assemble, a new, full-evening solo performance from former Ballet BC company member and Artist in Residence Alexis Fletcher premieres at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre Jan 13 – 15, 2022.
We spoke with Alexis and her partner and collaborator, longtime Ballet BC rehearsal director Sylvain Senez, about the personal and reflective new work, their experience as artists during the pandemic, and what it means to be part of the Vancouver artistic community.
Could you tell us a bit about your new work and its creation process?
Alexis Fletcher: I have always been pulled towards solo work both as a viewer and as a performer, and assemble is my first full-length creation. To go through a durational journey like this as a solo performer is something I have always wanted to experience. assemble explores things that are universally human: we all reflect back on our lives and experience our memories viscerally, we all fear the loss of those we love, we all struggle, we all experience joy and wonder, we all have moments of deep personal reflection. I actually began with a piece that I had created in 2016, and the rest of the piece has been made over the last two years. Once I had a base of movement language and written the text – heard as voiceover – I brought in a number of collaborators: Sylvain Senez as visual and set designer; filmmaker Victoria Bell as lighting designer; Jill Henis as dramaturge; and Ballet BC’s own Kate Burrows as costume designer. Each has added their distinct voice to assemble, helping shape my ideas and elevating them in the most magical ways. Rounding out our team is our skilled and wonderful stage manager Neil Griffith.
What inspired the poetic/storytelling aspect of the work?
AF: Because in dance we are using our literal selves—our own bodies—as the artistic medium or instrument, I think that dance will always have a narrative element, even when that narrative is abstracted or non-linear like it is in assemble. We are using our own human-ness to create imagery and using our physicality and movement to share different states of being. I think there is immediately poetry in that. With this work specifically, I was interested in using different art mediums in addition to my dancing body to create multi-layered stage environments. The whole piece occurs amidst a shifting, dreamlike space conjured by Sylvain and Victoria. In a more literal sense, poetry is built into the piece using text that is written by myself and spoken as voiceover throughout the performance; these poems are a tangible element in this work and have had a defining role in not only how I created the movement language, but also in the whole trajectory the work ended up taking.
The piece is a collaboration with your partner and former Ballet BC Rehearsal Director Sylvain Senez. What was his involvement in the project?
AF: Sylvain is an incredible artist and when we collaborate he is truly a co-creator in every aspect. I will let him speak to his involvement in assemble himself!
Sylvain Senez: My involvement in the piece began at its conception since we both felt strongly in incorporating visual elements and projections. The set and scenic design evolved from letting the imagery, the writings, and the metaphors be interpreted through the structure’s symbolism. My lifetime of dance experience and my long interest in photography, film, and stage design inspired me to create the environment to bring Alexis’ vision to life.
The pandemic has been incredibly challenging for artists. What has this time meant for you, and for your relationship to your art form and live performance?
AF: Yes, it has been so hard for us and for everyone. This time is so de-stabilizing for the whole world. I think what it has done for me is affirm even more strongly what I have believed for my whole life—that art matters. For many reasons of course, but in this time especially because of its ability to encapsulate some of the greatest things that human beings can offer to each other and to the world: enchantment, beauty, hope, connection. In the words of Rolo May as referenced by my friend and colleague Maggie Forgeron, “Art can represent the highest degree of emotional health: the expression of people in the act of actualizing themselves… realizing [their] full potential.” At its best, art can inspire us to more fully engage with our lives and the world around us. Sitting together with other humans, witnessing something that touches us helps us to pause, turn off our devices, reflect, listen, and pay attention. This pandemic has highlighted for me how over-saturated and over-stimulated our nervous systems are with the constant demands of things the busy-ness of contemporary life. I believe we need the arts now more than ever. While this moment is a really difficult time to be trying to produce a show, the reasons above are why we wanted to do our best to share assemble no matter what.
Both you and Sylvain have contributed so much to the Vancouver artistic community. What does the city mean to you at this stage in your career?
AF: Thank you! I have to say that I am excited about the possibilities right now for dance in Vancouver. Alongside the many established artists here, there is an influx of new voices. Many of us who have had long careers are now creating our own work and are part of the new generation of Vancouver-based creators. This season’s Artists in Residence at Ballet BC – Dance//Novella and Rachel Meyer – are great examples of this and we are all actively supporting each other and working together whenever possible. I am fortunate to be supported by other creative spaces here such as Chutzpah! Festival which has an extensive artist in residence program, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, and Presentation House to name a few. As well, with the new Arts Umbrella building and Ballet BC’s new home both housed on Granville Island, we have this phenomenal new artistic hub in the city for dance to thrive in. My vision for Vancouver is that more and more people recognize the wealth of creativity residing right here and actively nurture and support it in as many ways as possible.
SS: It is really important to have not only local artists who are devoting themselves in making their artistic development at home, but also to have a public that can recognize Vancouver houses talent of international stature. It is so often believed that artists worth seeing would only come from outside the city, but the truth is that we have amazing dancers right here. The cultivation of Vancouver audiences is something I am very passionate about.
What do you hope audiences take away from this performance?
AF: Whatever it is that our audiences see and feel from the work, we want them to trust that this is what it is about. It is theirs as much as it is mine. It is my hope that as I share images, reflections, and layers of my own story, each audience member feels invited to reflect upon their own. To me, this piece is like a free-verse poem, everyone will interpret things in their own way and that is beautiful. The transmission of feeling from artwork to viewer is a subjective experience on both sides; each one of us is compelled in different ways by different things and that is truly one of my favourite things about sharing dance.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
AF: Just that all artists need people, organizations, and funders who stand behind them, support them and have faith in them when they take risks. Much of this work was developed while I was Artist in Residence at Ballet BC last season, and having the company behind me now as I premiere the work is invaluable. Medhi [Walerski] was one of the first people to see assemble during our tech residency last May and has shown his support in many meaningful ways. I danced at Ballet BC for so much of my career and it will always be home.
I would also like to take a moment to share my gratitude for New Works Dance, Dance Victoria, Lamondance, Dance//Novella, the BC Arts Council, and many individual donors for supporting the creation of assemble. We wouldn’t have a show to premiere if it wasn’t for them.