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Celebrating Alberta Ballet's 50th Anniversary - Video

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For those interested, here's an article about Kim Larsen who produced a video celebrating Alberta Ballet's 50th anniversary along with her video. 


"Film studies student produces 50-year retrospective for Alberta Ballet"




Edited by Stecyk
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3 hours ago, sandik said:

I didn't realize that they are the second largest company in Canada ...


They're not. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal is bigger. Always has been. Alberta Ballet's publicity department must have checked the LGBC site when they were in the middle of updating the roster, and it's been repeating this error every since. At the moment I believe Alberta Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have rosters of equal size.


I'm also sure Nissinen is mistaken about Balanchine. I'm fairly certain there was a staging of Allegro Brillante before he arrived. I'm absolutely certain there were performances of Glinka Pas Trois long ago, but the Balachine Trust didn't hold the rights to that ballet back then, so it wouldn't have records of Alberta Ballet performing it.


It bothers me that thumbnail histories of Alberta Ballet never seem to mention Calgary City Ballet or its founders. It was the merger of the two companies that led to Alberta Ballet leaving Edmonton and moving to Calgary.

Edited by volcanohunter
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17 hours ago, sandik said:

Thanks so much for the link -- the old clips are so fascinating.


I didn't realize that they are the second largest company in Canada ...


Thank you sandik. I'm glad you found the clip interesting. I found the information interesting because Alberta is so small and our population is much more biased toward sports than arts. So it is really a strong tribute to the women who started Alberta Ballet. And, I am impressed with the University of Calgary student Kim Larsen who created the video.


With regard to the size, I don't know the specifics. I have a "hunch" that when Alberta Ballet says it's the second largest company, it's referring to its total organization, including the School of Alberta Ballet staff. So if you were to count the number of employees, including dancers, you might find that Alberta Ballet is the second largest ballet company in Canada. I have the word "hunch" in quotes because it is a guess. I don't have data to support my hunch. I quickly tried to find annual reports for both companies without success.


When presented with statistical data, one should try to understand how the data was gathered and assembled. This past weekend, I was reading a blog post over at the Big Picture where I viewed a TED video titled "Mona Chalabi: 3 ways to spot a bad statistic." While I am not claiming Alberta Ballet's statistic is bad, I am saying that the video is a good reminder to always probe how data was arrived at and presented.


Canada is a really small country. Speaking of statistics, I have often said that 80 percent of our population lived within 100 miles of the Canada US border. Yet, according to Statistics Canada, two-thirds live within a 100 kilometers (or about 62 miles) of the Canada US border.



The Canadian population, however, is highly concentrated geographically. In 2016, two out of three people (66%) lived within 100 kilometres of the southern Canada–United States border, an area that represents about 4% of Canada's territory.


So my quick approximation is incorrect, although we used different distances. I used 100 miles versus StatsCan of 100 kilometers. Perhaps if StatsCan used a 100 miles, the percentage of population would climb somewhat.


Alberta's two major cities Edmonton and Calgary, both of which have over a million people in the metropolitan areas, are beyond a 100 miles from the border. Our province's population is slightly greater than four million, or about 11 percent of Canada's population.


Given Alberta's relative isolation from major metropolitan areas--such as greater Vancouver or the Toronto Montreal corridor--I am appreciative of Alberta Ballet's modest achievements.

Edited by Stecyk
Clarity and accuracy
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Thanks to you both -- I thought that was an odd claim, but didn't have the wherewithal to do any checking.


Tangentially, I'm wondering which Balanchine works have been the widest performed (remembering an Allegro Brilliante here in Seattle at the beginning of Pacific Northwest Ballet). 


And more specific to Canadian companies, I'm always impressed with how much touring Alberta and Royal Winnipeg do -- it seems they get around far more than the National.

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12 hours ago, sandik said:

I thought that was an odd claim, but didn't have the wherewithal to do any checking.


