Meet two long term Ballet BC dancers, who have seen the company grow and change over many years and shifts in leadership.
Kirsten Wicklund has been with Ballet BC for 7 seasons. She grew up in Vancouver, training with Pacific Dance Arts, Goh Ballet Academy, and Modus Operandi. Kirsten is the winner of multiple awards, including the 2020 Choreographic Award at The Youth America Grand Prix.
Justin Rapaport began dancing in Miami at the age of 8. He trained at New World School of the Arts, then completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Juilliard School. After graduating he joined Ballet BC and has been performing and touring with us for 5 seasons.
How did you first become involved with Ballet BC?
Kirsten: I spent some time dancing professionally in the United States and Europe. Around the time when Emily Molnar was taking over Ballet BC, I got really interested in the company. I was drawn to the type of work that she was bringing in. I had dabbled in a bit of commercial work, and a lot of classical ballet. It was a great opening into the world of contemporary concert dance, and I was drawn to it. I auditioned for Emily, and I feel like I talked her into hiring me, because I was so passionate about the company.
Justin: The first time I saw the company perform was at Jacob’s Pillow. I could see the dancers rehearse, and be on the grounds with us, which was really cool, being 19. They performed this amazing triple bill with Aniel, A.U.R.A. and Petite Cérémonie — now I perform that piece. I was blown away by how remarkable the dancers were as movers, but also how diverse the company repertoire was. Since then, I had Ballet BC on my radar as a company I’d like to perform with after I graduated. Fast forward three years, and Ballet BC was having this audition in New York with over 200 people. In April of 2016 Emily called me, offering me a contract. I accepted immediately.
How has the company changed over the years?
Kirsten: Every company has a natural ebb and flow. The company consists of the people who are present in it at each moment. One dancer leaving, or coming, changes the environment. The company has been constantly growing and shifting its values, and perspectives. Each choreographer that comes in changes the group of people, and leaves an imprint on the place. Those people who were there have a little piece of it and carry it forward, and new artists bring whatever their background has been. It enriches the space.
Justin: The major changes are the shift in Artistic Director from Emily to Medhi, and the group of dancers. Also my position in the company. I was coming in so fresh and young, with all these extraordinary artists who were a lot more experienced. I was a sponge, trying to soak up as much as I could. With everything that I’ve absorbed I’ve been able to mature and grow so much. At this point there are new, younger dancers, who are in my previous position, and I’m in a position that I saw Kirsten and others in. I’m thinking about how to set an example for what we want to strive for, what we’ve built up to this point, and what we can carry onward.
Your careers have grown along with your time with the company. Can you tell me about that journey?
Justin: The growth of my career is exclusively tied to Ballet BC, since it’s my first and only professional experience so far. The foundation that was here when I joined has helped me establish my place as an artist, in terms of the core values of the company; collaboration, innovation and dependability. It’s informed how I work, how to be efficient, observant, and poignant. Trying to take what I can from the room and applying it to myself, to grow as an artist. I learned all of that from Ballet BC.
Kirsten: When I came into the company there were so many incredible artists, and I would spend my days watching them, seeing how they did what they did. Working with different voices has challenged my range, not only in a physical way, but as an artist. The different approaches that people take to making dance, or rehearsing dance, it’s allowed me to grow in many ways. These people coming into the studio to work with us, from Crystal Pite, to Sharon Eyal, to William Forsythe… When I’m doing the work of an incredible artist who has a lot of history with the art form, what I’m able to soak up from these different voices is super impactful. That happening year after year has transformed me.
Are you pursuing other projects outside of Ballet BC?
Justin: One thing that has come out of this, is that we have some time to pursue other projects. Peter London, one of my mentors growing up, started a dance company in Miami. When I’m home he always tries to bring me in to work with his company, and choreograph.
This time has given me an opportunity to explore my own choreographic voice. The company is looking into that as well, with the inaugural season of Take Form. All the artists of the company were able to collaborate and produce our own show, seeing what it takes to produce an evening of our own work. That got me excited and curious about my future career, once I’m done performing on the stage, how I can transform, shift into a choreographic voice.
Kirsten: I’ve always done my own projects outside of Ballet BC. Because we’re not out of town all the time, I have had more flexibility in what I’m pursuing, and how much time I’m able to dedicate. I’ve been able to collaborate with more people. I am interested in knowing what other artists in the city are doing, and building relationships with them, not only in dance, but in visual art, and music.
I was able to create a work on Ballet Kelowna. They were able to have a livestream presentation, and hopefully they’ll be performing the work live one day soon. That was a special moment, to be able to create my first larger work on a company. Medhi is supportive of us pursuing our own projects. He’s always there to ask questions, and encourage us.
This year in particular has brought a lot of change, with Medhi Walerski as the new Artistic Director, but also with COVID-19. How has that been for you?
Justin: It has been a challenging year, more related to COVID, not so much the shift of Artistic Director. We already knew back in November 2019 that Emily was leaving, and Medhi would be our new Artistic Director. We knew that he had a great vision for the company, and Emily had laid the groundwork for Medhi to keep us going.
We were going to tour to Australia. We had just come back from LA, and Dallas, and all these tours the season before. The amount of great works we were doing felt nonstop. We were on this exponentially upwards trajectory, and then everything came to a halt. We had an extended lay off, and had to figure out “How are we going to get through this? How are we going to keep working through a pandemic? We can’t perform in theaters, but we’ll keep working. Keep focusing on presenting and sharing.”
Kirsten: Leaving this physical practice for any duration of time impacts the body and the mind. It impacts what you’re able to bring to the table when you return. Everyone’s been doing their best, and trying to support one another in the ways that we can.
Being shut down so suddenly, that lack of closure was tough. We had just settled into the hotel in Victoria, when a couple of hours later everything was over. We thought, “Oh, a couple of weeks and we’ll be back.” That never got to happen.
It’s really beautiful that it was Medhi taking over as Artistic Director because he’s always been a part of Emily’s vision. His work throughout the years has left a mark on the company. Having him be that person has brought a comfort, a familiarity to those of us who have that history. He’s passionate about taking care of the dancers. That’s made COVID lighter.
I’m grateful to everyone who has stayed connected with the company by watching anything that we’ve put out digitally. I’m anxious to get to that day where we can welcome everyone into the theater again, and have those in-person interactions. I hope that people will come join us once that moment arrives.
By Kristen Lawson, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator
Support for this interview series is generously provided by ZLC Financial