Leaving a ballet company where you’ve spent the better part of your young adulthood has got to come with a flood of emotion. It’s been your family for years, the complete focus of all your devotion and hard work, and the source of your artistic identity. And then it’s over. Is it scary leaving, or does it carry the excitement of change and new opportunity?
“It’s all of those things,” says Maggie Forgeron with a small laugh. She’s one of two well-known Ballet B.C. performers who have left the company in the past year or so but are resurfacing at Dances for a Small Stage’s special outdoor show Summer Lovin’ at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. Speaking to the Straight over the phone, the seven-season Ballet B.C. dancer explains: “Definitely, it was challenging to have that home base and then branch out, but at the same time I felt this strong pull to expand my experience.”
It turns out Forgeron and former Ballet B.C. star Makaila Wallace, far from retiring, are busy carving out new, independent careers for themselves here in Vancouver. And Wallace reflects Forgeron’s own mix of emotions in breaking out on her own.
“As far as leaving Ballet B.C., I knew it was the right time and I knew I needed to make a shift,” says Wallace, an 11-year star of the company, in her first interview about the transition. “I will always cherish all of the time I had at Ballet B.C. and I feel really grateful for all the opportunities I had there. So I am now aiming to harness all that and use it as artistic fuel for the future.”
Wallace, who joined the company when John Alleyne was artistic director and saw it through to its rebirth under Emily Molnar, explains that, not surprisingly, dancing with Ballet B.C. was all-consuming. “It left little energy to do anything else—but I also would not have had it any other way! To be a dancer requires that dedication. Being that immersed in something I love so much was really a gift. But I entered a period of my life where I knew I had to create more space to explore outside the Ballet B.C. walls.”
The hardest part of departing, she admits, was leaving the family of dancers. “You get so close with the people you work with every day. Not to have them around every part of the day is probably one of the biggest transitions for me.”
The California-born, Royal Winnipeg Ballet–trained Wallace—known best as the golden-haired, expressively statuesque star of Ballet B.C. works like William Forsythe’s quirky classical dissection Herman Schmerman and Johan Inger’s surreal Walking Mad—is still in good physical condition and has a passion for dancing. So, while she builds a career teaching at places like Harbour Dance and Ballet B.C., she’s also pursuing creative projects, with a solo ready to debut at Dances for a Small Stage.
Her first performance since leaving the troupe in January could not be more different from what audiences have seen her do on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage. For one thing, the short piece finds her barefoot—dancing in the grass. But the work is also a unique collaboration with pianist Candy Siu and opera singer Willy Miles-Grenzberg, who will appear on the Shadbolt lawn with her.
The piece started with Wallace improvising in the studio with Siu, who is an accompanist in the dance scene around town, and Miles-Grenzberg, who performs with the Vancouver Opera chorus. “I’d never heard him sing before and this first note came out and I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” says Wallace. “I’m very humbled to be in the same room with these two people.” After narrowing down the music to a few Robert Schumann pieces, Wallace brought in fellow Ballet B.C. alumna Simone Orlando as choreographic collaborator. Wallace stresses the work, titled Mondnacht, is very much a group effort. “Being at the Shadbolt, outside in nature, surrounded by fellow artists, is an experience I am really looking forward to.”
As for Forgeron, a National Ballet of Canada alumna, Dances for a Small Stage will show her choreographic side. Not that the petite, dark-haired dynamo is planning to retire from performance anytime soon. It’s just that she’s nursing her ankle after surgery for an injury that was the result of years of strain. “I’ve learned a little more about how to take care of my body better, but when I was younger I probably pushed things that I shouldn’t,” she tells the Straight.
It’s fitting, then, that the solo she’s created for young, Arts Umbrella–trained dancer Ryan Genoe should be so much based on healing. Forgeron has studied expressive-movement therapy throughout the years and is now pursuing a second career as an art therapist through Anna Halprin’s Tamalpa Institute in California. And working with Genoe, she’s come up with a creative process that uses a lot of what she’s learned.
“Ballet B.C. gave me such a chance to experience an array of dance,” she explains. “I really wanted to pick something and go deeper into it. Sometimes that’s not something you can do in that environment.”
In the case of Blind as Night That Finds Us All, she helped Genoe find a personal story for him to express through movement. It ended up being about his fascination with the fact that our eyes allow us to see half a tree, and we rely on faith alone to believe the rest of it is there.
The project reminds her a lot of a previous Dances for a Small Stage, the 22nd installment, when she performed a piece by Canadian icon Margie Gillis.
“Working with Margie was definitely a turning point in my career artistically,” she says of her mentor. “I felt like it opened me up to greater exploration, and it was nice to go a little deeper into that.…My whole career, I’ve been interested in bridging health and dance, and here’s someone who really bridges that in dance. She’s definitely incorporated the healing arts into her work.”
Expect to see more, much more, from Forgeron as she mines the meeting point between health and dance. She wants to put the emphasis on the creation rather than on the results.
“This is what I learned at Ballet B.C.: the result was deeply affected by the process. If it was a good process and there was open space to create and play, the result was fantastic. Petite Cérémonie was a good example of that,” she says of the playfully offbeat 2011 hit by Medhi Walerski. “It got me thinking: why isn’t there more focus on this part?”
Talking to Forgeron and Wallace you get the distinct feeling that they are just starting to explore these kinds of ideas—and that lately, it’s more about beginnings than endings.
Dances for a Small Stage is at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts on Friday and Saturday (June 20 and 21).