance and book launch.

BOX OFFICE:
https://dancingwiththeuniverse.eventzilla.net/ where you can buy tickets for all the “Dancing with the Universe” performances (various dates April 9 to 18, 2020).

PUBLICITY:
Ashley Belmer https://www.b-rebelcommunications.com/

FACEBOOK EVENT
https://www.facebook.com/events/437940663749451/

Dancing After TEN book launch

What is a Relaxed Performance?

Gondola 4

I recently performed the final show in the “Thread Bound” run as a relaxed performance and many people asked me what that means. Some thought it meant the audience needed to participate. Some thought it meant performers only perform at 2/3 their regular energy level. Some said they did know what it meant and it sounded a bit scary so they decided to avoid it. So today I am going to tell you what a relaxed performance is.

To clear up these misconceptions, I’d like to say that audience participation is NOT something that is added to a relaxed performance and the performers WILL still go all out and perform at their usual full intensity and artistry!

A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules and expectations are relaxed and/or presentation is specifically designed to make theatre more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically different from the norm. Relaxed performances are sensitive and inviting to theatergoers who may benefit from a more relaxed environment, including, but not limited to those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette’s, concussion syndrome,  sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.

People who are neurologically different may have sensory-processing challenges that make light, sound and touch feel different: Sound might seem extra loud or a bright light cue might feel painful for them. Differences in processing speed might mean that it takes a while to understand what is being said on stage.  The emotional intensity of a play may seem unbearable without access to their regulatory stims such as rocking or making sounds. They may experience claustrophobia at the thought of having to sit still in a theatre seat for an hour. They may feel anxieties about audience etiquette as they strive to figure out what the social theatre rules are. All these different types of experiences may feel overwhelming and make theatre in a traditional setting not accessible to them.

Every production company will design their relaxed performances differently. Whatever the choices they make, it is important to remember that a relaxed show will never make a production 100% accessible. Nothing is every 100% due to competing access-needs. I will give an example from my personal life to help define competing access-needs. Both my son and I have high functioning Autism. Sometimes he needs to makes a clucking noise to feel right in his body and sometimes I need to repeat a specific sentence over and over to feel right in my body. The thing is that both our self-regulating stim methods drive the other person to distraction and irritability and thus represent completing access needs. What is helpful to one person might interfere with access for another.

A vital aspect of relaxed performance is that the artistic excellence of the production and director’s vision remain unchanged. Rather it is everything else that surrounds the production that may be adjusted to be more welcoming.

So what are the type of things might be involved in a relaxed performance?

  • House (audience) lights may be kept at a dim level rather than completely turned off
  • people may be invited to leave the theatre during the show and the re-enter of they want or need.
  • audience members may be asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise.
  • sound and lighting cues may be adjusted to be less startling or intense
  •  “fidget” devices such as hand spinners may be welcome and yes this may even include the use of cell phones or other devices as long as they are kept in quiet mode.
  • self-regulation support items such as weighted blankets may be welcome or provided.
  • a copy of the script may be provided in advance so people can prepare or gain an understanding of the content on their own time.
  • description of possible triggers may be explained to the audience prior to the show.
  • earplugs or sunglasses may be provided.
  • people may be told its okay to plug their ears whenever they need to.
  • people may be given advanced entrance or a longer time than usual to leave the theatre to help them avoid crowded theatre aisle or lobby.

Since all relaxed performances differ in how they provide a more relaxed setting, it is vital that what is being provided is outlined at the time of ticket purchase. This enables theatergoers to get a sense of whether the production will be accessible for them. For instance, sometimes a director will decide that turning down the music or light level will not work for a particular scene because the performers need that level of intensity. So earplugs may be provided instead of lower music levels. If you cannot stand the feeling of earplugs you may decide to bring your own noise-canceling headphones or decide not to go.

Production companies should not shorten their program by cutting out scenes as part of a relaxed performance. By doing this, they are making choices based on what they think is best for a disabled theatergoer. I offer that production companies put the choice in the hands of the theatre-goer. Present your full production and let the theatergoer make their own choice to self-edit by leaving the theatre for moments if they need or to want to.

Recently, my dance company REAson d’etre productions did a relaxed performance of “Thread Bound”.

