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Dark Angels, a collaboration between composer Kevin Lau and choreographer Guillaume Côté, performed by the National Ballet of Canada © Photo: Michael Slobodian

Collaborative project combines disciplines and fosters brilliant new Canadian creation

As soon as their one-act ballet ended, composer Kevin Lau and choreographer Guillaume Côté sprang from their seats to take their bows on stage.  So intent were they on getting there quickly they didn’t see what was happening in the audience.

“Our piece was the last in the ENCOUNT3RS program and on opening night we didn’t get a chance to see what the reaction was,” Kevin admits.  “We heard applause but it was dark.  The next night we waited just long enough to see people pop out of their seats.  It was very gratifying.”

ENCOUNT3RS, a landmark NAC commission that paired three of Canada’s outstanding choreographic talents with three of the country’s most exciting composers, premiered last April.  One of the goals of the unprecedented project, which marked Canada’s sesquicentennial, was to provide a transformative creative “encounter” over an extended period of time.  Composers Kevin Lau, Nicole Lizée and Andrew Staniland had the chance to collaborate with choreographers, Guillaume Côté, Emily Molnar and Jean Grand-Maître for over a year before the pieces were played by the NAC Orchestra.  Overall, each collaboration lasted for almost two years.

“Usually your rehearsal time and interaction with the performance is extremely limited.  With this collaboration I felt at all times we that we were working at a deep level,” says Kevin.  “The Orchestra rehearsed many times between September and April and we were invited to sit in the room and watch the magic unfold.  We were able to have long sessions to explore the artistic side in great depth.  It was a real privilege and learning experience.”

It was a privilege for Music Director Alexander Shelley, too.  As he says, “I think multi-disciplinary performances like this are very exciting, because in the best-case scenario, the two forms augment one another.”

Kevin, who was grateful for the opportunity to again collaborate with Guillaume (they previously collaborated on Le Petit Prince), agrees.  “There’s something very satisfying about seeing music and choreography come together in this way,” he says.  “I felt it was a passion project for everyone involved.”

ENCOUNT3RS was also an opportunity for six talented artists to contribute to the richness of the performing arts in Canada.  “Creation is at the core of the NAC,” explains Cathy Levy, Executive Producer of NAC Dance.  “One of the key things we’re trying to celebrate all the time is our Canadian artists.”

As one of those artists, Kevin stresses just how important these opportunities are.  “It makes for a healthy culture when Canadian artists are allowed to flourish in this manner,” he says.  “At any point in history the great pieces we think about were new and probably commissioned.  Projects like ENCOUNT3RS are a way of encouraging artists to create, and out of that creation is where the magic happens.”

In fact, Kevin has been given the opportunity to create at the NAC before.  In 2011, he attended the former Composers Program of the Summer Music Institute (SMI) where he had the chance to write a piece of music for chamber ensemble.  “The rehearsal process was very thorough,” Kevin recalls.  “Imagine waking up each morning and having three hours of rehearsal and four hours of discussion with mentors and other young composers.  It was the first time I had the chance to explore that process in depth and I came away completely energized and changed.”

It is donor support that makes these opportunities possible and also leads to new creation that Canada can contribute to the world stage.  As Kevin says, “Projects like ENCOUNT3RS require an act of faith on the part of the donor to say: ‘This vision is something I believe in.  I’m willing to support new creation because I believe artists should have the opportunity to collaborate and explore things in a space that encourages the maximum amount of artistic growth.’  From the bottom of my heart, I’m so very grateful.”

For your listening pleasure, a recording of the three original scores from ENCOUNT3RS will be released on September 22, 2017.


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