Hello sandik, I don't think it was an odd claim to make at all, and please allow me to explain why.
Let's assume for this discussion that my "hunch" is correct. Being accountable for what I write, I don't want to be accused of creating alternative facts or fake news, so I want to have my assumptions clearly stated. If my hunch is wrong, which is entirely possible, then I, too, would want to know why they made their claim, knowing that there may well be an acceptable explanation.
Many companies, especially commodity related companies, often refer to the "triple bottom line," which speaks to social, environmental, and financial considerations. As you probably know, Alberta's economy is dependent upon oil and gas. As companies develop resources, they are sensitive to all three “bottom lines.”
Alberta Ballet wants to be a positive force in our society, touching as many people as possible. While most Albertans are familiar with the performing part of Alberta Ballet, fewer are familiar with the School of Alberta Ballet. Yet, it plays an important role because it provides a place to learn and develop for those students with an artistic talent in or enthusiasm for dance, even if only a few ever go on to a professional dancing career.
As we know, ticket revenue pays for less than half of the operating costs of the Alberta Ballet. The remainder of funds come from donations and grants from governments, not-for-profit organizations, companies, and individuals. Looking at Alberta Ballet’s website, I see that Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The City of Edmonton, The City of Calgary, Edmonton Arts Council, and Calgary Arts Development all provide support. Next, there are several commercial companies. Of course, there are many individuals who contribute.
Alberta’s economy tends to be boom and bust. At present, we’re in the bust stage. Last I recall, Calgary’s unemployment is at a two-decade high. Edmonton employment picture is faring better. Calgary tends to be more business with professional staffs and head offices, while Edmonton tends to be more service and government focused.
Alberta Ballet is competing for funding alongside other organizations. When companies make their investments in local communities, it’s important to know that their resources are being well spent. So, when considering the Alberta Ballet, they are not just looking at the number of dancers on the stage performing, but instead looking at the total impact that the company has on the community. This is somewhat similar to looking at icebergs—the size and importance isn’t determined solely by what is visible above water. Knowing that Alberta Ballet provides resources for children is an important consideration.
Before we leave the topic of government funding, I should mention that different provinces have different priorities on supporting the arts. Quebec has a long and strong tradition of supporting its arts communities. Our last federal government made some remarks to the effect that ordinary people don’t care about the arts. That caused an uproar, especially in Quebec. Furthermore, in Canada, there are equalization payments to help “poorer” provinces. Quebec receives substantial funding. Consequently, there is sometimes friction in other parts of Canada.
Stepping away from ballet companies, how would many of us determine the “biggest” airline? Is it the company with the most employees? Most planes, regardless of size? Perhaps the most seats? Most passenger airmiles flown? Largest geographic coverage? Most revenues? Most profits? Most satisfied customers? Or some other criteria? The point of raising these questions is to demonstrate that there isn’t one key metric that everyone agrees to for determining the “biggest.”
If I were representing Alberta Ballet, I, too, would want to stress its importance to our community. Without community support, it’s dead.
Edited by Stecyk
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3 minutes ago, kbarber said:

I think there is one "key metric that everyone agrees" for determining the "size" of a ballet company: how many dancers it has.

And besides, the RWB has a school as well.


I disagree, which invalidates your statement. "Everyone" is a tough nut to crack.

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Shall we try this. If we ask people on this forum "How big is New York City Ballet? / Paris Opera Ballet? etc." I think their answer would be "about 95 dancers/250 dancers". I think it highly unlikely that people would say "Oh, 95 dancers, and 15  ballet masters, and 20 people in the wardrobe department, and then there's the fundraising and the box office, oh and School of American Ballet...."

I seriously don't think people consider or should consider every last 6-year-old taking creative movement when they make claims about how big a ballet company is and how it ranks compared with others, because that is not what most people will understand (maybe not you) and it is misleading to do so.

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Unfortunately, the forum is not the arbiter of marketing. Full stop.


Moreover, if you read my comments carefully, I made no mention of students being counted as part of the company. I did, however, mention the school's staff.


With regard to the size, I don't know the specifics. I have a "hunch" that when Alberta Ballet says it's the second largest company, it's referring to its total organization, including the School of Alberta Ballet staff. So if you were to count the number of employees, including dancers, you might find that Alberta Ballet is the second largest ballet company in Canada. I have the word "hunch" in quotes because it is a guess. I don't have data to support my hunch. I quickly tried to find annual reports for both companies without success. [emphasis added]


And last, I said my explanation was a hunch, a possibility. I did not say my hunch was definitive.


Edited by Stecyk
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I did receive a response. Because it's inappropriate to repost someone's email without permission, I will provide my quick take.


As expected, Alberta Ballet does believe that the definition is subjective. In addition to number of dancers, they look at operating budgets, school affiliation, and season duration.


While some of you might not be satisfied, others will understand. If you have ever run a company or been involved in a company at senior levels, you understand that it is a complex organization. For those that are balletomanes--many of those who participate in this forum--they will probably refer to the number of dancers. While those who are not balletomanes might take a broader view.


As I said in a prior post, there is no one definition that we all can agree upon.