This is how we designed the show to be more welcoming to those with neurological-difference: 

  • Music was played slightly lower than usual.
  • “Stim” gadgets were welcome, including cell phones or devices as long as they are in quiet-mode.
  • audience were asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise
  • people could leave and come back in as needed.
  • script was sent to attendees ahead of time so they could process the meaning of the text and work-through/prepare for possible triggers on their own time.
  • ear-plugs and sunglass were provided at the box-office to be worn in sections in which blinking-lights and sound levels might be painful for some.
  • description of possible triggers was given prior to the performance.

After the performance, the box office manager said, “providing earplugs was a waste of money as hardly anyone used them.”  He guessed that people who needed earplugs had brought their own and suggested that for the next relaxed performance we forgo supply them.  I explained that even if no one had used our earplugs that they were still an important relationship-building tool. As a person with Autism if I arrive at a show and saw that earplugs were provided I get a sense that who I am is visible and my needs are being considered. This is a wonderful moment of being seen that builds a positive relationship between me and the producing company even if I had brought my own earplugs.

Photo credit: Suzanne Liska and Kathleen Rea in Thread Bound

 

Newton Moraes depicts Multi-Faceted Depths of Letting Go

Newton

This review is written by Guest Blogger Leslie Heydon:

I had the privilege to witness an excerpt from “IHU” presented Tuesday at the Aki Studio as part of CPAMO’s 10th Anniversary.  In the language of the Kamayura people of Brazil, IHU means everything which can be heard and includes the supernatural, the sound of spirits and the magical beings of the forest.  “IHU” choreographed by Newton Moraes and mentored by Jean Sasportes (Pina Bausch Wuppertal Tanztheater) represents his personal journey of self-discovery, acceptance of all aspects of his spirit, and triumph over prejudice through the development of his spiritual self.  After his partner passed away in 2008, Moraes wanted to leave everything and go back to Brazil. This challenging phase in his life was the inspiration for the creation of  “IHU”, a tribute to Robert Shirley. The excerpt of “IHU” I saw was a solo dance performed by Newton Moraes with lighting design by Gabriel Cropley.

Moraes’ performance was physically high energy and paired with deeply rhythmic music it projected an urgency that held my rapt attention.  During part of the piece, he donned a clear plastic face mask that referenced feminine ideals of beauty.  By partially obscuring his face the mask conveyed a sense of disconnection and discomfort.  It spoke to me of the brittle pretext of outer world coping contrasted with an internal struggle.  While wearing the mask, Moraes interacted with audience members creating a sense of connection that was both comforting and gave me an unsettled feeling of apprehension.  This juxtaposition of contrasting emotions elicited through the mask and Moraes’ visceral movement style was compelling and I feel represents the crazy ride of grief in which so many contrasting emotions come in waves.  Moraes’ performance was powerful yet vulnerable and thus poignant.

I look forward to seeing one of Moraes’ full length works.

LelsieLeslie Heydon 
Leslie Heydon has a bachelor’s degree from U of T (Major in Psychology, Specialty in Fine Arts). Leslie trained as an Expressive Arts Therapist at the CREATE Institute and worked in addictions for over 10 years in specialized programs for women and black youth, providing individual therapy and facilitating groups. Her passion is to explore and guide others to explore the internal wilderness of the soul.

 

Female Choreographer Found: Roshanak Jaberi is a Force to Reckon With

Jaberi Dance Theatre's No Woman's Land-Irma Villafuerte in front-ph by Wayne EardleyIrma Villafuerte in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley

The spotlight over the past years has turned towards the under-representation of female choreographers in the established dance companies. In the press and social media, I have seen a repeat of the same sort of questions and thought processes in regards to this issue that goes something like this “… where are all the female choreographers?”  or “why aren’t there more female choreographers” or “If only there were more female choreographers then we could hire them”. While it is great to see the press and dance community having these discussions, I would like to counter by saying we are not that hard to find. We are mostly finding our way, on our own terms by starting our own companies and self-producing. They should concentrate on finding us, seeing our shows and writing reviews. This would shine a spotlight on our work that can help even out the gender inequalities we face. Roshanak Jaberi is an Iranian-Canadian female choreographer whom I had no trouble finding. I would like to shine some stage-light on this talented and brave creator.

