Meet Ballet BC’s Artists in Residence!
Alexis Fletcher danced with us for 14 years. She has created works for organizations such as Dancing on the Edge and the InFrinGing Festival, as well as being an Artist in Residence at Chutzpah! Festival and Dance Victoria. She has been running The Dance Deck with her husband, Sylvain Senez, since 2015.
Peter Smida danced with the company for 11 seasons, creating works for workshops and labs as part of our outreach program. He is an emerging filmmaker, and teaches for Modus Operandi. One of his films was recently featured on the Tanstheater Wuppertal Create’s Platform as part of their Digital Stage Series.
In this interview Alexis and Peter discuss their ongoing work with Ballet BC, their inspirations and upcoming projects.
Tell me about the Artist in Residence program.
Peter: The Artist in Residence program has been in existence for a number of years. It’s been researching ways to help artists, most of the time former artists of the company, transition into other roles within the dance world, be that choreographers, or rehearsal directors. Over the last two years it has evolved into giving studio access to these artists when the opportunity arises, choreographic opportunities, mentorship and guidance through grant writing, as well as support in other ways.
Alexis: In this new path of being an independent performer and creator, having the chance to use the company as a home base and support system felt amazing. I’ve been enjoying training with my people and still feeling like part of the group. It’s been a way to keep challenging myself because I also have opportunities to showcase work through Ballet BC’s platforms. Take Form for example — any kind of choreographic workshop like that, when the dancers are also producing everything, is such an opportunity for growth.
What other roles have you taken on with the company? Has there been a particular highlight that stands out for you?
Peter: We were lucky enough to take part in BC Culture Days. It goes to show that supporting artists creates exponential growth, because I have plans to turn that piece into a bit more of a film, and also hopefully a live performance.
Take Form was incredible. It was a quick shotgun project that was nothing and within a couple of weeks turned into something. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with artists in the company, and explore our own artistic practices.
Over the last few years, I’ve really gotten into film production. Once in a while the company would ask me to edit something or create some small video projects. In December Medhi reached out and asked if I was interested in doing more, and I started my role as Creative Content Producer. I’ve been very busy.
Alexis: Medhi commissioned films from Peter and I for BC Culture Days. That was an impactful step forward for me in terms of making works for film, but also being able to stay connected to our audiences and community during the pandemic. I’ve also gone on to develop a full length evening of the solo piece we filmed. I’m waiting to do it live.
I’ve had opportunities to work in the office and stay connected with the company manager, the rehearsal director, and Medhi. Training with the company allows lots of conversations with the dancers. I get to check in about how they’re doing and offer any support that I can.
What drives you and inspires you to create?
Alexis: Being a human. Dance is the way that I interface with the world. It’s the best way that I’ve found to connect with other humans, and also with my world views, allowing that to change and grow. When I create my own pieces, the starting place has always been something quite personal. Dance is such a unique vehicle through which to research what it means to be human. I hope that as much as I’m doing that as an individual, if I’m really doing my job, that becomes a more universal, shared endeavor.
I’m drawn to make smaller works right now. I’m interested in what happens when there’s not very many people in the room, and you can dive into a collaboration in this intimate way. I find the depth of conversations that come out of that inspiring. I always work with text, but this year in particular it’s a very central focus. I’ve been investigating using text during the work, say as voiceover.
Peter: I like taking narrative and exploring different ways of approaching that. Maybe it’s not a linear narrative, or not logical. I explore the different ways that you can approach that idea. I’m interested in imperfection and the humanistic aspect of what we do. One of my favorite things to do is to give a simple task, like one pathway of movement, and observe how a dancer explores the incredible range between the beginning and ending of that pathway. There’s so much to explore in tiny little moments. I love to put a microscope on those and see what lives beneath the surface.
I’m at this place where I’m questioning how film services dance, and how dance services film. It’s this wild thing right now because there’s a lot of it, it’s the only way that we can present dance right now. Sometimes it feels like one impedes the other versus lifting it up. It’s always interesting when two art forms collide.
This year we have Medhi as the new Artistic Director. What has it been like working with him?
Alexis: It’s great! Even though he took over in the chaos that is the COVID pandemic, it felt seamless. Probably because I’ve known him for years, and worked with him in many capacities. Before I even knew that he was being interviewed I was imagining it would be him. Once we knew that Emily was making this huge step in her career, taking over NDT, I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s going to be Medhi.”
I support the way that he is choosing to take the time to see and feel this new role. What does this role feel like? How does this organization function? Who are these dancers on a more day-to-day basis that he hasn’t seen as a guest choreographer? That shows a lot of vision. It’s exciting to see that shift with each person that takes the helm of the company, to keep growing and evolving.
Peter: What a challenging first year to step into — along with all the regular learning curves and adjustments that you’d expect for someone moving from another country into a new role, and a new place that’s becoming more and more established. It’s a huge transition, and to be encountered with COVID must have thrown things into a whirlwind. I have a lot of respect for how he’s met that challenge. I feel lucky to be involved in that transition, in terms of sitting close to the new ideas he has. It’s like an extension of the Artists in Residence position, being able to work with him in a capacity that has led to a sort of natural mentorship. That’s been really great. I’m excited to see where things go in this tail end of COVID, and beyond.
This season is not what anyone expected it would be. How has your work been affected, both inside Ballet BC, and outside?
Peter: There’s no live theater. Everything has had to become digital. It sometimes feels like there’s an over abundance of content and I’ve become overwhelmed by it.
I have been in a career transition — this was a good line of work to get into before this started. In some ways it has been a launch for me into this world of working with film and dance. I’ve been picking up more and more clients who are trying to push out more digital content, to be more visible and active in that way. I’ve had to learn quickly and be adaptive, and learn from different perspectives and voices in the community.
Alexis: The company has done such a great job of getting the dancers back working, getting us into this professional athlete cohort situation that’s allowed us to train together. That’s created a consistency in my practice that a lot of artists have not had. Now we have all of these creations that are ready to share, live, with our communities. I hope that as artists we are able to contribute to the collective processing and healing and rebuilding from this time.
The biggest thing that has impacted me is a loss of live sharing. The digital form is allowing us to connect to people in places that would never normally be able to see our work. It’s lowering access barriers to art, whether it be for people who, physically or economically, don’t normally come to live theater events. There are cool things that are going to stay coming out of this. But I believe strongly that that can’t take the place of being in a room with other humans, sharing an endeavor together.
By Kristen Lawson, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator
Support for this interview series is generously provided by ZLC Financial