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“Try not to freak out,” a staff member advised student choreographer Robert Binet. It was just hours before curtain at Toronto’s Assemblée Internationale 2009, a week-long student festival hosted by Canada’s National Ballet School last November on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. Binet’s original work Surge would be performed that night, but a lead dancer had injured his wrist, forcing Binet to change the choreography. Meanwhile, another one of the 13 cast members had been felled by H1N1, and a third would perform with a 102-degree fever.
Many years in the planning, the Assemblée brought together 102 students from 14 ballet schools spanning 9 countries for a week of master classes, discussions, rehearsals, and showcases. Twelve student choreographers set their own work on peers from around the globe and presented it at NBS’s Betty Oliphant Theatre. Each academy—among them London’s Royal Ballet School, Cuba’s National Ballet School, and the John Cranko School of Stuttgart—also presented a piece from its existing repertory. Students took class with a broad cadre of teachers, including Ramona de Sáa of Cuba and Elisabeth Platel of France.
Mavis Staines, artistic director of NBS, conceived of the Assemblée to strengthen connections between ballet schools worldwide. Having played a major role in the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland, she saw how the dance community came together there. Assemblée encourages students to “broaden their comfort zones,” she says. “At 16 or 17, they have to be able to work with everyone.”
Ida Praetorius, a student from the Royal Danish Ballet School, marveled at how her piece had evolved over time. “The steps started in the kitchen with my little brother taking photos of me and grew up before my eyes here onstage.”
In a closing address, Cuban ballet master Fernando Alonso said, “A dancer has to cultivate his mind, heart, and soul. His sensitivity, sophistication, and level of education will show onstage. So educate yourselves every single day of your lives. The future of ballet depends on you!” —Toba Singer