Everything is illuminated

Ballet society marks 25 years of classical commitment

One doesn’t generally envision very young dancers performing some of ballet’s great classics including Giselle Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty but that’s precisely what Calgary’s Jeunesse Classique Ballet is all about.

“We’re trying to raise the level of understanding — and appreciation for — classical ballet for audiences across southern Alberta” says Michael McCreadie chair of the Jeunesse Classique Ballet Society.

“We’re the only truly classical ballet company left in Alberta” he adds explaining that the province’s premier ballet company Alberta Ballet includes new ballets such as Love Lies Bleeding on their bill.

Jeunesse Classique Ballet is a performance-only company created by artistic director Umran Sumen former soloist with The National Ballet Company of Turkey. Each of the company’s shows is separately auditioned.

“The dancers come to us with a fairly high level of ballet training from a wide variety of dance schools” says McCreadie adding that they generally range in age from about six years old to their early 20s.

McCreadie’s 15-year-old daughter has been performing with the company for the past 11 years.

This year marks the organization’s 25th anniversary an occasion it is celebrating by mounting its most ambitious production yet. Called Illumination the show will feature guest dancers from the National Ballet of Canada the American Ballet Theatre and a former principal dancer from the New York City Ballet.

Jeunesse Classique Ballet’s quarter-century milestone is particularly fitting given that the federal government has named Calgary a Cultural Capital of Canada for 2012.

“It has been her [Sumen’s] lifelong goal to elevate the love of the arts in Calgary” explains McCreadie.

Illumination begins with three pieces that pay tribute to the music of Strauss and Mendelssohn. For these numbers more than a dozen dancers from Turkey will join the Jeunesse Classique ensemble.

The resident choreographer of the Turkish National Ballet Mehmet Balkan created the choreography for the opening three pieces; the Calgary Youth Orchestra — under the direction of Edmond Agopian — will be providing the music for this first section of the program.

“We’ve been talking with the orchestra for two years about a chance to collaborate. They wanted to expose their members to working with a live company just as we wanted to expose our dancers to working with a live orchestra” McCreadie explains.

Then it will be time for a couple of guest numbers. The National Ballet’s Alexandra MacDonald (a Jeunesse alumnus) and Patrick Lavoie will dance the “Black Swan pas de deux” and the two dancers from New York will perform the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty .

Post intermission Jeunesse Classique Ballet will perform The Rite of Spring a ballet choreographed by Balkan and set to the music of Igor Stravinsky.

When the ballet premièred in 1913 it was met with controversy. The music with its unconventional rhythms and dissonant sounds and the story concerning a pagan society that engages in sacrificial rituals did not fit into the conventional balletic mould of the day.

The Rite of Spring is a challenging ballet. It takes the dancers outside their comfort zone” says McCreadie referencing both the technical and emotional requirements of the dance.

Allie Bertram a runner-up on So You Think You Can Dance Canada and a Jeunesse Classique alumnus will be the principal dancer in The Rite of Spring .

Illumination is also a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. As such former New York City Ballet dancer Zippora Karz — who is diabetic — will address the audience. She wrote a book aptly titled The Sugarless Plum about the challenges of being a diabetic dancer.