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In a spirit of collaboration: Pro Arté and Lions Gate Sinfonia prepare for Earth Day

Can you tell us how Pro Arté and Lions Gate Sinfonia connected? What was your first encounter like? How long did it take before you knew that you wanted to collaborate by having both musicians and dancers on stage?

Astrid Sherman: I first met Clyde at the North Vancouver Canada Day Celebration in 2006. His Orchestra was playing and we were dancing, though not together. He said then that a collaboration would be great. But it was only when I subsequently met him through my dear friend Gillian Hunt of Pandora’s Vox and Pro Arté’s composer-in-residence Michael Conway Baker that we actually got it together and Pro Arté Centre first performed with Lions Gate Sinfonia in December of 2012.

Clyde Mitchell: In looking for other North Shore arts groups with which to partner and present interesting and off-the-wall productions, Pro Arté came to mind. I was introduced to Astrid by Gillian Hunt of the very exciting and innovative women’s vocal ensemble Pandora’s Vox. When I met Astrid, I loved her classical training and experience combined with her desire to do new and unique choreography. I think I recall being blown away that she would really like to work with us in classical repertoire that is not traditionally dance music, like the J.S. Bach Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

What did the initial collaboration process look like, from your perspective? Meaning, what aspects did you need to discuss and organize before having the dancers join Lions Gate on stage?

AS: Our first collaboration was a December concert, which included the Nutcracker Suite and other holiday favorites like Sleighride, O Holy Night, Canon in D. Clyde and I sat down in August to discuss how to fit on the Centennial stage both his orchestra and our dancers, so that we could do the Nutcracker pieces full justice. This collaboration featured both groups. The orchestra would not be playing in the pit but rather, on the stage. We pushed the orchestra slightly back and had our dancers dance on the apron as well. Small but workable. The audience actually loved having the dancers right up and front.

CM: Yes, one of our earliest collaborations was the Christmas concert. We had a huge production with instrumentalists, vocal soloists, and chorus, as well as Astrid’s Pro Arté dancers. The pieces we selected had never been danced to, including some of my favourite classical pieces like Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus.

To date, how many times have you collaborated? What has been the most memorable performance that you’ve worked together on and why?

AS: Spring At Last will be our fourth collaboration with Lions Gate Sinfonia. Our 2014 collaboration included the magical Pandora’s Vox and Espiritu choirs under Gillian Hunt. It was very exciting to perform with full orchestra and voice. We also have done three collaborations with the Lions Gate Youth Orchestra which features some of our younger dancers.

CM: We have now worked together many times, including our annual Youth for Yule where we combine lots of young performers from our Lions Gate Youth Orchestra with Pro Arté dancers in an imaginative, family-orientated Christmas concert. The very first time was incredibly moving, and every time we meet we refer back to our Christmas concerts and many of the classical music pieces Astrid has choreographed.

How much rehearsal time is needed? How long do the dancers have in advance to work with the selected music? Is selecting the music a collaborative process?

AS: Dancers need much more rehearsal time together to work out spacing considerations because visually, the unison sequences need to look like one. Musicians practice and rehearse much more independently. We get one music rehearsal with the musicians on the Thursday before the concert and then the dress rehearsal the day of, on-stage. Clyde usually picks the pieces for the Sinfonia, as he knows the instrumentation and balance of programming that needs to be considered. However, he asks for my suggestions and opinions and then considers if these are feasible.

CM: It is a very collaborative partnership. From discussing musical ideas over coffee to celebrating the performance over a glass of vino, we start a year or more in advance by thinking of what has worked best in the past and dreaming of great new ideas. We then listen to recordings of various performances for interpretation and tempo. Astrid and I then begin the long process of putting together everything from dates and venues to costumes, personnel and choreography, to orchestra rehearsal schedules. She will get some initial dance movements together and I will listen to her chosen version of the music so I can then match her desired interpretation as closely as possible.

What is one thing that inspires you most about Astrid and her dancers? Astrid, what inspires you about Clyde and his musicians?

AS: Clyde has this tremendous energy and passion for music. His enthusiasm and incredible knowledge inspires and motivates his orchestra. The notes become “alive”—us old dancers wish we could leap back onto that stage—so much beauty, energy and emotion floating in the sounds! Clyde has this magical ability to bring so much colour and life to anything he conducts. What an incredible opportunity and experience this is for young dancers.

CM: I love the combination of Astrid’s clear organization and preparation with her spontaneity and silliness. Sometimes, after painstakingly rehearsing something in great detail, we come up with a new way to do something on the spot. Her attention to detail and a sharp eye on the target keeps us all focused and honest.

How do you think that the collaboration contributes to the audience experience? What can audiences expect from your Earth Day inspired concert Spring at Last?

AS: In a society that now is very visual, I think adding the dance element to the traditional orchestra concert performance is absolutely perfect. The audience gets to enjoy both mediums at once. This Earth Day concert will beg the audience to see beauty and hear beauty. They will be taken away on a reflective journey of how precious our Earth is. The concert includes a new “Elegy for the Earth” by Canadian composer Christopher Nickel. It is absolutely exquisite and moving; it challenged me to match and capture the “moment” that is created in sound in movement. To have the opportunity to create choreography for two iconic Canadian composers is such an honour. I am very grateful to Clyde for this opportunity and platform.

CM: Audiences love not only the tried and true classics but also a grand spectacle. Sometimes we are reminded that the most beautiful things can be the simplest things, and at other times we want to knock their socks off! Our audience will hear and see both traditional music and dance and some more modern art. Most of all, the programme is deeply expressive and has a bit of an environmentally aware message. Every piece on the programme has to do with Mother Earth, nature, peace, and caring for each other and our home and surroundings.

Describe Spring at Last in just three words.

AS: Promise, Beauty, Jubilance
CM: Joy, calm, beauty. OK, one more: Passion. Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Pro Arté and Lions Gate Sinfonia present Spring at Last on April 21 at 7:30pm at the Centennial Theatre. Get your tickets here.

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Clyde Mitchell is founding Conductor and Music Director of  Lions Gate Sinfonia and the new Lions Gate Youth Orchestra. He recently moved to Los Angeles, where his wife, Sarah Jackson, plays Solo Piccolo with the world-famous Los Angeles Philharmonic. Sarah and Clyde love their two cats, and enjoy traveling and experiencing different cultures, languages, food, and wine.

Astrid Sherman is an avid researcher for scientific advances in classical ballet technique and often presents research at the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science as well as being on their Education Committee. In 2003, Ms. Sherman co-founded Pro Arté Centre specialising in programs for serious young dancers and in 2012 launched CatchingART Contemporary Ballet Theatre which is an aspirant company that combines intensive training with extensive professional performance opportunities.