Category: Performing

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

The Velveteen Rabbit: The making of a children’s ballet

VR_Large_picture with BJC logo
My most recent choreography project is Ballet Jörgen Canada’s The Velveteen Rabbit.

Growing up, The Velveteen Rabbit was my favourite story. I think as a young child I understood that becoming “real” is a sort of magic that can happen to all of us when we truly engage in life. I even had my own stuffed velveteen rabbit that I “loved” into being real. Years later when Bengt Jorgen invited me to create a children’s ballet on his company, The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I asked my costume designer to use my old toy as a model for the lead dancer’s costume…and so my childhood toy did actually come to life! As a mother of two young boys, I am excited to create a ballet version of my favorite story that my boys can enjoy and learn from.

Watch the video:

http://www.balletjorgencanada.ca

The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance

Frames
Frames of Control, photographer David Hou

I wrote a post for the Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Blog (launched the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign) about the day I was shamed for being too fat and to thin and how the ludicrousness of the situation helped me realise that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself.

“The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea”

 
For a decade I suffered from bulimia. During my recovery, I came to know Merryl Bear, the director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).  She had heard that I was a dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada and asked if I would choreograph and perform a dance based on my recovery at their upcoming conference.  I said yes even though the prospect of being open about my struggles scared me. 

Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!”  Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.

I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.

The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances.  Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight.  I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished “creature” would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging.  And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying — a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on. 

I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage!  By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight…

 
 
“Love our Bodies, Love Ourselves!” is a movement launched by the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW), coordinated by Amy Pezzente, to bring awareness to the public in preventing eating disorders and building  self-esteem with a positive body image!