David Allan hopes to win marks for himself and the National Ballet of Canada when he takes eight of the National’s dancers on a tour of Italy this summer.
Allan, whose star is on the rise within the organization, will present six of his own works plus a number of concert pieces from the National’s repertoire on the eight-city tour, June 25 to July 13. “It will be like touring a gala,” he said, “for every work has something special to offer.” In an interview, Allan appears an unlikely leader for the trip. In his oversized, secondhand, fur coat, wrinkled sweater and jeans, he would seem more accustomed to the ease of a cafe banquette than the rigors of a director’s chair. And at 28 he is rather young to be directing a small, impromptu group of professional dancers, especially since he has only two years of choreographic experience. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done this in my life . . . There’s so much involved. I find myself learning about administration and public relations in addition to teaching classes and leading my company of dancers . . . Also, I don’t know any Italian. The only thing I know about Italian is pasta – and chianti. Though I might look as if I’ve got things under control, deep down I’m really a mess.” Though nervous, Allan is attacking his task like a hero – by throwing himself into it. He is calling on all the available resources of the National Ballet. While the company is not funding the trip (most of the undisclosed amount of money is coming from private sponsors and from Italian cities holding dance festivals in which Allan and his dancers will perform), it is assisting in other ways. It is giving him permission to use the National’s dancers and to use certain works in the company’s repertoire. In addition, the company has lent him the services of artistic co-ordinator Lynn Wallis for the first half of the tour. In Italy she will alternate with him to teach daily technique classes. She will also set up the works from the company’s repertoire, permitting Allan to concentrate on his own work.
The company’s most important present to Allan, however, is the opportunity it is giving him to attend its choreographic workshop.
The National Ballet has been holding the workshops since 1969 for the benefit of aspiring choreographers. This year’s event, at the Bathurst Street Theatre today to Saturday, is the twelfth. Works such as James Kudelka’s A Party and Washington Square and Constantin Patsalas’ Oiseaux Exotiques and Canciones (recently staged for the National’s winter season) have evolved out of the workshop to become part of the company’s repertoire. The workshop helped launch the choreographic careers of Kudelka and Patsalas.
Says Patsalas, now the National’s resident choreographer: “The workshops give you a chance to show others what you can do as a professional dance-maker and it’s marvellous that the company provides this opportunity to the dancers; otherwise, how can you develop choreographers?” Two years ago, when Allan created his first work, Lento, he used the relaxed and informal workshop setting to develop his ideas without worrying about having to create something worthy of the company’s world- class reputation. “I think that people often miss what the workshop is all about. They go to see work that’s an exact duplicate of what’s in the company’s repertoire and when they don’t see it, they tend to pass judgment very, very fast because, after all, we are the National Ballet. “Without that opportunity, I wouldn’t have coaxed Veronica (Tennant) to ask me to create Khatchatourian Pas De Deux for her and Serge Lavoie when she guested at Ontario Place the summer of 1983 and in turn that work would not have gone into the company’s repertoire. When you get right down to it, if I didn’t have the workshop to start my career, this upcoming tour to Italy just wouldn’t be possible.” Allan is only one of many dancers presenting works in this week’s workshop. Others include company dancers Donald Dawson, Luc Amyot, Amalia Schelhorn, Bengt Jorgen, Yuri Ng, John Alleyne and Eva Robertson. In addition, company choreologist Ingrid Filewood, assistant to the footwear supervisor Kim Nielsen and New York freelance choreographer Matthew Nash will present new works.
Allan’s work this year isn’t new. He’s presenting a ballet that was performed last fall by Ontario Ballet Theatre. The neo-classical piece is opening the program in Italy and Allan wants the National dancers to perform it at least once in Toronto before they head for Europe.
The 16-minute ballet is meant to convey a variety of emotions through non-narrative dance composed of ensemble work, solos, pas de deux and pas de trois. Performing it here and in Italy are Gretchen Newburger, Jeremy Ransom, Karyn Tessmer, Serge Lavoie, Gizella Witkowsky and Owen Montague. Tennant and Gregory Osborne, though not in the workshop, will also tour Italy performing Allan’s Khatchatourian Pas De Deux.