It's no surprise that annual events change, evolve and adapt. In the case of one of Calgary's stalwarts, Dance Montage, now in its 41st year, the change over the last few years is remarkable.
Though originally a collaborative project between the faculty of kinesiology and the University of Calgary's dance program, the performance's guidance was transferred to the Dance Department four years ago. The change marked a significant shift in the tone and content of Dance Montage-- what used to be a requirement for those kinesiology students enrolled in the collaborative degree opened up to become an integral part of the dance program's outreach into Calgary's dance community.
"Dance Montage does this call that is open to the whole community, unlike that other dance performances that we do here that are part of the program on campus," says Melissa Monteros, an associate professor of dance and the show's artistic director. "This really remains, not part of our BA dance program, but more a part of our community outreach."
Though the show draws from a deep pool of choreographers and anyone can audition for a part, the openness makes maintaining the high standard that Dance Montage is renowned for inherently difficult.
"It's funny because I try not to become the police, but I think my reputation is that I'm the dance police," laughs Monteros. "We have to be very clear from the very beginning about what the expectations are. Sometimes people won't show up for rehearsal, or if they don't understand why that's not okay, then we have a big problem."
On the other hand, the openness was a deliberate decision of the show's organizers for the litany of benefits that it brings.
"There are so many benefits. We have a number of really wonderful dancers in the community who are not necessarily taking classes at the university," says Monteros. "The great thing is that we bring people together who have this great spirit of dance. That's what montage is about-- being in love with dance. It also gives us a chance to connect with alumni who are still very interested in choreography and continuing to develop their work as choreographer. It gives them an opportunity to work with dancers who have some level of skill as well."
One of those choreographers is Annalise Bentzen-Whittle, a U of C alumna involved with Dance Montage since she moved to Calgary 11 years ago, who has noticed the project's evolution.
"I feel the strengths of the choreographers and the calibre of the dancing is much higher now," says Bentzen-Whittle. "It's definitely increasing in speed and diversity."
Jason F. Owin Galeos, another choreographer, was told to audition to Montage after demonstrating an appreciation for dance in high school. He is currently in his last year of a dance degree at the U of C. He's an example of the influence that an event like Dance Montage can have on an individual's development.
"It unites different artists and different dancers who have different backgrounds," says Galeos. "It's one thing to have people in the program of dance, but the event brings recreational dancers and students who want to be involved in the community as well."
He views the shows as not just an outlet for serious dancers, but a sampler for those who are looking to get more involved in the dance community.
"When you get invited and watch these kinds of shows, it shows you a broad sweep," says Galeos. "There's hip-hop, there's Bollywood, there's contemporary and there's a deep contemporary piece that I'm involved with. It's unique to bring people in and show people what dancing can do for you, to stay positive and unite people together."
As the openness of the event is a potential problem, so is the diversity. Presenting a cohesive show with such a varied collection of performances is a difficulty that Monteros focuses on.
"How do we bring the great spirit of excitement that's around Dance Montage with professional conduct?" she says. "How do we look for artistic integrity with all these diverse forms that we're working with? I've had to put together many programs and we have to look at how the works should be shown together and what's the strongest format for tying them altogether."
Monteros focuses on every aspect of the audience's experience in order to gel the performance together, making it the best place to see advanced dancers and recreational dancers performing everything from contemporary to Bollywood, and whatever lies in between.