Ballerina Delphine Leroux, dance athlete Josh Martin move between styles

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      Delphine Leroux

      Whether it’s to perform on stages in great European cities or at festivals in North American capitals, one of the pluses of being a professional dancer is travel. Montreal native Delphine Leroux, who’s just 22, has already toured to places as far-flung as Peru, France, and Korea. But the highlight for the ballerina has been going to much more modest locales: small towns in rural British Columbia.

      Leroux, who started dancing when she was 11 and went on to study with Le jeune ballet du Québec, landed her first job three years ago with Ballet Kelowna. The company regularly visited places like Trail and Fort Nelson.

      “We’d go on a tour in a van for three weeks, stopping at 10 different locations,” the cheery, chestnut-eyed Leroux says in an interview at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. “It was so neat to see people’s reactions. People there were so happy and so grateful, because they never get shows coming through town. They just loved it, and they were so enthusiastic. It made me realize how we take it for granted, being in a big city and being able to see all these performances.”

      With Ballet Kelowna, Leroux danced in such challenging full-length works as Sleeping Beauty. But although her training is rooted in the pliés and tendues of classical ballet, it’s the freedom of modern dance that truly moves her. With her knack for expressive, inventive choreography, it’s no wonder Leroux was asked to join Ballet British Columbia last season.

      “My body feels a lot more at home with contemporary dance,” says Leroux, who travelled with the company to Korea earlier this year. “You can explore movement in a much deeper way, and the range of choices is a lot wider. It just speaks to me a lot more.”

      Before moving to Vancouver, Leroux had the chance to delve into contemporary dance when she spent a summer at the Banff Centre for the Arts. There, Ballet B.C. member Simone Orlando, who had won the Clifford E. Lee choreography award, was making Winter Journey. She asked Leroux to be the lead. Adding to the challenge of such a big role was the fact that Leroux found herself stumbling—not over her steps but over her words. At the time, she hardly spoke any English. Although she now speaks it fluently, Leroux admits feeling anxiety-ridden about the language barrier as her career started to take off.

      “I was really nervous at Ballet B.C. at first,” says Leroux, who’ll appear as a sprite in The Faerie Queen at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre November 6 to 8. “I would be very quiet in my corner. But people are really supportive, and I’ve learned so much....It was a hard choice, leaving Montreal where I was comfortable, moving to the other side of the country, learning English, speaking English, working in English,” Leroux adds. “But it’s been so rewarding. The past year has been like a hurricane. I’ve been so lucky, because I’m really passionate about what I’m doing.”

      Hip-hop-schooled Josh Martin is in big demand by choreographers for his athletic style. Alex Waterhouse-Hayward photo.

      Josh Martin

      When Status Quo debuted at the Dancing on the Edge festival in July, it started a buzz in the community that hasn’t stopped yet. The adrenaline-jacked collaboration between Amber Funk Barton and Shay Kuebler was an acrobatic marathon that fused hip-hop’s pops and locks into a flowing new contemporary form. Josh Martin was one of the stars of the piece, a performer who could pull off a gravity-defying headspin one minute and an awkward yet hungrily passionate waltz the next. He literally danced until he dropped.

      “That’s the kind of dance I like to do—the stuff that’s really athletic and uses every aspect of your body. It’s great to feel that exhaustion,” says the 23-year-old artist as he sits in the sunshine outside the Dance Centre. He’s about to head into rehearsal for the new, full-length February show at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre by Wen Wei Dance—just one of the companies tapping this performer’s unique meld of urban and contemporary techniques this season. “People see a different way of moving and they want to really take advantage of that. It’s exciting for a choreographer to see these other places they can pull from.”

      Those skills reflect an artist who’s traversed a lot of ground in a few short years—to Europe and back again, from cutting-edge contemporary training to pop-star backup dancing. At 19, in early 2004, the Camrose-raised Martin headed straight to Vancouver to study hip-hop and, soon after, other forms at Harbour Dance. He explains there just wasn’t anywhere to pursue his calling in Alberta. That study led to such forays into the contemporary-dance world as Martha Carter’s clubby, B-boy–powered hit iDub, at Dance Allsorts the same year.

      By the end of 2005, Martin was heading to Europe to delve completely into the contemporary form, training in Paris, Antwerp, Brussels, and around Italy. Ironically, though, he was soon noticed for his hip-hop skills: “I got hired to back up a pop star named Lorie. I’d train in contemporary all day and then go to do these cheesy pop shows at night. Imagine 8,000 screaming 13-year-old girls,” he says with a laugh. “I just did that to pay bills.”

      Martin returned to Vancouver in 2006, in time to help launch the 605 Collective. With it, he and four other choreographer-dancers—with backgrounds in everything from hip-hop to karate—aim to create new forms.

      Work has been building for both the troupe and Martin. Starting tonight and Friday (September 11 and 12), he and 605’s Lisa Gelley will perform a daring duet on the Dances for a Small Stage program at the Legion on the Drive. “It’ll be fun but very challenging. We pride ourselves on big movement and being stuck on a small stage is definitely a challenge,” he says with a smile.

      At the same time, the 605 Collective members are artists in residence at the Dance Centre, holding a free workshop and studio showing during the facility’s daytime open house this Saturday (September 13). “It feels good to know we have a place we can work out of and some sort of support system,” Martin says. “We’re aiming for a full-length in the spring, where we’ll be working on different patterns and rhythms of movement.” The troupe also debuts at New Works’ Dance Allsorts shows on September 21 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre, and looks forward to a commission from Holy Body Tattoo and Animals of Distinction’s acclaimed Dana Gingras next year. Later on, dance fans will have the chance to see Martin in Funk Barton’s premiere of Risk at the Firehall Arts Centre December 3 to 6.

      When you see what Martin does on-stage, you have to wonder how his body can take all this pushing. But Martin has no fear: “The only time you get hurt is when you haven’t quite figured out how to do it right yet.”