Learning the ‘pointe’ of ballet

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Sadie House (8), learns how to act like a ferocious beast, which is tough to do when you’re so cute. Photo by Anita Grace.

Professional dancers offered local children a close-up examination of how ballet performances are created.

Ballet Jörgen’s family-friendly ‘Ballet 101’ workshops were held in Kitchissippi on Friday, March 14, one at Carlingwood and the other at the Rosemount library branch. Seven other libraries in Ottawa also offered the workshops during march Break.

Jennifer Johnston, the Rosemount librarian who hosted the event, said Ottawa’s libraries always provide extra programming for children during March Break. This year’s theme was “magic,” and the ballet workshops offered a glimpse into the magic of dance.

Four members of the Toronto-based company demonstrated how dancers use their bodies to convey emotions and tell stories. They showed how costumes and masks transform and enhance movements, how music contributes to the narrative, and how couples work together in lifting and balancing. They even passed around a pair of pointe shoes so children could feel how hard the toe tips are.

The hands-on workshop also allowed the roomful of children and adults to try some of ballet’s foot and arm positions, and even act like magical beasts by holding their hands like claws

“[These workshops] allow children to get a really intimate knowledge of some of the structure of ballet,” Johnston said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to see dance at this level.”

Westboro’s Annie Bérubé brought her children Jasmine, 7 and Noah, 4 to the performance at Rosemount Library. She said it was a “wonderful presentation of the storytelling aspect of ballet” and noted that Jasmine was spellbound throughout.

As part of the workshop, the dancers acted out a few short scenes from their upcoming performance of Romeo & Juliet. Through discussion and demonstration, they showed how they wordlessly convey Shakespeare’s emotion-packed narrative.

Heather Lumsden-Ruegg, a 24 year-old dancer from Newmarket, said these workshops are a great way to make ballet accessible to children. “Kids get a chance to really see dance up close.”

Ballet Jörgen offers approximately 200 similar workshops each year across Canada, bringing dance to small communities and remote parts of Canada which most dance companies never visit.

“Kids get to learn about ballet and ask questions they might not have thought of before,” Lumsden-Ruegg said. For the dancers, these workshops afford opportunities to connect with audiences in a unique way.

Ballet Jörgen will be performing Romeo & Juliet on March 29 at 7:30 pm at Centrepointe Theatre.

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