“Believes in ghosts”
Last week we went for dinner with company superstar and all around mensch, Livona Ellis. It was the end of a long rehearsal day but before we went into full weekend mode we all sat down over dinner to have a little chat about where Livona comes from, who she is now, and what she is looking forward to.
LE- When I was six my mom put me in dance classes at Arts Umbrella (AU). At that time I was also doing martial arts, and there were a lot of tournaments; which I would always lose (laughs). I really wasn’t good. I remember one tournament in particular where I was paired with this boy who was taller than me and every time we approached one another he would just punch me in the head and I would be on the floor. I also did gymnastics from about five years old. I wasn’t good at that either because I wasn’t very flexible, and I was afraid of heights. The beam was out of the question. I was always calling out to my gymnastics coach while she was busy helping other kids “Catherine! Catherine! Can you spot me?” She was always so irritated with me, but when we got to floor routines I was one of the better ones because I loved dancing.
C- Did she then talk to you about being more serious about dance?
LE- Yeah, it was partially my gymnastics teacher but also my best friend Jasmine. She started going to AU so obviously I wanted to do it too. After a year at AU I auditioned for the professional program and got in. It was performing that I really fell in love with, and what made me stick with it. I used to want to be a coroner, a forensic investigator, a brain surgeon, a heart surgeon, and that was up until grade eight, my first year with Arty (Artemis Gordon) that I knew this was what I wanted to do.
A- I will never forget my first class with Arty so I think I know what you mean. Spending time in the studio with Arty has been one of the most eye- and mind-opening experiences of my life, and I am envious that you had that interaction from almost the beginning of your training.
LE- Arty to this day is the reason why I’m here. She told me she looked at me in that audition and saw this presence in me and knew that I would do something special. That I was meant to dance. She has believed in me since day one and now we are very close.
C- I remember growing up at AU and really admiring your relationship with her as you joined Ballet BC. What was it like transitioning to the company and can you talk about your relationship with Emily Molnar?
LE- I met Emily for the first time when I joined the Arts Umbrella Dance Company at age 11. She challenged us in ways I didn’t know were possible. As a young kid she treated us like adults and expected things from us that no one else did. There was something about being in the studio with Emily. I come from a family of very strong minded and independent women. We are all very close and we look at things like nothing is impossible. Being around Emily reminded me of being around those women. The idea of being in a regular school bored me, and somehow we were doing this thing that set us apart from the average kid our age. It made me feel important and special and that not everyone could do this.
When I was an apprentice with Ballet BC I was just there to work, learn, and push myself. I was so happy to have Emily as my director again because she truly represents what I value as a dance artist. I respected the boundaries of my position but I approached the work like there was no difference between me and everybody else. I looked up to so many dancers in the company but I also felt as though they looked up to me in a way and that was such a source of encouragement and support. I have truly found a home at Ballet BC.
A- You mentioned your family being full of strong women. Can you tell us a little more about your family and what it was like growing up with them, in Vancouver?
LE- Family is the number one thing for me. My mom met my biological father in Israel but raised me on her own in Vancouver. When I was younger I never really wondered about him because my mom made sure I had everything I needed. She put me in everything she could. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she made sure my spare time was filled with activities. She always said I wouldn’t be ones of those kids who just killed time hanging around in the mall. My aunt and uncle live here and I would stay with them when my mom had to travel. They were like a second set of parents to me. I was very close with my grandparents and would visit them in Winnipeg every summer and loved spending time there. When I was six my cousin was born and that was very exciting for me. I was obsessed with her. I loved going to pick her up from daycare with my grandpa and trying to match my outfits to hers. She is like my sister. My mom met my step-dad when I was 11. He’s a big nerd and I consider him my dad.
A- Are you a superstitious person?
LE- I believe in ghosts. I knock on wood. The umbrella thing. Ladders. Black cats. Crows freak me out. Before bed I close all closets and can’t have any open dark spaces.
C- How would you describe your sense of humor?
LE- I like to say witty but also its mostly dumb humor. Immature. I love a fart joke. I also like videos of people hurting themselves. Witty sarcasm. Sarcasm on the line of passive aggression. Actually just being an asshole and laughing about it.
C- What is something you’re working on right now – trying to understand in your life or in your work?
LE- Well in life, but related to my work as well, I am working to find the balance between comfort and chaos. In the past when things have been unsettled in my personal life, things at work have been really good for me. I would go into the studio with something to work out. Now things are a little more comfortable for me personally. I’m very happy. I feel like I sometimes create drama just to be able to work through something, so I am trying to figure out why I feel the need to do that in my life. That maybe it’s okay.
I’ve been thinking about what we consider to be “easy” and how in actuality, those things are not always that easy. The easy thing that’s comfortable takes a lot of work to maintain. To commit yourself to one thing is a challenge. I’m trying to figure that out. It’s so easy to walk away, or find a new spark, or to create drama in order to feel something new. How can I motivate myself without any kind of conflict? If there wasn’t any conflict in the world what would that really be like?
Not everyone is going to approach the work in the way I want it to be approached. I am starting to figure out what my tendencies are in and out of the studio. Identifying my patterns without judgment. I am deciding what I can live with and what I want to change.
A- How many cows are in Canada?
LE- I want to say 4,000 but that seems high. I’m going to Google it…. There are 13,005 as of July 1, 2015.
C+A- What do you aspire to?
LE- I want to somehow impact young people’s lives the way Emily and Arty have impacted mine. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, and it might not even be through dance but I know I have this urge to inspire, motivate, and empower kids.
Also…..I aspire to being a strong unstoppable woman who can raise 12 (okay maybe 3) children without sacrificing herself and her career. I want it all baby!
-C&A Consulting Artists
Video by Scott Fowler.