The former dancer and choreographer discusses the company’s revival since she took the helm 10 years ago this month
1. You assumed control of Ballet BC when it was near bankruptcy. What drew you to it?
Throughout my career, I was fascinated about what makes someone do what they do. I was looking at leadership from a very early age, and I was watching how we coached, how we worked with individuals and where we were taking dance. Ballet BC came up, and I thought, first, it’s important to help cultivate the next generation. Two, this is a company that had a history of innovation—it was about contemporary work. It was an important organization that needed to exist in this country.
2. Where did you start?
If you approach a human being and ask them to have interest and create meaning with them, they will show up and take ownership. That was the first thing I needed to do because we had no money. We had to build the way we worked together that everybody would be treated equal. We also changed the way we pay our dancers. They’re all soloists within a group. Men and women are paid equally. The most important person in the room is the art-making. Part of the strength of the company, because of our size, is that we can be very adaptive. When I’m talking to lawyers or accountants, I say our day-today is you have to be flexible. You have to be able to take something and throw it away if it doesn’t work. You have to be resourceful. You have to think on the spot and make associations. These are all things that we do when we’re dancing, so they’re not unfamiliar to an entrepreneur’s mind.
3. What’s changed in the past 10 years?
In 2009, we had 28 weeks of work and no touring. We now have almost 52 weeks of work for the dancers and 13 weeks of touring. The presence at home is strengthened by having an ambassadorship, an ability to be heard globally so you can bring that back and you can have relevance. It also strengthens our practice when we’re able to go into various communities. Over the 10 years, we’ve built a relationship with our official training institution, Arts Umbrella. It’s been about community building locally, nationally and internationally, about building relationships, ownership, a new culture in a company, a way of questioning things—a way of practice, of how we train and how we support artists. We’re working toward a second company—a junior, more-emerging [one].
4. How did you build audiences?
We started, prior to the show, to bring people into the studio, show them what we’re doing. Let them ask questions. Get them to talk to the dancers. Let them pass on what it feels like to be in the studio. We’re doing workshops with our own dancers that are going out into remote communities. We’ve started a dance express for underprivileged youth. We have a live streaming of our dress rehearsals now, so schools around the province or even potentially across the country can be there with us. We’ve started adult classes—I think getting people to participate in dancing is also a very important part of the conversation.
5. What advice would you give leaders of struggling organizations, especially in the arts?
A lot of it comes back to shared vision—how can you bring people together toward a common goal. At the point that I took over the company, it was about getting rid of the things that weren’t working. So one of the things in a struggling organization might just be what’s been working, what hasn’t been working. But a lot of it first comes from a trust in belief, bringing people together and having a conversation about what exactly happened and what are we trying to go toward. And then what’s the gap between those two things.
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