Fall arts preview 2017: Marissa Wong's journey through dance has been diverse

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      Marissa Wong is making this city her headquarters again, debuting a new work at Dance in Vancouver this fall and starting up a collective here. But she’s taken a roundabout route to return to her hometown.

      From a stint in San Francisco to immersing herself in Montreal’s thriving arts scene, her journey has been a diverse one. Her travels began at the tender age of 13, when the Port Moody–raised dancer was determined to become a classical ballet star.

      “I was such a ‘Trina’ or bunhead,” she says with a laugh, sitting with the Straight in an airy Strathcona café. “I started doing summer intensives at 13, when my lovely mother sent me off to New York with little or no supervision to go to the one at the Joffrey [Ballet].” Subsequent summer programs took her to Ballet Austin, Philly’s The Rock, and Chicago’s Hubbard Street.

      Wong seemed to be searching for something, and she found it when she was accepted in 2013 into a training program at Alonzo King’s innovatively neoclassical LINES Ballet in San Fran. It offered an alternative to the hierarchy of the ballet world: “I was looking for somewhere I could use my voice.”

      At LINES, she found her outlet, in an experience she calls life-changing. “It was this safe environment that allowed you to redefine who your were as a person,” she says. “It was an environment that allowed you to explore through movement a deeper sense of personality.”

      From there, Wong headed to Montreal. “I was still running away from Vancouver,” she admits. “My ego didn’t want me to come back home feeling like I hadn’t achieved something.”

      The move was hard. She didn’t know anyone, the weather was cold, and it was difficult breaking into the dance community. But she pushed onward, and an eventual residency with Ottawa’s Dorsale Dance led to her first piece of choreography, a work that went on to the Montreal Fringe.

      Living in Quebec also fired up Wong’s DIY instincts, as she started facilitating and curating shows for herself and other artists, eventually doing it under the umbrella of TWObigsteps—the unique, multicity collective she’s now basing out of Vancouver. The collaboration-minded TWObigsteps spans dancers and musicians from Vancouver, San Fran, and Montreal, staging performances in any of those places, too.

      The collective presents her choreography Surrendurance on November 25 at Dance in Vancouver, the showcase for local talent that brings in presenters from around the continent. In the creation for five dancers, Wong plays with the complex patterns of social behaviours and with ideas of spontaneity and control. She collaborated on the project with Jamie Bradbury, a musician she’s been working with since her days in Montreal.

      What audiences will notice most is that ballet still flows through Wong’s fluid, elegant work. “As a collective we do morning class before rehearsal and usually it’s ballet,” she explains. “There are elements where they [the dancers] need a ballet background.” But perhaps not one quite so diverse as Wong’s.