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Q&A with Michael Garcia and Emily Chessa

Ballet BC is committed to providing our dancers with a supportive environment that nurtures their talents on and off the stage, and to creating opportunities for them to explore future career possibilities. Take Form is one of those opportunities, our dancer-led program where our artists manage all aspects of production and administration in addition to choreography and performing. Here, we chat with company artists Emily Chessa and Michael Garcia, 2023/24 Take Form producers, about their experience as Ballet BC dancers and now team leaders, and why these types of opportunities are important as they look ahead.

BALLET BC: Why is it important to support dancer development?

EMILY CHESSA: It is well known that a dancer’s career can be short. So it is important to hone alternative avenues that allow us to prepare for a career beyond the stage. To learn about possibilities within the realm of what we do, after we can’t continue physically. We are such hardworking individuals and have had so much to learn and work on in the studio from such a young age, and there is a lot of dedication and integrity involved in our work—why wouldn’t we want to see those people in other sectors? These are extremely capable and intelligent individuals that have a lot to contribute. 

There comes a time in your career when being a dancer or interpreter in the room is all you know. And suddenly you think, oh no—what’s my plan B here? And that Plan B can feel really daunting, because being a dancer has been everything up until that point. There were a couple of years where I was really concerned, but with the experiences we are able to gain here at Ballet BC, I continue to discover little moments that help me clear those thoughts and become more confident about what might come next.

 

What about being a Ballet BC dancer has allowed you to develop professionally? How has Take Form or other initiatives allowed you to discover new avenues or opportunities?

MICHAEL GARCIA: I’ve been really lucky to get lots of opportunities to develop my teaching and choreographic skills within the company through programs like the 44 Summer Intensive, MOVE, and Take Form. There are plenty of people in our community and within our artistic team who could fill these types of roles, but the company’s vision includes giving dancers the chance to lead a room, and explore different types of jobs in a studio environment. It gives us the space and the chance to review our own feelings and perspectives on pathways that lie ahead. I feel grateful to have the chance to test out those roles with lots of support, rather than diving into high-pressure scenarios without adequate experience. You don’t always have the time to reflect or understand how the information has seeped into your body, and I feel like you get that here. 

EC: Growing up, I didn’t really think there were many other jobs inside of dance besides Dancer, Choreographer, Artistic Director. Having the experience of being a Take Form producer, and meeting and interacting with more people with different roles in this building and in the community, it becomes clearer that there are lots of ways to be involved and impactful in the arts beyond the physical roles. It’s a great space to practice discipline and communication.

MG: For example, I recently had the opportunity to teach Chessa a piece, someone I looked up to for years before I arrived at Ballet BC. It’s all about trust. You rise to the level of expectation. 

What is unique about the working environment at Ballet BC? 

EC: The people that we are surrounded by here each day are such talented human beings, and so versatile in what they can accomplish. I’m inspired by everyone who works here—not only the dancers, but the entire administration. What they do for the art form is so important. And the way the dancers work, with such a strong focus on creations, gives us so much opportunity to discover ourselves as humans and as artists. It creates pride and ownership. We have a responsibility to be an interpreter for these works, which allows us to keep growing and learning.

 

How can companies continue to support dancers and their future careers?

MG: Give artists the chance to explore their artistry and curiosities. All of the people we have worked with in the studio, from stagers to choreographers to rehearsal directors, they were all dancers at one point and were given chances, Medhi included. Now he is able to lead us based on having those experiences and growing as an artist and an individual. It gives us a better idea of where we can go, and is vital in order to nurture the next generation of arts leaders.

 

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