The feeling of unison in the halls was contagious.

Posted: June 20 by Thomas Leprohon/Canada's National Ballet School

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Something in the Air - How the atmosphere during AI13 brought people together and how Mavis Staines is truly uniting the world

By Thomas Leprohon

I can still remember the first Assemblée Internationale in 2009, when I had just arrived at the school with my shirt tucked in, all my shirt buttons done up, and my wool hunter green sweater. I had no idea that AI would become such a historic and special event that would unite the world every three years. Before I continue, I would like to stress with every fibre of my being that AI happens every three years. Yes, we all know that the first AI happened in 2009 and the second in 2013 but that was because the first AI was in November. If they had happened at the same time of year the first would have been AI10 and the second AI13. Disregarding this common misconception, this week has been an extraordinary experience for every participant and observer, something I was too young and star struck by the school to appreciate in 2009.

AI is different because, as you all have heard over the course of the week; it is the only time where ballet students from around the world are brought together in a sense of friendship and teamwork, as opposed to competitions where the sense is to destroy everyone in your path. The first day and the first class I watched, I could tell everyone in the studio was welcoming, but still a little shy with each other. Everyone was on bars with people from their schools and barely talking with one another. But as the week progressed and the more classes I watched, I could see that the students were opening up to each other and that new friendships were being made. The feeling of unison in the halls was contagious and I saw the same dancers with someone new every day.

This would be plenty of opportunities for students to get to know each other, but Mavis didn’t stop there. She created a chance for students from other countries to dance together in works choreographed by students from around the world. How cool is that! Each piece featured dancers from as many countries as possible. Three of the works were choreographed by NBS students. I had the privilege of watching these ballets twice before seeing them performed by an international cast, and so in a way they’ve grown on me.  As AI began, my first excitement was to see how these works would mold to blended casts. Fortitude was the first of these three works to be performed on the program, and the dancers were strong and together, bringing a new form of intensity to the work, choreographed by the always creative Olivia Lecomte. Helen Clare Kinney choreographed Lucid Dreaming, a piece with a ghostly story arc, giving a childlike spooky feel over the stage. The piece had graceful then tense and twitchy movements which made the whole cast seem like a giant, maniacal, hypnotic machine. Cassandra Martin’s Time and Space remains my favorite because of the marriage of music, lighting, costume, and choreography. The whole concept for the piece, the thought that time isn’t actually real, already had the audience on the edge of their seats, and the reoccurring high kicks, split legs, and arched backs made the work, dare I say it, perfect.

The conclusion to the program and to the AI was a live-streaming piece, appropriately titled STREAM, in which there were dancers on the Betty Oliphant stage and dancers performing in Amsterdam, who were projected onto screens that were set on the stage in Toronto. To be honest, when I first heard of the concept for STREAM my first thought was this will be one of those good-ideas-at-the-time sort of things. But the school proved me wrong and, once again, amazed me. The piece had moments where each dancer (including the dancers from the Netherlands) moved differently and all of a sudden came together to do the same sequence. All in all, it took my breath away.

Genius, mad, daring, intelligent. Call it what you will, Assemblée Internationale is a revolutionary concept that is changing the relationship between dance schools. This AI was different because there was a lot more technology involved. In nearly every studio and every hallway, there were cameras and photographers and interviews happening, giving anyone with a computer and internet connection the ability to watch rehearsals and shows, and to be as close to the action as possible. In other words, AI is not just uniting the dance world, but the whole world, in every possible way.

Thomas Leprohon

Thomas Leprohon: Canada's National Ballet School

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