Journey into the Unknown // Walking Mad

Paris-born Yvan Dubreuil, a former dancer with Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT) from 1991-2009, was in Vancouver for two weeks in August working with the dancers of Ballet BC on re-staging Johan Inger’s Walking Mad. In conversation, he talks about dance, art and comments on Ballet BC, Vancouver and culture in our city…

“When I first came to Vancouver in 2011 to stage Walking Mad, I knew nothing about the company. But I knew Emily. We had danced at the same time although for different companies. I was with NDT and she was with William Forsythe in Frankfurt … It was very special for me to come here because I was such a fan of her work as a dancer, especially because there were not many women of her height, of her power. Now I see her using all those amazing qualities but in managing a company.”

Coming to Vancouver was, he says, “very special for me. I felt deeply touched but I have absolutely no clue why. What I found was a young company but with this hunger, this humility, this honesty. And that touched me a great deal. It was a very, very special experience.”

Staging Walking Mad may be the perfect way to meet a new company because the nature of the piece creates new bridges of communication. “It’s a very stimulating work, a very joyful work with lots of time to laugh. But it’s also very deep. When a piece has this social component intertwined with its purpose, the time in the studio is unique.”

The work itself touches on the relationships of men and women as seen through the different stages of their lives. Set to Ravel’s Bolero, it features a moving wall that the dancers use to move through and over. Ballet BC dancer Livona Ellis says that “…the process in the studio was a shifting point in my progression as an artist. [Yvan] pushed me past my boundaries both physically and mentally,” she says, “making me feel as though I was beginning to touch on something greater than just the steps and the movement. I began to understand the meaning of this art form and what it is that I want to express with it. I grew from this process not only as a dancer but also as a human being.”

Dubreuil says he admires the genius of certain choreographers who aren’t interested in the characters or their emotions as much as in the honesty that one dancer can express through the body.  “The honesty of your commitment to your body and your physicality creates an enormously powerful machine that can explore the depth of the work itself.

“You can be in one place with your physicality but you can take the work somewhere else with your artistry by projecting the emotion from the stage to me, the viewer. When a dancer is honest and simple in his performance, it gives the audience room to come into the work.

“This is part of my tradition,” he says. “Leave some distance rather than making it too personal so the viewer can come to the work and colour it as he sees it. By stimulating the audiences’ imagination, they become much more a part of the work and not outside of it, simply watching someone else’s emotional experience. This is a much more exciting way to see art.”

Dubreuil believes that people are often insecure about new and challenging art, harboring fears about not understanding what they’re seeing or how to react to it. “You don’t need to know. It’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay not to understand,” he says. “Art is a very active reality and tries to take you to a place where you are actually involved and not just receptive to the ideas of the creators.” He cites the cinema to illustrate his point. “In a movie everything is told to you through the narration. The story is clear. But when you face a piece of new dance that you don’t know, you must accept the not knowing and allow a whole new reality to take form.”

Finally he says, “I see something special in Ballet BC. Vancouver is a young city with a very complex memory of traditions and cultural norms from all over the world. There is great potential here and the exciting possibility of culture and memory interacting. This is a gigantic mission. But one really has to keep fighting to draw on that very ancient tradition of wisdom. We may all be different but we can learn to communicate through art.”

Don’t miss Walking Mad, part of Tilt, the opening performances of Ballet BC’s stunning new season. Tickets available at and

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Yvan Dubreuil. Photo Credit: Michael Slobodian