Expanding creative possibilities

The School of Alberta Ballet trains the next generation of dancer

Tucked into a commercial building in the Beltline directly across from the expensive new public school board tower the School of Alberta Ballet is a hidden creative factory for the future of ballet and classical arts in Calgary.

Through the nondescript lobby up one level in an elevator and then through an elevated courtyard you wind up engulfed in sound. Piano notes percuss canned symphonic tunes start and stop and the barely audible sound of feet both big and small pads its way through the hallways.

Featuring five large studios and a smaller one upstairs the dance side of the school is a model of organized chaos overseen by artistic director Murray Kilgour. He’s watched the program grow and shift over his 12 years at the school with an increased focus on the development of professional dancers for both Alberta Ballet and companies further afield.

“Ten years ago there’s no way that the company could have done Swan Lake ” he says. “But this year and with eight of our students dancing with them they were able to put on a really great production of Swan Lake .”

Perhaps the biggest change however occurred last year when the school became well a school. With 15 students in Grades 7 through 9 new classrooms across the small courtyard from the studios allow young dancers to focus on their dreams without sacrificing their academics and allow Kilgour to work with students who aren’t exhausted from a full day of classes a commute and the thought of homework cluttering their brains.

The classes incorporate ballet into almost everything they teach including sightlines in geometry and the state of ballet throughout the ages in history class.

“It’s way more engaging for those kids so they’re excited” says Tim Main the principal of the school.

It also helps that there are only 15 students this year providing class sizes that would make most parents and teachers blush with envy.

Of course that’s all going to change but not by much. The school will expand into high school and Grade 6 next year bumping its enrolment to about 65 students with room for 105. Class sizes will hover around 15 students.

But the school isn’t satisfied with a numerical expansion; it’s also looking to broaden its offerings starting a classical arts education program in partnership with the Alberta College of Art and Design and Mount Royal University.

“We didn’t just want to deliver art and music programs” says the school’s managing director Chris George. “Anybody can do that. So we wanted to partner with people who can deliver art and music to the same level that we can deliver ballet. So these kids are going to get something that nobody else gets.”

It’s an ambitious expansion but one that is serving an underutilized segment of creative youth. According to the school there is no comparable classical arts program in the country and the ballet program is filling an important role in Alberta’s creative development.

Eventually of course they hope to outgrow the office space they currently occupy. “The ultimate goal is to have the professional company the dance school and the academic school all in one location” says Main.

“We want to build it as a preparatory school so they’re all preparing to go off to post-secondary so that’s their choice at the end of Grade 12 obviously. ‘We’ve got the marks we’ve got the choice of auditioning and going pro or going off to another training session or university.’”

Photos by Andy Nichols. andynichols.com andynichols.tumblr.com