As the sun streams in through the former church windows of Arts Umbrella’s Q7 rehearsal space, Crystal Pite is making subtle tweaks to her dancers’ movements, the way a sculptor might thoughtfully finesse her clay. She adjusts the thrust an artist builds by whipsawing his body around with a kick of his leg; she alters the meaningful way he turns his head.
Pite is polishing The Tempest Replica, her epic, deliriously storm-tossed take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for a remount here at SFU Woodward’s, and it turns out this meticulous retooling is the kind of work she loves.
“I can do this work without the usual panic; I know what the show is and part of me can relax and I can go in and do the crafting,” she says afterward, sitting casually in an Arts Umbrella classroom, enveloped in an oversized grey fleece sweatshirt and scarf. Since she first created the work in 2011, she says there have been one major “renovation” and hundreds of “micro-renovations”. “It’s one of my favourite things to do. That and the moments in the creation process where you’re trying something new and something flies—those moments of grace.”
Pite has had many of those moments of grace over a career that’s taken her from dancing for Ballet B.C. to Ballett Frankfurt, and then with her own company, Kidd Pivot, on a three-year artistic residency to Frankfurt’s Künstlerhaus Mousonturm. That fruitful relationship came to an end in late 2012.
The following February, Pite started a one-year hiatus from the creative process that she’s just returning from now. She had been so busy touring and creating work around the world—flying between New York, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt, and touring Austria, France, and Germany by bus with Kidd Pivot and her baby, and then toddler, Niko—that she needed a break here at home. But now she’s ready to return full-force—re-establishing deep roots in Vancouver and eager to create new work.
“I feel hungry to create again and I haven’t felt that in a long, long time. Mostly, my creation has been a response to a deadline,” she says candidly. “It’s a great feeling.” She plans to go into the studio with her Kidd Pivot dancers this summer to work on her new piece. “That’s the one I just want to chew on all day. I just want to dive into it right now.”
It appears the dance world here and abroad is equally eager to hire Pite back to work, too. Among her exciting upcoming projects over the next year or two: a commission from none other than the Paris Opera Ballet, ongoing work with Nederlands Dans Theater (where she’s been an associate artist since 2008), retooling her Grace Engine for Cedar Lake, and preparing her The Other You for the Royal Swedish Ballet. Perhaps most impressively, she’s been chosen as an associate artist at the contemporary-dance mecca of London’s Sadler’s Wells. Among her projects there is a commission to create a piece for a whopping 60 dancers set to Thomas Ades’s massive Polaris, for a tribute evening to the Brit composer in late October.
Among her local projects, she recently initiated a choreographers’ workshop for young Arts Umbrella students.
A bigger challenge will be securing funding to make Kidd Pivot’s creations fly. Until now, she’s had good fortune: the Frankfurt coproduction arrangement allowed her to hire her internationally culled dancers full-time for three years. Kidd Pivot used to get half a million dollars per year in Frankfurt.
As any arts group in Vancouver knows, the funding reality is bleaker here. Back in B.C., she just had to cancel three-and-a-half weeks of the upcoming tour of Tempest Replica due to a lack of resources, helping to fund the rest of it through Indiegogo. “We’re not even in the same playing field anymore,” she says.
But Pite, so in-demand around the globe, feels committed to making a go of it in her home city. And her carefully microrenovated Tempest Replica, a flurry of white-masked, ghostlike replicas and mind-blowing stagecraft, appears to be just the beginning.
“I’ve had offers to take over companies, but I’ve turned them down because I want to be here,” she says, later stating with a positive smile: “Yes, I want to have my company in Vancouver, but we’re bracing for the challenge and we’ll have to find new ways to make it happen. In some ways it feels like we’re starting from scratch.”