Meet two of our former Emerging Artists, Miriam Gittens and Zenon Zubyk! These incredible dancers joined Ballet BC’s company mentorship program for our 2018/19 season. Miriam graduated from The Juilliard School in 2017, then spent a year with chuthis. dance company. Zenon completed the Arts Umbrella Graduate Program, and was named one of Dance Magazine’s Top 25 To Watch in 2020.
After a season as Emerging Artists, both were offered a place in the company as Full-Time Artists. In this interview they share their evolution from first year company members to experienced professionals whom new dancers can turn to.
Tell me how you first heard about Ballet BC’s Emerging Artist Program, and your experience as an Emerging Artist.
Miriam: The year both of us joined the company was the first year that Ballet BC launched its Emerging Artist platform. Previously it had been an apprentice position.
Zenon: It was a more involved situation. I heard about it because I trained at Arts Umbrella, and because that school is so connected with the company I had already been aware of the apprenticeship position. Like Miriam said, it was the first time that the position had changed. For all of us involved it was a very new experience. It was a new experience for the company as well.
Miriam: It was super involved. There was a lot of figuring out what this position meant. There were things we got to experience that I don’t think apprentices had the opportunity to. We were given the opportunity to be in pieces and perform. We were put into things and had to do a lot of learning about what it meant to be in a company by doing it, rather than from the side. It helped me grow a lot.
Zenon: It was the perfect mixture of having space to figure things out, and having the opportunity to take risks. It’s a bit of a shock, in a good way, to be entering that professional world for the first time. Seeing how things happen in the company. Learning how to communicate with people in a professional environment. Schooling can be very self-focused, but a large part of what we do in a dance company is know how to communicate effectively, and to get to a certain goal.
What was your reaction when you were offered a full-time position?
Miriam: I was thrilled! Over the moon! I really wanted to be a part of this company. At first I was shocked that it was finally happening, and curious to see what that next experience would be like. There wasn’t much of a shift, which was incredible. It felt nice to be a part of something that we were already familiar with, and get to dive into this company and those roles even more.
I feel super grateful to have had the position of an Emerging Artist prior to becoming a Full-Time Artist. At the moment I didn’t, but immediately afterwards I realized how much opportunity there was in the position. It was the perfect way to segue from student to professional dancer.
Zenon: Yeah, I felt similar — shocked and really excited. All of the members from our Emerging Artist year got a contract. We had developed a really nice connection with one another going through a similar journey for a year. It was a special moment. We were all very excited to be working together again.
How was working as a Full-Time Artist different from being an Emerging Artist?
Zenon: The difference is quite small. Which is a great thing. If anything, it’s just that as an emerging artist there are those times when you can take a second on the side to observe, and process. But that’s also a quality that every member in the company has — it’s important for us all to be on the side and watch at some moments. It’s the perfect balance of having a little bit of space, and having the opportunity to just go for it and see what happens.
Miriam: That experience of being an Emerging Artist, while also being so involved in the company, was humbling. In some cases we had a part to learn that was ours, but we also had to cover and understudy several different other things. It was a lot of responsibility to be given as a first year dancer. Then as a Full-Time Artist, appreciating all of that knowledge that was gathered from being in so many different places at once, and being able to pick things up from different people.
Does your experience affect how you relate to the new Emerging Artists each year?
Zenon: Oh, definitely! There’s an understanding of, “Hey, we were in that position, so we can understand what you’re going through”, because it’s not easy. It’s hard in an amazing way. It opens up the opportunity for us to be there when needed, because we can understand the waves of the position, the difficulties and the highs of it.
Miriam: Sometimes there’s really no difference in Emerging and Full-Time Artists. We’re all doing the same job. There’s definitely a relationship to what we experienced, and what they are experiencing. Which is great — it’s nice to have that connection with people who have been in different positions in the company. When we were emerging artists it was nice to be able to discuss what we were going through with previous apprentices.
What words of wisdom do you have for the next round of emerging artists?
Zenon: (Laughing) …There’s so much that I can’t say it!
Miriam: …Take in as much as you can, and realize that the job you’re doing is incredibly difficult, and that you’re growing so much. Try to be in the moment as much as possible, but also take a step back and see everything that’s happening, all the little wheels that are turning to make this company what it is. A huge part of why Ballet BC is unique is that there are so many different and fascinating artists in the company year to year. There’s no cookie-cutter. It’s nice to be able to learn from so many different people; the Full-Time Artists, the Rehearsal Directors, the Company Director, the other Emerging Artists.
Zenon: Be gentle with yourself, because in being gentle you have the opportunity to take in more. Give yourself love. Experience the present moment, and don’t be too critical of your current state. Never underestimate how much dance can change you, and how much creativity has no limit. Continue questioning what creativity can be, and what dance can be. Ballet BC is a perfect spot to do that.
By Kristen Lawson, Ballet BC Marketing Coordinator
Support for this interview series is generously provided by ZLC Financial.