By Michael Crabb
The Star (via Langfield Entertainment Newsletter)
May 18, 2012
Jeremy Ransom is mining his teenage memories. For this year’s National Ballet SchoolSpring Showcase he’s restaging a cheerful, technically dazzling work called Here We Come that hasn’t been seen for almost 20 years and in which Ransom danced as a Grade 12 student at its 1978 ballet school premiere.
And it’s not just any work. Despite celebrated Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine’s oft-quoted assertion that “Ballet is woman,” Here We Come, choreographed by Erik Bruhn, is designed to celebrate male dancing.
The Danish-born Bruhn was widely considered the finest classical male dancer of his generation. He was also friends with the National Ballet of Canada’s founding artistic director, Celia Franca. Through that connection, Bruhn forged strong links to Canadian ballet as a dancer, teacher and producer of the classics, ultimately becoming the National Ballet’s artistic director in 1983.
For more than a decade before that, Bruhn had been paying regular visits to the National Ballet School as a guest teacher. Naturally enough, Bruhn was assigned to the boys. It was the ballet equivalent of having Wayne Gretzky coach the high school hockey team. Those, like Ransom, fortunate enough to be his students have never forgotten the experience. “He had a huge impact,” says Ransom. “He gave us tough things to do and rejoiced when we really bit into them.”
Bruhn’s own Copenhagen schooling had been in the tradition of the great 19th-century Danish ballet master August Bournonville, whose choreography gave ample scope for virtuoso male dancing. Bruhn thus assumed that men should have an equal place with women in ballet and went on to prove that, with no sacrifice of virility, they can dance with elegant, expressive refinement. It wasn’t just about how high you could jump. It was about how you got up there and how you came down.
“Erik brought with him that knowledge of the Danish tradition,” say Ransom. “And he had his own special take on rhythm and co-ordination. It was hard as students to acquire his particular way of moving, but it was fascinating to experience.”
As the years progressed, a talented group of male students, many of whom progressed to stellar professional careers, blossomed spectacularly under Bruhn’s mentorship to the point he decided they deserved a work to showcase their accomplishments. Thus Here We Come, a suite of dances for 12 men, set to Morton Gould marches and with a jaunty nautical air, was born.
By the time Bruhn became National Ballet director, several of that original cast, including Ransom, had joined the company and Here We Come was revived in 1983, but Bruhn died of lung cancer in 1986 and his ballet disappeared from the repertoire. The school revived it for a 1993 showcase but since then it’s remained dormant until Ransom, now 51 and on staff at the school, began teaching parts of it to his students. From there, the logical step was to revive the whole ballet to challenge a new generation of ballet school boys with Here We Come’s very challenging choreography.
“It’s hard to get right,” explains Ransom, who’s been collaborating with fellow teacher Ana Jojic on the revival. “I keep being reminded how difficult it actually is. You just have to dive into it. We’ve been working the boys very hard, but I’m glad to say they’re doing very well.”
The Spring Showcase runs May 24 to 26 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St.; 416-964-5148 or http://www.nbs-enb.ca.