Change and innovation are the order of the day as the Northern Lights School of Dance (NLSD) begins is 2012-13 season.
Not only does the school have a new artistic director and a new mandate, there is even a brand-new entity for emerging artists, called Young Ballet of the Yukon (YBY).
Artistic Director Julio Hong is no stranger either to the territory or to NLSD.
The Havana-born dancer and choreographer studied classical ballet as a result of Cuba’s cultural ties with Russia, and danced with the National Ballet of Cuba.
With a physical education diploma and a master’s degree in dramaturgy and theatre, Hong had a choice to make when he finished school. Because he was still young, he chose dance.
“I can do drama later. I just want to dance now,” he decided.
In 1999, as principal dancer with the National Institute of Fine Arts in Mexico, he met Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard and joined her company for six years before striking out on his own as a freelance dancer.
When he first performed here with Chouinard’s troupe in 2001, he “fell in love with the territory”.
He has returned as a guest choreographer regularly ever since, helping prepare NLSD dancers for the popular pre-Christmas productions of The Nutcracker, and their year-end presentations.
Hong currently lives in Montreal, where he teaches and performs with his own dance company, but he plans to relocate to Whitehorse next year.
Other key members of the NLSD and YBY faculty are Principal Rebecca Reynolds and Artistic Director Consultant Farah Fancy.
One significant change in the school’s approach is that students will now advance according to their competence level, rather than by age. For example, this year’s beginner class includes 14-year-olds for the first time.
NLSD is also changing its instructional approach to help dispel the perception that dance, and ballet in particular, promotes poor body image.
As Hong puts it, dance is “just another way of walking”.
One of the goals for the Young Ballet of the Yukon is to develop a company that will help provide a transition for students to the world of professional dance.
The company, which will be open to students from other dance schools besides NLSD, is expected to provide greater performance opportunities and raise the profile of dance in the community.
It will also provide therapeutic workshops, as well as internship opportunities for participants to develop administrative skills by assisting the school’s administrative staff.
Hong, Reynolds and Fancy are all quick to point out that NLSD’s mandate is not just about ballet.
Neither, it seems, is the YBY mandate confined to ballet. One of the core goals for the new company is to expose both students and audiences to “fusion” projects that combine dance with visual art, drama and other art forms.
With his diverse training, not to mention countless performance credits in a variety of forms, the soft-spoken Hong is well-placed to deliver the “inter-modal” experience the YBY plans to offer.
“Being able to mix everything I know about dance with drama and theatre, it really comes together. It becomes one new philosophy,” he says.
For example, he says, dancers often just dance, taking it for granted that the audience is watching.
“I should be able to give the dancers some kind of drama tips. It helps them recycle energy in the theatre, where the dancer is taking energy from the public and the public takes energy from the dancers.”
The result, he says, is that “the dance becomes richer”.
In his new position, Hong hopes to raise awareness of dance throughout the territory, among both students and audiences. He also looks forward to exploring “immersion/fusion” opportunities with First Nations.
“A lot of art is going on here, and I’m very, very, very, extremely excited about it,” he says in his melodically-accented English.