Dance Preview: Hockey versus Ballet

By Stephanie Shewchuk

Ballet is hardly ever compared to hockey. Down at the local pub, inebriated patrons in tutus and hockey jerseys don’t engage in heated arguments or get into fisticuffs over which one is better. When putting the two side by side, burly hockey players beat the dancers into bloody pulps in pink tights. It’s even difficult to imagine a tutu and a hockey stick sharing the same locker space. But with hockey sidelined for the foreseeable future, ballet may just have the edge in expanding beyond the stereotypes held by those in Alberta. With the help of the Alberta Ballet, ballet master Edmund Stripe is out to dispel those preconceived notions.

“Being a ballet master is like being the coach of a hockey or a football team,” he explains. “Our job really is to look after the ballets, to take care of the quality control.”

Although it may not be the strongest analogy, Stripe contends the dancers, as well as those associated with the production, work just as arduously, if not more, than the average hockey player this season. When Alberta Ballet’s Carmen returns to the Calgary stage this week, Stripe will, as he says, get down to the nitty-gritty. Long known as the most popular opera ever written, the tale of a Spanish gypsy and a flamboyant bullfighter takes a unique twist under the direction of the Alberta Ballet. And no it’s not Carmen: On Ice.

“Other productions use a different version of the operatic score,” says Stripe. “In comparison to other versions of Carmen, the choreography [in this show] is different and it has a sort of West Side Story, Spanish flavour.”

Though it has a loyal following, Alberta Ballet’s production of Carmen allows for lesser-known works to share the spotlight. Augmenting the dramatic power of Carmen, the ballet company presents Swelter (Mirage Under a Sheltering Sky), which Stripe is also choreographing, and fallen arm, set to an original composition by Calgary musician Dewi Wood.

“Carmen was already created and we always intended to bring it back,” Stripe says. “The other two were commissioned last year and since then, we’ve been working on them continuously. They should complement Carmen nicely.”

Like in any team, certain players take on multiple roles. Not only is Sabrina Christine Matthews performing in Carmen’s title role, she also created fallen arm, her sixth piece with the Alberta Ballet.

“It’s more abstract than the others,” explains Stripe of fallen arm. “It’s mostly about fear and fear of outside influences.”

Swelter, Stripe’s second piece for Alberta Ballet, also tangoes with the abstract. Set to music by progressive rock mainstay King Crimson, he hopes to create an evocative piece to entice audiences.

“I wanted to keep it warm and sultry and wanted to conjure up pictures of heat and the desert,” he says.

With ice rinks empty, this is the perfect time for people to shatter those stereotypes of ballet as a lesser cultural activity. Time to put away images of frilly tutus and weak dancers prancing on stage. This is the ballet and with Carmen, Alberta Ballet hopes to stand tall.

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