Categories: Entertainment

Ballet kicks out a lesson in technology

Mingyi Liang

It’s probably a first in the Edmonton area – dancers taking a selfie as they leap through the air.

Technology has infiltrated every corner of our lives bombarding us with messages from the moment we open our eyes to the time we hit the mattress.

But is it really that great?

Artistic director Francoise Chevennement of Citie Ballet questions our digital self-involvement in the company’s second dance of the season.

“It speaks about how people don’t carry on conversations any more. We use cell, text, email, Instagram. It’s weird people don’t go for coffee. Technology is supposed to make things go faster, but it has slowed down our human part,” said Chevennement.

Mosaic IV: Vocal Beat is the fourth in a series of collaborations with Edmonton and area artists that runs tonight and tomorrow at the Timms Centre.

While Chevennement has fashioned the neoclassical choreography, the featured guests are Edmonton’s a cappella sextet, 6 Minute Warning, accompanying dancers with original pop-rock compositions and a few familiar covers.

Vocal Beat is the story of George (Mingyi Liang), a hard-working rural man who decides to move to the big city. In the urban jungle, he feels lonely until he meets and falls in love with Marlene (Kayley Winfield), a savvy businesswoman.

The initial affection hits a speed bump as she allocates more and more time to her career chatting on the cell and answering emails. The relationship hits a death spiral. After they break up, George returns to his rural home only to discover technology has now invaded the old turf.

St. Albert’s own Lauren O’Kell, a graduate of the former Art of Dance, is part of the 12-member ensemble. In Vocal Beats she is a member of the corps de ballet.

“It’s very different from what we’re used to. We have to adapt to the a cappella tempos. But it’s been a very interesting experience,” she said.

“And when we’re holding phones, it adds a challenge especially if you’re rolling on the floor. We usually put both hands on the floor to get up and it’s a challenge if you’re holding a cell and taking a selfie.”

The first song to open the show is 6 Minute Warning’s version of Amazing Grace.

“The singers are amazing. They use only their voice. We do not have any other instruments. Some of the singers do a beat box sound. One does the melody. Another does the bass line. It’s real cool,” she said.

At first combining neoclassical choreography with live a cappella appears mismatched.

However, Chevennement first spotted this form of artistry years ago while still living in France. A friend invited him to attend a performance of PowwoW, a nationally acclaimed a cappella group.

He later had the pleasure of seeing the Flying Pickets, a British a cappella vocal group with a flamboyant, theatrical image.

After seeing these two groups, Chevennement wondered if ballet and a cappella could be combined. But he parked the idea on the back burner until three years ago when Citie was invited to perform as part of the Singing Christmas Tree.

6 Minute Warning was also performing and Chevennement was floored by their offerings. Almost before the Christmas extravaganza was over, he decided to contact them about a partnership.

The sextet’s first question was, “Should we take dance lessons?” Chevennement said.

In detailed discussions, 6 Minute Warning’s Tyson Kerr was co-opted to write the score while other group members, which also include St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumnus Luc Tellier, are performing in plain view while dancers interact with them.

O’Kell has the last word saying, “Collaborative is a good word to describe this show. It’s very energetic. It has a spiritual feel. The people in the story are very relatable to our lives and it’s a good lesson about technology.”


Mosaic IV: Vocal Beat
Citie Ballet
With special guests 6 Minute Warning
Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and March 1 at 2:30 p.m.
Timms Centre for the Arts
112 St. and 87 Ave.
Tickets: $20 to $40. Call 780-27-1757 or online at tixonthesquare.ca

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.