Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Joy - and Challenge - of Judging the Young Choreographer Ball

I talk often about how my email inbox is an interesting place. There are days I open it up and find a viper inside, hate mail just waiting to attempt to smother my soul and voice, but on other days there are invitations of the kind that make me smile - and so it was when I received an email from Kim Hurley of Generation Dance asking me if I would serve as a judge at the annual Young Choreographer Ball.

The Ball is in its fourth year now, an initiative created to raise funds for the Talented Angels Dance Scholarship, which is designed to help young dancers further their career in dance by providing support as they seek advanced dance training. It is for a good cause, certainly, as we have so very many talented young dancers in this region - but the Young Choreographer Ball is so much more than that, as I found out last night. The Young Choreographer Ball is a showcase of the best and brightest in dance, those who take a chance to try choreography in hopes of winning an award (and in the case of first prize last night $500), and those dancers they choreograph, shining talents in their own right.

Held at the lovely Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts, the dancers performed their choreography to a packed house last night. Many proud families were in the audience, and proud they should be as their hardworking dance students took the stage, and their young budding choreographers waited anxiously in the wings.

I will be honest - I was humbled to be asked to judge, and humbled further still when MC Russell Thomas introduced me in a way that made me blush so deeply I am sure it could be seen from the far reaches of the auditorium. I had provided Kim with a very brief biography for my intro, but Russells' kind words went far beyond what I anticipated, and so I felt doubly humbled. I was delighted to be co-judging with the lovely Steph Link, and so we settled into our judging table to watch the stage.

And again I will be honest - I did not expect to see what I saw. I knew I would be impressed, but I was beyond impressed with the skill, work, and efforts of the choreographers and dancers. I scribbled notes frantically, ones I kept and looked at today to remind me of the various pieces. "Captivating", I wrote on one, "stunning" on another. "Such energy, such fun, can't look away", on one, and "simply touching" on another. Every piece amazed me, and every single choreographer who participated has reason to be deeply proud, because their work had an impact on me.

I kept feeling what I thought was a cool breeze, the feeling of goosebumps raising on my arms and a chill at the back of my neck - but there was no cool breeze to be felt. It was instead pure joy and amazement as these dancers and choreographers scripted their bodies to pieces of music. It was the chill of watching something special unfold, and being part of an event that is, in a word, stunning. The talent on display, the enthusiasm, the skill, the joy, the hard work...these are all the things that are best about this community, the things I try to share whenever I speak or write about this place we call home. Last night I saw those things, but instead of seeing them in words I saw them danced out on a stage in front of me while I tried to wrap my head around the concept of judging them at all.

It was most definitely a challenge. I tried to judge based on several criteria - how had the choreographers tailored the pieces to the music, and to the dancers' skill? Did their piece successfully convey the vision I suspected they had in their head? (and I know this to be a challenge, as often I know what I want to say but the struggle comes in writing those things onto paper) Did they achieve a synergy and cohesion in the piece, did it make me unable to look away, did it show me their skill and talent as a choreographer?

And in the end, as there must be in such events, there was the winners, first place going to the beautiful piece from Nicole McMillan. Her piece, 'Reason' was one that resonated deeply with me, and that captured so wonderfully the essence of the music and the talent of her dancers. Second place went to Lewis Heinzlmeir for his rollicking and stunningly energetic piece "Down the Road", a piece which made me laugh and grin and unable to look away. Third place went to Victoria Naud for "Firework", a piece that was, in a word, lovely and soft. These three winners were richly deserving of the recognition, but so too was every single choreographer who took the opportunity to work with their dancers to create a piece that won applause and admiration.

Creativity is not easy. It does not matter the discipline - visual arts or writing, photography or dance. It is a lifelong pursuit of chasing excellence, wanting for every painting or article or photo or choreography to be better than the one before. Often we compete with no one more than ourselves, determined to show our personal best every single time, and so it was last night with a group of talented and devoted young choreographers who created amazing pieces, and who will, I believe, only get better over time.

When I left last night I stopped feeling the chills I had been feeling all evening in the judging chair, until today when I pulled out my notes and looked them over for this post. And then I felt those chills all over again, tiny pinpricks of excitement and pleasure and amazement at the talent we have in this community, young choreographers and dancers and those who support them in reaching their goals and aspirations. I was humbled to be asked to judge the Young Choreographer Ball, and I was humbled when I was introduced. Today I am simply humbled to have been there to witness it in any capacity, because it was a true honour to watch such energy, beauty, and passion laid out there on the floor in front of me. To me life is about exploring your passion, and yesterday evening I had the opportunity to watch as people in our community explored theirs while sharing it with me. And I sit here today, simply deeply humbled that they chose to do it at all.

My deep thanks to Kim Hurley
for the invitation to participate,
Russell Thomas 
for his all-too-kind words last night,
Steph Link,
for being a terrific co-judge 
(and generally amazing person),
all the incredible dancers who danced their hearts out,
and all the choreographers 
who shared their passion
with me last night.
I am, quite simply, grateful to have been there.

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