Edited by Stecyk
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@kbarber, I sent you a private message dated December 5. I note that you haven't read it yet. I am just letting you know that you have unread mail. It's not important and definitely not urgent.

Edited by Stecyk
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Naturally, I was thinking that size equals the number of dancers a company employs. That is the standard understanding of "size" in the ballet world. It determines what a company can do. Does a company have the 40 women needed to perform Symphony in C? Can it send part of the company on tour while continuing to perform full-scale programs at home? Can it field a corps of 32 shades or 24 shades or is La Bayadère simply out of reach? (And all these companies have schools with paid staff.)


However, there is no need to speculate about numbers because the companies in question are registered charities, and they submit Registered Charity Information Returns to Revenue Canada annually, and this information is available online. As of 30 June 2016:


National Ballet of Canada
annual expenditures: $35.03 million

salaries: $20,109,351

full-time employees: 174
part-time employees: 114


dancers: 78
orchestra: 60


Les Grands Ballets Canadiens
annual expenditures: $13.55 million
salaries: $6,665,374
full-time employees: 73
part-time employees: 373


dancers: 36
orchestra: "up to 70"


Alberta Ballet
annual expenditures: $15.36 million
salaries: $6,992,231
full-time employees: 82
part-time employees: 44


dancers: 28
no orchestra; the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and Edmonton Symphony Orchestra are rented for some productions


Royal Winnipeg Ballet
annual expenditures: $13.67 million
salaries: $5,696,819
full-time employees: 61
part-time employees: 105


dancers: 28
no orchestra; Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra rented for productions


So Alberta Ballet spends more money, but I dare say Les Grands Ballets Canadiens gets a lot more bang for the buck. Not only does it manage to employ more dancers, and eight additional dancers is a lot for companies of this size, its smaller budget includes choreographers' fees for the likes of Jean-Christophe Maillot, Ohad Naharin and Jiří Kylián (as opposed to Jean Grand-Maître and Edmund Stripe, with all due respect). Another stereotype about frugal Albertans and profligate Quebeckers bites the dust.


The information sheets also provide a break-down of how money is spent. The National Ballet of Canada spends 83% of expenditures on its "charitable programs," which in this case is defined as the preparation and presentation of ballet performances, 9% on administration and 8% on fundraising. LGBC spends 84% on performances, 10% on administration and 6% on fundraising. Alberta Ballet spends 77.7% on performances, 19.6% on administration and 2.7% on fundraising. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet declares 100% of its expenditures as "other," but anyone really interested could go through the schedules and add up everything.


As for the seemingly enormous number of part-time employees at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, I am guessing this can be explained partly by the company's long-standing practice of inviting two larger, foreign ballet companies to present big productions it lacks the resources to mount itself. This season it's Swan Lake from Perm and The Marriage of Figaro from Kiev. Last season it was Coppélia from Shanghai and Don Quixote from Havana, before that Paquita from Paris and Anna Karenina from St. Petersburg (Eifman), and prior to that La Bayadère from Kiev and Marie Antoinette from Houston. Next season it will be an Eifman double bill and Cinderella from Kiev. These companies employ few if any Canadians, so the dancers and any backstage staff accompanying them would require Canadian work visas applied for by LGBC. It could be that for the purposes of reporting, LGBC considers them part-time/seasonal employees, even if they may be spending only a week or so in Montreal.

Edited by volcanohunter
misplaced apostrophe
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That's helpful information volcanohunter.


With respect to the eight more dancers, do you know if they perform the same number of performances. In other words, is it possible that Alberta Ballet has fewer dancers who dance more performances so that helps to explain the discrepancy? That speaks to the season duration part of Alberta Ballet's response. Or, are wages, because of higher living costs, higher at Alberta Ballet? I don't know the answers to my questions, but I know you're a passionate follower of ballet, so perhaps you might know.

Edited by Stecyk
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It's unfortunate that some immediately assumed the worst. And, I should have contacted Alberta Ballet before making my first response. That would have saved some confusion and made this thread succinct. As far as the "ballet world" is concerned, Alberta Ballet talks to its stakeholders, which extends beyond the Ballet Alert "ballet world."


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On 28.03.2017 at 9:52 PM, sandik said:

Tangentially, I'm wondering which Balanchine works have been the widest performed (remembering an Allegro Brilliante here in Seattle at the beginning of Pacific Northwest Ballet). 