I just came home from Jabari’s production “No Woman’s Land”, created for her company Jaberi Dance Theatre and presented by DanceWorks at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in Toronto. Jaberi Dance Theatre is a multi-disciplinary performing arts company that explores socially relevant content and highlights the lived experience of racialized women. “No Woman’s Land” tells stories of refugee women fleeing their homelands due to acute starvation, poverty, natural disasters, armed conflict and war. Roshanak engaged in an intense research phase with the support of IRIS (Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society) and scholar Dr. Shahrzad Mojab. The work that arose out of the stories and information collected is a weaving of dance, visual images, text and sound. Pre-show, the stage is set with something that looks like the frame of a tent. Light shines through the frame casting shadows that look like bars of some virtual prison. Or perhaps they are a net that will hold the audience together while we witness the stories that are about to unfold.  One of the beautiful aspects of Jaberi’s work is that the images portrayed hold multiple meanings and tones, creating a richly layered tapestry.

The work starts at high velocity with the frame turning over to become a boat. Images of a storm are projected over all surfaces of the stage. We witness refugees fighting for their lives in stormy waters. The choreography is direct in its movements, but the nuances are complex and cut deep into the heart. The cast (Irma Villafuerte, Nickeshia Garrick, Victoria Mata, Denise Solleza, Drew Berry, Ahmed Moneka) are fully committed. One can sense they know the importance of the job they have in bringing these stories to the stage.

Jaberi Dance Theatre's No Woman's Land-Victoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte, Drew Berry-ph by Wayne EardleyVictoria Mata, Irma Villafuerte & Drew Berry in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley

The program includes a fold-out pamphlet that educates the public about the world-wide refugee crisis. We learn that 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes and that one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds. We learn that approximately one in five women in refugee camps are sexually-assaulted. This statistic is brought to life on stage through Irma Villafuerte’s solo that depicts unwanted hands reaching for her body through “bars”, and through a voice-over of a young girl’s story of a brutal rape. The pamphlet also describes how refugee women become shrewd survivors through their lived experience, finding strategies, cunning and independence.  In a fierce solo by Nickeshia Garrick, sharp movements cut through the air with grace and speed. Every cell of her body exemplifies pride and beauty that dismantles the stereotype of the helpless, passive victim.

Jaberi Dance Theatre's No Woman's Land-Victoria Mata-ph by Wayne Eardley
Victoria Mata in “No Woman’s Land” photo by Wayne Eardley

In another scene, dancers frantically fight for limited buckets. The rattling sound of hollow metal clanging reverberates on stage, a music score that gives the audience a felt sense of the panic of thirst. The buckets then become stepping stones across minefields or seats at a social gathering that gives relief from the worries of being displaced. Text and projected images deliver story and setting, but dance is the element that delivers the emotional world hidden behind the words and statistics. This embodiment is what brings the stories home to those witnessing. Throughout the work a repeated poem delivers the message that people flee their home when fleeing is safer than staying. This made me think of what it would take to make me grab my kids and flee. A vital aspect of “No Woman’s Land” is that it invites the viewer into an immersive art experience that encourages the viewer to imagine what it would be like if those circumstances unfolding on stage happened to them. Jaberi’s states in her program notes that “No Woman’s Land” does not attempt to present solutions to systemic systems of oppression that lead and influence the refugee crisis.  Rather, she hopes the work will start discourse amongst those in a position of influence. 

Roshanak Jaberi is a brave and articulate choreographer with a strong vision. I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future.

 

Last Studio Run-through For Men’s Circle Before We Head To The Theatre

On Friday we performed our final studio run-through before we move over to the theatre. Here is what our small audience that attended has said about Men’s Circle.

Bill harold trip
Laura Bisoc wrote:
I loved watching Kathleen Rea’s new dance theatre production, Men’s Circle. It tells  several stories of emotional vulnerability and unfettered expression with a seamless integration of singing, dancing and spoken dialogue. The dancers are brilliant and combine virtuosity, playfulness and clarity of expression in their fresh and fast paced acts.

A dead patient (most likely killed by the ineptitude of his therapist!) haunts the entire production and is one of the most endearing and mischievous characters I have ever seen. In his defence, the therapist is a wonderful singer and I hope his signature song, Appendicitis, will make it to the top charts. Performed while the therapist is wrestling with his dead patient, Appendicitis is full of emotional ardour and physiological urgency.

The white canopy that represents “our brain waves” is almost a character in itself, and so is the violin case with wings.

Definitely a not to miss event!

group trip

Evadne Macedo wrote:
Men’s Circle by Kathleen Rea is brilliant, surprising and touchingly funny. As a work of theatre, the stories reveal the hurts that lie beneath the surface of smiles and the hidden fears that separate us from ourselves and others.

