In Ballet BC’s season-ending program, Montreal choreographer takes a sci-fi renaissance approach

The idea of ​​creating life artificially or synthetically appeals to Dorotea Saykaly

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Ballet BC: What If

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When: May 12-14 at 8 pm

Where: Queen Elizabeth Theatre, 630 Hamilton St., Vancouver

Tickets: $21.75-$115.25

Ballet BC’s third and final program of the season features three world premieres by new talent to the company: German choreographer Felix Landerer contributes Everything will be OK; Vancouver’s Out Innerspace’s piece is called Strange Attractor; and Montreal choreographer Dorotea Saykaly presents Relic.

We talked to Saykaly about her piece, described as a “look at creation through a scientific lens,” and receiving the inaugural Emily Molnar Emerging Choreographer Award.

Q: What is your previous experience with Ballet BC?

A: In 2005 I did an eight-month intensive at Arts Umbrella. As part of the program I took a class with the company. I’ve also been following them since Emily Molnar took over in 2009. And with the Emerging Choreographer Award, I’ve gotten to know the company quite well because the project was delayed. It’s been extended which has been quite wonderful to get to know the dancers more, and the company.

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Q: How did you become the recipient of the award?

A: There was a call in 2019. You write a letter of intent and propose an idea that you’d like to develop. It’s mainly written but you have to supply excerpts from your past work that represent your vision and style the most. And the award comes with the opportunity to choreograph with the company.

Q: How does this new work, Relic, fit in with your previous pieces?

A: It’s definitely an evolution of the last two years. More than that, probably. There’s been a homing in on a type of physicality, on a kind of theme. There’s a theme that I’ve been interested in for a while. It’s the idea of ​​creating life artificially or synthetically. I’m a big fan of sci-fi. The main question is often: What makes us human? That’s been a big driver for me.

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Q: How do you translate science fiction ideas into physicality?

A: I always start from a point of physicality. I try to understand what a body is trying to understand about itself, about its surroundings. Through that I try to codify the movement with the dancers. Visually, there are some tools that I’ve been using to help, whether with set design or lighting. I am also working with voiceover. I love text, and I love it when choreographers bring text to a creation. I’ve been working with writing the voiceover and recording it. I’m trying to keep it minimal though so the focus is on the dancers.

Q: Are you a science fiction reader or viewer?

A: I haven’t read a lot of science fiction. The writing that I love the most is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which some would argue is the beginning of science fiction. Visually I grew up with Blade Runner in the house. It’s my mother’s favorite film. I’ve had that visual stimulus from a very young age. And then it varies. Essays, podcasts. A news article could be inspiration. I like to call my approach sci-fi renaissance. I’m interested in classical forms of art with statues and Renaissance-era pictures. There’s so much richness that we can pull from it.

Q: How much do you explain to the dancers? Do you give them a lot of background?

A: When we started last year, I provided the dancers with a reading list and film list and videos that inspired the piece. Some dancers love to do that research, others don’t. This year, although the team is still very present and the references are still very present in my mind, I’ve dived more into the in-studio action. So perhaps there’s less outside inspiration. But I like to let them in on the process. The more you know, the deeper you can dig. And you can choose what you decide to use for the studio work.

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