If the old adage that Canadian artists have to find success abroad before they’ll be celebrated here is true, then Josh Beamish should be a big national star by now.
The young Vancouver dance artist has been racking up the air miles over the past year. In late 2010, his troupe performed at the Shanghai World Expo, and then he served as artist-in-residence at Odyssey Dance Theatre in Singapore. This fall, the man best known for starting his MOVE: the company at only 17 in 2005, has already debuted a new work for two-dozen dancers at the opera house in Bangkok and opened the season at New York’s Joyce SoHo Theatre. On the line from a Kelowna tour stop, he reports the latter show just helped score him a Jerome Robbins award to choreograph a piece for two principals at the New York City Ballet.
Wherever he’s gone, Beamish has been welcomed with open arms. In Thailand, MOVE was invited to the Bangkok International Festival for Dance and Music to celebrate 50 years of Canadian-Thai political relations. “They’re very fixated on bringing in big international events, so it’s a big centre of exchange and that’s what I love about Bangkok. At 24, they gave me a premiere with up to 30 dancers at a 2,000-seat opera house,” he says, still marvelling. “In Canada, I could never get that kind of support.”
He’s found a similar openness in the United States. “America, with its culture of fame and heroes, and the type of values they celebrate, if they hear something extraordinary—like a 17-year-old has started a company—they’re like, ‘How can I help?’ ”
You’ve got to wonder: is Beamish’s youth—often his selling point elsewhere—somehow working against him up here in a culture weighted toward paying your dues? “There are people that will say my work isn’t mature or developed,” Beamish concedes, “but it’s obvious from the work I’m creating outside of Canada that I’m doing work that there’s a demand for.”
Beamish’s local premieres have been cool and contemporary, including Sold Doubt (a physically explosive comment on music-industry idols set to songs by No Doubt) and Zero (a look at youth culture and excess inspired by Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero). But as the artist now points out, we Vancouverites have only seen a small portion of his output. His latest creations for the international audience have been markedly more balletic. He was raised by a ballet teacher in his hometown of Edmonton, after all, and has choreographed for Ballet Kelowna and other similar companies. We’ll finally get a taste of that style this Friday night when he premieres the large-scale program he took to Asia, called The Red Nocturnal, at the Vogue Theatre. The title work is a physically punishing, en-pointe tango ballet. It’s joined by Les Oiseaux, a fantastical barefoot creation that imagines the creatures from traditional classical ballets like Swan Lake and The Firebird sharing the same forest; and Atonement, a balletic work inspired by the Ian McEwan book, and the movie that followed.
“I always wanted to bring these other dance facets of me back to my home city. In this show we’re more ‘ballet’ than Ballet B.C.,” he says. “I always grew up with an appreciation for ballet—and it’s interesting for me to find ways to preserve what ballet was to me as a kid and what it is in its refined technical aesthetic that demands ballet-trained dancers. But I’m interested in juxtaposing it against the contemporary and keeping it grounded in the innovation of dance today.”
Beamish says he feels like he’s found his true voice in his recent work, but he still enjoys doing smaller, intimate pieces as much as the big patterning of the show on view this week.
The dancer-choreographer hints that, given all the opportunities he’s getting elsewhere, he may pull up stakes for a while. “There’s a huge world out there. I’ve really committed to try to build something here, but maybe it’s time to try something else.”
For now, though, he’s doing things here on his own terms—even in using a nontraditional dance venue, the Vogue, to stage his hometown show. (It’s one of the few places available with a stage big enough for 24 or more dancers.) And as has been done so often for him, he’s also extending the welcome mat: at Friday’s show, he’s asked the local Thai Dance Company to perform a traditional piece as a program opener.
MOVE: the company’s The Red Nocturnal plays at the Vogue on Friday (November 25).