Interview with Emily Molnar

Emily Molnar, the Artistic Director of Ballet BC since 2009, continues to steer the unique company of 17 dancers into an era of innovative, creative and collaborative dance. I have attended many Ballet BC productions over the past year, Emily joined me for lunch recently at The Fish Shack in Vancouver. Emily is a graduate of the National Ballet School and a former member of the National Ballet of Canada; a soloist with the Frankfurt Ballet under director William Forsythe; and a principal dancer with Ballet BC.

Emily is an internationally respected and critically acclaimed artist who has worked and toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Mexico, Canada and the US. She has created and performed works as a choreographer and solo artist, including commissions for Ballet BC, Alberta Ballet, Ballet Mannheim, Ballet Augsburg, Cedar Lake Dance, Pro Arte Danza and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, among others.  In 2005, Molnar was invited to participate in The New York City Choreographic Institute where she worked with dancers from The New York City Ballet. Molnar has worked closely with mentor Margie Gillis through her own solo work, in performing Gillis’ Speak and M.Body.7, and in collaborating on Breathing in Bird Bones.

Have you always had an interest in the arts and specifically ballet?

Yes, ever since I was a kid I was dancing around the house.  I started when I was 5 years old with creative movement classes and by 7 I was dancing in my first pair of pointe shoes. It was an immediate love. At 10 years old I left my home and family in Regina, Saskatchewan to join the National Ballet School in Toronto. The rest is history. My life as an artist has taught me about the world and about myself. I could not imagine it being any different. Dance demands that the body, mind and spirit be called into action. It has been my source of learning, my joy and my way towards something greater than myself.

How did you end up becoming the Artistic Director of Ballet BC?

In the spring of 2009 Ballet BC went through financial challenges involving bankruptcy protection at which time former Artistic Director John Alleyne decided to leave. After much thought and analysis the Board of Directors of Ballet BC decided they would like to embark on rebuilding the Company and went about a search for a new Artistic Director. In July 2009 I was asked to take over the position. It has since been a thrilling time of regrowth and renewal for Ballet BC. I feel privileged to be a part of this wonderful and inspired organization. Over the past three years the Company has developed in new and exciting ways.

What drives you to succeed leading such an esteemed ballet company in Vancouver?

A leap of faith. As well, my desire to create meaning, my deep belief in the creative and my passion for the fact that art can inspire change in the world. With this position as Artistic Director of Ballet BC my learning curve has been directly upwards. Everyday there are miracles and challenges. I love what I do because I am able to watch people develop and take risk on a daily basis. It gives me hope watching someone strive for excellence though self expression. It feels as if anything is possible under the roof of the imagination. Watching a community come together and share in an experience is a beautiful thing.

What challenges a Ballet Company today in Vancouver?

I would like to see them as opportunities. It is our job as an organization and leader in dance in this province and country to help people see what ballet has become, to continue to encourage the evolution of the art form, to get people excited about dance and the arts, and to help them feel free to be exposed to dance as an experience.

How far in advance do you plan your productions?

About two years in advance. We have to do this because we are collaborating with choreographers and designers from all over the world who have very busy schedules and get booked years in advance. The programming of a season of dance is a very detailed schedule of negotiations that takes place between many different people.

In your latest program, In/Verse which I saw, tell me about your work entitled Aniel, how did you create this piece and how long did it take from idea to inception?

I had 3 weeks to create Aniel. It was a joy to make. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to explore working with jazz music. When I came upon the work of New York composer and saxophonist John Zorn and his prolific 19 volumes of Book of Angels,  I was instantly drawn by the remarkable rhythms, expression and virtuosity in the music. I worked closely with the artists of Ballet BC in creating the piece. Through a great deal of layers of improvisation and compositional work we created a movement language that speaks to joy and a world that is rich with the whimsical and the absurd.

Tell me what is in store in your upcoming Encore program taking place January 24-26, 2013?

It is a collaboration with the Push Festival featuring three very distinct and diverse works by international choreographers:

  • Herman Schmerman by William Forsythe
  • 1st Flash by Jorma Elo
  • Petite Cérémonie by Medhi Walerski

What is your favourite food?

I love Thai food for the colours, flavours and spices.

What are your favourite restaurants in Vancouver ?

There are so many wonderful places in this city it is hard to say. A few to note are:

  • Pied a Terre
  • Vij’s
  • Nuba
  • Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie

What do you do in your off time?

  • Read
  • Take walks
  • Visit with friends

What creators in dance have inspired you?

There are so many but to name a few:

William Forsythe, Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian, George Balanchine, Anne Teresa De Keersmaker, Mats Ek

If you weren’t working in the arts, what would you be doing?

I can’t imagine not being an artist in some capacity. It would need to be creative work. I find architecture, visual arts, and writing all attractive disciplines. I have often thought about studying social anthropology. In another life I would love to be a jazz vocalist.

Who are your mentors?

Everyone and everything. I learn so much from the world and people around me. Here are a few great minds and leaders who have inspired me:

  • Dalai Lama
  • Peter Brook
  • Barack Obama
  • Frank Gehry
  • Bill Viola
  • Margie Gillis
  • William Forsythe

How do your dancers do 3 completely different works within a program?

They focus on trying to get to the essence of each choreographers style. They dive deep into each process with a clean slate digging deeper into their own training and understanding with each opportunity. They must have a very wide range of skills. Each dancer must have a hunger to learn, work hard, take risk and be challenged. They are able to take on this sense of diversity and virtuosity because they are classically trained ballet dancers who have a strong understanding of contemporary dance. They have all been trained for a minimum of 10 years before dancing professionally.

What is the daily routine for your dancers?

They train in a ballet class for 1.5 hours in the morning followed by 6 hours of rehearsal 5 days a week. In addition they cross train: gym, yoga, Pilates, etc. On top of that they will have a schedule of physiotherapy and rehabilitation and will participate in professional development projects such as teaching, choreographing, rehearsal directing, etc.

What has inspired you lately?

I find there is inspiration all over. For example just now I was deeply inspired by hearing about Vancouver Foodster and Richard Wolak’s success story in his recent Tasting Plates event in Chinatown featuring the Project Limelight Society Arts Program for Kids. Another moment has been the support of our city and audience around our recent show In/verse. It is such a pleasure to be a part of bringing people together and to sense that we are creating something meaningful in their lives.

Has Social Media played a significant role for the Ballet BC Company?

Absolutely, it is the way of the future. We are working on a variety of new ideas to access our public through social networking. We are on Facebook and Twitter. One of the Ballet BC dancers, Connor Gnam, oversees our Twitter account.  We are inviting bloggers to our shows, looking to start a dancer blog, and  are in the process of looking for a Digital Communications Coordinator to start new projects.  We are finding that more and more people are talking about our work in the social media. It is thrilling to see how this is creating a community around what we are doing in new and alternatives ways, and how it is helping us as an organization to innovate new approaches to marketing, outreach and audience development.

What is next on the horizon for the Ballet BC?

The National Ballet of China is coming to Vancouver on their first ever tour to Canada February 26-March 2, 2013.  We have a World Premiere of a new contemporary version of Giselle by our Resident Choreographer José Navas April 25-27, 2013. We will be on tour to Ontario including the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, to Portland, OR and to Irvine, CA.  As well, this season we are an Artist in Residence at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts which culminates in an Emerging Choreographer Evening May 23-25, 2013.

 


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