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The Assembleé Internationale 2013 was about collaboration, and coming together through dance.

Posted: June 20 by Sarah Branch/Canada's National Ballet School

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Overcoming barriers through dance

I am a grade 9 student at Canada’s National Ballet School. Being only one year too young to participate in the open classes and performances, our grade was nonetheless given some special opportunities, one of which was taking a Spanish dance class with Kira Purcalla Gimeno from the EESA/CPD de l’Institut del Teatre in Barcelona, Spain. We learned two lovely little dances with fans and tambourines, in an entirely new style, struggling but managing to pick up all the different technical nuances that came with it. There was only one small issue: Kira Purcalla Gimeno spoke no English, only Spanish, and we spoke no Spanish, only English. Overcoming this obstacle is just one example of the amazing amount of connection through dance that was evident at the Assemblée Internationale 2013. There were 11 countries present with more than 6 different languages being spoken altogether.

A second example of coming together to audaciously overcome barriers of both language and distance were the student choreography pieces. How these pieces came together was truly inspirational. First, students from the many schools participating created a new work with dancers from their own school. Then they filmed it and sent it out to other schools. Next, depending on how many dancers were needed, schools from around the world cast one or two of their own dancers in it. These dancers learned one of the parts in this piece off from the video. When everyone came together in Toronto, they had only three one hour rehearsals to co-ordinate with each other and their choreographer. Then it was time to perform their pieces onstage. The results were truly incredible.

Pure classical ballet is created in one universal language: French. However, all of the student choreographies were developed in the modern style, which had no such common baseline. This is because there are many different styles of modern: Limon, Horton, Graham etc. Also, in modern choreography most of the movements are original- simply created on the spot by the single choreographer. This makes the feat of learning these dances from all over the world even more impressive.

To put this more simply, dance is movement. You could sit down and talk with someone about dance for days, but you would still not learn as much from them as watching them take a single class.  Luckily, one of the opportunities the grade 6-9s had was watching classes taught by teachers from all over the world and with dancers from all over the world too.

Even when performers were not together sharing a class, the barriers of distance were overcome using advanced technology. In a new piece, choreographed by Shaun Amyot and Michael Schumacher called STREAM, live-streaming was used. Dancers from Toronto as well as some international students taking part in AI learned this piece from Shaun Amyot. At the same time, in Amsterdam, dancers from the Dutch National Ballet Academy learned the same piece from Michael Schumacher. When it was finally performed, it was danced in Toronto and Amsterdam at the exact same time, using live-streaming technology which allowed the dancers in Amsterdam to be projected virtually onto the stage in Toronto and vice versa. To ensure consistency of movement, the two groups made sure they started a millisecond apart to make up for the time it would take for the signal to cross the Atlantic. For the expertise in technology needed for this project, Gerd Hauck, Dean of the Faculty of Communications and Design at Ryerson University in Toronto stepped in with all the equipment and knowledge needed to make this project possible. It was inspirational to see these dancers moving in complete unison halfway around the world from each other.

The Assembleé Internationale 2013 was about collaboration, and coming together through dance. The fearless and amazingly talented dancers taking part in this festival truly embraced the challenges of time, space, and technology using the unexpected moments, and the spirit of collaboration to come together and overcome barriers through dance in a single week-long movement that we shall not soon forget.

Sarah Branch

Sarah Branch: Canada's National Ballet School

Guest Blogger, Sarah Branch is a Grade 9 student at Canada's National Ballet School.
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