As a work of dance, we are treated to a showcase of male strength, beauty and vulnerability as the characters struggle to heal and to find authentic connection through movement. In watching these courageous men reveal themselves in their acting, dancing and live music, we are challenged to reach into and beyond ourselves to find belonging and understanding in our own lives despite the risks of pain and rejection.

With the spectre of death ever present, and represented on stage as a character who confronts and soothes each man, Men’s Circle reminds us that we each have the capacity to live with grace and humility, and that we are never alone in this incredible human journey.

smile

MEN’S CIRCLE – dance theatre by Kathleen Rea

DRAMATURGE: Tristan R. Whiston

ORIGINAL SONGS: Ariel Llama

DATES: November 2 to 5, 2017.

LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto.

BOX OFFICE: http://menscircle.eventzilla.net/

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/150598895531063/

PRODUCED BY: REAson d’etre dance productions   http://www.reasondetre.com/

FILM STILLS from footage by Drew Berry

The Velveteen Rabbit: A Ballet Forty Years in the Making

Choreographer Kathleen Rea with her old stuffed bunny and the life size version created for The Velveteen Rabbit by Canada's Ballet Jörgen. Photograph by Peter Madison

Choreographer Kathleen Rea with her old stuffed bunny and the life size version created for The Velveteen Rabbit by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. Photograph by Peter Madison

When I was five years old, I fell in love with Margery Williams’ classic story The Velveteen Rabbit. That year I asked for my very own velveteen rabbit for Christmas. At the time, stores only sold stuffed rabbits around Easter time. My mom searched high and low and finally found a stuffed rabbit for way more than she could afford in a Yorkville toy shop. I loved that rabbit into being real and it kept me company through the trials and tribulations of growing up.

One could say that this production of The Velveteen Rabbit ballet has been in the making since I was five years old. But it officially began in 1999 when Bengt Jörgen asked me to create a ballet for his company Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I pulled my old stuffed bunny out of its keepsake drawer and asked the Ballet Jörgen prop builder to build a life sized version. I then worked for months choreographing the ballet and was able to see the stuffed rabbit come to life on stage.

Last year, Bengt asked me to remount The Velveteen Rabbit. It has been an extraordinary gift to come back and reshape a work fifteen years after I first created it. I bring to the new production a wealth of experience and knowledge that my younger self did not have. I am now a mother of two boys and the eldest is almost five, which is the same age as the character of the boy in the ballet. When I explained to Daniel, who plays the little boy, how he should throw his housecoat in the air and gleefully run away, I smiled because I had just experienced a similar scene that morning as I was getting my son ready for school.

The new production has more of a theatrical feel. I have been telling stories through dance over the past 15 years, and I have learned a thing or two. All the characters now have clearly defined back stories and plot dilemmas they are trying to resolve. I worked to create a relationship triad between the Nanny, the Velveteen toy and the young boy that speaks to the power of love as a transformational force. The Nanny gives the Velveteen Rabbit to the boy so he has something to hug when he is lonely. It is the Nanny’s love for the boy as realized through the Velveteen Rabbit that helps the boy’s heart grow bigger. He learns compassion for others and that the world is not all about him. The more the boy’s heart grows the more he is able to love the Velveteen Rabbit. His love starts to make the toy real. The more real the toy becomes in the boy’s eyes, the more the boy’s heart grows helping to make his toy even more real. The transformation that occurs in the boy and the Velveteen Rabbit is something they have to do together. Together they learn that becoming real can hurt because is involves having a heart big enough to take in both the joys and sorrows of life. It is the growth in the boy’s ability to care for and love another that ultimately conjures up the toy fairy who turns the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.

Yes, I know that is a whole lot of depth for a ballet created for children! But I believe that kids have more emotional depth than we often give them credit for. They might not be able to name the concepts portrayed, but it is my hope that the story of becoming “real” in one’s heart will live in their hearts. They may actually understand the story better than us adults because the magic of toys becoming real is something they know to be true.

VR_Large_picture with BJC logo

Canada’s Ballet Jörgen presents

The Velveteen Rabbit
A story ballet for all ages choreographed by Kathleen Rea

In Toronto for two days only
October 4, 2014 – 4pm
October 5, 2014 – 2pm
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St., Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2G6
Tickets: $16 to $32
To purchase tickets please visit https://ww2.ticketpro.ca/jorgen2014.php?aff=krn&languageid=-1
or call toll free at 1-888-655-9090