In the reference section of a library I came across a souvenir booklet published on the occasion of Alberta Ballet's 25th anniversary in 1991. It was the season Yumiko Takeshima, one of the more illustrious dancers to pass through Alberta Ballet, joined the company. The booklet's compilers admitted they lacked information on what the company performed for the first 15 years of its existence. (Another example of ballet's disposable attitude toward its history. :wallbash:) But the repertoire list indicated that the company performed Allegro Brillante in 1985, Glinka Pas de Trois in 1987 and Donizetti Variations in 1989. So credit for introducing Balanchine to the company's repertoire should go to the late Brydon Paige. Other noteworthy additions to the repertoire included Gsovsky's Grand Pas Classique (1984), Ashton's Façade (1985), and Cranko's Pineapple Poll (1986) and Holberg Pas de Deux (1987). 1990, when Ali Pourfarrokh was director, seems to have been a banner year: Cullberg's Miss Julie, Lichine's Graduation Ball, and Tudor's Cereus and Continuo. In 1991 the company first performed Butler's Carmina Burana, a work that remained in the repertoire for a long time, until Emily Molnar was commissioned to create a new version for the company's 40th anniversary. Sadly, Molnar's version was never revived.

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We are indeed careless with our history -- it's a major frustration for many people.


I'm curious about Molnar's Carmina -- another score that seems to have been used by several different choreographers.

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7 hours ago, sandik said:

I'm curious about Molnar's Carmina -- another score that seems to have been used by several different choreographers.


I no longer remember it all that clearly, but it turns out I posted about it at the time. The premiere featured live music, and it could be that the company cannot afford to hire an orchestra, chorus and soloists at this point. The vocalists were on stage, but I don't remember them being integrated into the action, so I think the piece could be adapted to canned music.


On the matter of budgets, if I were on the Alberta Ballet Board, I would demand to know why the company's administrative costs ($3,017,018) are nearly equal to those of the National Ballet of Canada ($3,139,550). There's no earthly reason why this should be the case. I would be demanding that they be halved to bring them closer to the levels of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens ($1,356,771). Perhaps them the company wouldn't be in a financial hole and could afford more dancers and more live music.


But anyway:


The final work was Emily Molnar's new "Carmina Burana," which now replaces the John Butler staging in Alberta Ballet's rep. She divides the piece into three sections: Society, Tavern and Court of Love. The dancing takes place on a white oval in the center of the stage, and the choir, dressed in basic black, stands in back. There is another white oval above the stage used for video images, though I don't think these add much to the piece. In Society the dancers wear gray tanks and bottoms, skirts for the women, shorts for the men, and soft shoes. There is an Archpoet, performed by handsome Kelley McKinlay, one of the company's most popular dancers, and a Bearer of Time, danced by Jonathan Renna. Tanya Dobler, who has decided that her 14th season with Alberta Ballet will be her last, appears as the Figure of Instinct, dressed in a long-sleeved red leotard. The dancing is expansive and energetic. In Tavern, an all-male section, the dancers appear shirtless and wearing black trousers. Molnar seems to have a particular view of the way men interact. As in her "Portrait of A Suspended Grace," she depicts men as fundamentally unsympathetic to each others' distress and pain. The scene then shifts to the Court of Love, where the women, now on pointe, look like bathing beauties in their red leotards. They provide the Archpoet with the comfort and sympathy the men in the Tavern had denied him. At the end, the scene returns to Society, though it no longer seems so joyous.


Generally, I think that Molnar's ensemble dances are more interesting than her solos and duets. I was a little disappointed that the emotional climaxes between the Archpoet and the Figure of Instinct culminated in conventional kisses and embraces. I would have preferred a little more movement invention for those moments. Jonathan Renna, who had the unenviable task of dancing the biggest and loudest sections of "O Fortuna" as solos, has been given one of his best roles, with the possible exception of his Knave in Edmund Stripe's "Alice in Wonderland." Molnar uses his forcefulness and high arabesques to great effect. In the ensemble sections, Christopher Gray, Igor Chornovol and Blair Puente, who had worked with Molnar on the creation of "Portrait," and newcomer Hamilton Nieh seemed particularly attuned to her movement vocabulary. Among the women I liked sensual Laëtitia Clément, statuesque Leigh Allardyce, fluid Galien Johnston and Alexis Maragozis, who easily takes the prize as Alberta Ballet's sexiest asset. Because Pro Coro is a relatively small ensemble, and the acoustics of the Jubilee Auditorium, while improved in recent renovations, are still not great, the singing was amplified and inevitably sounded "canned." Baritone Doug MacNaughton struggled mightily with his part, and I would have preferred a soprano who sounded less matronly than Laura Whalen, but the musical shortcomings didn't detract from the excellent dancing.

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